dharmo hi tesam adhiko viseso // dharmena hinah pasubhih samanah
For the Hindi version of this essay click here: सत्य की हत्या
Sarojini Naidu: Far greater than all warriors who led armies to battle was this little man, the bravest, the most tried friend of all.
Chakravarti Rajagopalachari: I pray that the history of
A.K. Fazlul Huq (ex-Premier of
'Civil war broke out in city after city, and in places where the violence occurred late, the knowledge of what had happened previously in other places caused still new extravagances of fanatical zeal, expressed in an elaboration in the methods of seizing power and by unheard-of atrocities in revenge. To fit in with the change of events, words, too, had to change their usual meanings. What used to be described as a thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as the courage one would expect in a party member; to think of the future and wait was merely another way of saying one was a coward; any act of moderation was just an atempt to disguise one's unmanly character... This neither side had any use for conscientious motives; more interest was shown in those who could produce attractive arguments to justify some disgraceful action. As for the citizens who held moderate views, they were destroyed by both the extreme parties...Society had become divided into two ideologically hostile camps, and each side viewed the other with suspicion.' Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Bk 3; written circa 431 BC
The Abolition of truth
सत्य की हत्या
The advent of the Modi-led BJP government has emboldened the ideologues of religion-based nationalism. They apparently feel that the whole country is now ready for the politics of Gandhi's murderers. Several members of the so-called 'Sangh Parivar' have been making statements of this nature, filled with lies and hateful propaganda. The courtroom speech of the assassin Nathuram Godse is now being widely circulated, with its mixture of self-justification, lies and half-truths. Godse appointed himself judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one - with lots of help from his mentor V.D. Savarkar, the presiding deity of the Hindutva version of nationalism. Many terrorists do likewise - they decide guilt and they carry out the punishment. I'm all for an open airing of political and religious beliefs. Will our rulers arrange for the writings of Charu Mazumdar, J.S. Bhindranwale, the Hizbul Mujahidin, ULFA and Prabhakaran to be sold in India's railway stations? Hitler's Mein Kampf already sells widely. Why not? We're a democracy after all.
The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi: Inquiry Commission Report (1969)
Our polity is now faced with an assault on the mind. Our very sense of discrimination between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood is under attack. We live in an ideological climate of nihilism, wherein human life is of no consequence, and conversation is fast evaporating. It is time thoughtful Indians of every political inclination asked themselves a simple question: Has the new-found status of the 'Parivar' made us take leave of our senses? A fanatical conspirator enters a prayer meeting open to all, and shoots dead a 79 year-old unarmed and unguarded man at point-blank range. For nearly seven decades, one section of our intelligentsia looked upon the murderer as a martyr and hailed his act as it were something admirable. Today these fans of Godse and Savarkar are thrusting their hate-filled ideas down our throats.
What is this if not the brazen celebration of communal terrorism and murder?
Let us be clear about this - if Godse's preparedness for death signifies something virtuous to the 'parivar', the activities of all the jehadis, maoists, khalistanis and sundry insurgents across the sub-continent also become virtuous. Don't all terrorists have their admirers? How do we adjudge one brand of murder as virtue and another as evil? Why are MP's, MLA's and other persons close to the highest executives of the BJP government engaged in white-washing political assassination?
The 'Parivar' is distinguished not only by its avowal of communal violence and revenge killings. The Home Ministry under Sardar Patel banned them on February 4, 1948. Patel also said that 'a fanatical wing of the Mahasabha directly under Savarkar' had hatched the conspiracy and seen it through. (Letter to Nehru on Feb 27, 1948, vol 6 of his correspondence, edited by Durga Das). However, Savarkar's 'parivar' is now in power, and still engages in shameless and systematic character-assassination. These days we may see this activity in the comments section of various news portals, where Gandhi is subject to vicious abuse on a daily basis.
One big lie is that Gandhi was responsible for the partition of India, overlooking the fact that he referred to partition as a sin, and resisted it to the end of his days. He accepted it with sorrow only after the leadership of the Congress, most importantly Sardar Patel and Jawaharlal Nehru recommended it as the only way out of the political crisis of 1946-47. The truth is complex and it is a matter of shame that senior leaders of the so-called Sangh Parivar should be spreading falsehood and half-truths for narrow partisan ends. If the Two Nation Theory was false and evil, why did their hero V.D Savarkar support it? Here is what he said on August 15, 1943: "I have no quarrel with Mr Jinnah's two-nation theory. We Hindus are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations" (Indian Annual Register 1943 vol.2 p.10).
The other big lie is that Gandhi did not condemn Muslim fanaticism, was more concerned with the protection of Muslims and ignored the plight of Hindu victims of communal violence. This is utter nonsense, yet repeated day in and day out. In his speeches at his prayer meetings and in his writings Gandhi makes it clear time and again that good and bad people were to be found in all communities, that no community held a monopoly of good and evil. In November 1946 he spent several weeks walking in the areas around Noakhali, in Chittagong division of East Bengal, where Hindus had been the victims of communal violence. He stayed there and walked for 190 km; speaking of the need for repentance, harmony, and justice. This was in the face of the hostility of the Muslim League provincial government and the vicious behaviour of their cadre towards him. Some of their tallest functionaries even accused him of instigating the massacres in Calcutta. They repeatedly called him the arch-enemy of Muslims.
When Gandhi went to Bihar early in 1947 to calm the communal fires there (here, conversely, Muslims were targeted), he was accused of being partial to Muslims. The same accusations were hurled at him in August 1947, when he remained in Calcutta. In his speech in Delhi (January 18, 1948) calling off his last fast, he referred to a Muslim visitor in Patna who had given him a book by a cleric, in which he read that kafirs deserved to be exterminated. Gandhi denounced and despaired of such views (which were also condemned by Maulana Azad that same evening). The entire commentary may be read on page 446, vol 90 of the collected works here (in English); and page 426 (in Hindi), here. Such observations are indeed available throughout his writings and speeches. But both kinds of religious extremists relentlessly accused him of being partial to the other side. For them, nothing but total submission to their hateful world-view would suffice.
Yet another lie is that his last fast was directed at forcing the Union Government to part with the 55 crores owed to Pakistan. Undoubtedly Gandhi wanted the Union Government to fulfil its obligation to hand over to Pakistan what was rightfully its property. But the facts show clearly that his fast was meant to calm the fires of communal hatred and violence then raging in Delhi and North India, and to secure the restoration of the tomb of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiyar Chisti in Mehrauli. Had he not staked his life for this cause, we would have had another Babri-type fabricated dispute on the edge of the capital. Gandhi's last fast, or yajna, as he called it, led to the Delhi Declaration of January 18, 1948, which was agreed to by all parties and groups, including the Hindu Mahasabha and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. This declaration was a solemn commitment to uphold communal harmony and friendship among all communities, to refrain from revenge attacks on innocent people, and to return all places of worship to their rightful owners. As Rajkumari Amrit Kaur said, "With his infinite love he was trying to quench the anger that raged in many breasts. He was the one thing that stood between us and disaster, for lawlessness and disorder and hate and violence can lead nowhere else."
Gandhi's words and speeches at his prayer meetings in the last weeks of his life are easily available in volume 90 of his Collected Works on the Gandhi Heritage Portal.
An avowal of political assassination
Her are some of the recent utterance of members of the 'Parivar'
Hindu Mahasabha head speaks to FP: Godse was a 'martyr' and 'patriot'
If state officials - including elected representatives - forget that they are servants of the Constitution, not of the government of the day; if they let fear and timidity affect their official performance, let them understand that they are contributing to the subversion of the Constitution. In which case, they should refrain from talking about Maoist subversion in future. They are worse, because they are sworn to uphold the law of the land.
Beyond good and evil?
But who has questioned anyones' right to an opinion?
The editor continues: "The only thing absolutely wrong about what Godse did was putting bullets through the Mahatma instead of debating him and converting the Indian public to his cause. But, at that time, the public was besotted with Gandhi and unwilling to listen to others. Godse’s ideas were checkmated by Gandhi's popularity, and this frustration drove him to murder.."
What does it mean to say "The only thing wrong about what Godse did"? As far as public debate is concerned, what else did he 'do' aside from killing Gandhi? The murder is precisely the point at issue. Would this debate be taking place at all if Gandhi had not been killed? Or if Hindutva ideologues were not defending political assassination? Incidentally, it is also incorrect to say 'the public was besotted with Gandhi'. He was immensely popular, but there were also people who hated him, and during his last upavas, there were demonstrations of large numbers of refugees from Pakistan who shouted 'let Gandhi die'.
Well before January 1948, the Mahasabha and Savarkar had attacked Gandhi in speech and print. The editor fails to note that (aside from several physical assaults and attempts at inflicting serious injury on him, right from his days in South Africa) there was a bomb attack in 1934, an attempted train derailment in 1946, another such in 1947, and two more attacks in January 1948, the last of which killed him. All these involved persons and groups that objected to his ideal of composite nationhood, and of Hindu-Muslim unity.
But it is not the ideas of Hindutva that are being discussed, noxious though they were (and remain). It is the fact that the men around Savarkar were hell-bent on murder. The editor may well deflect the discussion into an argument about the respective merits of Savarkar's ideas and the right of people to hold such ideas. But he ought not to trivialise the murder by saying "the only thing absolutely wrong about what Godse did was putting bullets through the Mahatma", because the assassination is the central issue that has been highlighted by the admirers of Godse themselves. His brother Gopal Godse is on record stating his pride in the deed. One opinion piece in an RSS journal has even stated that Godse should have killed Nehru, and many others have spoken admiringly of Godse's deed.
These days, India's Prime Minister invokes Gandhi at every available opportunity. As journalist Sandipan Sharma says, "the PM’s efforts to eulogise, emulate and hardsell the Mahatma should have by now triggered a Munnabhai-type revival of the Gandhian ideals in
The question of violence
However, complexity does not abolish the distinction between right and wrong, good and evil. To arrive at that point would be to leave behind the capacity that makes us humans. Goodness is indeed a first principle - we can't define it in simpler terms. Disagreement between people about what is good or bad would be impossible if they did not first agree that there is a difference between good and bad.
On January 31, 1948, as India and indeed the whole world was plunged in grief (barring those whom Sardar Patel accused of distributing sweets), the Hindusthan Standard published a black front page, with three simple sentences:
The Indian people need to stand up and fight against the propaganda directed against Mahatma Gandhi, and the celebration of his murder by people whose minds are crazed by hatred, ignorance and spite. It is a crying shame that this campaign is being led by people who are close to or indeed, members of the ruling dispensation. It will bring them nothing but disgrace. Gandhi belongs to humanity. The Reverend Martin Luther King said: “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”
Ishwar Allah Tere Nam
Sabko Sanmati De Bhagwan
Tributes to Mahatma Gandhi
C. Rajagopalachari, Governor-General
“If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.” “Gandhi resisted evil with as much vigor and power as the violent resister, but he resisted with love instead of hate. True pacifism is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of love.”
Modi wants them all: Godse and Gandhi together under BJP's 'big tent'
Gopalkrishna Gandhi: At point blank range - The killing of plural Hindustan
Apoorvanand: The retrial of Godse: Forgetting the facts
The music of humanity
हरिशंकर परसाई - महात्मा गाँधी को चिट्ठी पहुँचे