Probably Rahul Gandhi's public statement in Bhivandi in 2014 linking the RSS and the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi wasn't legally sound, but refusing to stand-down and opting to face trial for alleged defamation is the right political decision for both him and the Congress.
It would have been far better if he hadn't tried to step back a little in between when he told Mumbai High Court and the Supreme Court that he didn't really mean what he said. Anyway, now that he has made up his mind, he should make the best use of it.
The trial will be protracted and might not reach a conclusion any time in near future, but its propaganda value is worth the effort. Most of the averments and evidence in support of the narrative that Nathuram Godse, Gandhiji's killer, was indeed an RSS man and that he had been influenced by its ideology, as well as the arguments to counter them had been made innumerable times.
While the RSS has distanced itself from Godse on the grounds that he was not a member of the organisation at the time of the assassination, some Hindu voices still recognise him as a "nationalist" and a member of the Parivar.
When the case goes for trial, Gandhi and the Congress would get yet another opportunity to corner the Sangh Parivar with the Godse-taint. Although its potential to electorally damage the BJP is debatable, it will certainly amplify a blemish that will continue to discredit the entire Sangh's nationalistic rhetoric.
Rahul should have made this decision earlier and taken the fight to the RSS camp the way veteran Congress leader and former Human Resources Minister the late Arjun Singh had done. In his Bhivandi speech, what Rahul said was much milder than what Singh had said. Reportedly Rahul said that "RSS people killed Gandhiji. They opposed Sardar Patel and Gandhiji", whereas in his speech at a national conference on secularism organised by the freedom fighter cell of the AICC in 2004, Singh was more direct when he said that "if an institution's biggest achievement was the killing of Gandhi then you can expect what national purpose it can serve."
Singh never went back on what he said and fought a defamation case case till he died in 2011, whereas Rahul Gandhi's initial tendency was to get out of the legal trouble by tendering an indirect apology. In his affidavit to the Mumbai High Court, where the defamation case against him was filed, and later at the Supreme Court, he tried to soften his position by saying that he never accused the RSS as an institution for the assassination.
And his present change of stance came only when he was pressed for a proper apology. When torn between an admission of mistake to the RSS and a trial, he was practically left with no option.
However, the SC's observation that "you can't make wholesale denunciation of an organisation," doesn't make it easy for him. In July, the apex court had said: "if you had said some people from RSS had killed Gandhiji, it would have been different. But you said RSS killed Gandhiji." Do these words set the tone for the trial? One has to wait and see.
What Singh had said was also more or less the same and interestingly, one of the defamation cases filed against him in Chennai was dismissed because the court found no merit in it while the other in Haryana dragged on for years. "The averments made in the complaint do not substantiate the commission of offence of defamation," the Chennai court had said.
While the RSS has distanced itself from Godse on the grounds that he was not a member of the organisation at the time of the assassination, some Hindu voices still recognise him as a "nationalist" and a member of the Parivar. Pandit Ashok Sharma, national vice president of the Hindu Mahasabha has reportedly said that "Godse was a nationalist writer linked with RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. It is wrong for the RSS to say that Godse had no link with them. We have no qualms in accepting the fact that he was linked to Hindu Mahasabha, and we celebrate his birthday too, but it is high time that RSS accepts this too."
Last year, the Sabha wanted to install his statues in temples across the country that had led to law and order situations at many places.
In the wake of Singh's statement in 2004, the RSS had released a letter from Sardar Patel to Jawaharlal Nehru to prove its innocence in Mahatma Gandhi's murder. The letter seemingly absolved the RSS, but blamed VD Savarkar, whom neither the BJP nor the Sangh has denounced. According to this report in The Hindu, Patel's letter said that "it was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through." Reportedly, the letter also stated that the assassination "was welcomed by those of the RSS and the [Hindu] Mahasabha who were strongly opposed to his way of thinking and to his policy".
Rahul's statement is only about semantics because the undeniable fact is that Godse's indoctrination had happened within the RSS. As AG Noorani had enunciated in this much cited 2013 article in Frontline, he had strong links with the organisation. The BJP/RSS leaders' repeated claim that Godse had severed links with the Sangh in 1933 and was even critical of the organisation doesn't wash because it's the fundamentalisation of the thought that matters. As the world has seen in the case of Islamism, the origin of radicalisation is as important as its journey and aftermath.
The BJP/RSS leaders' repeated claim that Godse had severed links with the Sangh in 1933 and was even critical of the organisation doesn't wash because it's the fundamentalisation of the thought that matters.
Anyway, these arguments would come to the fore once again as Rahul appears before the court. And the country should thank Rahul and the Congress because the trial is a historical necessity for the present generation to learn about the cost of religious bigotry and the perils of even fellow-travelling. Any impact on the upcoming elections will be only a fringe-benefit.