Assassinating the Mahatma

The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, an oedipal crime as Prof. Makarand Paranjape terms it, was a cold-blooded assassination by a hot-headed zealot who believed that it had become imminent to kill the adorned father of the nation for the protection of the motherland. The case for justification of the assassination can be summarised in the following points.

  1. Gandhi was turning the Hindus into a herbivorous lot, who are not to be instigated to retaliate in face of communal aggression from Pakistan.
  2. Gandhi’s was disproportionately compassionate towards Pakistan by undertaking fasts and using moral coercion to make congress give assistance to the new state.
  3. Gandhi was responsible for the partition by allowing the Muslim nationalists to have their way, throughout the days of freedom struggle and not putting any kind of leash on them.

It had, however, become painfully obvious that the Hindus and Sikhs had become impervious to Gandhi’s appeals and butchered Muslims as much as Muslims butchered the fleeing Hindus and Sikhs. There is also, little doubt that Nehru would have eventually relented towards giving Pakistan its share when the realities of partition would have become more apparent. Gandhi might have been at best a tiny catalyst in the release of financial assistance to Pakistan.

Thus of the three, Gandhi was partially guilty only of the third one. In order to provide for a capable adhesive for integrating the national movement, Gandhi used the abolition of the position of Caliph in Ottoman as a plank for drawing in Muslims. When it became obvious that Turkey under Ataturk had chosen to forgo the position of caliph, turning Turkey into a secular and democratic republic, there was little incentive for Muslims to remain involved in the movement. Thereafter, the association with the religious identity became ever more prominent than the geographical one. This, however, became apparent only in retrospective assessment; prior to the arrival of Gandhi on the soil, the Indian National Congress under Tilak wasn’t shy of using religion for mass mobilisation. Indeed, none of this could have vindicated the assassination even if found to be true.

The assassination became a blemish on the Hindutva organisations, most prominent among them being the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who was labelled to have motivated the ideology behind the attack. The jury is still out on how much the sangh was involved in motivating Godse, former home minister and BJP patriarch, L.K Adavni mentions in his autobiography that Godse left the organisation about 15 years prior to the assassination and looked at it with disdain. He also mentions that as late as September 1947, Gandhi was interacting with Sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar and addressing Sangh gatherings. There has been a lot of selective quoting of correspondence between Nehru and Patel to show Sangh’s involvement but taken as a whole they are inconclusive. The Sangh survived a judicial inquiry under Kapur commission that wasn’t able to indicate involvement. The blame continues to breathe occasional life as recently as last year, when Rahul Gandhi, the vice president of congress, did a somersault on his statement regarding Sangh’s involvement.

Gandhi’s death, however, brought the communal calm which his attempts during his lifetime couldn’t. The nation didn’t face any kind of major communal violence for the next decade and more. It also, as noted by historian Ramachandra Guha, brought Nehru and Patel closer again, who had been drifting apart to the point of contemplating resignation. His ways of passive resistance were later emulated by Martin Luther King jr and Nelson Mendela effectively bringing an end to racism on the two continents.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons – Mahatma Gandhi in conversation with C. Rajagopalachari

Anuj Aggarwal

Leave a Reply