When Godse's Niece Married Savarkar's Nephew

When Godse's Niece Married Savarkar's Nephew

Cover of Dhirendra K. Jha's book Shadow Armies: Fringe Organisations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva

A small group of mourners stood silently as the priest chanted mantras around the body of Himani Savarkar, the niece of Nathuram Godse and the widow of V.D. Savarkar's nephew. Satyeki Savarkar, the son of the deceased, followed the priest closely. It was early on 12 October 2015 and the incessant rains of the previous night had given way to a bright morning sun. At the end of the rites, the body was gently laid inside the electric furnace while the chanting of mantras continued, the scent of camphor drifting in the air. The priest then pulled down the iron shutter of the furnace and led Satyeki outside the central chamber of Pune's Vaikunth Electric Crematorium. Behind them were mostly members of the Abhinav Bharat, a close-knit Hindutva outfit facing a series of terror charges.

These mourners began to disperse in silence. The death of Himani had snapped the living link they had had with two historical figures, both of whom they claimed as a source of inspiration and a role model.

Himani was the daughter of Gopal Godse, the younger brother of Nathuram Godse - a Hindu fanatic who killed Mahatma Gandhi on 30 January 1948 and was hanged along with his accomplice Narayan Apte on 15 November 1949. Gopal, one of the conspirators in the assassination, was imprisoned. Himani was less than a year old when her father was picked up from their residence in Pune and sentenced to eighteen years in prison. In 1964 Gopal was released but arrested again a month later under the Defence of India Act and kept in jail for one more year.

Himani could not have come to represent the joint legacy of Godse and Savarkar had she not married the son of Narayan Savarkar, the younger brother of V.D. Savarkar, the supreme leader of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and the fountainhead of Hindutva ideology. Along with the Godses, Savarkar had also been arrested and tried in the Gandhi murder case. The case against him was dropped on 10 February 1949 for lack of evidence to corroborate the testimony of the approver. Later, however, he was indicted by the Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi set up in 1965 under Justice Jeevan Lal Kapur. 'All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder [Mahatma] by Savarkar and his group,' said the Kapur Commission report. It was this double legacy rather than any of her political work that brought Himani first to the Hindu Mahasabha and then to the Abhinav Bharat, an organization formed in 2006 by a small band of highly motivated Savarkarites of Maharashtra. She was a professional architect who joined active politics only in 2000 when she left her job and returned from Mumbai to Pune. 'I had my practice from 1974 to 2000,' she said in an interview four years after quitting her regular job and becoming the face of the Hindu Mahasabha. 'In 2000, I decided to stop the practice because I have the copyright on all Veer Savarkar literature. I am its inheritor. So it was my duty to take care of it.'

Himani was acutely aware of the significance that history had bestowed on her. In 2008 when she got an opportunity to head the Abhinav Bharat, she promptly snapped it up. The origins of the Abhinav Bharat are shrouded in mystery. It is named after, and said to be inspired by, the secret society of students that Savarkar started in 1905 while he was studying at Fergusson College in Pune. But when Savarkar got a scholarship for higher education in England in early 1906, he left India. The Abhinav Bharat remained inactive for decades and in 1952, five years after Independence, the Hindu Mahasabha leader disbanded it.

Who revived it and how are not quite clear. The Abhinav Bharat would have remained mired in obscurity had it not been for the bomb blast on 29 September 2008 in the Muslim-dominated powerloom town of Malegaon in Maharashtra. The probe into this incident dramatically changed the terror trail in India. It was led by Hemant Karkare, who was subsequently killed in the Mumbai terror attack on 26 November 2008. The investigation unravelled for the first time a conspiracy by right-wing Hindu groups - in particular, the Abhinav Bharat - to spread terror in the country.

Excerpted with permission of Juggernaut Books from Shadow Armies: Fringe Organizations and Foot Soldiers of Hindutva by Dhirendra K. Jha. Pre-order your copy here.

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