On January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi took bullets on his chest and died. Concluding the Hind Swaraj aboard Kildonan Castle in 1909, he had written, “In my opinion, we have used the term ‘Swaraj’ without understanding its real significance. I have endeavoured to explain it as I understand it, and my conscience testifies that my life henceforth is dedicated to its attainment.”
He lived and died for his conviction. More than a million people had walked him to his final journey, weeping and mourning. The nation indeed felt it was orphaned. Of course, there were people who felt that he was not correct, especially on his assent to the formation of Pakistan. They perceived that the Hindus were given a raw deal. They also believed that Muslims were being unduly favoured. Their dream was ‘Akhanda Hindu Rashtra’ and they wanted to establish that through an armed revolution.
Millions had to leave everything back in what had then become Pakistan. They were looted, women had been raped and killed. The refugees had spread in many parts of the country. Most of them were very angry with Gandhi’s approach. They wanted to retaliate and attack Muslims.
Gandhi had held them back from retaliation and being violent. He was deeply sympathetic to them but wanted them to suffer and apply ‘love force’ and ‘soul force’ so that the perpetrators in Pakistan would give up violence. The refugees were seething with anger, they cursed Gandhi. The believers in Akhanda Hindu Rashtra provoked the refugees all over.
On more than one occasion, groups gathered and reached Birla House where Gandhi was staying and resorted to a fast unto death until peace returned, and shouted slogans saying ‘Gandhi ko marne do, Humko badla lene do’ — Let Gandhi die, allow us to take revenge.
But they did not indulge in violence, Gandhi’s earnest appeal kept them in check. And when he died on that fateful day, the nation mourned because in each of us lived a Gandhi. Gandhi is still in us. But alas! Some of us have been taken over by Godse.
Nathuram Vinayak Godse was emotionally highly charged. His emotions had been kindled and fuelled for years by Hindu fundamentalist forces which draw its inspiration from the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s ideology and actions.
When Gandhi insisted on India parting with Rs 55 crore to Pakistan with grace and which was due to it as part of the agreement, Godse, who had all along hated Gandhi, decided to kill him. He successfully carried out his planned act and in the process appealed to the ‘Godse’ in many Indians.
Those Godses in significant number rejoiced in the killing of Gandhi in person. But in a huge majority of people, killing Gandhi, the person, woke up their own Gandhi, relegating their Godses into the deep recesses of their mind. Gandhi had prevailed over Godse.
Soon India had embarked on building Swaraj. However, the Swaraj of the leaders who led the country after Gandhi was not in agreement with Gandhi’s Swaraj. The politico-economic strategies and programmes were ideologically at variance with that of Gandhi. The intellectual class was mostly with the then leadership with respect to economic restoration and development strategy that was followed.
Caste and religion became instruments to gain political advantages. Party politics in the world’s largest democracy started corrupting minds and hearts of people. By the time Gandhi’s birth centenary was celebrated in 1969, the country was well on its way to killing the Gandhi that resided in each of us.
Social theorist Ashis Nandy has noted that there was a proposal to put Gandhi’s statue on top of a pedestal at India Gate replacing the now removed statue of King George V Wiser counsel prevailed. In the next two decades, two processes unfolded simultaneously.
Caste and religion biases and prejudices deepened and the Godses in people started raising its head. Feelings of deep hurt on the basis of religious identity aroused the people. Lines were drawn sharply between religious identities. New Savarkars assumed leadership.
Today the country is deeply embroiled in caste and communal conflicts. The warning of Hind Swaraj is largely coming true. Wealth and prosperity have increased substantially. But economic inequality has also increased substantially.
“Love force rises. Brute forces subside.” Now the reverse is happening. The intolerance does not allow others to gain materially and brute forces come to play to deprive others who are different by caste, creed and religion. Godse has risen in another form.
But the Gandhi in each of us has to come back. I see that in the horizon, in the new generation. Humanity seems to be their religion. They are bright. They don’t shun material prosperity, but they are realising its limited relevance.
All of us should come together to strengthen this environment among the young and help Gandhi in all of us to blossom again and push the Godses into the background once again.