Gandhi and Godse A Review and a Critique by Koenraad Elst. Voice of India Press 2/18 Ansari Road, New Delhi 110002 India.
MOST EDUCATED PERSONS KNOW that Ghandi was assassinated but how many outside India know why? This book is an account by a Flemish journalist of the motives which led Nathuram Godse to shoot Ghandi in the garden of Birla House in Delhi on 30th January 1948. Godse, who was editor of Hindu Rashtra was permitted to address the court during his trial and it is a critical examination of Godse’s speech which forms the core of Elst’s book.
One of the main issues at stake was palayanam, which the author translates as “running away from necessary battle.” Gandhi himself on numerous occasions, defended the concept of necessary violence in self-defence, according to Godse. However, in the face of the Muslim threat to Hinduism and in the partition of India and the establishment of the new states of East and West Pakistan, Gandhi preached non-violence. Worse for Godse, he even saw it as a virtue to allow the Muslim to seize territory, to murder and burn. It was a glorious fate to be a martyr for peace, so Gandhi. But Godse insisted that total non-violence was in contradiction with traditional Hindu teaching. The heroes of Hindu mythology, according to Godse, were fighters and defenders of their way of life and of their land. It was the “height of absurdity” that Ghandi saw the Bhagavad-Gita as a manual of non-violence, when the book actually opens with Krishna’s exhortation to Arjuna to do battle, refuting all the arguments offered by Arjuna to justify desertion from the battlefield.” (p.47)
Gandhi’s pacifism was not simply a matter of denouncing violence in all its forms, it took the form (and this is what for Godse is ultimately unforgivable) of tolerating Muslim violence not despite the fact, but principally because Muslims were not Hindus. This is the familiar case of the mentality which has more understanding for the outside aggressor than for one’s own. Gandhi was not ultimately interested in what Muslims did, he was interested in how his fellow Hindus reacted to what they did. To those Hindus who suffered Muslim outrages he had the message that they would enjoy the aura of martyrdom and (by implication) the smug but not very practical awareness that they held some kind of moral ground. Appeasement has its moral consolation. As Robin Davies pointed out in a review in this magazine of the film Gandhi, non-violent non-cooperation might work with British authorities chary of shedding blood, but would it have cut much ice with a Beria, or a Heinrich? the answer is obvious and the fate of British farmers in Rhodesia, who have been acting like Gandhi’s best pupils, is exactly the fate which will occur to those who follow unconditionally Gandhi’s teaching. Appeasement towards the enemies of Hinduism in the name of Hinduism for Godse was treason and merited death, not death for personal reasons (Godse seems to have been without personal animosity towards Gandhi) but for the higher cause in which he believed.
Because Gandhi’s preaching of non-violence included a spirit of forgiveness to those who practised violence or violent persuasion, Gandhi became, according to Godse, a kind of fifth columnist working in the interests of Islam in India. If non-Hindu communities sought to indulge in practices offensive to Hindus, they should be allowed to do so, according to Gandhi, since India was a national entity which incorporated more than just Hinduism. A test case here was the issue of cow slaughter. Cow slaughter had been permitted under the Radjh because it in no way offended British sensibilities or perception of society (on the contrary, the British and the Muslims alike regarded the Hindu veneration of the cow as contemptible and not a little ridiculous.) What would be the position of independent India with its overwhelming Hindu majority? Gandhi, who had repeatedly expressed his veneration of the cow, vehemently rejected the proposition that cow slaughter should be made illegal in India. “India does not belong exclusively to the Hindus. Muslims, Parsees, Christians, all live here. The claim of the Hindus that India has become the land of the Hindus is totally incorrect. This land belongs to all who live here….” This notion of rights for all is the very stuff of multi-cultural society. In Britain today, the hunting lobby argues against anti-hunting legislation on the grounds that it that it enjoys special “rights” as a minority, “rights” which the majority “have to respect”.
Muslims, according to Godse, do not share the Hindu view of the world as being a multiplicity of Gods, in which other Gods are tolerated provided they do not offend the Hindu majority, but Hindus react allergically to religionists, be they Muslims, Christians or anyone else, who seek to convert Hindus to a unique, superior God.
Gandhi, argues Godse, not only tolerated Muslim outrages against Hindus, he even maintained friendships with those behind such outrages. In Calcutta in 1946 6,000 Hindus were killed by Muslims and not only did the Bengal Chief Minister, Suhrawardy, not act to apprehend the killers; as a Muslim League leader, he helped to organize the agitation. Gandhi repeatedly expressed his personal admiration for H.S. Suhrawardy as a person, even after the killings.. Gandhi similarly declared that “Abdul Rashid is my brother” after Rashid had murdered the Hindu polemicist Swami Shraddhananda. The murdered man had looked after Gandhi’s two sons while Gandhi was in South Africa and it was Sharaddhananda who first decorated Gandhi with the honorific title of Mahatma. Godse also compared the hostile attitude which Gandhi had towards Hindu princes compared to his neutrality towards Muslim ones. Elst follows Godse in arguing that it is a myth that the British wanted partition from the start. On the contrary, more than one viceroy had argued against partition. Partition, according to Godse, was a Muslim initiative, which the British accepted more out of expediency and cowardice than anything else and because the Muslims were more violent, more insistent and more politically astute. They also benefited enormously from Gandhi’s preaching that Hindus “should turn the other cheek”.
Particularly dreadful are Gandhi’s various speeches, cited by Godse, in 1947, the year of independence/partition, on attacks on Hindus. Here is an example: “The few gentlemen from Rawalpindi who called upon me…asked me what about those who still remain in Pakistan. I asked them why they all come here (to Delhi). Why did they not die there? I still hold to the belief that one should stick to the place where we happen to live even if we are cruelly treated and even killed. Let us die if the people kill us, but we should die bravely with the name of God on our tongue. Even if our men are killed why should we feel angry with anybody, you should realise that even if they are killed they have a good and proper end…” (23rd September 1947).
Koenraad Elst has done sterling service in pointing out the true nature of Gandhi’s policy of non-resistance and “turning the other cheek”. It could be seen recently in Wichita in Kansas where two Blacks armed with a small pistol, subjected a group of White Gandhi-type non-resistors to an ordeal of humiliation and anguish which ended in their death. They lay obediently on the ground waiting to be shot, offering no resistance to their tormentors. We see it today in Rhodesia, where the White farmers pacifistically endure humiliation and expulsion, betraying their ancestors and their many Black employees who without means or succour, have shown vastly more courage than they-surely that will go down as one of the greatest incidents of ignominy in the history of the British! Gandhi’s policy of non-resistance effectively means surrendering to the wicked, even cooperating with the wicked, demurring in the face of provocation, welcoming those who come to rob, despoil, plunder, deprive and destroy. Is it any wonder that Gandhi is so respected among our Great (?) race, which once was master of the world and is now in full retreat towards extinction? For one Hindu the shame and damage that Gandhi caused was unendurable and he acted to put a stop to Gandhi’s undermining of Hindu India. Nathuram Godse, you were neither of my kith and kin, nor my race nor my nation, but I understand you and I honour you. Peace be to your immortal soul, true Martyr for your Faith.