This is the kind of book/review/subject that warrants a
100 1000 disclaimers, but I am going to offer none. Mostly because I don’t even know where to begin with the disclaimers on this one. What do I even say? Especially when I am so conflicted on how I feel about the assassination, which is at the core of this book.
So here’s what I’ll do – I’ll just share my own thoughts on the book & leave it to you guys to decide whether or not to read this one. However, just to be clear, at-least on that front, my recommendation is clear: read this book.
Not because it’s pro or against anyone or any ideology. And certainly not because I condone Godse’s act (because I don’t, that’s the root cause of my internal conflict).
Read this book because it will give you insight into the mind of the man who killed Gandhi, his thought process & his reasons. Especially read it, because it highlights a side of Indian history that has been intentionally erased from textbooks, all to promote the brand & idea of Gandhi.
Which truth be told, is not all propaganda. Because Gandhi did do some truly great work, if nothing else, then he must be applauded for sustaining a mass movement for freedom and standing up for a lot of noble values.
But then again to highlight only one side of the man & his movement while disregarding the other, is to settle for a half truth instead of the complete history, which is not that straightforward, but complicated, messy and downright unpleasant.
And that’s why I say read this book, use your judgement & make up your own mind on how you feel about the book, the man (both the men in-fact) & the assassination. But do read it.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are my unfiltered, unedited thoughts on this book, where I share with you guys what the book is about, why I chose to read it, how it made me feel, and if I believe that the ideologies that led to the assassination are still relevant to modern day India, and what we can and should do about it.
Again, all of it is just my opinion, and I will totally understand if you disagree. All I ask is that if you feel compelled to share your dissent, do so in a respectful manner. Hopefully that’s not a lot to ask? 🙂
On that note, here goes..
What is this Book About?
This “book” contains only one thing: the final statement made in court by Nathuram Godse, when he was on trial for killing Gandhi. So I know calling it a book is debatable, especially because it’s only about 10 pages long, and essentially only really a court statement.
But let that not discredit the value that this book holds, the opinions expressed in here, and the insight into the mind of the assassin who killed Gandhi.
Also note: there are many other versions of this same book / subject that go into detailed analysis of Godse’s thought process & actions, debating pros, cons etc. But to be honest, I wasn’t interested in any of those. Because in such cases, it becomes difficult to separate (left wing / right wing) politics and propaganda from facts.
All I wanted was to read Godse’s reasoning in his own words, and that’s exactly what this book delivered.
However if you are interested in different versions, you might want to check out this one – written by Nathuram Godse’s brother – Gopal Godse.
In this other book, Gopal Godse narrates his accounts of all the events and takes the readers through the day of assassination till the day Nathuram Godse was hanged. He also puts forward crucial accounts of public and political opinions and reactions which were stirred up by the assassination itself and also by Nathuram Godse’s official statement to court.
But anyway, let’s come back to this book that I read..
Why I Killed Gandhi – My Thoughts:
Before I Read The Book
So before I even get into my thoughts on this book, let me share how much I knew about this particular incident before I read Godse’s court statement. Spoiler alert: Not much.
Now don’t get me wrong, I had in-fact read a lot on Gandhi, both for and against the man & his ideology, but next to nothing on Godse’s reasons to kill him.
Partly because books like this one, were until recently, banned in India. But mostly (and truthfully) because I had accepted the Congress propaganda on this, much before I knew the meaning of the word propaganda.
Because it provided a simple explanation. Because it gave me the truth I wanted to believe.
- That Gandhi was a truly great man, who freed the country from British Rule through non-violence.
- And Godse was a man who truly admired Gandhi, but had to kill him because of ideological differences.
But from what I’ve read and understood of Godse’s court statement now, both the above statements are only partly true. And what’s missing is critical for context & holistic understanding of the situation.
These quotes from the book are a more clear reflection of Godse’s POV –
“Gandhi had done very good in South Africa to uphold the rights and well-being of the Indian community there. But when he finally returned to India he developed a subjective mentality under which he alone was to be the final judge of what was right or wrong. If the country wanted his leadership, it had to accept his infallibility; if it did not, he would stand aloof from the Congress and carry on his own way.
He alone was the Judge of everyone and every thing; he was the master brain guiding the civil disobedience movement; no other could know the technique of that movement. He alone knew when to begin and when to withdraw it. The movement might succeed or fail, it might bring untold disaster and political reverses but that could make no difference to the Mahatma’s infallibility. ‘A Satyagrahi can never fail’ was his formula for declaring his own infallibility and nobody except himself knew what a Satyagrahi is. Thus, the Mahatma became the judge and jury in his own cause. These childish insanities and obstinacies, coupled with a most severe austerity of life, ceaseless work and lofty character made Gandhi formidable and irresistible.”
Why I Chose To Read It Now
I have been keenly following Indian politics from the past 15 years, even though I am only vocal on major issues, and that too mostly during general elections.
And during this time I have also taken an active interest in reading about Indian history, because I have realized that a lot of the country’s challenges, and even narratives are rooted in the past. So it is important to understand and review history before one can fully grasp the current reality.
Now in an ideal world, this history will be factual recording of events. But in the real world, no such thing exists. So I settled for reading several differing view points from the left, right & everyone in between. Pun totally intended.
And so in a way reading and understanding Godse’s POV was just a part of the course I was already on. But I have to say that my curiosity was further stoked, when I read a statement issued by one of the judges who ruled over Godse’s trial. Shared here –
“I have, however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse’s appeal, they would have brought a verdict of ‘not Guilty’ by an overwhelming majority.”
This was an interesting statement given by the judge, and probably true. But as far as I was concerned, I was skeptical that Godse’s speech would influence / change my mind, because for me nothing justifies murder, doesn’t matter how eloquent the assassin is. However, I’ve to say that the judges declaration did make me very curious.
And while I still maintain my original stand on the issue; after reading Godse’s appeal, I can say I finally understand at-least a little of what the judge meant by his statement.
The Underlying Ideas
Idealism v/s Extremism
A lot of people (even today) stand for different ideals, and many are willing to fight for their beliefs.
This ‘fight’ can take different forms, from armchair activism to raising your voice in social forums (online or offline) to social/political activism on the ground. All of which I find acceptable. Because dissent in a democracy is important to keep it vibrant and thriving.
But murder is not a tool of dissent. Maybe ages ago it was a survival thing, when people resorted to brute force to win & rule over their territories / kingdoms, and stifle opposition. But violent extremism has no place in a democracy.
And there are no two ways about the fact that this assassination was the result of an extremist ideology. But like most things, looking at it only from this one lens would be wrong.
There is the extremism & there is the ideology that drove the man to extremist violence. It’s important to understand both those things to understand the act.
Godse saw India as a Hindu nation and Muslims as infiltrators. I personally don’t see India as a Hindu only nation. It is surely the Hindu heartland, but it has always been home to different religious beliefs, or at-least from a long, long time now, which is why I feel comfortable using the word ‘always’, even if that might not be technically / factually correct. Just.. roll with me here, okay?
But be that as it may, he got driven to violence when he saw that Hindus were getting persecuted in their own country, to suit the political will of a few.
And on this account at-least, his aggravation was valid. Because Gandhi was pretty openly biased and all his social experiments and dharna dramatics were at the cost of Hindus. Which was unfair & wrong on many levels.
And it was this ideology of religious bias and political convenience that gave birth to the Godse brand of extremism.
Once again, nothing justifies murder, but understanding what led to the crime, is as important as knowing of the crime.
Because otherwise like Winston Churchill said – Those who fail to learn from history, are condemned to repeat it.
Opposition v/s Murder
Speaking of this particular court statement, this was essentially Godse stating his case against Gandhi.
And if only this was a speech / document titled ‘Why I Oppose Gandhi’, I would have rated it a 10/10. Because as far as arguments go, this was a well argued one. One that exposed the dark side of a man who is widely celebrated across the country, and even internationally.
But since this speech / statement was not about ‘Why I Oppose Gandhi’ but instead about ‘Why I Killed Gandhi’, the reasons, even though sound and valid on some levels, fall flat. Because you cannot, should not, take law in your own hands. Period.
That is of-course my opinion, and some might disagree, because we all have a unique moral compass that determines what the right thing to do in any situation is.
So what’s wrong for me, might be right in your eyes, and vice versa. Either way, Godse seemed very self aware and was convinced of his moral high ground until the very end, so much so that he had no regrets, and seemed completely certain of having done the right thing for his noble ideal, as you can see from the quoted statements below –
“Briefly speaking, I thought to myself and foresaw I shall be totally ruined, and the only thing I could expect from the people would be nothing but hatred and that I shall have lost all my honour, even more valuable than my life, if I were to kill Gandhiji.
But at the same time I felt that the Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be proved practical, able to retaliate, and would be powerful with armed forces.
No doubt, my own future would be totally ruined, but the nation would be saved from the inroads of Pakistan.
People may even call me and dub me as devoid of any sense or foolish, but the nation would be free to follow the course founded on the reason which I consider to be necessary for sound nation-building.
After having fully considered the question, I took the final decision in the matter, but I did not speak about it to anyone whatsoever. I took courage in both my hands and I did fire the shots at Gandhiji on 30th January 1948, on the prayer-grounds of Birla House.
I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to millions of Hindus. There was no legal machinery by which such an offender could be brought to book and for this reason I fired those fatal shots.
I now stand before the court to accept the full share of my responsibility for what I’ve done and the judge would, of course, pass against me such orders of sentence as may be considered proper. But I would like to add that I do not desire any mercy, nor do I wish that anyone else should beg for mercy on my behalf.
My conviction about the moral side of my action has not been shaken even by criticism leveled against it on all sides. I have no doubt that honest writers of history will weigh my act and find the true value thereof someday in the future.”
Has the Noble Ideal Been Reached?
I know many others, like him, believe his motive was noble, which it might be, but once again I’ve to reiterate, nothing, not even noble ideals, justify taking law in one’s hand to deliver their ideal of justice. Nothing.
But be that as it may, I have to admit that I too wonder if his intended noble ideal was achieved? Because, sure, Gandhi is dead. But even after 7 decades of independence, Congress is still very much a hot mess of dynastic politics.
Different family, same name, same old feudalistic tendencies. So much so that a quote from Godse’s statement regarding Gandhi, is still true of how the Congress party & leadership operate even today.
“Many people thought that his politics were irrational but they had to either withdraw from the Congress or place their intelligence at his feet to do with as he liked.”
So one could say that nothing’s changed, it’s the same old evil in a new package. But to be fair, no one knows what would have happened had Gandhi lived.
Would it have been much worse under the unfair, sometimes unreasonable ways of a leader who thought himself to be infallible? Or would the people have seen through his biased modus operandi and rejected his leadership?
Either way, killing the man was NOT the solution. Opposing him was. It might not have had the desired result, and yes, could very possibly have been a futile exercise, but I firmly believe that while we are in the pursuit of any goal/ideal, the means are almost as important, if not more important, than the end.
As things stand today, these men might be dead, but their ideology is not. In that sense both Gandhi and Godse are still very much alive in India today.
And it’s this ideological battle that is playing right into Pakistan’s stated objective of bleeding India with a 1000 cuts, propagating extreme vigilantism on both sides, and shredding the socio-cultural fibre of the country.
But I believe all is not lost. Not when a country is 1.3 billion strong. Not if the citizens do their best to understand issues & challenges, and the country’s history instead of falling for the popular narrative trending on Twitter.
And I feel one way to do that is to read, review history from all angles, all perspectives. From the narratives that are published in school textbooks to the ones that are banned.
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That’s all from my end, folks. I’d love to hear from you guys. Have any of you read this book? What did you think of it? If you haven’t yet read it, do you intend to pick it up sometime? Do share!
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