Shaftam un mian khoon fiq-nawiz (Killing can never be justified.) - An old adage in Avesta
However lofty and exalted a killer's intentions may be, at the end of the day, a murder is a murder is a murder... - Sir Stafford Cripps, on Gandhi's assassination
Passivity at any price. Suffer dishonour and disgrace but never resort to arms. Be bullied. Be outraged. Be killed. But don’t kill. - Buddha
Neither his contemporaries nor the posterity would ever be able to evaluate Gandhi, for he was beyond time and space. - Louis Fischer, American journalist who worked with Gandhi and wrote on him
What irony! Just a day prior to his assassination on Jan 30, 1948, Gandhi quoted the Buddha's words and the very next day, the apostle of peace fell to an assassin's bullets in the Capital. Here, I'm not bringing in Rajkumar Santoshi's film Gandhi Godse: Ek Yuddh, based on an imaginary narrative to present Nathuram Godse's flawed and lopsided perspective. My point is to dispel the clouds of erroneous perceptions that overwhelmed and engulfed him (Gandhi) towards the fag end of his life to the extent of being 'responsible' for Partition and the Hindu-Muslim chasm.
There's a term in history and logic, known as a Fallacy of Optic Duration. Let me explain it first. It's like, “The more we grow old/ The more brief appear our life's succeeding stages/ A day to childhood seems a year/ A year like passing ages.” Time, posterity and passing years create an opaque image of a celebrity, legend or a great person's persona. He or she either becomes (unnecessarily) great or unnecessarily criticised and condemned. In the case of Gandhi, the latter condition happened. Too much critical analysis and excessive interpretations, coloured with intentional fallacies, somewhat demonised the great man and deified his killer/s. The passing time and new narratives lionised his assassin which is the worst form of historical revisionism.
To quote Mohammed Ayoob, in reality, Gandhi opposed Partition until the very end. However, the Congress leadership had increasingly sidelined him by the end of 1946. By that time, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel had come to accept the idea of Partition without even the courtesy of consulting Gandhi. Eventually, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) accepted the Mountbatten plan to divide the country.
On the morning of June 3, 1947, the day the Partition plan was announced, Gandhi told Rajendra Prasad, “I can see only evil in the plan.” Reacting to a question by a reporter whether he would undertake a fast to prevent Partition, Gandhi, uncharacteristically dejected, replied: “If the Congress commits to an act of madness, does it mean I should die?”
Gandhi, though a devout Hindu, was never a zealot. His idea of peace and non-violence had a ring of genuineness. He drew daily inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita, the 'Sermon on the Mount' and Persian mysticism. He wondered whether, if warmongers like Hitler and Mussolini ever read and understood mysticism, the world would never have witnessed the two horrific World Wars and numerous other conflicts. Gandhi wrote to his Scottish friend and Christian missionary in India 'Deenbandhu' (friend of the poor) Charles Freer Andrews, ' The more I read mystic poetry of universal love, the more I believe in the power and capacity of human co-existence. It's a potential possibility, not a pipe dream.' Let's rejoice in such sublime ideas of non-violence and believe that the power of love overcomes violence. Love was Gandhi's universal religion.
The WhatsApp generation may not understand the sublime greatness of Mahatma Gandhi but it's a fact that Gandhi's foremost objective was to get freedom from the oppressive English rule. That he was a stooge of the British Raj is a figment of the imagination. Sir Richard Attenborough rightly said, “A stooge of the British government doesn't go to meet the Queen in loincloth and hand-made slippers. One has to have the courage of conviction and a sense of defiance which Gandhi had in abundance.” The ageing Gandhi was fully involved in the freedom of India and the parallel skirmishes of personal ambitions involving Congress leaders, Jinnah, Nehru and Patel got a tad sidelined. After all, Gandhi was human. He never claimed to be superhuman or Nietzsche's Ubermensch. He too had follies, foibles and flaws which he accepted wholeheartedly despite making a fetish of certain idiosyncrasies.
Since Gandhi was idolised and deified by the people of India, it was fallaciously thought that he could never make a mistake. His helplessness and marginalisation by his own disciples in the Congress Party disillusioned him. Partition caused unprecedented bloodshed and mayhem. And for all this chaos, he was held responsible by those who were young and misguided. They thought that he was favouring Muslims and was anti-Hindu. So, he must be eliminated. But it was a terrible decision that was camouflaged under the Gita's “Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya Glanirbhavati Bharat...” A man who dedicated his life to getting his country Independence fell to three bullets by an assassin who thought that he was removing a potential hurdle to today's Sanatan Dharm. What a shameful blot on the escutcheon of this country! Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Dr Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu and scores of others walked on Gandhi's path of non-violence and global peace but the man himself became a bete noire to today's generation and neo-intellectuals. Can there be any greater irony? One Hindi poet put it in perspective, “Apne hi desh mein rahe abhage Gandhi ji.” (In his own country, Gandhiji remained ill-fated). So very true.
Sumit Paul is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages
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