Indians pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on 75th anniversary of his killing

Modi praises symbol of non-violence, who was assassinated in New Delhi in 1948

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation on Monday in paying tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his the 75th anniversary of his death, which is marked as Martyrs' Day.

Gandhi, a global icon of non-violence and peace, was assassinated by Nathuram Godse and his militant Hindu group, on January 30, 1948, months after India gained independence from British colonial rule.

He was 78 years old.

Mr Modi paid tribute to Gandhi — often referred to as Bapu, meaning father — remembering him and his sacrifices for the country.

“I bow to Bapu on his Punya Tithi [death anniversary] and recall his profound thoughts. I also pay homage to all those who have been martyred in the service of our nation,” Mr Modi said on Twitter.

“Their sacrifices will never be forgotten and will keep strengthening our resolve to work for a developed India.”

The Hindu nationalist leader, India’s President Droupadi Murmu and top officials, including Mr Modi’s cabinet colleagues, laid floral wreaths at the Gandhi memorial in New Delhi.

Mr Modi regularly talks about Gandhi’s influence on his life and invokes the independence leader's name globally to promote non-violence and peace.

But critics say after Mr Modi’s rise to power in 2014, Hindu right-wing groups as well as Mr Modi’s party members have attempted to lionise the assassin.

Several temples have cropped up across India, where supporters of Godse hold regular prayers and mark the day as Valour Day.

Many in India consider Godse a hero, while branding Gandhi a traitor.

Members of All India Hindu Mahasabha distributed sweets and prayed at the temple dedicated to the assassin.

They have in the past re-enacted the killing by shooting at Gandhi’s effigy filled with fake blood, triggering outrage.

“We worship Godse because we believe what he did was the revenge for the murder of those who died during the partition,” Ashok Sharma, the vice president of All India Hindu Mahsabha, told The National. “Gandhi was responsible for the partition 75 years ago. We all knew this but now the whole world knows about Godse's contribution to this country.”

Godse, then 37, had fired three bullets into Gandhi’s chest from a pistol as the popular leader stepped out of a multi-faith prayer in New Delhi. He died instantly, plunging the newly independent nation into weeks of grief and mourning.

More than a million people joined the funeral procession.

Godse was convicted of murder and hanged along with a co-conspirator Narayan Apte a year later.

His act had drawn widespread condemnation in India and revulsion for right-wing Hindu groups.

He joined Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh — a paramilitary Hindu volunteer group that believes in the supremacy of Hindus — at a young age.

RSS is the ideological fountainhead of Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and he is a lifetime member of the group.

Just before the assassination, Godse had affiliated himself with Hindu Mahasabha, another right-wing organisation which aimed to turn India into a Hindu state.

Both RSS and Mahasabha lost ground after Gandhi’s assassination, with the Indian government briefly banning the RSS and Godse becoming one of the most despised figures in India.

The RSS distanced itself from the assassin.

But Gandhi's great-grandson says that the assassin's rehabilitation in recent years is driven by the Hindu hegemony that many fear has conquered Indian politics.

“Gandhi would have never, ever accepted what India is being turned into today — intolerant, vile and aggressive. A very brutal India is emerging,” Tushar Gandhi told The National.

“We have successfully created two Indias. For one India, Gandhi still remains the ideal but for the greater India, now Godse has become the greater patriot because that is the kind of India that is emerging.”

Updated: January 30, 2023, 11:10 AM