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Gandhi’s murder and the cult of Godse — II

One should not be surprised if Godse is enunciated as the biggest national martyr of India

Gandhi’s murder and the cult of Godse — II

Godse was an avid reader of Bhagwadgita and knew most of its verses by heart. He had the penchant to quote them to justify acts of violence in pursuing a ‘righteous’ aim, which most often was realisation of Hindu supremacy over other communities, particularly Muslims. He also claimed to have read the works of Dadabhai Naoroji, Swami Vivekananda, Gopal Krishna Gokhale and Bal Gangadhar Tilak along with books on ancient and modern history of India and histories of countries like England, France, America and Russia. Not only that, he was revealed to have studied “tolerably well the current tenets of socialism and communism too.” But above all “I studied very closely whatever Veer Savarkar and Gandhiji had written and spoken”, as to my mind, these two ideologies had contributed more to galvanise the thought and action of modern India than any other single factor had done. Ironically these persons professed socio-political actions which were diametrically opposed to each other.

Gandhi’s doctrine of non-violence was an anathema for people like Godse. They reposed greater belief in chivalrous figures like Shiva ji, Baji Rao and other Maratha leaders who professed violence and undertook armed resistance against Mughals. Gandhi was far too passive for those who had come under the spell of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. Some scholars, including Hardiman, contend that Gandhi had been unable to extend the circle of his following to the Brahmins of Maharashtra. The girdles of caste were so strongly entrenched that Gandhi’s charisma failed to make inroads among the upper caste faction of that region.

Godse had a fiery temperament which he usually chose to conceal under a calm and composed exterior. A common hatred of what he and his peers believed was the weak-kneed policy of capitulation to Muslim arrogance, as propounded and advocated by Gandhi-led Congress. The evidence furnished in the court revealed that the plan for a decisive action was conceived by Godse and Apte in December 1947. In the course of the weeks that followed others joined the small band, which comprised Nathuram Godse, his brother, Gopal Godse, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare, Madanlal Pahwa, Shankar Kistayya. Then the details of the plan began to be worked out.

The decision to strike was taken on January 13, when it was learnt that Gandhi had started his fast to assert pressure on the Indian government and forced it to review its decision of withholding the payment of Rs550 million to Pakistan, it was enough to drive Godse insane. He was seething with anger. When after three days the government capitulated to Gandhi’s demand, and finally revoked its previous decision by declaring that the Indo-Pakistan agreement relating to financial adjustments would be implemented immediately, the conspirators could wait no longer. They hastened to complete their arrangements and achieve the aim they had set before themselves.

After laying out a meticulously thought out plan, the band of conspirators reached Birla House where Gandhi was scheduled to address the prarthana meeting on January 20th. As luck would have it, the plan went awry. All seven of them had arrived at Birla House and disposed themselves according to the plan. But at the last moment, Badge’s courage failed him, and he could neither fire the revolver nor throw a grenade. The remarkable achievement had been their successful retreat from Birla House. That failure did not deter Nathuram from his resolve to assassinate Gandhi.

This time, he decided to change the strategy. He, therefore, suggested to his companions that there should not be nine or ten persons involved in the execution of the plan, because history showed that plots involving too many people were always foiled, whereas the effort of a single individual always succeeded. He quoted several instances from history of single persons, such as Madan Lal Dhingra (1883-1909) and Vasudev Rao Gogate, who had been successful, because they acted alone. He had, therefore, decided to assassinate Gandhi single-handedly.

G D Khosla the former chief justice of the Punjab High Court, in his book The Murder of the Mahatma furnishes quite a graphic detail of the final day. “At 4.30 pm he (Nathuram) hired a tonga, and, waving a final good-bye, drove away. Karkare and Apte followed him to Birla House in another tonga a few minutes later. The prayer meeting had not yet started, but a crowd of about 200 persons was awaiting the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi. Godse was moving among the people apparently unconcerned. Suddenly, there was a stirring in the crowd, and everyone stood up to form a passage for Mahatma Gandhi, who was seen coming up slowly with his hands resting on the shoulders of two girls who were walking by his side. As he raised his hands to join them in the customary greeting, Godse took a quick step forward, pushed aside the girl on Gandhiji’s right and, standing in front of him, fired three shots in quick succession at point-blank range. Mahatma Gandhi collapsed and fell down, saying ‘Hai Ram’.” Those were the last words that Gandhi uttered before giving in to the inevitable.

Godse made no attempt to escape. He was caught, and the people nearest to him fell upon him to belabor him. An on-duty police officer managed to rescue him from the fury of the crowd. Godse had done what he had so desperately wanted. Gandhi was no more. He was condemned in Indian press, the RSS was banned. Public fury was unleashed on Maharashtrian Brahmins but all that was temporary. The strongman of India, Vallabhbhai Patel had a soft corner for the RSS. The ban was lifted and Golwalkar pleaded with him and Nehru that the RSS would work with Congress towards the elimination of the looming menace of communism.

Nehru remained steadfast in his opposition to the RSS. Nevertheless, the RSS was restored. At a subterranean level it kept developing into a political force, which laid the foundation for BJP’s success. By 1990s Hindu nationalism had to become the most formidable force in India. The likes of Godse are now being redeemed. Gandhi’s assassination would soon be an insignificant event in modern Indian history. One should not be surprised if Godse is enunciated as the biggest national martyr of an India that has found a new father (as stated by none else than Donald Trump) in Modi.

(Concluded)

Tahir Kamran

tahir kamran
The writer is Professor in the faculty of Liberal Arts at the Beaconhouse National University, Lahore

One comment

  • The Bhagavad-Gita does not contain any material about religions in the modern sense, let alone domination of one religious group over others. A large number of translations of and commentaries on it have come out over the centuries.
    .
    The RSS was not responsible for Gandhi’s assassination in the sense that Godse was not associated with it for some time before the event. But it did create an environment which encouraged such people to develop their ideas. In return for lifting the ban on it by Patel, it promised to keep away from politics but didn’t keep its promise.
    .
    After Savarkar’s death in 1966 there were some revelations which led the government to establish the Kapur Commission of Enquiry into the conspiracy. It concluded that Savarkar was very much part of it.

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