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Mainstream, VOL LX No 6, New Delhi, January 29, 2022

The Odd thing about the assassins and their worldviews are that they think they have Killed Gandhi | S N Sahu

Friday 28 January 2022, by S N Sahu


In 1968 after the tragic killing of Martin Luther King the Chicago Sun-Times published a cartoon showing assassinated Mahatma Gandhi talking to assassinated Martin Luther King in the heavens and telling, “The odd thing about assassins, Dr. King, is that they think they’ve killed you.

That cartoon is so appropriate in today’s India, often called New India of Modi regime, marked by vilification of Gandhi, glorification of his assassin and deafening silence of those claiming to be the architects of New India in post-2014 period. Gandhi after being assassinated on 30th January 1948 endures through his values and legacy and will continue to do so based on undying ideals of truth and non-violence which remained central to his life and work.

Gandhi said he would Speak from Grave

He himself stated that he would live in spite of the disintegration of physical body if he remained wedded to non-violence. Almost five months before his assassination he, on 7th August 1947, presciently said, “But so long as my faith burns bright, as I hope it will even if I stand alone, I shall be alive in the grave and what is more, speaking from it.”

The problem with the worshipers of the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi and the deafening silence of the ruling leadership on their project of vilification of the father of our nation is that Gandhi is speaking from his grave incessantly and celebrating the power and might of non-violence and truth in face of hatred and call for arms and genocide by employing Hindutva.

Gandhi’s Model Deaths

On the solemn occasion of the martyrdom of Mahatma Gandhi let us be mindful that he wanted to die while serving the suffering humanity. He expressed that desire in his article “Famine in Orissa” published in Navajivan on 26th September 1920 when he was informed that one Krishna Chandra Naik of that province died of snakebite while distributing relief to the victims of famine and he was requested to send a condolence message to the bereaved family. Gandhi instead of condoling the death issued a congratulatory message and gave the reasoning that someone who lost his life while serving should deserve congratulations and not condolences. Then he expressed his desire that “I would consider it my good fortune to meet such a death.”

Later in March 1931 when Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi attained martyrdom in Kanpur after he followed Mahatma Gandhi’s advice to visit the site of communal riots to prevent the Hindus and Muslims from engaging in violence and bloodshed, Gandhi instead of bemoaning the untimely passing away of Vidyarthi congratulated his sorrow-stricken family. Writing in Young India on 9th April 1931 that the death of Vidyarthi was one to be envied by all, Gandhi stated, “I tender to the bereaved widow and her children not my condolences but my congratulations for having deserved Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi. He is not dead. He lives today far more truly than when we saw him in the body and knew him not.”

In fact Gandhi wanted to die the death of Vidyarthi as he considered his death, like the death of Krishna Chandra Nayak, as a model and exemplary death to be emulated. On the anniversary of Vidyarthi’s death, he wrote, “Ganesh Shankar’s Ahimsa was perfect Ahimsa. My Ahimsa will also be perfect if I could die similarly peacefully with axe blows on my head.” Adding that, “I have always been dreaming of such a death, and I wish to treasure this dream”, he outlined in detail the attack of assassins on him and the composure he would maintain in the midst of such attacks: “How noble that death will be, a dagger attack on me from one side; an axe blow from another; a lathi wound administered from yet another direction and kicks and abuses from all sides and if in the midst of these I could rise to the occasion and remain non-violent and peaceful and could ask others to act and behave likewise, and finally I could die with cheer on my face and smile on my lips, then and then alone my Ahimsa will be perfect and true. I am hankering after such an opportunity and also wish Congressmen to remain in search of such an opportunity."

What Gandhi wrote was proved to be true on 30th January 1948 when he faced three bullets of hatred and stopped them in their trajectories by uttering Hey Ram. He laid down his life for the cause of inclusive nationalism, Hindu-Muslim unity and the idea of India celebrating the diversity of faiths and not getting defined by one particular faith even if the majority of people pursued that faith.

When Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was killed while preventing Hindus and Muslims from indulging in riots in Kanpur, Gandhi wrote in Young India on 9th April 1931, “His blood is the cement that will ultimately bind the two communities. No pact will bind our hearts. But heroism such as Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi showed is bound in the end to melt the stoniest hearts, melt them into one.” However, he observed with anguish that, “The poison has however gone so deep that the blood even of a man so great, so self-sacrificing and so utterly brave as Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi may today not be enough to wash us of it. Let this noble example stimulate us all to similar effort should the occasion arise again.”

Deepening of Poison Among Hindus and Muslims 

The deepening of poison affecting Hindus and Muslims mentioned by Gandhi in 1931 has assumed the proportion of a massive crisis with the call of some Hindutva leaders for arms and genocide of Muslims in India in 2021-22. The silence of leaders operating the State apparatus of India is worrisome. The level and extent of the spread of poison has created such a toxic atmosphere that even the leaders of several mainstream national parties are not condemning such calls for genocide fearing adverse impacts on their electoral prospects. Such is the sway of the toxicity over the minds of people ruling this country that they dropped Gandhi’s favourite hymn Abide with Me from the beating the retreat ceremony.

Communal Discord Would Distort History 

Gandhi cautioned in Harijan on November 2, 1947, that the outcome of exacerbating communal disharmony and bitterness would be an educational curricula based on a distorted history which in turn would promote an exclusivist outlook and mentality.
Under the headline “On New Universities”, he wrote:

“Then take the Hindu-Muslim question. The poison has assumed such dangerous proportions that it is difficult to forecast where it will land us. Assume that the unthinkable has happened and that not a single Muslim can remain in the Union safely and honourably and that neither [a] Hindu nor [a] Sikh can do likewise in Pakistan.” He then warned by saying, “Our education will then wear a poisonous form.”

Adding further he wrote, “If, on the other hand, Hindus, Muslims and all the others who may belong to different faiths can live in either Dominion with perfect safety and honour, then in the nature of things, our education will take a shape altogether pleasing.”

Warning about an exclusive culture, Gandhi further wrote: “Either people of different faiths having lived together in friendship have produced a beautiful blend of cultures which we shall strive to perpetuate and increasingly strengthen or we shall cast about for the day when there was only one religion represented in Hindustan and retrace our steps to that exclusive culture.”

He then insightfully noted: “It is just possible that we might not be able to find any such historical date and if we do and we retrace our steps, we shall throw our culture back to that ugly period and deservedly earn the execration of the universe.”

Gandhi warned that India will have to rewrite its history “if we make the vain attempt of obliterating the Muslim period”. Continuing further he added, “We shall have to forget that there was a mighty Jama Masjid in Delhi, second to none in the world, or that there was a Muslim University in Aligarh or that there was the Taj in Agra, one of the seven wonders of the world, or that there were the great forts of Delhi and Agra built during the Mughal period.”

In fact vain attempts are being made to retrace steps to that non-existent exclusive culture and so vilification of Gandhi and glorification of his assassin is becoming the new normal.

Gandhi Appealed Farmers to Promote Hindu-Muslim Unity 

On 9th March 1921 Mahatma Gandhi wrote in Young India a set of instructions to the U P Peasants and one such instruction was to promote unity between Hindus and Muslims for the purpose of attaining Swaraj.

Thankfully hundred years later the farmers’ movement against farm laws, participated by large numbers of farmers of UP, is now promoting unity of Hindus and Muslims and reciting Allah ho Akbar and Har Har Mahadev to underline their solidarity cutting across faiths. On the solemn occasion of the Martyrs’ Day the path trodden by farmers by following Gandhi should inspire the whole of India to live up to his ideals and salvage our pluralistic and tolerant ethos so beautifully represented in his life.

Four years later in 1925 when Gandhi was asked a question “What is the duty of the voters in the coming elections to the Legislative Council?” his reply was that the voters should vote those candidates who, among others, would uphold Hindu-Muslim unity. That advice resonates in India when several States are going to polls and particularly in UP the farmers and several political formations are appealing for Hindu-Muslim solidarity to defeat those who divided the farmers in 2013 on the basis of faith for reaping electoral dividends.

Naveen Patnaik’s Idea to Include Non-violence in the Preamble of Constitution

It is in this context that the Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s suggestion to put non-violence in the Preamble of the Constitution and the unanimous resolution of Odisha Government to this effect is worth implementing.

(Author: S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India K R Narayanan)

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