Murder of Gandhi


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The Martyrdom of Gandhi

Anil Nauriya

(On the occasion of 130th birth anniversay of Gandhi, we are reproducing, with author's permission, a piece on the meaning of the Gandhi murder. Gandhi was killed on January 30, 1948 as a result of a planned conspiracy by a band of fanatics representing the Hindutva ideology and what today is known as the Sangh Parivar. These very forces have ruled India for last two years and are now trying to appropriate Gandhi)gandhi.jpg (12192 bytes)

The ideologies tainted with Gandhi’s murder have remained relatively dormant for several years. Subsequent events – including Lohia’s indiscriminate anti-Congressism of the Sixties, Jayaprakash Narayan’s indulgence towards the Jan Sangh in the Seventies and VP Singh’s tacit alliance with the Bhartiya Janata Party in the 1989 general elections-along with the ideological bankruptcy of the Congress (I), brought the ideologies associated with the assassination to the centre-stage of politics.

In December 1995, a Supreme Court Bench delivered a judgment taking a mild view of Hindutva. Some aspects of the record of this judgment, involving BJP and Shiv Sena candidates, make one shudder. It was delivered a few months before the general elections and the BJP came to power at the center for thirteen days.

The Hindutva ideological assault was directed at Gandhi rather than at anyone else because he and his influence had reduced the Hindutva forces to desperation. When Gandhi fostered feelings of respect for all religions, he did so even at the cost of his life.

Gandhi sought to create and promote the conditions in which a secular state could exist. Some scholars try to pit Gandhi against Nehru. There was a creative tension between the two. Yet there could hardly have been a politically effective Nehru without a politically potent Gandhi.

Those who make the separation between Gandhi and Nehru often see themselves as part of certain pre-independence traditions, which happened to be at variance with the freedom movement. This is a position that comes easily, for instance, to the Muslim League tradition and also to some sections of the Left.. Embracing Nehru while professing to turn their back on Gandhi is their way of coming to terms with the past. Here they shoot at their own feet. Nehru, separated from Gandhi, is almost like a tree without roots.

The BJP too, in its formulations since 1990-91, has tried to isolate Nehru from Gandhi. With Nehru thus isolated, “the Nehru model” made, from its point of view, an easier target .

The project of the secular state had Gandhi’s backing. On the eve of the national day in January 1942, Gandhi delivered an important message: “What conflict of interest can there be between Hindus and Muslims in the matter of revenue, sanitation, police, justice or the use of public conveniences? The can only be in religious usage and observances with which a secular state has no concern”

Till the Seventies, the Jan Sangh and its associate groups openly targeted Gandhi. Since the BJP was created in 1980, it has followed a two-fold strategy towards Gandhi. First, it tries intermittently and selectively to appropriate him. It recalls that he spoke of Ram; but it prefers to forget that he spoke also of Allah and that at least as early as as 1909 he spoke of Khuda-Ishwar. It recalls that he spoke of a Ram Rajya. But it chooses to overlook the fact that he spoke of it as a non-sectarian ideal state, as opposed to the British rule, which he described as “satanic”. Nor is the BJP anxious to recall that Gandhi spoke similarly of Khudai Sultanat and the Kingdom of God.

In accordance with this attempt to appropriate Indian nationalism, the BJP leader, Mr. LK Advani, launched his rath yatra from the August Kranti Maidan in Bombay, where Gandhi had signaled the start of the 1942 struggle.

The second element in the BJP’s strategy has been that, even as it attempts to appropriate a distorted Gandhi, it seeks also to “put him in his place” In this effort, the rival imaging of Vivekananda and of Subhas Chandra Bose is convenient to the BJP and the RSS. Vivekananda died before the organised birth of the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS. There was no occasion for him to comment on these organisations. Bose was no longer around for two years before freedom. Therefore, there was no occasion for conflict between him and the most feverish years of Hindutva. But appropriation has its limits. The negative historical record of Hindutva apart, the most insurmountable difficulty in its attempt to appropriate Gandhi is the matter of his assassination.

Why, then, has virtually no political party woken up to commemorate this martyrdom? This may be a case of an opportunity missed. It is a reminder also of a multiple allegorical assassination of Gandhi at a time when an Advani is able to merrily appropriate even the August Kranti.

The Congress (I) evidently does not quite know Gandhi. Nor does the party represent the tradition of the Indian National Congress of the freedom struggle. That party more or less disappeared in 1969 and thereafter. A remnant of it, perhaps imbued to a greater extent with the old spirit, was appropriately known as the Old Congress. This group merged with the Janata Party in 1997 and, like the Socialist party, is now known only to history. Thus it is only by default that the Congress (I) is associated in the minds of the people with the pre-freedom Indian National Congress.

When the leaders of the Bahujan Samaj Party in 1993 accused Gandhi of having supported Varna Vyavastha, that is the four-fold Varna order, the Congress (I) leadership had neither the will nor the wherewithal to challenge it. Gandhi’s repeated statements that caste “must go” and, especially from 1945 onwards, that there was “only one varna today” were perhaps not even known to the Congress (I) members. It was left to Madhu Limaye, to comprehensively answer the BSP.

Since the Congress (I) posed willy-nilly as the inheritor of Gandhi’s legacy, it was tempting for the BSP to seek to attack Gandhi in a bid to attack the Congress (I). In this it attacked not the historical Gandhi to whom the Dalits were the “nearest and dearest”, as Ambedkar had acknowledged in a warm tribute in the Rajya Sabha on September 6, 1954. In essence the BSP attacked the Gandhi appropriated by the Congress (I). A false Gandhi was pitted against a fake Ambedkar. The real Gandhi and the real Ambedkar had shown some consideration for each other. The Congress (I) and the Janata Dal have still not understood this. They fear a partly misinformed vote bank and are hesitant to point to the real Gandhi and the real Ambedkar.

It is also possible that some sections of the Janata Dal (and the RJD that has emerged from it) feel that they have no electoral reason to raise the issues concerning Gandhi’s assassination. The Dal is created primarily for winning elections. Gandhi is not sectarian enough to help win votes.

A section of the Muslim middle class has its own peculiar dilemma.. It is too close still to the intensive propaganda conducted against Gandhi by the Muslim League prior to Partition. But this propaganda was directed at creating two nations and it was, therefore, directed at a leader, who had stood for one nation with the protection of minority rights. The task now is to weld that one nation together on the principle of non-discrimination. The earlier propaganda has been kept alive by some academic centres belonging especially to the former colonial power. These centres are not anxious to encourage to encourage studies of, say, Muslim groups and leaders who took a positive view of Gandhi and stood for a more constructive involvement with the freedom movement. This scholarship seeks justification of the colonial policy. For it only one nationalist historiography must be attacked and that is the Indian, which it undiscerningly brackets with the Hindutva. For this scholarship, British supra nationalist and some other sectarian nationalist historiographies are almost sacrosanct. This scholarship requires that Gandhi be painted saffron rather than as representative of the Indian nation. For this it is necessary for this scholarship to seek to erase the distinction between Gandhi and his assassin.

The erasing of this distinction is precisely the politics of the BJP. To colonial historiography this distinction is seemingly of minor importance. To rationalize the colonial policy it is necessary for the colonial scholarship to present the entire freedom movement in exaggerated sectarian colours, while minimizing the extent to which the movement in fact resisted Hindutva and sectarianism generally. Here there is a triple convergence. The colonial agenda converges with the Hindu communal effort at appropriating the freedom movement as well as with the pre-Partition Muslim communal agenda. This trinity of forces has often acted to hold aloft the same tripod. Savarkar declared on August 15, 1943 at Nagpur: “I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We, Hindus, are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations.” 

Savarkar himself was acquitted in the Gandhi murder case. But Gandhi’s assassin never made any secret of the source of his ideological inspiration.

The distinction between Gandhi and his assassin may be sought to be minimized by the colonial scholarship, but the distinction is critical to the survival of Indian society.


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Last updated: February 23, 2000 .