Why I Killed the Mahatma by Koenraad Elst
Why I killed the Mahatma by Koenraad Elst is a thorough analysis of the last speech by Nathuram Godse in the court. I had read the speech a few years ago in this compilation – Great Speeches of Modern India. I remembered it for a long time, as it was a unique speech. A speech that defends the action that everyone condemns – the killing of Mahatma Gandhi. On record, the judge listening to him said that everyone present in the court was convinced of his actions. That tells you the power of his words.
When ‘Why I Killed the Mahatma’ came to me for review, I wanted to read the analysis of his speech. This book has been published earlier but it has first time been published by a leading popular publisher taking it to masses.
Author Koenraad Elst begins by giving us the basic facts about the incident of killing of Gandhi. He narrates how Nathuram Godse fired three bullets that killed the Mahatma instantly and how he never tried to escape or plead mercy. Nathuram Godse knew he would be hanged for this act and he was prepared for it. Elst then takes us through the background of Godse – his Saraswat Brahmin roots and his association with Hindu Mahasabha.
What follows is a point by point analysis of actions of Gandhi that led Godse to kill him. The biggest grudge he had was against the bifurcation of India. The basis of this was the unequal treatment that Gandhi gave to Hindu and Muslim communities. Godse strongly felt that Gandhi had a different value system for Hindus and Muslims. While he used his ‘Fast Unto Death’ tactic as and when he wanted Hindus to bend but he never used it with Muslims. Now, it is potentially because he knew that it would not work with them. They might let him die.
Some new points that I gathered from this analysis of ‘Why I Killed The Mahatma’ are things like the point of view that what Mahatma Gandhi wanted to be the unanimous leader of both Hindus and Muslims. To be there, he kept appeasing Muslims by giving them what they asked for. However, ultimately, they got their Pakistan but Gandhi was not accepted as a leader by them.
He substantiates his bias for Muslims by many examples like Moplah Rebellion where many Hindus were killed but Gandhi never condemned it. He in fact raised funds for Moplahs instead of the victims. Gandhi even went to the extent of calling them – My brave Moplahs.
Read More – Mani Bhavan – Gandhi Home in Mumbai
Gandhi influenced the changing of Indian flag from Saffron to the one with a green strip as broad as the saffron one. Gandhi is called the undisputed dictator for 30 years before independence. In fact, Dr. Ambedkar held it against Gandhi that he did not criticize the murder of Swami Shraddhananda – the person who gave him the honorific of Mahatma.
In the chapter ‘ Critique of Gandhi’s Policies’, Elst says that conflict between Gandhi and Godse is not one between secularism and communalism…unless we identify Godse with secularism and Gandhi with communalism. He is referring to allotting privileges on the basis of community – a disease that continues to stay in India.
Another interesting argument presented is that of Ahimsa or Non-violence that literally became the brand Gandhi. While we all know several incidents from the first half of 20th CE where Gandhi used Non-Violence as a weapon. However, there are incidents, not often spoken about publicly are him recruiting Indian soldiers for British Army to fight in World War I – was that not violence? There is a lengthy discussion on how Gandhi indulged in various Violent acts while maintaining a face of Non-Violence. Godse brings out the fact that Gandhi’s biggest sponsors supplied beef to allied forces.
His biggest argument is Gandhi’s telling the Hindus fleeing from Pakistan to not flee but die at the hands of Muslims. Offer yourself as non-violent willing sacrifices – he said. Today, we may not even understand this extreme suggestion – was he still hoping that Muslims will accept him as a leader.
Godse says – Justice does not figure in Gandhi’s calculus of non-violence. He finds it absurd that Gandhi called Bhagwad Gita as a manual of non-violence when the book opens with the Krishna pursuing a dejected Arjuna to fight.
There is an interesting observation by Rabindranath Tagore – ‘Muslims can not confine their patriotism to any one country…. under no circumstances it is permissible for a Mohammedan whatever be his country to stand against any Mohammedan’. Godse argues that Jinnah – the separatist was largely Gandhi creation.
Hinduism, as preached and practiced by Gandhi, is criticized as he tried to remove the distinction between the life of a householder and a monk. Gandhi was trying to make everyone a monk. Anyone who knows the basic tenets of Hinduism – we follow 4 stages of life and in the second one called Grihastha Ashram – one is supposed to enjoy a family life. Sanyas comes at the 4th stage when all duties and responsibilities are taken care of.
Besides Godse, the Koenraad Elst also captures the views of other eminent Indians like Aurobindo Ghose, Ambedkar, Ram Gopal and Sita Ram Goel. There are fairly large appendices to the book that re-iterate and substantiate the analysis of Godse’s speech.
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It is an eye-opening book in many ways. As we hardly know of the other side of the argument when it comes to the killing of Gandhi. It also takes a hard look at the partition of India and Gandhi’s role in it. To read, the book gets repetitive as the same arguments are presented again and again. They probably deserve emphasis, but after a while, you start missing the new arguments that you discover so well in the earlier part of the book.
Read it if you have never heard the Godse’s defense of his act. Read it to know the other perspectives on Gandhi and how his policies impacted the destiny of India.
You may or may not change your opinion after reading this book. But it is always good to know the arguments of both sides.
Other recommended books:
- India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha
- India’s Broken Tryst by Tavleen Singh
- Strictly Personal – Manmohan & Gursharan by Daman Singh
- The Case for India by Will Durant – Book Review
- Durbar by Tavleen Singh – Book Review