Gandhi and his assassin
Provocative View of Indo-Pakistan Partition and Mahatama Gandhi
Special to the South Asia Tribune
August 14: Whatever be the nature of the struggle for Indian independence
and the stalwarts that strode the firmament, it was one bullet
fired five months later that embedded itself in public memory.
It is that bullet which can make claims to have created the first
hero of post-Independence India.
am not referring to Mahatma Gandhi, the victim, but Nathuram Godse,
the assassin. We must understand that heroism is a loaded term.
A deed is heroic if it has a clear-cut purpose and a complete
fearlessness about the consequences. It does not seek legitimacy.
In fact, its very authenticity lies in being able to stick its
neck out in the face of opposition. There is no conflict between
good and evil; it is merely a matter of degrees of justice.
this light, Nathuram Godse is extremely important to modern-day
Indian politics simply because he exposes the underworld face
of it. He was poised between two aspects – the lowly hit
man and the ideologue ‘dada’. His initiation into
the major league depended entirely on how big his target was.
If his anger was against the Mahatma’s appeasement of a
community, then he would have just gone and killed a few Muslims.
is borne out by his statement: “Before I fired the shots
I actually wished him well and bowed to him in reverence.”
He did not go on a rampage against a group (an earlier attempt
of his to kill Gandhi was unsuccessful because he was afraid that
the bystanders would get hurt) for that would have not made him
a loyal soldier, a man who would do or die.
did and he died. And his offence as well as defence had a clinical
precision, quite unlike prevalent political skulduggery. His brother,
Gopal, said in an interview: “Gandhi used to claim the Partition
would be over his dead body. So after Partition when he didn’t
die, we killed him.” It was as simple as that.
little less than two years after he had killed the Father of the
Nation, Nathuram was sentenced to death by hanging. Before the
noose went round his neck, he spent five hours justifying his
act. It was not to get clemency, but to declare that he was not
a lowly gun-happy cad. His was not a revolution of the moment.
In fact, it had the same fervor as the Gandhian ethos. By killing
one man, his legacy proves that his 90-page testimony was revealing
the spirit and the undercurrents running through the public mind
that could not be articulated.
around you. What is the attitude towards the minorities and the
lower castes today? The fact that these segments still have little
power after 58 years of Independence shows that, ironically, it
was the Mahatma who legitimized the Hindutva agenda. A modern
state cannot be built upon the premise of a theological doctrine
– whether it be for it or to oppose it. Gandhi patronized
religion and casteism. He wanted the India of the villages, which
is why the rural population still lives in the cave ages. He talked
of Ram Rajya, which is what is sought to be ushered in by his
opponents. He called non-violence a “weapon”; the
truth is the freedom struggle was most certainly not bloodless.
Neither was the aftermath. If
Gandhi has been deified, then so has his assassin. Overtly, it
has been only a handful of people who commemorate his ‘martyrdom’
on November 15, they read out his Will at memorial services, and
there is a full-fledged fan club that was orchestrated by his
This gives it the legitimacy of
an underground operation, somewhat like what happened during the
freedom struggle. It can be safely assumed that Godse was possessed
of a desire to further a cause; wreaking vengeance or merely ensuring
his 15 minutes of fame would be looked on contemptuously by him.
The cause has had a cumulative
effect. Just watch how the RSS and its acolytes operate and see
how they are like underworld/terrorist outfits. There are the
compulsory disciplinary drills, the initiation ceremony where
you have to prove your loyalty and capability, the strict hierarchy,
blind belief in an ideology based necessarily on the theory that
you are being wronged by the Establishment, and the submergence
of the individual self.
This is why I feel Godse was a
mere pawn. He did not constitute a think tank; he used gut sense.
He was paranoid; he had to ensure that his lowly status would
not impede his path to self-righteous glory. He was irreligious,
but communal. He rode on the back of cultural regression, impersonating
a renaissance to posthumously become a figure in national politics.
Assassins and icons become heroes
because they simulate the System even as they fight it. The anathema
and anachronism acquire their own authority. Godse visited a brothel
before he killed the Mahatma. Was it to prove his manhood, lest
he be deemed a coward who could not face the consequences of an
effeminate and impotent democracy? Or was he mimicking Gandhi,
who once confessed that he was making love to his wife while his
father lay dying in the other room?
Interestingly, although he was
an active member of the Hindu Mahasabha and the editor of the
newspaper Hindu Rashtra, he did not call out to the Lord as he
prepared for his death. It was the secular Gandhi whose last words
“Hey Ram” have become the Hindutva coinage.
Godse’s last wish was for
his ashes to be submerged in the Indus River of an undivided India.
That urn still stands.
By conventional standards, he
is no hero. Yet, he was regurgitating the thoughts of many. In
his own way, he was an idealist. It is only idealists who are
truly afraid of failure, not because of inadequate capabilities
but due to their inherent ability of not being able to follow
rules. We just do not expect them to have any side other than
the one we are comfortable dealing with.
Godse may make us uncomfortable, but it was the bullet he fired
soon after Independence that set in motion a legion of experiments
with different kinds of truth. In modern terms, he would be the
godfather. A hero by default.
writer is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai