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Was the Killing of Gandhi by Godse justified?

Updated on November 28, 2019
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MG is a senior air warrior who has seen combat and is an alumnus of the Staff College and a writer on military matters.

Sadhvi Pragya
Sadhvi Pragya
Gandhi with his female companions
Gandhi with his female companions

Godse and Sadhvi

Mahatma Gandhi is dead and gone. He was assassinated by a man called Nathuram Godse on 30th January 1948. Nathuram Godse was a member of Hindu Mahasabha, a party that believed in the revival of Hinduism and protecting the rights of the Hindus in the subcontinent.

Gandhi may be dead and gone but his ghost continues to haunt India. Yesterday, in Parliament the BJP member from Bhopal commented that Godse was a "Desh bhakt". It means that she regarded the killer of Mahatma Gandhi as a Nationalist who loved India. This raised the hackles of the Congress Party which condemned the remarks of the BJP MP. Even the Prime Minister was compelled to distance himself from the remarks by Sadhvi Pragya

Who is Sadhvi Pragya? She is accused in a case of terrorism against the Muslim community. She has not been convicted and at the moment the trial is on for the last many years. The BJP selected her to oppose Digvijaya Singh, the Congress candidate from Bhopal who is well known as a Hindu baiter and strong proponent of the policy of appeasement of Muslims. The Sadhvi won the love of the people of Bhopal and the Congress leader was trounced by 350,000 votes. She's a leader with some following. Many have even commented that her trial on terror charges was a sham perpetrated by the Congress party when it was in power.

Godse shot Gandhi because he felt that the aged leader was responsible for the partition of Pakistan and also following a policy of appeasement of Muslims. There is some truth in the opinion of Godse and there are millions of Hindus in India who feel the way Nathuram Godse felt. This is an indelible fact of history and no whitewashing can obliterate this fact.


BJP and Godse

It is pertinent to point out that the BJP which has its roots in the erstwhile Jan Sangh and Hindu Mahasabha had never really given any credence to Gandhi for the freedom of India. Their parent organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had been of the view that the ills of India are due to the Gandhi- Nehru combines. One may not agree with this view but then this is has been the viewpoint of the Hindu Mahasabha, Jansangh, and the BJP. The RSS is the mother organization of these political outfits. We can try and understand the motive of Nathuram Godse in assassinating Gandhi, who all said and done was a mass Hindu leader

Gandhi's dream

It is worthwhile to examine the role of Gandhi during the partition movement. Gandhi's biggest dream was to be considered as one of the great philosophers and saints of India. He had assumed the title of Mahatma which in Hindu philosophy is conferred on a man of great letters and knowledge. I will digress from popular opinion and state that he and his supporters started using the title mahatma though for all practical purposes he was only a political leader.

Gandhi greatest wish was to be recognized as a great messiah on the lines of Buddha. He wanted to be beloved by the Muslims as well but unfortunately for Gandhi, the Muslims never recognized him as their leader and considered him a mere leader of Hindus.

Gandhi desired that India should not be partitioned. He also wished to be regarded as a great leader of both the Moslems and the Hindus. Unfortunately he failed on both counts as India was divided into two nations and the two nation theory and races was accepted by the Imperial power. The Moslem's as well as a sizable section of Hindus also accepted this. Secondly the Moslem's never recognized him as their leader despite all his endeavors. Thus he followed a policy of appeasement to the Muslims throughout his life but still ended up being classified as a Hindu leader.

Another facet of Gandhi

Gandhi Vs Jinnah
The Moslem preferred Jinnah as their leader and the few Moslem's who joined Gandhi had no popular base at all. Mohamedali Jinnah always referred to him as a Hindu leader. Even Lord Mountbatten the last governor-general of the British raj considered Gandhi as a representative only of the Hindus. He and Jinnah did not even consider him as representative of the scheduled caste and untouchables. What were Gandhi's views on the caste ( varna) system? He stated his views in his writings which have survived him when he referred to the varna system as the bedrock of Hinduism.

Even in South Africa an incident shows that he did have some color prejudice is well. In a letter to General Smuts, he wrote that Indians must not be kept in the same cell with the black people when they are in prison. One can draw own conclusions on this.

Partition and the Finale

Partition 1947
The acid test for Gandhi came with the 1947 partition of the subcontinent on the basis of the two-nation theory. The period was terrible. Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan were enveloped in a circle of violence. They lost their loved ones in the partition riots. Hindu women were raped en masse and many carried away to the harems of the Muslims and some who refused were killed. In many cases, the Hindu men were killed before their women and their abduction. Trains arrived from the west laden with dead bodies and people fleeing the killers were set upon with a brutality that will put Timur to shame.
One million refugees entered Delhi unable to understand what had happened. When they came to Delhi they found the Muslim well protected. This rationale was not understood by them. Matters were made worse by Gandhi who reportedly wanted the Hindu refugees to go back to Pakistan. Obviously they could not understand the rationale behind this. It didn't make sense

They also could not understand that the man who preached Ahimsa and non-violence made not a single attempt or appeal to the Viceroy to ask the military to intervene. They wondered why Gandhi did not visit Punjab to put a stop to the violence and just kept sitting in Delhi. Even his apologists are hard to explain this. It must be remembered when riots broke out in Bengal Gandhi along with Shurrowadi had gone there and brought a semblance of order but he made no attempt to douse the flames in Punjab, though the killings and rapes were 20 times more.

Somewhere down the line, the extremist Hindu leaders felt that the root cause of the problem was Gandhi and a small band of conspirators decided that Gandhi must be removed from the scene.

The Result
All this lead to one solution -the assassination of Gandhi. His killers were Hindus and along with Nathuram Godse, the conspirators were Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare, Gopal Godse, Madanlal Pahwa and Digambar Badge. The historic trial for murdering Gandhi was held in Delhi's Red Fort. The Indian people were captivated by the trial. The man who turned approver Badge was spat upon in public.

Nathuram Godse, Apte and their accomplices during the trial were remarkably relaxed, unconcerned about the imminent death sentence. Godse and Apte were hanged and the others were all awarded life imprisonment. They never expressed any regret.
Last Word
Gandhi's actions have to be seen in the light of sentiments of millions of refugees. If figures have any meaning nearly half-a-million people were butchered and 12 million were rendered homeless. Can it justify Godse's action? I will say that the killing was pretty meaningless. But can we replicate the moment of terror during 1947? The people will have to draw their own conclusion from what I have written.


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