Gandhi and Godse

Years ago, sixty to be precise, a ‘crazed madman’ entered an evening prayer meet with a revolver hidden in his clothes. His intention was to assassinate the man leading that prayer meet. Nathuram Godse believed that this man, whom some had foolishly dubbed ‘Mahatma’ was in fact just the opposite: a ‘moorkhatma’. He entertained foolish notions of Hindu-Muslim unity at a time when it was more profitable to make incendiary speeches baying for the other community’s blood. Worse, he was emasculating Hindus by publicly calling for restraint and forgiveness when Muslims were on the rampage demanding Pakistan. What was unforgivable was that he had demanded that the newly formed Indian government pay up the finances owed to the equally newly formed Pakistan government  which they had been holding back. This mad man had to be stopped at any cost.

On January 30, 1948 Nathuram Godse entered the Birla Bhavan grounds in Delhi and made his way through the crowd towards Gandhi. He touched his feet and pumped two bullets into him. As he fell the Mahatma uttered the name of Ram while Godse dropped his gun and surrendered himself to the mercy of the crowd. A shocked nation listened as Nehru tearfully said in a radio broadcast later that night that the ‘light has gone out of our lives’. 

The act of assassinating Gandhi, though a sad and unfortunate event, was nevertheless not surprising. Probably Gandhi himself realised his growing marginalisation in the political process as the independence movement reached its culmination in 1947. His protegees, Nehru and Patel had taken over the reins within the Congress party and Gandhi’s role became more of a spiritual guide and adviser. And Jinnah? Oh, that insufferable fellow-Gujarati had always been Gandhi’s photographic negative: immaculate, English educated, stiff and distant with a fondness for the finer things in life, secular, prim and proper. 

Nehru was the quintessential modernist: His feet were in India, his head in Russia and his heart in England. He believed in science and progress, big dams and rationality, scientific temper and education. As for Patel, he was the clear and level headed iron man of India, a believer in realpolitik who had begged, coerced and bulllied over 500 reluctant princes and petty royalty to join the new republic. Neither had time for the Mahatma’s vision for the newly formed nation. 

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