Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Was Nathuram Godse a patriot? Before creating a love or hate campaign, first understand Mahatma Gandhi's assassin

(This was first published on Firstpost. Click on this link to go to the original article)

"Histories of hunting will always glorify the hunter until the deer starts writing their own history," reads a wall in School of Social Science building of Jawaharlal Nehru University which is the home of luminaries of Indian Historiography, the Centre for Historical Studies. At CHS, as it is often called, the Gramscian idea of 'subaltern' is a pop star. Everyone wants to speak for the ones who could never speak. Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mohandas Gandhi did not get a chance to write an autobiography. But he spoke for himself at the court of law.

Godse gave a detailed explanation for his act of assassination of Gandhi during his high-profile trail held at the Red Fort at Delhi. The statement however was kept away from public by the hegemony of the Indian National Congress, which even according to Gandhi should have been disbanded after Independence. Gopal Godse, Nathuram’s younger brother later published it as an underground text under the title Why I assassinated Gandhi. Today it is being made available for public reading by Delhi-based Farsight Publisher and Distributer. It is available for purchase on Amazon.

Let's highlight a few points in the present context:

First, Godse assassinated Gandhi. Assassination has a different context than simple murder or homicide. The Indian Penal Code does not differentiate between the two. 'Assassination' is generally taken to refer to a political killing and as per Godse's beliefs, assassination is permitted as 'badh'. Since he was a committed Hindu, his beliefs are shaped from the fact that Ram had to kill Ravan to liberate Lanka of evil, Arjun had in fact fought the war after the revelation of Krishna himself. Godse and many like him believe that violence is a divine tool for fighting anything that is evil, according to them. India claims to be a secular and pluralistic State. Whether the Indian State accommodate this murder in that idea of India is an open-ended question.

Second, Godse was not a mass murderer. He murdered one man, and surrendered then and there. He further requested the court not to show any mercy at him while reading out his statement. However, as per Godse, Gandhi was a mass murderer. He accused Gandhi of being pro-Muslim and anti-Hindu in his political activities and positions. Nathuram considered Gandhi to be solely responsible for the riots in India during 1946, and until his death in 1948. According to Godse, if Gandhi was not at the helm of Indian politics during the freedom struggle and thereafter, Partition, the resultant bloodbath could have been avoided.

Gandhi claimed that his final fasting days were for Hindu-Muslim unity. But Godse invoked a different context altogether. After Partition, Pakistan was due to get an amount of Rs 55 crore from the imperial treasury as part of the deal. But Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel held it up from his end until the Kashmir issue was solved. Godse accused Gandhi of blackmailing the Indian government using his fasts, and interfering in State affairs. Godse alleged that it was not only undemocratic, but dictatorial in the sense that Gandhi's own understanding had to prevail no matter what. This action made India weak at bargaining on Kashmir. He finally decided to eliminate Gandhi by assassination when he sat for his final satyagraha.

Third, Godse considered Gandhi to be a hypocrite at statecraft and his method of satyagraha a total failure in practical terms. Gandhi should be acknowledged for his deep study of Indian philosophy and relating it to the 20th Century social context and also leading a very innovative movement. Ahimsa is an ancient idea propagated by Buddhism for ages. But Gandhi was a barrister at British law. He loved it. He was not a saint trying to be a politician, but a politician trying to be a saint. His method of non-violent yet unconstitutional resistance was the result of deep study and integration of both Indian philosophy as well as British law. The British Raj in India was proud of its hegemonic rule of law, which was a first for India in almost 3,000 years of its history. To fight against such a rule, neither armed resistance nor constitutional dialogue worked. Gandhi chose the middle path and shook the entire establishment. But this was only possible when both parties respected the rule of law.

In 1947, Pakistan sent invaders into Kashmir to forcefully integrate it with Pakistan. Godse had one question regarding this. Since Gandhi believed so deeply in satyagraha, why did he agree with Jawaharlal Nehru and Patel when it came to sending the army to Kashmir? Why did he not send a group of satyagrahis to fast before the invaders and change their behaviour? This point questions the ideology of satyagraha altogether. From a position of power, satyagraha does not possibly work, it seems.

Fourth, lets address the current issue: Patriotism. A dictionary definition suggests it is "the feeling of loving your country more than any others and being proud of it". There is no doubt that right-wing nationalists like Godse were proud of India; we can question and discuss the love. Nationalism can be of two sorts, cultural nationalism and people's nationalism — the first one is characteristic of right-wing ideology and the second is the trait of the Left. Vladimir Lenin was a patriot too since he loved and cared about the Soviet Union before other countries.

Godse claimed to have done public service as a member of the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS). But he also had problems with Gandhi holding prayer meetings in the Bhangi colony and reading phrases of the Quran in his prayer meetings. As a person, Godse was problematic, but still the question remains: If violence delegitimises one's patriotism, then why do we have an India Gate and a National War Memorial at all? All soldiers are professional killers. Godse considered Gandhi an enemy of the State, so he killed him. One can question his politics as well as his problematic social positions, but cannot question his patriotism on the basis of a political murder. Also, Gandhi advocated non-violence. But that does not make the use of violence obsolete. India has fought six wars with its neighbouring countries and commands one of the largest armies in the world.

Finally, let us understand the Mahatma — the father of the nation. We have made a god out of a man in Gandhi. Historian Bipan Chandra in his popular book India's struggle for freedom refers to all top leaders of freedom struggle by name... Nehru, Patel etc. But, when it comes to Gandhi, he refers to him as Gandhiji. Gandhi was made a Mahatma slowly and gradually after his death. There were many in opposition among his contemporaries and tallest among them were Subhas Chandra Bose and Dr BR Ambedkar.

In conclusion, it ought to be pointed out that Godse is as much a patriot as Afzal Guru or Bhagat Singh. And if that statement equates to sedition, so be it. It needs to be resisted in court like Gandhi himself would have done.

The back cover of Why I assassinated Gandhi quotes Justice Khosla, "The audience was visibly and audibly moved. There was a deep silence when he (Godse) ceased speaking." This silence has been strategically maintained by academics till date. Godse has been named a terrorist, a murderer, an anti-national, and what not. One must read about Godse before creating a love or hate campaign in his name.