Mahatma Gandhi
File photo of Mahatma Gandhi | Central Press/Getty Images
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It is amply clear that not only was there the wider conspiracy to kill Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian government at the time too was a complete failure in protecting him, with its efforts bordering on complicit negligence. There had already been one failed attempt to assassinate Gandhi less than two weeks ago. And lest we forget, the Indian government at the time was led by Jawaharlal Nehru, our first prime minister, Gandhi’s anointed heir and successor, as well as the Mahatma’s closest, most loyal acolyte, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

Gandhi’s assassination was a terrible personal blow to Patel. Some believe that he never fully recovered from it, himself passing away a couple of years after, on 15 December 1950. Needless to say, the guilt of the Mahatma’s death, bordering on the horrible stain of patricide and coupled with the macabre Partition of India, constitute the twin traumas that mark the birth of our nation.

What this shows at the very least is that to blame Godse alone is collective self-deception, if not futile self-absolution. Worse, it might actually be political wickedness. The very people who use the ghost of Godse to tarnish the RSS and the BJP themselves stand condemned in the dock of history for their failure to protect the Mahatma. They must come clean and say sorry publicly rather than blithely and facilely shifting the blame to an invented bogeyman-cum-murderous-monster called “Hindu terror.”


Also read: There’s a lobby that wants to keep Nathuram Godse alive. And it’s not the Hindu Right


However, there are still a few more loose ends in the intriguing puzzle of why the ghost of Nathuram Godse still stalks the land. Godse, whether we like it or not, was no ordinary criminal or killer. He was not even a trained or hired assassin. He was, instead, an austere, Gita-quoting, self-made intellectual and newspaper editor. On the masthead in an oval inset of Agrani, the broadsheet he and Narayan Apte edited, was the image of none other than their hero and inspiration, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar.

It is reported that Godse visited Savarkar to seek the latter’s blessing before leaving for Delhi. Allegedly, Savarkar even blessed him with “yashasvi houn ya” — come back victorious. What is the source of this information? It is the testimony of Digambar Badge, a member of the assassination squad, who turned approver and state witness. Savarkar stood trial but, for lack of evidence, was not convicted for Gandhi’s killing. Indeed, both Godse, who he never looked at even once during the long-drawn trial, and Apte, sedulously refrained from implicating him in the conspiracy though they could easily have done so.

Godse’s shadow still haunts the Hindu psyche traumatised by the twin tragedies of the Partition and Mahatma Gandhi’s murder. It is because somewhere in our wounded past, many of us also wanted Gandhi dead, if not physically then at least figuratively.


Also read: Godse, raised as a girl, saw Gandhi as an ‘effeminate’ Father who didn’t protect Mother India


The difference is that Godse was prepared to die for his crime while we want to live on comfortably. That Godse bowed before the man he killed or was devoted to the same book that the Mahatma swore by, the Bhagavad Gita, are only some of the many ironies of Hinduism. The fact is that there is both a Mohandas and a Nathuram in most of us. It is this startling and disturbing truth that Kamal Hassan, now notorious for calling Godse independent India’s first “Hindu terrorist,” tried to convey in his moving period pic Hey Ram.

Until we accept and make peace with the Gandhi and Godse within us, both their apparitions will continue to startle, surprise, and provoke us from time to time. The healing of the fractured Hindu psyche can only happen when they not only come to terms with their historical defeats at the hands of both the Islamic and the Western colonial invaders, but also with their differing, sometimes glaringly contradictory, reactions to this defeat.

These latter range from denial, victimhood, outrage, revenge to a more considered and balanced commitment to a new renaissance based on the great legacy of a truly glorious past and an even more promising, knowledge-inspired future based on real competence, skills, and visionary dynamism. However, for this to happen, there must be a new and abiding covenant between the Hindus and the Muslims of the subcontinent, a cause that Gandhi most certainly staked his life for.


Also read: When Nehru’s India banned a story on Gandhi’s murder and Godse’s past


Unfortunately, the last seems a tall order for most Indians, let alone Hindus. Certainly, it is much greater and more demanding than simplistic and reductive political posturing for immediate political gain. But till 23 May, saying as much would be tantamount to little more than preaching to the deaf.

This is the second of a two-part series on Nathuram Godse. Read the first part hereThe author is a Professor and Director at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. His views are personal. His Twitter handle is @makrandparanspe.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. I just think that it was the INC and its allies whi ahve revived this so called ‘debate’ about Godse. Till then, he was a buried, forgttoen name and the Mahatma was the Father of the Nation. Rahul Gandhii and his band of nincompoops, in their effort to try and make people anti BJP/RSS, resurrected Godse in all his glory.
    They hoped to use him as propaganda to try and pin it on ALL Hindus by using loaded words like ‘HIndu terrorist’ to try and shame all HIndus and move htem away from the BJP etc. The plan is clear. It’s a repeat of Rajiv Gandhi’s virulent and shameful campaignn in 1984 against the Sikhs- create a fear factor.
    But now, they are stuck with a debate on the man and his motives. And unfortunately, the reputation of the Mahatma has also come under the scanner, his poltics, his decisions, his appeasement policies, his useless letters to Hitler, his inaction during the Moplah riots, his excuses for Shraddanad’s assassination, his sexual experiments and the utter brazenness of the use of young girls for them….all this WILL come under the scanner.
    If Gandhi were alive today, he owuldd be accused under Metoo! He should be! It’s beyond bizarre he was allowed to continue with what he id to those young women. I repscet him but when I learnt about this, I was SHOCKED. Now I cant make up my mind anymore about him.

    The Conbress brought this upon themselves. Now, they must bear it. And in the process many skeletons will be aired out.

  2. The learned author has at least one person who would completely agree with him. Her name is Pragya Thakur. What does the author want?

  3. Professor..first I thought to counter the trash & muck written by you on the basis of logic but in the end better sense prevailed. Hence my suggestion to you is that you need medical intervention. I really pity your students.

  4. It must be accepted that some have a predominant killer Godse in them than an ahimsavadhi Gandhi. Gandhi may have had his problems, but he was open for dialogue at least. It is impossible to dialogue with unreasonable Hindutvavadis.

  5. 1. There may be an individual in me who would like, given an opportunity to eliminate his/her enemies but would not perhaps like to face the consequences. There is so much hypocrisy and untruth in such narcissism. 2. Nathuram Godse was undoubtedly an assassin who used his firearms against an unarmed Mahatma Gandhi. This was an act of cowardice, though some fanatics like (Pragya Thakur) would like us to believe that Godse was a hero and a great nationalist, which he certainly WAS NOT. 3. In current context of Hindutva ideology, I say that political parties who claim to have secular credentials and who are critical of BJP/RSS ideology have done very little to take citizen-voters in confidence and convince them that they (secularists) can protect our democracy from fundamentalists whose agenda is to woo the extreme elements in both Hindu & Muslim communities.

  6. What Godse has committed was a heinous crime. To try and somehow rationalize his acts or beliefs under the veneer of some high sounding philosophy is utter sophistry.

    • Thank you for saying this unambiguously. I had something stronger to tell this man off, but this is perfect. Truly, what a puerile, embarrassing piece masquerading as analysis.

  7. Mr Godse was just another ordinary man who was forced with the circumstances of Gandhi pushing his non violence and appeasement towards muslims. A man like MK gandhi who went around naked to psyche people to believe that he lived a humble frugal life, in fact I remember reading somewhere Mr Patel saying the indian govt spent more money to keep him naked. Our history books written by left leaning people made a mahatma out of this emotionally controlling man, who also slept naked with young girls, why this fact is not portrayed in our text books. Mk gandhi was well written so as to give him the title of Mahatma, he had a lot of vices. The biggest fault of Gandhi to insist the indian govt give treasury to Pak riled Godse who rightly decided to kill him, how could Gandhi broker on giving away the rights of all Hindus, when he could not convince Nehru to give away the PM post to Jinnah to avoid partition? Mr Nehru was using Gandhi for endless power for he was power hungry, he neither listened to Gandhi nor did anything which did not suit his ambition. Godse will be an assasin but he was forced to be an assasin by all the people at that time

  8. I don’t agree with the learned author. Interestingly, what was a subject matter of mere academic and historical study has now turned out to be a hot political pot-boiler. Godse’s act was a condemnable and heinous crime and is cannot be defended in any manner. There can be no debate on this count. The debate was focused on two points : (1) Whether the assassination was an act of terrorism? (2) Whether the entire political class that adheres to the ideology of political or cultural Hinduism needs to be condemned for acts of a few madmen? This was a debate concerning India’s post-independence history. However, it seems that the BJP has not learnt its lesson from history. It’s parent organisation RSS was banned and its members were imprisoned due to criminal acts of this madman. Their school of thinking remained suppressed for decades and they lost elections after elections. It is only now that they have reclaimed its rightful space in India’s polity. To preserve our democracy, we must retain all political hues and colours or else, we have to surrender to dynasty politics which has nothing to do with any ideology. However, fringe elements that advocate violence should have no space. It is, therefore very surprising that the party has encouraged fringe elements like Pragya Singh Thakur. She has made a controversial statement about Godse and the BJP is now embarrassed and constrained to distant itself from its own nominated candidate. This is atrocious. BJP may lose or win elections, it doesn’t matter. It’s ideology of cultural Hinduism restores the balance in India’s polity and the nation can not afford its exclusion. The BJP must banish these fringe elements if it wants to preserve its political space.

  9. It would be very presumptuous to believe that there is a Mahatma Gandhi in me, but there sure as hell is not an atom of Godse in me. Or in most Indians. His act can never be forgiven or forgotten.

    • The sophistry embedded in this column has been overtaken by Pragya Thakur’s remarks.She has spoken from the heart, voicing what she believes in, what is her life’s ideology. Others are more circumspect and devious.

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