Exclusive: BJP icon SP Mookerjee complicit in raising funds to defend Gandhi's killers
- Syama Prasad Mookerjee complicit in raising funds for defending Gandhi\'s killers
- Sardar Patel, then Union home minister, confronted him for this act
- In his letters to Patel, Mookerjee mentions Hindu Mahasabha & RSS in the same breath
- How Sardar Patel cornered Syama Prasad Mookerjee
- What are the links between RSS & Hindu Mahasabha?
In the political debate on the role of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Mahatma Gandhi's murder, triggered by Rahul Gandhi's remark and the Supreme Court's response, a crucial point at issue is the closeness of the RSS to the Hindu Mahasabha.
Activists of the Hindu Mahasabha were accused and convicted of the murder.
Today, the RSS maintains that it was always ideologically distinct from the Mahasabha, as was also argued by Prafulla Ketkar, the editor of RSS newspaper Organiser, in Catch.
Yet historical documents spill over with evidence of the closeness between the Mahasabha and the RSS in the period leading up to the Partition.
An icon for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Syama Prasad Mookerjee, was complicit in raising funds for the legal defence of those accused of Mahtama Gandhi's murder, through his party, the Hindu Mahasabha. At the time, Mookerjee was not only associated with the Hindu Mahsabha but was also the Minister of Industry and Supplies in the Nehru Cabinet.
Correspondence between Sardar Patel and Syama Prasad Mookerjee
On being questioned about this by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Mookerjee tried to fudge the issue. In his replies Mookerjee suggested that funds were being raised only to defend one of the accused, VD Savarkar and not the others. In a letter to Sardar Patel on 16 June, 1948, Mookerjee wrote:
My dear Sardarji,
I have received your letter about the raising of subscriptions for the defence of accused in Gandhiji's murder trial. I had a talk with Mr. [L B] Bhopatkar (President of the Hindu Mahasabha at that time) about this matter this morning. I think the position has been somewhat misunderstood. The Hindu Mahasabha has not appointed any Defence Committee. The All India Defence Committee is an entirely independent orgnaisation. As you have yourself hinted, the move for raising funds started in some quarters mainly for the defence of [V D] Savarkarji. ...
As regards the defence of the other accused, the matter was raised by the court on the opening day of the trial. A few with the approval of the court sought the assistance of Mr. Bhopatkar in making necessary arrangements. As was explained in the court day before yesterday this has also been completed.
... But as I have already said, funds mainly raised for Savarkar's defence have been placed in the hands of the Defence Committee for utilisation.
In other words, the money collected for the defence of Savarkar was given to the Defence Committee to use as it saw fit! The mandate of the committee was to defend all Hindu Mahasabha workers who sought its assistance.
Sardar Patel was unimpressed by Mookerjee's explanations and asked him to explain the conduct of his organisation again. On 9 September 1948, in his reply Mookerjee attached a copy of Bhoptakar's explanation on raising funds for the Gandhi murder accused. It is available in Selected Correspondence of Sardar Patel, Vol. 6, Edited by Durga Das.
Bhopatkar's letter also made the same points: that the Defence Committee was funded by money raised from "all the Hindu Sabhas in the country" as distinct from the central body, All India Hindu Mahasabha.
This money was raised for the defence of Savarkar. However, he admitted:
"The Defence Committee was appointed for giving legal aid to all such workers of Hindu Mahasabha as required or called for it."
All the Gandhi murder accused
-Nathuram Godse, Digambar Badge, Gopal Godse, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare and Madanlal Phawa - were incidentally prominent members of the Hindu Mahasabha.
Bhopatkar, admitted that a circular letter was indeed sent by the Hindu Mahasabha across the country "intended to call upon Hindu Sabhas to collect money for this purpose."
He further admitted that while "not a penny" from the funds of the Hindu Mahasabha was utilised for the trial, "Some of the rooms in the Hindu Mahasabha Bhavan occupied by defence counsel are given on monthly rent"!
It is questionable whether giving its rooms on rent to those defending the murderers of the Mahatma was purely a commercial decision on the part of the Hindu Mahasabha.
Sardar Patel's response to these letters was terse and quick. A day after receiving Mookerjee's letter, Patel wrote back on 10 September, 1948:
My dear Dr Syama Prasad,
... It is quite clear now that the Hindu Sabhas are being mobilised for the purpose of collecting subscription for the Defence Fund. It is futile, therefore, to argue that the Hindu Mahasabha is not officially concerned with it. It was open to the friends and well-wishers of Mr Savarkar to organise separate agencies for the purpose of collecting funds. If the official organisation of the Hindu Mahasabha is being utilised for this purpose, there can be only one inference, namely, that the Hindu Mahasabha is in it. After what you had written to me last time, this has come to me as a great surprise.
Also read: Did RSS kill Mahatma Gandhi? Parties raise questions following Golwalkar expose So there are strong grounds in this correspondence for believing that the Hindu Mahsabha was "in it". But was the RSS was also in it? What was the link between the two organisations at the time?
Mookerjee's correspondence with Sardar Patel shows that there was an organic link between the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, which today's RSS activists deny. This link is also established by Delhi Police CID in a report preceding the assassination of Gandhi.
In May 1948, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, pleaded with Sardar Patel to release the detained members of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS in the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination.
In his letter to Patel on 4 May 1948, Mookerjee not only requested the release of some Hindu Mahasabha activists who had been arrested under the Public Safety Act but also wrote in the same letter that "The future of the RSS workers has also to be settled."
He argued: "In view of the great complications which may arise in connection with Hyderabad and Kashmir, it is desirable that we should be able to create an atmosphere of confidence and security amongst all sections of the people provided we are satisfied that by a general order of releases we are not jeopardising the course of law and order."
If there was no ideological or organisational relationship between the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS, would Mookerjee be writing about them in the same breath?
Patel's views on the affinity of the two organizations, were quite clear.
Of the Hindu Mahasbaha, he noted: "We cannot shut our eyes to the fact that an appreciable number of members of the Mahasabha gloated over the tragedy and distributed sweets" and that given their militant communalism the detained members of the organisation "could not but be regarded as a danger to public security."
As for the RSS, Patel said: "The same would apply to the RSS, with the additional danger inherent in an organisation run in secret on military or semi-military lines."
Other contemporary observers also saw the two organisations as close allies. So did other political observers who watched them act in tandem during the communal riots in Punjab.
Pointing to the close relationship of the two entities, a source report of the Delhi Police's Criminal Investigation Department dated 29 November 1947 claimed that "it is believed that the RSSS [Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh] and the Hindu Mahasabha will conjointly contest the next Assembly elections from various constituencies in India." Whether this alliance took place or not is another matter. The point is that the two were thinking of fielding joint candidates.
The complicity of the RSS with the Hindu Mahasabha's agenda was also described in a pamphlet called "Bleeding Punjab Warns" written by Dhanwantri and PC Joshi of the Communist Party of India and published in September 1947.
Describing the organisation of execution of communal riots in Punjab, Dhanwantri wrote:
"In the Punjab, however, in the recent biggest ever killing ever seen, it was the trained bands equipped with fire-arms and modern weapons that were the main killers, looters and rapers. These were the storm troops of various communal parties such as the National Guards of the Muslim League in the Western Punjab, and the Shahidi Dals of the Akalis and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh of the Mahasabha in the Eastern Punjab."
Their shared role in the Punajb made them see each other as political allies, and according to P C Joshi, emboldened them to demand a stake in political power together:
"The RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha today feel powerful enough to openly demand in their Press the Sangram and Baljeet (Urdu papers from Delhi) and the Organiser (English) that Bakshi Tek Chand, the Mahasabhaite chief, should be made Governor of East Punjab and Rai Bahadur Badri Prasad Das, the RSS boss, should be made premier."
Moreover, though the RSS today disowns Nathruam Godse and others who assisted in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi by claiming that they were not members of the RSS. This has been denied by Nathuram Godse's brother himself. Gopal Godse is on record saying that all the Godse brothers were members of the RSS and never left the organisation.
In an interview to Frontline as late as 28 January 1994, Gopal Godse said:
"You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our home. It was like a family to us. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah [intellectual worker] in the RSS. He has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because [M S] Golwalkar ("Guruji" of the organisation) and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS."
Edited by Aditya Menon