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Mahatma Gandhi



Also Read: Gandhi shot dead, The Hindu, 31-1-1948 and
When newspapers across the world mourned the loss of Mahatma Gandhi

Assassination of Gandhi - The Facts Behind

By Chunibhai Vaidya

assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

The killer of Gandhiji and his apologists sought to justify the assassination on the following arguments:

  • Gandhiji supported the idea of a separate State for Muslims. In a sense he was responsible for the creation of Pakistan.
  • In spite of the Pakistani aggression in Kashmir, Gandhiji fasted to compel the government of India to release an amount of Rs. 55 crores due to Pakistan.
  • The belligerence of Muslims was a result of Gandhiji's policy of appeasement.

Scrutinized 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 the creation of Pakistan on sectarian grounds. Ethnic Hindus looked upon him as an impediment to their plan to revenge the atrocities on Hindus. Godse was a child of this extremist thinking.

The assassination of Gandhiji was a culmination of decades of systematic brain-washing. Gandhiji had become a thorn in the flesh of the hard core Hindus and in course of time this resentment turned into a phobia. Beginning with the year 1934 over a period of 14 years on as many as six occasions attempts were made to kill Gandhiji. The last one by Godse on 30-1-48 was successful. The remaining five were made in 1934, during the months of July and September 1944, September 1946 and on 20th January 1948. Godse was involved in two previous attempts. When the unsuccessful attempts of 1934, 1944 and 1946 were made, the proposal regarding the 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. The grounds advanced for this heinous crime are clever rationalization to hoodwink the gullible. The staging of the play entitled, "Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy" is a clear proof of the fact that the mindset that led to Gandhiji's assassination has not disappeared from our national psyche.

A civil society is wedded to the democratic method of resolving differences by a 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 seeks 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 the ethnic Muslims. The hard core Hindus looked down upon the Muslims as misguided "Mlechchh" - 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 Mohamed Iqbal who wrote the famous song "Sare Jahanse Acchchha Hindostan Hamara" was the first to formulate the concept of a separate State for Muslims as early as 1930. Needless to state that this sentiment, in a sense, was strengthened by the 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 Swatantrya 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, Gandhiji throughout his life remained an un-compromising advocate of 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 his subscribing to religious belief other than yours. During his life, on more than one occasion he strove for the unity and equality among Hindus themselves as well as amity among Hindus and Muslims even risking his life. The idea of partition was 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 Gaffer Khan, Maulana Azad, Dr. Ansari Hakim Ajmal Khan, Badruddin Tayabji, even Mr. Jinnah himself were in the Congress fold. It is but 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, Baluchistan, North West Frontier Province and Bengal, the Congress lost nerve. Mr. 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 quick solution and yet acceptable to all; but the adamantine attitude of Mr. Jinnah made everything except partition unacceptable.

Partition seemed to be the only solution. In the nationwide elections of 1946 the Muslim league secured 90 per cent seats. Faced with such a scenario Congress found it difficult to keep up its morale. Gandhiji conveyed to Lord Mountbatten on 5th April 1947 that he would agree even if the British made Mr. Jinnah the Prime Minister and left the country as it was. But on the other hand 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 (a) Importunate demands of a rapidly changing national scenario, (b) Non-existence of alternate set or leaders of proved nationalist credentials.

The most perplexing and yet a pertinent question was Mr. Jinnah's most vocal propagation of the idea of Pakistan. 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 3rd June 1947 and Pakistan became fate accompli? Or is it that, as Savarkar put it, he had no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah and his two-nation theory but, can one surmise that he and his apologists had real quarrel with Gandhi and Gandhi alone?

In view of this, Gandhiji acquiesced into the situation. It is necessary to point out an aspect of Gandhiji's personality that made him a source of unabated distrust and dislike in the eyes of hard core Hindus. Though he was a devout Hindu, he had the 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 religious sense based on oneness of God and equality of all religions. Caste divisions and untouchability prevalent among the Hindu social organization 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 anathema to them.

The matter regarding the 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 75 crore to be paid the first instalment of Rs. 20 crore was already released. Invasion of Kashmir by self-styled liberators with the covert support of the Pakistani Army took place before the second instalment was paid. 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 his fast he undertook, as you will find 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. The 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 coreligionists 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 realization that it happened in India itself just after a unique incident in the history of mankind: doing away of the shackles of a colonial regime by non-violent means. It was in this background 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 this much touted thesis that Gandhiji had fasted to bring moral pressure on government of India to relent:

  1. 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 undertake 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.
  2. b. Gandhiji's own announcement about his resolve on 12th January in the evening prayer meeting did not contain any reference to it. Had it been a condition, he would have certainly mentioned it as that.
  3. Similarly, there was no reference to it in his discourse on 13th January.
  4. Gandhiji's reply on the 15th January, to a specific question regarding the purpose of his fast did not mention it.
  5. The press release of the government of India did not have any mention thereof.
  6. 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 should put at rest the 55 crore concoction.

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 the inevitable result was the division of the country. Long before Gandhiji appeared on the national stage, sagacious leaders like B. G. Tilak had started attempts to secure the participation of Muslims in the nationalist struggle. Under what came to be known as Lucknow pact, Lokmanya Tilak, Annie Besant and Mr. 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 Boltoy", Shri Pradip Dalvi described the order of Maharashtra government banning the staging of the play as an attack on freedom of expression. This is a travesty of truth and 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 implication of what Shri Dalvi and 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 nonviolence, peace and love and who was as defenceless as a naked new born child should be made scaffolding for a neo-fascist doctrine.

Godse is no more but the mindset which 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 rationalize, justify masquerade it as a religious act. Permitting such plays to be staged amounts to permitting mis-education our children. The only sane response to such insidious propaganda is unequivocal rejection thereof.

dead-body of Mahatma Gandhi

Nehru announcing Gandhi's death (Audio) | Also read: The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, 1948