"Even in his death there was magnificence and complete artistry. It was from every point of view a fitting climax to the man and to the life he had lived.” Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi’s most trusted lieutenant Jawaharlal Nehru on his mentor’s violent death at the hand of a bigot.
Gandhi’s death even inspired envy among his contemporaries. But more than Gandhi, it was his assassin Nathuram Godse who yearned for legitimacy to his action from the posterity. A self-educated, highly motivated man, Godse carried within him historical prejudices, a strain of social orthodoxy and conviction in his self-righteousness that combined to make him an assassin. He remained unrepentant till his last breath. In his death, he was as convinced as in his life that he represented a mindset.
BJP’s Bhopal Lok Sabha candidate Sadhvi Pragya Thakur comes from the genre of the posterity on whom Godse had pinned his hopes for future exoneration. Pragya is not alone in eulogising Godse. Many others like Union minister Anant Kumar Hegde and Karnataka MP Nalin Kumar Kateel largely endorsed Pragya’s description of Godse as “patriot”. BJP’s MP media cell head Anil Soumitra echoed Godse’s testimony in the court after the assassination in which he called Gandhi “the father of Pakistan-nation, not India”.
Why does Gandhi become so important nearly seven decades after his death? Look at the manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi keeps on associating his “Swachch Bharat (Clean India)” campaign with Gandhi. Time and again, he reminded people of Gandhi’s insistence on cleanliness. More recently, he recalled Gandhi in the context of rebuilding the Kashi Vishwanath temple complex and referred to the Mahatma’s dismay over constricted space and filth around the temple so important to Hindus. Perhaps in the recent past, nobody has invoked Gandhi on so many occasions as Modi did. He often referred to Gandhi’s unique way of mobilising people on simple issues that eventually brought down the mighty British regime.
Apparently, Gandhi’s death is more relevant than his life in a culture of extreme political rhetoric that is prevalent in India. Movie star Kamal Haasan raked the issue of Gandhi’s assassination and called Godse the “first Hindu terrorist”. He used the name of Godse rhetorically to target the Hindutva forces. It would be naïve to assume that Haasan’s description of Godse was motivated by a sense of historical guilt that the country initially suffered after Gandhi’s killing. He was merely using Godse’s name to endear himself to a certain constituency. Like any other politician, Haasan has been trivialising Mahatma’s killing for his short-term gains.
In this context, it is instructive to read the essay written by noted social psychologist and one of the foremost original thinkers, Ashis Nandy, titled Final encounter: the politics of assassination of Gandhi, to investigate the pathology of the historical event. Referring to Gandhi’s premonition of his violent death which he persistently indicated before he finally fell to four bullets fired by Godse, Nandy finds it as the outcome of depression caused by immediate historical provocation – the partition of India. Ironically not only Godse blamed Gandhi but Gandhi also blamed himself for the vivisection of the country. In essence, the historical context and mental frame of the assassin and the victim confirm Nandy’s thesis that “every political assassination is a joint communique. It is a statement which the assassin and his victim jointly work on and co-author”.
However, Nandy’s diagnosis is quite serious when he says, “If Gandhi in his depression connived at it, he also perhaps felt – being the shrewd, practical, idealist he was – that he had become somewhat anachronism in post-partition, independent India: and in violent death he might be more relevant to the living than he could be in life. As not a few have sensed, like Socrates and Christ before him, Gandhi knew how to use human sense of guilt creatively.”
There is no doubt that Independent India found Gandhi’s steadfast adherence to non-violence, truth and rejection of masculinity as a major impediment in the nation-building. Gandhi through his acts of mobilising illiterate masses largely drawn from the lowest social order had effectively challenged Brahminical hierarchy without sounding like a reformer. His politics followed the principle of public ethics which was at odds with his colleagues after Independence. Gandhi had lost his influence but was not ready to let it go so easily though he gave up his wish to live for 125 years. For those who swore by Gandhism in those days, he was barely tolerable. That was the precise reason why an intelligence input about his assassination was ignored by the then Bombay government headed by BG Kher.
Consumed by hatred and driven by a passion to correct the historical wrong, when Godse killed Gandhi he was quite convinced of getting support from the latent line of thinking in society. In the fringe discourses, there is no dearth of people who revile Gandhi. But they were ignored as shenanigans of attention-seekers. When a Union minister or a lawmaker of the ruling dispensation makes an outrageous remark giving patriotic credentials to Godse, they seem to be fulfilling Godse’s last wish. It was heartening to see Modi taking a firm position to reject this line of thinking altogether. Yet the BJP will find it difficult to disown its role in mainstreaming a sinister and lunatic fringe.
Nandy reads the assassination as a joint communique. We can extend that and say the joint communique has been a work in progress, with Sadhvi Pragya Thakur and others of her ilk furthering Godse’s mission. The rest of us should introspect where we stand in this process.
Your guide to the latest cricket World Cup stories, analysis, reports, opinions, live updates and scores on https://www.firstpost.com/firstcricket/series/icc-cricket-world-cup-2019.html. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram or like our Facebook page for updates throughout the ongoing event in England and Wales.
Updated Date: May 19, 2019 07:57:33 IST