Thursday, May 19, 2022

Hate speech; Gandhi vs Godse: The paradoxes of Mahatma

(Hate Speech is making headlines. Not just against the Muslims but also against Mahatma Gandhi, in favour of Nathuram Godse, for which a saint Kalicharan Maharaj has been arrested by the Chhattisgarh police. Dr Koenraad Elst, an Indologist like few, says the subject is a taboo in India: The Congress glorifies Gandhi to harvest him electorally; The Hindu side doesn’t talk about it for it rakes up their supposed association with the assassination. What’s the truth? Dr Elst, reproduced here, in a speech he delivered for Sangam Talks.)

(Mahatma Gandhi vs Godse) its a big taboo on the subject. As a foreigner I have to come in an make this analysis when apparently no Indian has done it. There are a few books about the intrigue of the assassination but none about the motives behind it. 

It’s a taboo observed on both sides: The Congress side continues to glorify the Mahtma; and to harvest him electorally. The Hindu side doesn’t talk about it because to do so would remind everyone of their supposed association with the assassination. I though am not encumbered by these taboos as they exist in India. 

Mahatma Gandhi was in born in a Gujarati Bania caste (the taser) and it’s fitting that his picture is on all the rupee notes. Indeed during his life and political career, the Left criticised him saying his any reforms invariably benefitted the trader community. 

As for his private life, famously, he refused his wife modern medicine when she was ill that could have saved her life but she died. Meanwhile he was a very dictatorial father, for instance he refused modern education to his sons though he himself had modern education. He blocked his son’s marriage for five years—it was an inter-cast marriage with the daughter of a fellow freedom fighter Rajaji, Rajagopalachari who was a Brahmin so it would have been an inter-class marriage. Or love marriage since they are not so careful about god’s boundaries. While opposing the caste discrimination, the Mahatma famously didn’t oppose the caste system. 

In his last years, he shared his bed with young girls in order to test his chastity—that’s what the explanation that he gave. Now he was a man of more than 70 years, I don’t know how you have to test your chastity at that point. You see for years he had lived with his wife in complete chastity at a far more vigorous age. 

 A few fellow Congress leaders who knew about this didn’t like it but didn’t dare to openly oppose it. The only one who openly criticised it was Sardar Patel. Someone who has written a book about it, Radha Rajang, and so she suggests that the Mahatma Gandhi’s opposition to Patel in becoming Congress leader, and ultimately the first prime minister of India, had to do with his vengefulness about Patel’s criticism of this strange practice. 

You see for saintliness, it’s very bizarre. So many people throughout history have practiced chastity either as monks who have maintained their vows. Many millions, certainly women but even men, have taken their vows seriously and have remained true to their spouse, haven’t gone astray, and yet you see this supposed saint at like 75 years of age had to test his case to be in this way. He was a very bizarre eccentric man. 

He wrote a sort of autobiography when he was still quite young. His story of My Experiments with Truth (1909) is a decent book in terms of criticism of Western civilization and colonialism. It’s mainly located in South Africa. The British did throw him little successes because they could afford to since the stakes were so low. 

In the movie on his life by Adam Moreau, there is an agitation against the newly passed law in South Africa that recognized only Christian marriages. And so Gandhi pontificates to Hindu audience that you know all your marriages now stand annulled and so on and that agitation was successful. The British took back that law because they could afford to take it back. They didn’t lose power because of it. Being in India, you heard about it and could easily wax enthusiastic about his successes but that didn’t amount to much. 

Wresting political power over a subcontinent like India that they didn’t want to give up would be far harder and indeed that he never succeeded in doing. Gandhi’s major claim to fame is that with his non-violent agitation, he wrested sovereignty over India from the British. It is still held as Congress propaganda. But that cannot stand historically. His own actual real-life loyalty to the British is obscured. 

In three wars, he actively worked for the British—either serving, at least in the ambulance service not bearing arms himself as he recruited soldiers for the British in the Boer Wars and in World War I. In World War II, when Vinayak Damodaran Savarkar agreed to recruit soldiers for the British war, he was lambasted as a recruiting officer. I have never heard anyone lambasting Gandhi as a recruiting officer when that’s precisely what he did during World War I. 

He was also, I will not say pro-Islam but certainly not anti-Islam. He didn’t want to know criticism. In 1916, he returned from South Africa and as far as I have been able to ascertain, it was not Tagore but Swami Shraddha Nanda who first gave him the title of Mahatma, namely when he enrolled his children in Shraddhananda school. 

In 1920 he succeeded Bal Gangadhar Tilak who had been a very principled leader of the freedom struggle and who believed in total independence. Who thought it was the birthright of India to be independent. So he succeeded him as Congress president which, in fact, from a viewpoint of its independence, was a step backwards. You see since he (Gandhi) still believed in dominion status within the British empire, comparable to that of Canada or Australia or indeed South Africa. He doesn’t remain president and after a while even ceases to be a member of Congress but de facto, he had dictatorial powers within corporates. 


Now we come to a really difficult point. During his tenure as a Congress president, he had to deal with a very serious crisis which he took to be a great opportunity. There was a major Hindu-Muslim conflict which was a side effect of the Khilafat agitation that had to do with the Caliphate, until then held by the Ottoman rulers in Turkey. So after World War I, Turkey had lost badly and the position of the Caliph was in question. By 1924, the Turks themselves would definitely end it. But in India there was an agitation because now the British had usurped some of the powers of the Caliph, namely the sovereignty over the holy places of Islam. The Indian Muslims were made to believe it was a serious attack on the Caliphate on Muslim sovereignty so Khilafat movement started. 

Now until then Congress was mainly a Hindu movement. But there were active attempts by Congress leaders to attract Muslims. They even bribed Muslims to come and fill up the ranks during the Congress conferences. 

When Gandhi was a president, he tried to curry favour with the Muslims by extending his support to the Caliphate. So he derailed the nationalist freedom movement to support communal and international calls of an Islamic Caliphate movement. This was a way to attract Muslims to the fold. 

Now this actually never happened. Instead, two things happened: (a) One was the real Khilafatists who took a serious Islamic view of the situation. They decided that the Indians living under the Brits who had turned against the Caliphate, and therefore against Islam, should either leave the country. There was a Fatwa, given by Maulana Azad, a Khilafat movement leader and later education minister. Maulana Azad asked Indian Muslims to leave India and so thousands sold everything and migrated to Afghanistan. 

The alternative to Hijra—like Muhammad did when he left Mecca for Medina—was Jihad. Muslims could also take up arms against infidel power and remove it. That’s what happened in Kerala where the Kerala Muslims declared war against the British. 

Now it’s one thing to declare war against a major power—there’s a very similar case during the Second World War (1941-42) when the British ruled Burma which was being attacked by the Japanese. So they gave weapons to the local Muslims whom we now know as Rohingyas. 

Now to attack a formidable powerhouse like the Japanese army for these amateurs who had been given a gun but not much more was a bit hard. So what they did with their guns was to attack their non-Muslim neighbours. Buddhists and Hindus in Burma were attacked by the Rohingyas. That was the start of the Rohingya problem that all the international media try to conceal from you. 

Something similar happened with Kerala Muslims and they declared war on British. But they actually attacked the Hindus and so thousands were killed, raped or forcibly converted. Then when the British moved in, they had little difficulty in putting down the rebellion. 

Meanwhile some of the Gandhian activists had become a bit less than non-violent and had killed a few British policemen. And so for this reason, Gandhi called off the agitation which then angered the Muslims because they had counted on Congress support. So this all was completely unproductive. First, Gandhi had thought of winning the hearts of the Muslims. Now the exact opposite happened. 

Soon after something else happened. You may have heard of the Arya Samaj Hindu reforms that among other things, tried to reconvert Muslims to Hinduism. A number of them, the first one was Pandit Lala Kehram (1897), were murdered by Muslims. 

IN 1927, Swami Shraddhanand, whom I already mentioned as welcoming Gandhi’s children to his school, had been active in this reconversion. In particular he had covered a Muslim woman and her children. Her husband, wanting revenge, effectively got Shraddhanand murdered. 

Swami Shraddhanand is a very important figure in the Hindu movement for another reason. He is one of the founders of the Hindu Maha Sabha, an organization that we will meet again later in this talk. 

Shraddhanand had written a book which is better than anything written by Savarkar or Glowalkar. It far better sums up the Hindu demands. The book—Saviour or the Dying Race—is a reflection of his belief of purification of Muslims, that is to say reconversion of Muslims to Hinduism. He started a political movement which later because the RSS. 

Now this Swami Sharaddhanand was murdered. The British enacted the law 295A which you might have heard of because this law is regularly used in India—to prohibit books and to prosecute people who have supposedly insulted another religion. Initially, this law was passed to protect Islam, to prevent criticism of Islam. Much later, first Christians and later Hindus found out that they too could use this law. 

Let me also say its a very colonialist law. The British justified it with a very colonial argument. In Britain, polemic between different religions was perfectly normal. The Anglicans against the Catholics and the Puritans against the Anglicans and so on. But the British said, okay, we are grown ups; we are adults; we can debate peacefully and in a civilised manner whereas these Hindus are barbarians and savages. If you give them the freedom to criticize religion, then misery is going to follow assassination and so on. So we should prohibit it. It’s a very good reason to finish that law forever. 

Now Gandhi’s comments are interesting. His comment on this assassination, namely he criticized swami Shraddhanand and he explicitly sympathized for the murderer. So that’s a very bizarre way of promoting non-violence in my opinion. 


In 1905, the British declared the partition of Bengal, the oldest province of British India. It would mainly give a separate status to East Bengal which is a Muslim majority area. So there was a communal colouring from the beginning. And movement against this partition was mainly the Hindu movement. So as a counterweight against the increasing Hindu mobilization, the British mobilised the Muslims and patronized their founding of the All India Muslim League in 1906. Now in turn, against this Muslim League, Hindus also saw a need to mobilise and to found an organization. And this initially was at the provincial level in Punjab with the first Hindu Sabha, followed by in several other provinces. The typical participation in this was by Arya Samajis so the reform would also have political embodiments which was Hindu Maha Sabha. This movement had several starts like in 1915 the different provincial Hindu Sabha came together to found Hindu Mahasabha. 

It still didn’t come to anything but it is the Mophlas rebellion that triggered the Hindus into getting really serious and then they refunded the Hindu Maha Sabha initially as a lobby group inside Congress. So it’s just part of freedom movement. 

You see some people say that new political movements are in fact a form of collaboration with the British; that they were at cross purposes with the freedom movement. That’s not the case at all it was very much part of the freedom movement. However, in 1935 the Hindu Mahasabha was banished from Congress and so the members had to choose whether to stay with the Hindu Maha Sabha as a separate political party or to return to Congress. So the Hindu Maha Sabha became an independent political party with a call of the Hindu Rashtra. Hindu Rashtra also became the name of the newspaper piloted by a Hindu Mahasabha member namely Nathuram Godse. 

Soon after, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was founded by Dr Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. He for a while was part of the Bengal revolutionaries and this explains a number of strange things about the RSS. You see they have a very negative attitude towards communication. In the revolutionary movement it was a habit never to write anything  down  because any slip of paper could be found by the British security service so they communicated only orally and so from this you get a funny situation that  RSS people  are always on the move you see any RSS office bearer until recently at least took it as a point of pride as a status symbol to always be on the move and so this was part of the system of oral communication that was inherited from the Bengal  revolutionaries. 

So, Hedgewar started the Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh. Initially as a security service. In a 1925 conference of the Congress, you see after the Moplah rebellion, Congress had become a dangerous enterprise. So RSS became an organization in its own right. It was intended to be apolitical. If you wanted to do politics, you could join Congress or later the Hindu Mahasabha. RSS focussed on farming people. Hedgewar died in 1940. One of the members of the RSS was Nathuram Godse. He made himself useful for the inner moment. For example, he led an agitation of Hindus against the Nizams in Hyderabad. However, he was not satisfied with the apolitical nature of RSS work. He wanted to join politics, namely the Hindu Maha Sabha. He quit the RSS. It’s not that he turned against the RSS. Later on when he went to the gallows, he indeed used to sing the RSS patriotic song for the motherland. 

It’s important to know that it’s not true one of the members of the RSS committed the assassination. Godse was no longer a member of the RSS. The Hindu Mahasabha at that time was led by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. He was the party president in 1937-43. He made a great impression on Godse. After finishing his law studies in London, he was an accomplice to a political murder. This was in 1910. He was then transported to India briefly but escaped but on French territory, he was apprehended again and taken prisoner. Sohe spent 10 years in the jail in the penal colony on the Andaman Islands. Then some more years on the mainland. In prison, he wrote his book Hindutva. That’s a very foundational text for the Hindu political movement. In it he defines what is Hinduness. It’s considering India as both your fatherland and your holy land. Now that’s not good enough for Muslims who have their sacred places in Arabia. 

When World War II broke out, Savarkar thought it was strategically better to side with the British because then all the Hindu youth who would join the British war effort would get a military training and after the war was over there would be millions of Hindus capable of opposing the essentially very small British military presence in India. So even without firing a shot, the British would simply see that their game was up. That India was now ready to take over. ( In the Mahatma Gandhi murder case, there were seven so-called conspirators. Out of these seven, three had served in the British Indian army.) 

Meanwhile, in the 1940s, the talk of the town was the Partition of India. In the 1930s, this idea gained ground in Muslim circles and it was patronized by Sir Mohammad Iqbal. Thus came the idea of Pakistan, towards the alternative of separation of the Muslim areas from India. By 1940, this had become official policy with the Muslim League adopting the Pakistan resolution. It’s interesting that this was piloted by the Muslim League president Mohammad Ali Jinnah in the Khilafat movement, 20 years earlier. He had been an opponent of the Khilafat movement and even more of the Congress involvement. He was British by culture, drank wine and wore British suit and so on. 

It was Mahatma Gandhi who humiliated him on the stage of a Congress conference. Jinnah at that time had withdrawn from politics and when he came back to politics in the mid-30s he had learnt his lesson. Then he became a Muslim communalist which was much better for his career. There were Muslims who were opposed to the idea of Partition, led by Maulana Azad. 

Now because he opposed Partition, he sided with Congress, with Jawaharlal, therefore he is known as a nationalist Muslim. In fact, he was not a nationalist at all. He didn’t care for India. He cared for the Islamic movement; he thought Muslims should have the ambition to all of India rather than only a part of it. 

So the problem of Muslim separatism, the secularists nowadays, Gandhi in his day, would seek local reasons or seek British machinations behind it; that it was British who imposed Partition on the poor hapless Muslims who never really wanted it. This is total nonsense. It’s the Indian Muslims themselves who started the Partition movement; who also voted for the Partition in 1945-46. The Muslim League stood for election on a one-point programme of partitioning India. They had 85 per cent of the Muslim votes. 

The idea of Muslim separatism started with Muhammad himself  when he failed to have success for his preaching in Mecca. He migrates to Media where he gets chance to acquire political power and then he uses Medina as a base to conquer the rest of the world. So this separatism is a temporary strategic measure. The end goal remains the Islamization of the whole territory. So the create Pakistan was only to have secure ground from which to conquer the rest of India. 

So, the two schools among the Muslims led by Jinnah and by Azad respectively had ultimately the same goal but different strategies. With 24 per cent as a minority, they couldn’t rule India in a democracy. So it was better to settle provisionally for a part of India where the Muslims would be in majority. In the Middle Ages, the Muslims ruled India without a democratic mandate. They were even far less than 24 per cent yet they ruled India. 

To be Continued…

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