Is perception stronger than evidence?

Kuldip Nayar

THERE is a vast difference between perception and evidence. When Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi says that the RSS is responsible for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, he is conveying the general perception. In fact, the then Home Minister Sardar Patel imposed a ban on the RSS which he withdrew when the organization gave in writing that it was only a cultural outfit. However, the perception has remained till today.
The BJP, which is said to be a political wing of the RSS, has always denied the charge. But there is no clinching evidence either with the BJP elements or those opposed to it. The Congress which is in the forefront of those who say that the Mahatma was assassinated has not placed before the public that it was not a victim of any conspiracy either. When the party was in power at the Centre—they ruled for more than 50 years—it could have published the intelligence reports or some other documents to suggest that assassination was doing of RSS. Nor did BJP, when it was in power, could release anything which would remove charge once and for all.
What Rahul Gandhi has said was the perception prevailing throughout the country and abroad even today. At that time the RSS elements were on the defensive and generally preferred to keep quiet. This only confirmed the perception that the Mahatma was killed by Nathuram Godse, a fanatic Hindu. I was working with an Urdu newspaper, Anjaam, then. We were all sitting at the office when the PTI teleprinter machine’s bell alerted for a flash. We rushed to the machine and the cryptic message was: Gandhi shot at! I wasted no time and went straight to the Birla House on my scooter. My office was situated near Jamia Masjid and I rode through Darya Ganj area. The locality was calm and oblivious to great tragedy.
There was a wooden gate at Birla House and there was no security to stop any visitor. I went to the raised platform where Gandhi’s body, swathed in white khadi, was lying. Lord Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy, came after I had reached the venue. He saluted the body; both Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Patel, who followed him in the queue, were openly crying. The crowd had started swelling by then. The assassin, Godse, who did not escape was still there and surprisingly without any remorse. The Raj Path through which the cartage was carried, with Nehru and Patel sitting on either side, to what is today called the Rajghat. Ironically, Gandhi who had spread the new philosophy of non-violence to the world was taken for his last rites in a military vehicle which the Mahatma would not have liked. Rahul Gandhi was not even born then. But he had the privilege of being a scion of the family which gave its all to the national struggle. He has every right to find fault with the RSS and he is not a third party to the entire episode of courage and sacrifice. The entire conspiracy to kill the Mahatma has been placed before the public, though bit by bit. And there is no doubt that the RSS elements were behind it.
In a letter addressed to jailor Arjun Das at Ambala, where he was detained, Godse confessed his hand and had argued that the Congress leaders at that time were weakening the country, making it an easy prey for Pakistan. This was a flimsy argument which did not go down well with the public when the letter was ultimately released. The dust of time has covered many a footstep and it is very difficult to find out today who else at the Nagpur headquarters of the RSS had blessed the heinous crime. This was probably the first crime committed in the name of ideology. Things have, however, changed now because atmosphere has been politicized and there are very few voices left, whose credibility is beyond reproach. The RSS is still riding the high horse and refusing to join issue.
The fact that the matter has been given to the party spokesman to handle shows that the Congress is already making preparations for diluting its stand. If it does so, the party would lose the face, more so Rahul Gandhi, who is being projected to lead the party in the next Lok Sabha elections. This is a tough case before the Supreme Court because it is going to be damned if its verdict goes either in favour of the Congress or the RSS. What saddens one is that the secular forces in the country are not marshalling their strength to face the biggest challenge to the idea of India, democratic and anti-communal. Struggle for independence was for ethos of pluralism and egalitarianism. Once Gandhi was portrayed as a non-violent communist and he did not take any offence to the comment, although communists had described him as a running dog of imperialism. Communists should make amends for their mistakes and hang picture Mahatma at their headquarters in Kolkata. My advice to the RSS and BJP is the same. Gandhi is an apostle of the marginalized and the backward. He represented the national struggle and India’s emancipation from the British. This is the point on which all the political parties meet and they should have no hesitation in collectively recognizing the fact that Gandhi rolled up the 150 years of foreign rule.
As for the allegations of Rahul Gandhi, the Supreme Court has taken note of them. In the wake of the court hearing, many skeletons may tumble out of the closet. Now that the Congress vice-president has refused to apologize—one can only hope that he will stick to his statement—the fat is on fire and the public may see an ideological warfare in the court itself. Rahul Gandhi is either made or marred.
—The writer is a veteran Indian journalist, syndicated columnist, human rights activist and author.

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