On the 19th of May, 1910, a boy was born who would go to definitively alter the course of not only the politics of the country but the very history of the Hindu Civilisation and, by extension, the world at large. In the life of every man, there comes a moment when the entirety of his legacy depends on the one single choice he makes at that one precise moment. And sometimes, that one choice, that one moment, that one man continues to echo across the tides of time; sometimes as a hero and in others a villain. The man I am speaking of today has been demonised beyond recognition for a monumental choice he made on the 30th of January, 1948. Only scorn and condemnation is showered upon him. He is, of course, Nathuram Godse.
On the outset, it needs to be mentioned that the author does not endorse the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Normally, it is taken for granted that a person does not endorse murder unless he specifically states otherwise but circumstances are such that any discussion on Nathuram Godse that does not favour mainstream discourse is interpreted as an endorsement of his crime. Therefore, it ought to be borne in mind that the author does not endorse the assassination.
This column is not a eulogy of Nathuram Godse but neither does this demonise him as he has been all these years. The author is of the conviction that the one-sided narrative that has dominated the discourse surrounding him is motivated by political objectives only and does not do justice to the actual complexity of the nature of the events that transpired.
Over seventy-two years have passed since Nathuram Godse shot Gandhi and assassinated him. Enough time has passed for us to assess the circumstances of the assassination objectively. Political objectives and misguided motivations have prevented us from having an honest discussion on the subject.
It is not a secret that the Nehruvian camp utilised Godse’s actions to consolidate their own hold over Indian politics and eliminate Hindutva from the corridors of power. Ever since then, the ‘secular-liberal camp has used the spectre of Nathuram Godse, an image of him that only existed in their imagination, to keep Hindutva at bay. Such attempts have failed and it took long enough but ultimately, Hindutva has come to dominate Indian politics.
Thus, time has for us to address the matter of Gandhi’s assassination objectively. Ever since Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister, Nathuram Godse has been dragged through the mud. He has been called a ‘Hindu terrorist’, and organisations such as the RSS and the BJP which subscribe to the ideology of Hindutva have been slandered by linking them to the assassin.
It needs to be understood, once and for all, that Nathuram Godse was not a terrorist, much less a ‘Hindu terrorist’, and most importantly, it needs to be recognised that he wasn’t a monster. He was a political activist who was motivated to commit the monstrous crime by the circumstances of the times he found himself in. All things considered, I do not believe that even his most vicious critics believe he was one even though they treat him as if he were merely for their partisan agenda. For the longest time, he has just been a stick to beat Hindutvavadis with.
To understand Godse’s motivations properly, the prevailing circumstances in the late 1940s need to be assessed in their proper context. Living in 2020, when India has witnessed great prosperity within a relatively short period of time, one cannot really fathom the conditions that prevailed during the time of Gandhi’s assassination.
It was one of the darkest phases in the history of the Hindu civilisation. The country was overcome by a great sense of hopelessness even though it had finally won its independence from the British. Normally, it would have been a cause for great celebration but circumstances were such that hardly anyone could bring themselves to feel truly happy about the whole situation. The Battle had been won but the War was lost.
In a lot of ways, much of the troubles that persist in our country to this day can be traced back to the manner in which the powers that be botched up the independence of the country. Independence had been won, yes, but a great cost had been paid. A civil war erupted across the country and the Indian National Congress had failed spectacularly in stemming the tide of violence.
Hindus were butchered in broad daylight, Hindu women were raped, children were slaughtered and all this while, the politicians were busy with their own devices shielded safely from the chaos that flourished across the streets. It was in the immediate aftermath of such a grave calamity that Nathuram Godse murdered Gandhi. It was truly the Age of the Kraken. Gandhi’s assassination brought an end to it.
We cannot imagine how people who lived through that age must have felt. The psychological trauma must have been enormous. People were forced to abandon the lands their ancestors had been living in for centuries and migrate elsewhere. The world witnessed the greatest migration in recorded history during that phase.
The human cost of partition is one that we will never be able to assess accurately. It was just too great. Hordes of people were butchered, streets overflowed with corpses, the cries of women must have reverberated across cities. Children were slaughtered without mercy. The brutality of the civil war of 1947 could never be captured in mere words.
There were children who witnessed their own family being murdered before their very eyes or the women in their family being raped. Would a child ever be able to recover from such trauma? It is no wonder then, that even after seventy three years, the complications that arose out of the partition continue to pervade every aspect of our public life and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
Instead of confronting the demons of our past, our leaders chose to bury it six feet under wielding Nathuram Godse as a shovel. It is due to this reason that the Citizenship Amendment Act faced so much opposition when, in fact, it is the fulfilment of a sacred duty India bears towards the Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
The Hindu Civilisation spanned across the entire Indian subcontinent but in a speck of dust on the sands of time, Hindus were forced to leave their ancestral lands and the footprint of Hinduism was eliminated across vast swathes of the subcontinent almost instantly. For any Hindu who was politically aware, as Nathuram Godse undoubtedly was, the catastrophe of the whole situation must have been magnified manifolds. It is under these traumatic circumstances that he operated in. As individuals living in 2020, we cannot hope to imagine the trauma that he must have suffered and the misery he was struggling to endure.
The bloodbath on the streets, the rapes of countless women, the slaughter of innumerable children, combined with the partition of the country and other factors contributed to that one moment of madness. Nathuram Godse had made up his mind that someone had to pay and he came to the conclusion that the price must be paidn by the individual who came to be considered as the face of the Indian independence movement.
To reduce the assassination to a deranged act of monstrosity by a hateful individual is a grave injustice not only to Nathuram Godse but to the millions and millions of lives that were torn apart by the partition of the country. There is real tragedy in the history of our country and scapegoating Godse and the ideology he subscribed to as the source of all communal tensions in the country will not make our circumstances any better.
We celebrate our independence every year on the 15th of August. But I cannot imagine people feeling celebratory on the the date in 1947. India was born but Bharat Mata had suffered a mortal wound. A beautiful baby was born, but the mother was dead. It is easy for us to demonise Godse for his actions committed under extreme trauma. But objectivity demands that we acknowledge that we will never be able to comprehend the extent of the agony that Godse and millions of others must have endured.
And for that reason alone, it is imperative that we lay his legacy to rest. He was not a monster or a terrorist or bigot, he was just an ordinary man whose endurance limits were breached by the unobstructed calamity around him. Seventy two years have passed, it is time to abandon the organised campaign of slander that he has been subjected to.
Indians, of my generation especially, often tend to underestimate the impact of the partition in the collective psyche of our country. There is good reason for this. Part of it was, of course, the state-enforced suppression of the actual history of the Indian partition. But I believe the trauma that Hindus endured in the 1940s contributed to the current situation. After the carnage during the independence years, there was an unconscious desire on the part of the Hindu community to move away from the memories of the conflict.
I believe that the trauma that Hindus suffered played a great part in the erasing of the million tragedies of the partition from our collective consciousness. And the powers that be used that opportunity to scapegoat Hindutva for the communal tension that persists in our country to this day. It needs to be remembered that the root of all problems is not Hindutva or even Godse, it is solely the partition of the country.
The discerning would have noticed that the assassin of Abraham Lincoln is hardly spoken of in the same breath as the great American president. Hardly anyone remembers the names of the assassins of Indira Gandhi. Some even demand mercy for the conspirators behind the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. And yet, it is well nigh impossible top speak of Gandhi without mentioning Nathuram Godse. Why is this so?
It is only because it was beneficial for certain political parties to hold up Godse as the face of an entire political movement. It was beneficial for them to cast Godse as public enemy no. 1. It was beneficial for them to wash away all the complexities of the times that led to Gandhi’s assassination and cast the assassination entirely in isolation of circumstances that preceded it. There is no need for us to continue to be held hostage to the political ambitions of one particular family.
Nathuram Godse committed a crime and eventually paid for it with his life. Normally, his name would have faded from history but the powers that be, in order to achieve their own political end, turned him into the face of the Hindutva movement. But in doing so, they also ensured that until eternity, whenever Gandhi is spoken of, so will be Nathuram Godse.
Thus, it is time for the country to move beyond the brand of politics that attempts to settle political scores with opponents employing Nathuram Godse as a tool. No rational country decides the direction it is going to pursue based on the political inclinations of the assassin of a national icon. Thus, on his 110th birth anniversary, let the slander campaign against Nathuram Godse be abandoned.
Intellectuals should instead take it upon themselves to explore the failings of the then ruling political class, including Gandhi, objectively without painting the assassin as a monster and blaming his ideology for his actions. A considerable amount of time has passed. It is finally time for us to confront the multitudes of demons that lie in our country’s past.