By Amulya Ganguli
A Belgian admirer of India's saffron brotherhood, Koenraad Elst, said in his book, "Mahatma Gandhi and His Assassin", that the murder caused a huge setback to the Hindu nationalists.
Sundar Singh Bhandari, a pracharak of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), who was the governor of Gujarat at the time of the 2002 riots, said that the "propaganda related to Gandhi's assassination went on for 50 years. In the same way, people will continue to talk of Godhra", which is a "black stain on the BJP".
That the "propaganda" is continuing can be seen from Rahul Gandhi's reference all over again to the role of the RSS in the Mahatma's killing, undeterred by the Supreme Court's call for an apology.
Notwithstanding the flip-flop evident in his initial observation that he blamed only those associated with the RSS for the death and not the organisation itself, and his subsequent statement that he stood by his earlier direct condemnation of the RSS, there is little doubt that the battle lines have been drawn between the not-so-young prince and the Nagpur patriarchs.
Gandhi has even taken his confrontation with the RSS a step further by withdrawing his petition to the Supreme Court seeking the quashing of the defamation proceedings against him filed by the RSS and asserted that he is ready to face trial.
It appears that the Congress vice president has decided that raking up the Mahatma's assassination is the best way to corner the RSS and the Sangh parivar.
There is little doubt that, as the admirers of the RSS like Elst and Bhandari have acknowledged, the assassination has been haunting the parivar ever since Nathuram Godse fired the shots on January 30, 1948.
Nor is Godse persona non grata for the saffron camp for his crime. While the Shiv Sena's Bal Thackeray once said that Godse's statues will replace those of Gandhi, Rajendra Singh or Rajju Bhaiya, who was the RSS sarsanghchalak between 1993 and 2000, said that Godse's "intention was good but he used the wrong methods".
It is this adulatory view of the assassin which was recently expressed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP, Sakshi Maharaj, when he described Godse as a patriot. He was quickly silenced by his party, which has now donned a moderate mask. But the revelation of the parivar's high regard for the Mahatma's killer only outed a "secret" which is generally known.
It is also the BJP's weak point. Not surprisingly, the fact of the assassination and the name of the killer were omitted from a "history" book being written in 2002 during the phase of saffronisation of education under the then Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi.
The writer, Hari Om, purportedly a professor, explained that the constraints of space and time -- and the font size -- led to the omissions which were like writing the life of Christ without mentioning the crucifixion.
Gandhi's offer, therefore, to face a trial is not something which will enthuse the BJP and its mentor, the RSS, for not many outside the groves of academe can anticipate what can emerge from the archives of historians once the Pandora's box is opened.
Inadvertently or otherwise, Gandhi has hit a sore point of the Hindutva brigade, whose political potential can prove to be useful for the Congress and the BJP's other opponents.
It is difficult to say, however, if they can make full use of whatever revelations are made in the courtroom because of their abstruse nature. The exposures may also be of more interest to scholars than to the general public.
But since politics is about perceptions, the airing of the long-gone events cannot but bring to life a period of history when the Congress and the RSS were vastly different from what they are today.
In judicial terms, however, no closure can be applied to a case of this nature, for the ghastly deed has been done and the unrepentant guilty punished.
It will also be wrong to assume that the BJP's political clout will be visibly diminished if the taint of the assassination darkens the image of the RSS since, to many, it is an old and familiar story. From this standpoint, the trial will be more of shadow-boxing than a substantive exercise.
However, the political fallout may see the BJP and the RSS to be more on the defensive, especially if the parivar's hotheads in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal use the occasion to praise Godse and excoriate Gandhi.
The Congress, on its part, is unlikely to experience a dramatic revival of fortunes, for it will continue to be judged by its present-day economic and political policies rather than by what happened seven decades ago.
It is also possible that the judiciary's intervention can be regarded as another case of overreach in what is essentially a political battle between the BJP and the Congress with the latter trying to overcome the current demoralization among the rank and file and the RSS/BJP engaged in rearguard action to negate the setback it suffered, as Elst said, way back in 1948.