Thursday, May 19, 2022

Partition: The one fast-unto-death which Gandhi missed

(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 him 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. This is second and concluding part; the first part could be read here. )

So Muhammad Ali Jinnah was a Westernized lawyer who opposed or had opposed the Khilafat movement. He  thought nothing good but only mayhem and mass killing would come out of it. That is exactly what happened. You see he was humiliated by Mahatma Gandhi mainly because he addressed Gandhi as Mr Gandhi and not as Mahatma. So Gandhi’s supporters in the audience demanded that he say Mahatma and when he refused he was hounded out off the stage. So he withdrew from politics. 

When he came back, it was as the leader of the Muslim community. Not as a freedom fighter but as a Muslim separatist. So he rejected the idea of a multicultural society or a secular society and instead he wanted to be the majority in a separate Muslim-ruled country. And he won over the Muslim masses. Initially, they were not on his side. But mainly by deploying violence, he did so. People would best know the Direct Action Day in Kolkata where thousands of Hindus were killed. 

The Muslim state leader Suhrawardi did not send in the police as long as the Muslims were on the attack. It’s only when the Hindus began regrouping that he sent in the police to stop violence. 

Now this was a very important moment because it sent the message that the refusal of Partition would cause violence. It is this that convinced one leader after another to walk over to the option of Partition. Many Congress leaders like for instance Morarji Desai, and ultimately even Mahatma Gandhi in June 1947 accepted Partition even though he had said Partition-over-my-dead-body. 

There is a misconception in India that it is the British who engineered Partition. The British actually opposed Partition. Viceroy told Jinnah he would never consider Partition. He also taunted Congress that they were not actually representing India since many Indians of Muslim League were rather in favour of the British rule. But the full acceptance of Partition came with the arrival of the last viceroy Lord Mountbatten in March 1947. By then, Congress was already not opposed to Partition. 

Historians have speculated what would’ve happened if people had known about Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s medical condition. He was terminally ill. So if they had held out opposition Partition for a few months longer, maybe Jinnah would’ve disappeared and may be the Muslim League would not have been as strong and united to insist on Partition. Personally I think it’s an idle speculation. Jinnah represented a will that by then had sufficiently crystallized even without his own physical presence. 

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was officially a nationalist Muslim that is a Congress-side Muslim but we have seen during Khilafat he wasn’t concerned about Indian independence. He was Congress president during the Second World War. At the end of the war, he agreed with Mahatma on no partition. But he had a different agenda. He wanted to avert Partition by making the Muslim League run the government of India. 

That would’ve meant that the minority of 24 would have got the government. In spite of all the democratic rules, Gandhi agreed to this proposal. But Congress leaders rejected it, Nehru because of his own personal career. He didn’t want to share the job with Jinnah. 

After independence, Nehru made Azad the education minister. So for more than 10 years, he was in a position to mould the minds of next generations. He started the movement of history denial; of denying all the atrocities by Muslim invaders on Hindus. 

It has to be said that if you want to insist on British guilt on Partition, let it be said there is a quite a bit of blame you could lay at the feet of the British. For instance, by keeping their arm in India which was quite substantial but not deploying it which could’ve greatly limited the amount of violence that would accompany the Partition. They could have brought over the refugees from West Pakistan to India and so on with much less misery and violence and which they refused to do. 

Hindus too collaborated on Partition. Like the British, the Hindus also opposed Partition but nevertheless once the idea was there, many of them settled for it as a lesser evil. Like Dr Ambedkar in 1940 itself welcomed the Partition plan. And that’s because his analysis of Islam was that one can’t live together. He even worked out a peaceful plan for exchange of population which Gandhi was later to reject. 

The Hindu leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee actually went to Gandhi with this plan of exchanging population. Gandhi refused, saying it is a territorial separation, it has nothing to do with religion. Now how could it be territorial for it was not known if some cities were to go to India or Pakistan. Like Lahore could’ve easily gone to India. It had a Hindu majority. Kolkata could’ve gone to East Pakistan. So it was nothing territorial. It was purely religious. It began on the basis of religion and the Muslim League was quite explicit about it. This was not a mistake, this was almost untruth, purely a life for someone who always swore by Satyagraha by holding fast until truth. 

So in June ’47, Gandhi also accepted Partition and justified it. The minorities were abandoned in all the territories earmarked to become part of Pakistan. They had counted on him. You don’t even need to read my book about the Gandhi murder if you start with a very popular book like Freedom at Midnight by Collins. If you read what Gandhi said to the refugees from West Pakistan who arrived in Delhi. He advised the refugees to go back to Pakistan; saying it’s better to get killed over there rather than fleeing your native place. If women were targeted for rape, he advised them cooperate. 

You see when I read passages like this of what Mahatma Gandhi actually said to these refugees, I am sorry I have a very hard time to remain balanced. This element of Gandhian, call it foolishness, buffoonery, irresponsibility, need be highlighted. It poses a very real question to those who remain loyal to him. 

They say non-violence was a very good idea but even Gandhi himself didn’t remain loyal to it. You see the non-violence in South Africa was a way for the weak to assert themselves against the strong. They could speak to the conscience of the oppressors by being weak. The British would not go into military mode. But here it became a weapon for the League. Non-violence became completely different here, it meant giving in to the oppressor, not defending the weak, throwing them under the bus. This was a pretty sick development. Non-violence as a strategy of the weak in a suicidal way of high moral posturing. 

Nathuram Godse vs Gandhi

On 30th January, 1948, Nathuram Godse shoots Gandhi. Actually, it was the second attempt. A week before there had already been an attempt but that had failed. When the time had come to strike, you see, some of the conspirators had developed cold feet and the whole plan fell into disarray. One of the conspirators was arrested and he told the police everything. So at that time, the other conspirators knew that the police were on their heels and they had to act fast. 

Godse made the analysis that there were too many people involved. All the weak links in the chain. So it was better to act alone. The other conspirators were arrested including Savarkar. 

Savarkar not part of the conspiracy. There was a trial where Savarkar was released with no evidence against him . Two others were also released while others were sentenced to prison except for Nathuram Godse himself and his friend Narayan Apte. They were sentenced to death and they were duly hanged in Ambala jail on the Saraswati river which happens to be in Haryana. 

Meanwhile, outside the law system, there happened a great revenge operation against Nathuram Godse’ community which was the Chitpavan Brahmin. Just like in 1984 when the secularist Congress activists held a massacre of the Sikhs because one of the Sikhs had killed Indira Gandhi. In 1948 too, hundreds of Brahmins were massacred in Maharashtra. There is a website about the Hindu genocide which says 8,000 Brahmins were killed. Among those killed was the brother of Savarkar who was a great freedom fighter. It was the reward for his long time struggle and deprivations and sacrifices. He was thoroughly wounded and later died out of wounds. 

Consequences of the murder 

There had been a plan originally among the conspirators that one of them would have himself circumcised and that he would dress up as a Muslim and then pull the trigger, commit the actual murder so that the police would find that a Muslim had done it so that there would be anger against the Muslim community all over India and this way hopefully finish the dirty business of Partitioning India. 

They wouldn’t do it so the communal nature of the assassin would become very important. The state radio also understood it. They immediately emphasised that a Hindu had been recovered so there was violence against the Brahmin community, against the offices of the Hindu Mahasabha and RSS. Ever since the RSS has remained very fearful of being held guilty, to being the object of repression because of an assassination. When Sitaram Goel published in Organiser, the newspaper of the RSS, articles critical of Nehru, that series was stopped with the justification if anything happens to Nehru, we are again going to be blamed just as we have been in the case of Mahatma. 

I interviewed one of the conspirators, I think in 1996, at the very end of his life: Madanlal Pahwa. He he a shop in Mumbai at that time and he had come from Pakistan. They had fled, he and his family of 22 people. The family decided to take the train to India, except old lady who was not confident about this modern technology and so she didn’t want to take the train. So 20 people of the family went by train and two were on the foot. Now the 20 on the train were all murdered. 

So Pahwa came to India, having lost not just his material possessions but his whole family. The Hindu refugees who arrived in India, it is humanely possibly they hated the Mahatma on the assumption that he was partly responsible for the catastrophe that Partition had become. 

It was the Hindu movement that was the main sufferer, the main victim of the murder, except for Gandhi himself. The Hindu Mahasabha was off the cards. It was abandoned by its party president Shyama Prasad Mukherjee who soon founded another party, the Jan Singh which is the earlier incarnation of the BJP. 

Hindu Mahasabha retained its presence in Parliament only in Gorakhpur. Even there I think it was the guru of the present chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Mahanta Vaidyanath who was the last member of parliament for Hindu Mahasabha. 

Shyama Prasad Mukherjee nevertheless was an important person, he was a minister in the national cabinet led by Nehru. In 1952, before the elections, he campaigned for the full integration of Kashmir with India for which he died in a Kashmiri prison in 1953. The RSS was disempowered. All the RSS offices were closed. The leaders were imprisoned including the leader of the organization, Golwalkar—even though he had condemned the murder. But that didn’t help. All the publications before 1948 were taken over by the government or probably burned. This includes a booklet from 1939, We or Our Nationhood Defined. It was published four times, the last one in 1947. It was not to be reprinted again. Golwalkar himself said it was a bit immature. 

Before being hanged, Godse was given a chance to defend himself. So he gave a long speech in court. The text of the speech was published by his brother Gopal Godse in the mid-60s. I have critically read it and compared it with facts. 

So many of the criticisms that Godse gave in that speech were in fact quite common were nothing original. All the politicians who had to deal with Gandhi were often desperate you know—you can’t work with this man they thought he was a fanatic he was eccentric even not a mature politician.

Gandhi was not a secularist contrary to what the secularists today say. He all the time mixed religion and politics. He didn’t believe in politics’ divorce of religion. He was also an extremist on Ahimsa, the non-violence. Sometimes a little violence is necessary to prevent a larger bloodshed. Now there was no place for this in Gandhi’s scheme of things. He was politically whimsical; he pursued goals and then dropped them. 

There was a campaign for complete independence in about 1930. He led this campaign and suddenly he dissolved the campaign without results for a few very minor concessions for the British that had nothing to do with complete independence and so this meant that he abandoned thousands of activists who had given up their jobs, or their studies, because of this agitation. Then there is a critique—from the communists!—that he was very much a representative of the business class, you know they called him the cleverest bourgeois scoundrel. He was quite confused about caste. He was also an autocrat, a tyrant within his family and he was not at all feminist by today’s standards. 

He was not an anti-racist, he was not against the inequality of black and white, he wanted to upgrade the Indians from the status of blacks to the status of whites; the inequality of white and black he accepted politically. 

The worst thing about Gandhi is that he made Nehru his heir. Congress at the time wanted to choose Sardar Patel as the first prime minister and it is Gandhi who imposed Nehru knowing fully well that Nehru would not continue Gandhi’s policies. Like Gandhi had made a fetish out of non-industrialization. Now Nehru was all for modernization. For a Mahatma, he was absolutely obsessed with himself. 

Gandhi on 17 different occasions started a fast-unto-death. Yet during the Partition, which was about the unity of India, which was about the non-enmity between Muslims and Hindus which of course had often preached about, he refused to use it as an ultimate weapon. He refused to threaten fasting unto death probably because Jinnah wouldn’t have cared. He could have let him die. 

The worst thing for all the secularists is that he was, in spite of everything, still a Hind. He knew Hindus swore by Ram Rajya. Bal Thackeray predicted that future generations would erect statutes not of Mahatma Gandhi but for Nathuram Godse; Ambedkar was a great critic of Gandhi. 

It must be said that Ambedkar was not really representative for the untouchables; they were very much on the side of Gandhi. Nevertheless Ambedkar’s voice is important because he was a great critic of the Muslim League. He was a great modernist. He didn’t think highly of Gandhi’s spinning wheel and rejection of industrialization and so on. He thought Gandhi was confused. (Ironically) The Dalit movement hate him more than Ambedkar ever did. A number of Gandhi’s statues have been defaced or torn down by Dalit activists. 

There is another Sita Ram Goel who influenced me greatly. I owe him a lot of insights. He too was a Gandhian activist; founder of the publishing house which later became Voice of India. He says if Hindus blame Gandhi they are mistaken. They should blame Hindu society. They were not ready for the challenge, they had never prepared themselves for the challenge. Even Swami Shraddhanand, staunch co-founder of Hindu Mahasabha, preached on the steps of Jama Masjid in Delhi in favour of the Khilafat movement. So Gandhi’s mistakes were Hindu society’s mistakes. 

Gandhi appeased Muslims in order to bring them into the Congress movement; into the freedom movement. Congress leaders have been following this policy. 

British were very firm in putting down the Bengal revolutionaries. Because they were danger. They were politically not very strong but they were danger to every British personally. And so the British didn’t like them. They liked Gandhi because it was non-violent. They favoured him, they favoured Nehru, they never bore the brunt of prison life like Savarkar did. They were always spared. 

(This is a transcription of Dr Koenraad Elst’s lecture. NewsBred is only reproducing what is freely available on internet. It doesn’t necessarily reflect NewsBred’s views). 

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