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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 44, New Delhi, October 16, 2021

Rehabilitating the Mahatma | Sukumaran C.V.

Friday 15 October 2021, by Sukumaran C.V.


Gandhi’s moral idealism, informed by political realism, hoped for a world order without war....This was the key difference between the state as envisaged by Gandhi and the one conceptualized by everyone else, including his disciple Jawaharlal Nehru.—The authors of The Murderer, the Monarch and the Fakir.

’Had Gandhi not been killed in 1948, had he been alive atleast for five more years,’ I have often used to think, ’India would not have remained a country of rampant inequalities.’

The role of the so called Hindu nationalism and its ideologue Savarkar in the elimination of Gandhi is quite evident even if the prosecution failed to prove Savarkar’s role in the conspiracy to kill Gandhi.

In their book The Murderer, the Monarch and the Fakir: A New Investigation of Mahatma Gandhi’s Assassination, the authors Appu Esthose Suresh and Priyanka Kotamraju meticulously unravel the deeper plot behind the assassination, hatched by the frustrated Hindu right-wing elements in India. It was not an isolated deed of a mad man or fanatic. The ’madness’ which inspired Godse to kill Gandhi remorselessly is still prevalent in India and it is widely accepted too. Tolerance, diversity and dissent are pushed back in the contemporary India and the intolerance which created and creates people like Godse is dubbed as national feeling or patriotism.

In order not to repeat history, contemporary India needs to revisit the hate-ridden socio-political atmosphere that killed millions and millions of people in the name of religion at the time of Independence. The Murderer, the Monarch and the Fakir helps the readers to graphically visualise the result of hate spread by religiosity and shows how it smothers humanity by killing people like the Mahatma who stand for love, tolerance and coexistence disregarding the religious bigotry or fanaticism that divides the people, unleashes violence and inspires humans to rape, plunder and murder fellow humans.

The book sheds new insight into the murder of the Father of our Nation: "8 August 1947. Air India’s propeller aircraft DN-438 took off from Bombay (now Mumbai). Delhi, the new national capital, was the destination. .... Onboard DN-438 were three passengers, representing the interests of those who had lost out in the new, independent India—the privileged Hindus, mostly represented by the Hindu Mahasabha.....Vinod Damodar Savarkar, affectionately called Tatya, was born on 28 May 1883 in Bhagur, a small town close to Nashik in Maharashtra, to a family of nationalistic Chitpavan Brahmins....he started the Mitra Mela which was renamed as Abhinav Bharat Society in 1904. His brother Ganesh or Babarao was an active member too. Members of this society were behind the murder of Sir Curzon Wyllie. Ganesh was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Andamans for his activities, as was Savarkar later.....A few months into his incarceration, where he was classed as a ’D’ (dangerous) prisoner, Savarkar made an about-turn and pleaded for clemency from the British government, promising his loyalty....In 1921, he was released into a prison in Ratnagiri....Nathuram Godse was born on 19 May 1910 into a poor orthodox Brahmin family, near Poona (now Pune), Maharashtra....When his father, a postmaster, was transferred to Ratnagiri in 1929, nineteen-year-old Godse rejoiced....within three days of his arrival in Ratnagiri, Godse went to meet Savarkar.....In 1941, Godse met Narayan Dattatraya Apte, when the latter visited the Maharashtra party office in Poona...Godse and Apte became the closest of friends. In 1942, when Godse set up the Hindu Rashtra Dal, a fringe right-wing outfit, Apte joined him. Two years later, in 1944, when Godse started a newspaper by the name of Dainik Agrani (later renamed to Hindu Rashtra), Apte joined him there as well. Godse was the editor and Apte the manager.....Nathuram Godse was a close disciple of Savarkar. Apte became Godse’s close friend and aide, but didn’t rise to an official position in the Hindu Mahasabha. It seems understandable that Godse accompanied Savarkar on this trip. But why was Apte with him? It was not possible that he had been invited to the working committee meeting of the All India Hindu Mahasabha...If one were to look for a common thread that bound these three passengers, then one would find it in their deep unwavering resentment of Gandhi and his politics."

Ten days before Gandhi was really killed, there was an unsuccessful attempt to kill him. The attempt to kill Gandhi on January 20, 1948 failed not because of the intelligence and interference of the police. The plan was to explode a bomb in the precincts of the Birla House and in the ensuing chaos, shoot and kill the Mahatma. The man who was assigned the duty of the explosion was Madanlal Pahwa, a Hindu refugee from the part of Punjab that went to Pakistan. He lost his home and loved ones in the communal riots of Partition and kept a deep-rooted hatred against the Muslims, and the ’Muslim-friendly’ Gandhi.

 "Madanlal Kashmirilal Pahwa was twenty years old at the time. He was a resident of Pakpattan, a small town in the Punjab province where his family owned around 40 hectares of land....his mother died when Madanlal was just twenty days old.....In March, 1947 Khizar Hayat Tiwana ministry governing the Punjab province resigned, making way for the Muslim League. Communal riots erupted in Lahore and Amritsar and spread across Punjab. It became clear to young Madanlal and many like him that the ’Hindu’ leadership had completely failed and a partition was imminent. ’Fear and alarm seized Hindu Punjab,’ Madanlal recalled....The Muslim offensive, Madanlal told the court, was launched on the day of Holi when the Hindu procession in Pakpattan was stopped. ’[The] Goondaism that is inherent in the Muslim nature came out in all its hideous ugliness.’ On 20 August, riots broke out. According to Madanlal, the Dogra Regiment arrived in Pakpattan on 23 August and, under their protection, a caravan of sixty thousand people began to march towards the town of Fazilka in the Indian state of Punjab. With almost no notice, Madanlal, like many other Hindus and Sikhs, hurriedly prepared to flee east in the face of impending violence, barbarity and death. For three days and three nights, men, women and children of all ages and conditions marched with nothing more than the clothes on their back. The caravan was attacked many times. Many people—mostly women and children—could not take the strain and were left behind. Men were killed and women abducted. When Madanlal and the remaining members finally arrived in Fazilka, they let out a collective cry of joy at the sight of Indian soil.....The next day, Madanlal was reunited with a few of his relatives at a dharmashala for refugees. He received information that his father and aunt were arriving in a train from Pakpattan. A little later he heard that the train was attacked. A few hundred people were killed, including his aunt. Madanlal felt this loss deeply, for she had raised him like her own son. Madanlal’s father Kashmirilal was found wounded, lying in a heap of dead bodies....On 29 August, he heard about the arrival of a caravan of one lakh refugees...The caravan included 500 women who had been stripped naked. ’I saw women with their breasts, noses, ears and cheeks cut....I was told ghastly stories of devilish treatment. One told me the story of how her child was roasted and she was asked to partake of the same and on her refusal her ears were cut. Another told me how she was ravished in the presence of her husband who was tied to a tree....Madanlal reached Delhi via Bhatinda and Ambala, and headed for the refugee camp. Later he moved to his maternal aunt’s place in Gwalior, Madhyapradesh, where he worked with Dattatreya Sadashiv Parchure’s militant organisation called Hindu Rashtra Sena—a key figure in the conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi. ... Madanlal was mad with rage...On the Bombay-bound train, Madanlal and his fellow Hindu refugees longed to throw Muslim travellers off it."

Vishnu Ramakrishna Karkare was the man who started the Ahmednagar branch of the Hindu Mahasabha. It was Karkare who helped Madanlal to set up a coconut stall in Ahmednagar.

"Karkare’s offer to Madanlal had two motives—to help a refugee stand on his feet and, more importantly, to break the monopoly enjoyed by Muslims in the coconut trade in Ahmednagar....By December 1947, Madanlal, mentored by Karkare, had achieved some success for his fellow refugees. They had opened up fruit shops in Ahmednagar and received a host of benefits from the government....The Hindu Mahasabha wanted to bring Hindu Raj into India as soon as possible, but Gandhi was their biggest obstacle. For the Hindu Mahasabha to flourish, Gandhi had to go. Before Karkare could even explain fully, Madanlal was in."

It was not Nathuram Godse, but his younger brother Gopal Godse who kept a pistol to kill Gandhi on January 20, 1948. Even if Madanlal could make the explosion, the plan failed and everybody except Madanlal escaped. Madanlal was arrested and the police could have aborted the assassination of Gandhi on January 30, had they acted promptly following the information gathered from Madanlal. As Madanlal could not understand Marathi, and as the refugee was not considered one among them by the conspirators, they didn’t reveal to him their real names and hence Madanlal could not give the names of Godse and others to the police.

And yet, as the authors of The Murderer, the Monarch and the Fakir say, "The reason why the police failed to nab the assassins well in time was attributed to them not having the conspirators’ exact names, although there were ample leads, such as Madanlal identifying Nathuram Godse as the editor of the Dainik Agrani, the old name of his right-wing publication, Hindu Rashtra. ...The failure to stop Gandhi’s assassination despite ’actionable’ information remains perhaps the biggest intelligence lapse in the history of India."

Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were there in the gang that reached the Birla House on January 20 to kill Gandhi. After the failed attempt, they escaped and on January 28, Godse secured the Italian-made automatic pistol, Beretta CAL 9 through Dattatreya Sadasiv Parchure from Gwalior. I wonder what the Home Ministry under the so called iron man was doing even after they have had Madanlal in their custody since January 20!
"Although Parchure knew Godse and Apte, he wasn’t expecting them in Gwalior. When they told him they were there on a special mission, the doctor sent his son out of the room to prepare tea for the guests. Once he was sure they were alone he repeated his question—why had they come to Gwalior? ’We have decided to finish Gandhi before 2 February, because after second Gandhi is going out of Delhi,’ was the reply. Then Godse pulled the revolver meant for assassinating Gandhi out of his coat. It wasn’t a good gun, he said. They had come to Gwalior to seek Parchure’s help in getting a good revolver that would get the job done. When the duo told him about Madanlal’s failed attempt Parchure realised that it was also part of their conspiracy and the mission was serious. Parchure examined the weapon; it was a small country-made gun. Then he gave his assurance to the visitors: he would help them acquire a better gun."

All these preparations were done by Godse and Apte while they ought to be in police custody for trying to kill Gandhi on January 20. But the Indian police intelligence failed miserably and on January 30, Godse succeeded in murdering the Mahatma. Thus ’the light has gone out of our lives’.

We can’t bring forth the physical body of Gandhi alive. But we have to rehabilitate the Gandhian socio-political and economic thoughts in order to make an egalitarian India. Gandhi is worshipped in India only as an icon of non-violence. And Gandhi’s economic thoughts are rejected as something shallow.

It was in his Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule, Gandhi describes his ideas of state and economy. In the ideals the Mahatma expressed in Hind Swaraj, we can see a village economy which is sustainable and not at all a devastative one as the Free Market economy of the industrial civilization. We worship Gandhi as an icon of non-violence, and conveniently forget or ignore the essence of Gandhism or Gandhian politics and destroy the sustainable village economy in the name of progress and development. As a result India that once lived in the villages today is being killed in the villages, neglected by our democracy and devastated by the unholy corporate-bureaucrat-politician nexus of ’development’.

The greatest factor that made Gandhi a mass leader or the leader of the peasantry of India was his negation of modernity and everything associated with it—the railways, the lawyers, the doctors, the machinery etc. Therefore, unlike any other Indian leader, he could talk a language that the illiterate mass could understand. He approached them not to ‘reform’ them, not to tell them that their ways of living and their means of production are inferior to that of the West. He approached them as one among themselves and wanted to tell his people that the western ‘civilisation is such that one has only to be patient and it will be self-destroyed.’

The political economy of Gandhi’s anti-western and anti-industrial stand originated from the genuine concern of a leader to the welfare of millions and millions of the poor in his country. And this is the factor that enabled Gandhiji to bring the vast majority of the people into the whirlpool of the freedom struggle.

But nobody gave/give attention to the Gandhian ideal of sustainable village economy that will prohibit the concentration of wealth and power in the cities and in the hands of the bureaucrats and politicians. Nobody realized the revolutionary spirit of Gandhian political economy and its potential to free the farmers and the poor from the clutches of industrial civilization and the corporate world.

India will be developed only when and if the villages are rejuvenated; only when the village economy can thrive escaping the stifling grip of the Free Market world that is controlled by the corporate giants who are helped by those who govern the country whether they are secular or anti-secular. And most importantly, in this age of Climate Change and Global Warming we have to listen to the Mahatma and shun the industrial civilization that ruins the world, in order to save it.

In her book The Doctor and the Saint: Ambedkar, Ghandhi and the Battle against Caste, author Arundhati Roy quotes the following sentences of the Mahatma: "God forbid that India ever took to industrialization after the manner of the West. The economic imperialism of a single tiny island kingdom is today keeping the world in chains. If an entire nation of 300 millions took to similar economic exploitation, it would strip the world bare like locusts." Then she says: “As the earth warms up, as glaciers melt and forests disappear, Ghandhi’s words have turned out to be prophetic.”

Gandhi is both environmentally and economically prophetic as the world witnesses the rampage and destruction caused by capitalism and communism alike, contributing heavily to the Global Warming and Climate Change that make an uninhabitable Planet Earth.

As the authors of The Murderer, the Monarch and the Fakir say in the Epilogue of the book, "The last major conceptual work by Gandhi was Constructive Programme, published in 1941. In our estimate, Gandhi has not yet received sufficient recognition as an economic thinker. In the post-war era, Gandhian imaginations of the polity and the Independent Indian state were situated within a world stage of two conflicting economic ideologies, namely, communism and capitalism. From a Gandhian perspective both had a common structural flaw—inherent violence. ...The state that Godse and the right-wing were obsessed with was an aggressive centralised one, a type of state that Gandhi did not want because he envisioned the decentralisation of power. ....Like many other topics that he devoted his attention to, he had given considerable thought also to the idea of the state. The underlying nature of the state he wanted was a deeply ethical one, embodying Ram Rajya, just like the ethical religion he envisaged. Crucially, the Ram that Gandhi referred to was not the Hindu god; rather it was the ideal of an ethical state, where people were treated equally and the state was ruled according to the wishes of the people. ...If only Gandhi had lived long enough, we may have seen the fruits of a Gandhian solution to socioeconomic equality."

Therefore, we have to strenuously try to rehabilitate Gandhi who was killed by Godse in 1948, sidelined by the Congress later and now reduced to something related (only) to cleanliness by the right-wing government.

It is really shocking to read the ’anonymous letter arrived from Bara Bazar, Calcutta, at the Tughlaq Road police station in Delhi, addressed to Nathuram Godse’ who was in police custody after gunning down Gandhi.

"Translated by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), Delhi, from Hindi to English, the letter, which was recorded as a secret note of the intelligence department, read as follows:

You GREAT PRIDE of Hindus,

   You have done a great service to the Hindu Community by murdering Gandhi who was a sympathiser of Muslims. You have, therefore, become immortal in the history of Hindu Community. God had given you birth to murder Gandhi which you have done. Now you should leave for paradise with a desire that God may send another soul like Siva Ji who may rescue the Hindu Community from Nehru, a slave of Muslims, and a slur on the name of Hindu Community, so that Hindu religion may shine over the world.

   You may rest assured that Hindu Community will never forget you and will not rest till Nehru who is a blot on the whole Hindu Community is not done away with because of the fact that in the regime of Nehru Hindus are being perished in lacs in Pakistan. Nehru instead of protecting Hindus, is using his sword to crush Hindu Community."

That means there has been a Godse-cult in India ever since 1948. And that cult has kept its influence growing and we have even seen the picture of Savarkar finding a place in the Parliament Hall of India. Before too long it seems that Godse, Savarkar’s blind follower, also will find a place there. More dangerous than their pictures finding a place in the democratic institutions may be their spirit governing our democracy.

The only remedy is rehabilitating Gandhi, as it is observed in the concluding part of The Murderer, the Monarch and the Fakir: "In recent years, we have become preoccupied with either rigorously opposing or enthusiastically supporting the rehabilitation of Savarkar and Godse, whereas our real aim should be the rehabilitation, critically and emphatically, of Gandhian thought. The Gandhian doctrine was also about the practice of Sarvodaya—concern for the well-being of all—as a permanent antidote to hate and fear."

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