Gandhi or Godse ? Even as the ‘Brotherhood in Saffron’ pretends to appropriate the Mahatma’s legacy, assassin Nathuram Godse’s admirers in Maharashtra – the birthplace of the hate-Gandhi ideology, and Gujarat – the birthplace of the Mahatma – continue their campaign to vilify him and glorify the villain
BY CHUNIBHAI VAIDYA
(The article reproduced below was first published as a pamphlet in Gujarati, in response to two controversial plays, ‘Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoye’ and ‘Gandhi virudh Gandhi’. The pamphlet has since been translated into seven Indian languages. The English version has only recently been put out on the website, mkgandhi–sarvodaya.org).
The killer of Gandhiji and his apologists sought to justify the assassination on the fol lowing arguments:
Ø Gandhiji supported the idea of a separate state for Muslims. In a sense he was responsible for the creation of Pakistan.
Ø In spite of the Pakistani aggression in Kashmir, Gandhiji fasted to compel the government of India to release an amount of Rs. 55 crore due to Pakistan.
Ø The belligerence of Muslims was a result of Gandhiji’s policy of appeasement.
Scrutinised in the light of recorded history these prove to be clever distortions to misguide the gullible. Gandhiji in those days was very active in the rough and tumble of politics. The proposal for partition of the country and violent reaction against it generated tensions which ultimately resulted in sectarian killings on a scale unprecedented in human history.
For the ethnic Muslims, Gandhiji was a Hindu leader who opposed creation of Pakistan on sectarian grounds. Ethnic Hindus looked upon him as an impediment to their plan to avenge the atrocities on Hindus. Godse was a child of this extremist thinking.
The assassination of Gandhiji was a culmination of decades of systematic brainwashing. Gandhiji had become a thorn in the flesh of the hardcore Hindus and in course of time this resentment turned into a phobia. Beginning with the year 1934 and over a period of 14 years, on as many as six occasions, attempts were made to kill Gandhiji. The last one by Godse on January 30, 1948 was successful. The remaining five were made in 1934, in the months of July and September 1944, September 1946 and 20th January 1948. Godse was involved in two previous attempts.
When the unsuccessful attempts of 1934, 1944 and 1946 were made, the proposal regarding partition and the matter regarding release of Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan were not in existence at all. The conspiracy to do away with Gandhiji was conceived much earlier than the successful accomplishment thereof. The grounds advanced for this heinous crime are clever rationalisation to hoodwink the gullible. The staging of the play entitled, ‘Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoye’ is clear proof of the fact that the mindset that led to Gandhiji’s assassination has not disappeared from our national life.
A civil society is wedded to the democratic method of resolving differences through frank and open debate and evolving a working consensus. Gandhiji was always open to persuasion. Gandhiji had invited Godse for discussions but the latter did not avail of this opportunity given to him. This is indicative of the lack of faith in the democratic way of resolving differences on the part of Godse and his ilk. Such fascist mindset seek to do away with dissent by liquidating the opponents.
The Hindu backlash was as much responsible for the creation of Pakistan as the sentiments of ethnic Muslims. The hard core Hindus looked down upon the Muslims as misguided malechcha (unclean) and came to believe that coexistence with them was not possible. Mutual distrust and recriminations led the extremists among both the groups to regard Hindus and Muslims as different nationalities and this strengthened the Muslim League’s demand for partition as the only possible solution to the communal problem. Vested interests on both the sides stirred up the separatist sentiment and sought to justify their hate–campaign by clever and selective distortion of history. It is indeed a matter for serious concern for the nation that this mentality has not disappeared even today.
Poet Mohammed Iqbal who wrote the famous song ‘Sare jahan se achcha Hindostan hamara’ was the first to formulate the concept of a separate state for Muslims as early as 1930. Needless to state, this sentiment was, in a sense, strengthened by Hindu extremists. In 1937, at the open session of the Hindu Mahasabha held at Ahmedabad, Veer Savarkar, in his presidential address asserted: “India cannot be assumed today to be unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main – the Hindus and the Muslims.” (Vide Writings of Swatantarya Veer Savarkar, Vol. 6 page 296, Maharashtra Prantiya Hindu Mahasabha, Pune).
In 1945, he had stated: “I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah’s two–nation theory. We, the Hindus are a nation by ourselves, and it is a historical fact that the Hindus and the Muslims are two nations”. (Vide Indian Educational Register, 1943, vol. 2, page 10). It was this sentiment of separate and irreconcilable identities of the followers of these religions that led to the formation of Pakistan.
In complete contrast to this mentality, throughout his life Gandhiji remained an uncompromising advocate of the oneness of God, respect for all religions, equality of all men and non–violence in thought, speech and action. His daily prayers comprised verses, devotional songs and readings from different scriptures. All people, irrespective of their allegiance to different religions, attended those meetings. Till his dying day, Gandhiji held the view that the nationality of fellow citizens was not in any way affected by the fact of their subscribing to religious belief other than yours. During his life, on more than one occasion he strove for unity and equality among Hindus themselves, as well as amity among Hindus and Muslims, even risking his life. The idea of partition was an anathema to him. He was given to saying that he would sooner die than subscribe to such a pernicious doctrine. His life was an open book and no substantiation is necessary on this score.
Under Gandhiji’s leadership communal amity occupied the pride of place in the constructive programmes of the Congress. Muslim leaders and intellectuals of national stature, like Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Maulana Azad, Dr. Ansari Hakim Ajmal Khan, Badruddin Tayabji, even Jinnah himself, were in the Congress fold. It is natural that the Congress opposed the proposal for the division of the country. But as a result of the incitement on the part of the lumpen elements among the Hindus and Muslims a tidal wave of carnage and lawlessness engulfed the nation.
Faced with the breakdown of law and order in Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan, North–West Frontier Province and Bengal, Congress lost nerve. Jinnah adopted an inflexible attitude. Lord Mountbatten being motivated by the time–limit given to him by the British Cabinet used all his powers of persuasion and charm to steer all the leaders to a solution quick and yet acceptable to all; but the adamantine attitude of Jinnah made everything except partition unacceptable.
Faced with such a scenario Congress found it difficult to keep up its morale. Gandhiji conveyed to Lord Mountbatten on April 5, 1947 that he would agree even if the Britishers made Jinnah the Prime Minister and left the country as it was. Instead, Lord Mountbatten succeeded in getting the Congress to agree to partition.
Gandhiji was in the dark about it; he was shell–shocked when he learned about it. The only remedy available to him was fasting unto death to dissuade his followers from acquiescence to a ruinous course of action. After sustained soul searching he came to the conclusion that in the prevalent situation such a step on his part would further deteriorate the situation, demoralise the Congress and the whole country.
The factors that weighed with him were the importunate demands of a rapidly changing national scenario and the non–existence of an alternate set of leaders of proven nationalist credentials.
The most perplexing and yet pertinent question is that Jinnah was the most vocal protagonist of Pakistan and with the intentional or otherwise efforts of Mountbatten he succeeded in carving it out. Then, instead of making the two his targets, why did Godse select one for murder who vehemently opposed the idea of partition till the resolution by the Congress accepting the partition of the country was passed on June 3, 1947 and Pakistan became a fate accompli? Is it that, as Savarkar put it, he had no quarrel with Jinnah and his two–nation theory but he and his apologists had real quarrel with Gandhi and Gandhi alone?
It is necessary to point out an aspect of Gandhiji’s personality that made him the source of unabated distrust and dislike in the eyes of hardcore Hindus.
Though he was a devout Hindu, Gandhiji had most amicable and warm relations with many who did not belong to the Hindu fold. As a result of this exposure he had developed an eclectic religious sense based on oneness of God and equality of all religions.Caste divisions and untouchability prevalent among the Hindus distressed him immensely. He advocated and actively encouraged inter–caste marriages. Lastly, he blessed only those marriages wherein one of the partners belonged to the untouchable castes.
Vested interests amongst high caste Hindus viewed this reformist and other religious programmes with bitter resentment. In course of time it developed into a phobia and thus he became an anathema to them.
The matter regarding release of Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan towards the second instalment of arrears to be paid to it, under the terms of division of assets and liabilities, requires to be understood in the context of the events that took place in the aftermath of partition. Of the Rs. 75 crore to be paid, the first instalment of Rs. 20 crore was already released. The invasion of Kashmir by self–styled liberators with the covert support of the Pakistani army took place before the second instalment was paid.
While the government of India decided to withhold it, Lord Mountbatten was of the opinion that it amounted to a violation of the mutually agreed conditions and he brought it to the notice of Gandhiji. To Gandhiji’s ethical sense the policy of tit for tat was repugnant and he readily agreed with the Viceroy’s point of view. However, linking his stand in this matter with the fast he undertook, as we will see in the following lines, is an intentional mix-up and distortion of facts of contemporary history.
The fast was undertaken with a view to restoring communal amity in Delhi. Gandhiji arrived from Calcutta in September 1947 to go to Punjab to restore peace there. On being briefed by Sardar Patel about the explosive situation in Delhi itself he changed his plans and decided to continue his stay in Delhi to restore peace with the firm determination to “Do or Die.”
The influx of Hindus from Pakistan who were uprooted and who had suffered killings of relatives, abduction and rape of women and looting of their belongings had created an explosive situation. Local Hindus who were outraged by the treatment meted out to their Hindu brethren and the anger of local Muslims against reports of similar outrages on their co–religionists in India made Delhi a veritable witches’ cauldron.
This resulted in killings, molestation, torching of houses and properties. This caused deep anguish to Gandhiji. What added poignancy to this was the realisation that it happened in India itself just after an unique incident in the history of mankind: doing away of the shackles of a colonial regime by non–violent means.
It was with this background in his mind that he undertook a fast unto death to restore communal amity and sanity in Delhi. And, as if to allow the critics of Mahatma Gandhi a chance to mix–up and manoeuvre, the decision of the government of India to release Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan came during this period of his fast.
The following facts dissolve the much–touted thesis that Gandhiji had fasted to bring moral pressure on government of India to relent:
Ø Dr. Sushila Nair, as soon as she heard Gandhiji proclaim his decision, rushed to her brother Pyarelal and informed him in a huff that Gandhiji had decided to fast till the madness in Delhi ceased. Even in those moments of inadvertence, the mention of 55 crore of rupees was not made which clearly proves that it was not intended by Gandhiji.
Ø Gandhiji’s own announcement about his resolve in the evening prayer meeting on 12th January did not contain any reference to it. Had it been a condition, he would have certainly mentioned it as that.
Ø Similarly, there was no reference to it in his discourse on 13th January.
Ø Gandhiji’s reply on 15th January to a specific question regarding the purpose of his fast did not mention it.
Ø The press release of the government of India did not have any mention thereof.
Ø The list of assurances given by the committee headed by Dr. Rajendra Prasad to persuade Gandhiji to give up his fast did not include it.
We hope these facts would put the Rs. 55 crore concoction at rest.
With regard to the last allegation regarding appeasement of Muslims, it should be conceded that a certain amount of antagonism between Hindus and Muslims existed in the nation. The colonial power cleverly exploited it during its reign and inevitably the division of the country came into being. Long before Gandhiji appeared on the national stage sagacious leaders like BG Tilak had started attempts to secure the participation of Muslims in the nationalist struggle.
Under what came to be known as the Lucknow Pact, Lokmanya Tilak, Annie Besant and Mohammed Ali Jinnah evolved a formula under which the Muslims would get representation greater than what would be justified on the basis of the percentage of Muslim population. The frank and bold statement of Tilak defending the Pact is an eloquent refutation of the charge that Gandhiji began the policy of appeasement of Muslims.
The author of the play, Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoye, Pradeep Dalvi, described the order of the Maharashtra government banning the staging of the play as an attack on freedom of expression. This is a travesty of truth and a perversion of the fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution.
The constitution also provides for ban on the abuse of this freedom; vide its section 19(2). The implications of what Dalvi and his ilk profess requires to be carefully analysed. Under the guise of defending the freedom of expression, what they are seeking to do is to advocate the right to murder those who do not agree with them. They seek to spread hatred and violence. They want to propagate the pernicious doctrine that under certain circumstances the murder of the opponent becomes an act of religious sacrifice.
It is revolting to find that the heinous murder of one who was a living embodiment of non–violence, peace and love and who was as defenceless as a naked, new born child should be made a scaffolding for a neo–fascist doctrine.
Godse is no more but the mindset that gave birth to such distorted philosophy is unfortunately still with us. One can dismiss what he did as an act of a lunatic bigot. Assassination by itself is not as wicked as the attempts to rationalise, justify, masquerade it as a religious act. Permitting such plays to be staged amounts to permitting mis–education of our children. Only sane response to such insidious propaganda is unequivocal rejection thereof.
(The author is associated with the Gujarat Lok Samiti, Ahmedabad)