ONE of the perennial subjects of debate in India’s political circles is the question: Who killed the Mahatma? This evergreen topic has been given a new lease of life by the vociferous manner in which the Heir Apparent has posed the query, giving it a contemporary significance. The Supreme Court has stoked the fire further by giving Rahul Gandhi the Hobson’s options of tendering an apology or else, facing the consequences.
On the face of it, the answer is simple. There is no question that the hand that wielded the murderous weapon belonged to Nathu Ram Godse, a Chitpavan Brahmin from Maharashtra. There were numerous witnesses to the crime, which was committed in public when Bapu was proceeding towards his evening prayer meeting at Birla Bhavan, New Delhi. Godse surrendered to the police and made no attempt to run away or deny his role in the tragedy.
The real question that bothered everyone in 1948, during the investigation and trial that followed and years later whenever the allegation of a deeper conspiracy arose is whether Godse was acting alone in his personal capacity or if he was only the visible tip of the iceberg. The alleged assassins could be a group of Hindu zealots, the Godse brothers, the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha or someone else.
Godse submitted a long and cogently argued statement of defence to the trial court. This has had a wide currency and there are only a few Godse lovers who accept his contention that there was no conspiracy for the assassination; that he had himself felt the iniquity in the Mahatma’s treatment of the Hindus and had come to the conclusion that the only solution for the danger he posed to the country was his physical elimination from the scene. This decision taken, he plotted secretly and alone in procuring the weapon, choosing the time and place and perpetrating the crime. No one else had collaborated with him and he alone should be held responsible for the crime. He gave no defence for his act, except to allege that Gandhi’s stance on various issues had been inimical to the interests of Hindus and he was fully prepared to face the consequences.
Neither at that time nor since then has Godse’s version met with acceptance. It is generally believed that several individuals and organisations of the Hindu community had spread an atmosphere of hatred against Gandhi and Godse’s act should be construed as emerging from a mindset that had consequently emerged in a section of Hindu youth. Many also argued that Godse could not have successfully carried out the assassination singlehandedly. He must have received moral, intellectual or material support from some organisation. The prime suspects were the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha.
The real question that bothered everyone in 1948, during the investigation and trial that followed and years later whenever the allegation of a deeper conspiracy arose is whether Godse was acting alone in his personal capacity or if he was only the visible tip of the iceberg
There is evidence to show that Nehru was intensely worried that the assassin should not turn out to be a Muslim. He was fearful of the bloodbath that would ensue had that been the case. Gandhi’s murder by a Muslim could have sparked off widespread riots between the two major communities in the country.
It is well known that the Ministry of Home Affairs, which was then held by Sardar Patel, concluded that members of the RSS had been involved in various kinds of illegal activities and, therefore, there was a cogent case for banning the RSS. There are solid reasons why the BJP Government led by Narendra Modi today would like to own up Patel as one of its icons.
The case for the RSS is strengthened by the fact that the Congress government had twice set up judicial commissions to probe the matter. On both occasions, the commissions absolved the RSS of any complicity in the murder of the Mahatma.
At one level the Congress itself cannot escape responsibility for its failure to provide adequate security to Bapu, despite the perceived threat to his life. The defence that Bapu had himself refused to accept a security cover does not pass muster. Gandhi had often placed his life in danger by going on a fast unto death or by initiating a non-violent mass movement on a nationwide scale, knowing full well that it could invite violent reprisals from the British law and order machinery.
At another level, one can argue that Gandhi was a great acolyte of Jesus Christ. The Bible recounts in great detail the story of how Jesus met with his death. It is well known that Jesus knew at every stage of his life what the next step in his life’s journey was going to be. He was aware that Judas was going to reveal his identity to his enemies. But he permitted Judas to kiss him on the cheek, which led to his arrest and trial, and subsequently to his crucifixion on the cross. Jesus believed that God had sent him on a mission and that all these events, however horrendous they appeared to be, were an integral part of that mission. He refused to escape, although some of his disciples advised him to do so. In a way it can be said that Jesus voluntarily embraced his death.
GANDHI was a great acolyte of Christ. Many great saints have lived lives in imitation of Christ. It can be said that, at one level, Gandhi also knew that he was no longer in control and command of the political scene in the country. He was losing his relevance in the post-independence scenario. He was totally opposed to partition of the country and, in fact, requested Lord Mountbatten to end British rule and not insist on the partition. He made an offer to Jinnah to nominate a Muslim League leader as the Prime Minister of an undivided India, but none of the Congress leaders supported him. He could see that he was becoming less and less significant in national politics.
In a way, Gandhi imitated Christ. He could see his approaching death and he voluntarily embraced it in order to fulfil his destiny and mission. So, we can say that the Mahatma murdered the Mahatma.
The irony of the situation is that both the Congress and the BJP are using the death of the Father of the Nation as a poll issue. They both wish to convince the electorate that they are the real heirs to Bapu’s legacy!
MK Kaw is a former Secretary, Government of India. (The views expressed are those of the columnist.)