The 19th of May 2020 is the 110th birth anniversary of Nathuram Godse. Very little is known or spoken about the actual views and opinions of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s assassin and discussion surrounding him relegated to calling him a monster and a bigot or a Hindu terrorist. In this article, we shall discuss non-violence as preached by Gandhi, from the perspective of Koenraad Elst and his analysis of the courtroom speech of Nathuram Godse on the issue of Gandhian nonviolence.
Why Gandhian non-violence was a failure- Godse and Elst
“On the issue of non-violence, not Godse but Gandhi was the fanatic.” says Koenraad Elst in his book ‘Why I killed the Mahatma’. In the book, Elst presents an analysis of Nathuram Godse’s courtroom speech, where Godse presents his plea to the Indian judiciary. One of the issues which Nathuram Godse extensively covers in his speech is the issue of non-violence and Gandhi’s mishandling of the same.
In Godse’s speech, paragraph 56, he says ‘(…) To imagine that the bulk of mankind is or can ever become capable of scrupulous adherence to these lofty principles in its normal life from day to day is a mere dream.’
’56. (…) I could never conceive that an armed resistance to the aggressor is unjust. I will consider it a religious and moral duty to resist and if possible to overpower such an enemy by the use of force.’
’59. (…) Gandhiji himself was guilty of glaring breaches of his much-valued ideals.’
Here, Godse presents a threefold criticism of Gandhian non-violence. Firstly, as Elst analyses, Gandhi’s absolute non-violence was a lofty and impractical ideal. In fact, “Honour, duty and love of one’s own kith and kin and country might often compel us to disregard non-violence.”, says Godse. Secondly, non-violence is sometimes morally wrong. The fact that Gandhi uses the example of the Gita as a precedent to non-violence is absurd since the Gita was recited by Krishna in order to convince Arjun to fight against unjust aggressors. Thirdly, in many instances, Gandhiji himself broke the principle of non-violence, making the central ideal of the Gandhian independence movement, inconsistent.
The fanaticism of Gandhi
Let us start the criticism of Gandhian non-violence by simply quoting Gandhi in his post-prayer speeches. Godse mentioned these quotes in his plea as well.
‘93(b). (…) Hindus should be never angry against the Muslims even if the latter might take up their minds to undo even their existence.’
After the partition, referring to violence against Hindus in Pakistan, Gandhiji said, ‘I asked them why they all came here (to Delhi). Why they did not die there? (…) Let us die if the people kill us, but we should die bravely with the name of God on our tongue.’ This is quite ironical since Gandhiji’s God himself would ask him to fight whenever there’s a decline in righteousness.
“यदा यदा हि धर्मस्य ग्लानिर्भवति भारत ।
अभ्युत्थानमधर्मस्य तदात्मानं सृजाम्यहम् ॥४-७॥
परित्राणाय साधूनां विनाशाय च दुष्कृताम् ।
धर्मसंस्थापनार्थाय सम्भवामि युगे युगे ॥४-८॥”
He also suggested that in the killing of Hindus in Pakistan, it is the Hindus who had gained something, since ‘the killers were none other than our Muslim brothers.’ He made similar comments to the Hindu refugees from West Punjab, asking them to return home, even if they die in doing so. Hence, not only is Gandhian non-violence misplaced, radical and not in-tune with Hindu teachings, it is also unjustly applicable only when Hindus are subject to communal violence.
Ineffectiveness of non-violence and the Quit India Movement
The first and most obvious instance of the ineffectiveness of non-violence may be the Quit India Movement of 1942. Elst believes that the Quit India movement was the “height of folly given the circumstances”, considering the fact that Britain was at war and had an army at the ready. Hence, the Quit India movement gained Congress nothing but mistrust of the British Government, who sided with the Muslim league more heavily thereafter.
As far as the failure of non-violence in the movement is concerned, Godse says, ’66. In the Province of North Bihar, there was hardly a railway station which was not burnt or destroyed by the Congress non-co-operators; but in spite of all the opposition of the Congress, the Germans were beaten in April, 1945 and the Japanese in August, 1945. (…) The “Quit India” campaign of 1942 had completely failed.’ Not only this, but the suspension of the campaign marked the end of the struggle against Muslim separatism since in return for Office, Congress surrendered to Jinnah and the idea of a separate Muslim state. Gandhi realised his mistake and did penance after the movement, knowing that he could not control the violence ignited by his own campaign.
Inconsistency of Gandhi’s non-violence
Gandhi himself didn’t adhere to his principles of non-violence in many instances. This was shown in both the World Wars. In the first World War, Gandhi led recruitment efforts for the British army, hence implying his support for a violent and bloody war. In World War II as well, he took up a contract for supplying blankets to the Army from the Congress Khadi Bhandar.
According to Godse, Gandhi missed ‘103. (…) a golden opportunity for Gandhiji to show the power of his Satyagraha’ during the Pakistani invasion of 1947. ‘101. (…) It was only on the consent of Gandhiji that Pt. Nehru sent troops for the protection and defence of Kashmir.’ Gandhiji was fasting because ‘104. (…)a few Muslims could not live safely in Delhi. But he was not bold enough to go on fast in front of the raiders of Kashmir. (…) All his fasts were to coerce Hindus.’, says Godse.
Godse said that the ideals of non-violence are ’56. (…) implicit in every constitutional and public movement’, but Gandhiji made his version of non-violence ineffective, absolute and communal and thus, faltered.