Who really killed the Mahatma?
This is a book written by investigative journalist Appu E Suresh and freelance journalist Priyanka Kotamraju who seek to understand the murder plot of MK Gandhi. The perpetrators set out to find the “smoking gun” that killed Gandhi. The weapon here is a metaphor for the mastermind behind the murder – Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. We know Gandhi was murdered by Nathuram Godse, but what has not been established is Savarkar’s connection to the murder. Gandhi’s murder trial acquitted Savarkar and the Jeevan Lal Kapur Commission which was set up two decades later hinted at his involvement but could not provide strong evidence.
The book sheds light on two new connections that deepen our understanding of Gandhi’s assassination. First, it pushes back the date of the origins of the Gandhi murder plot to August 8, 1947, – a week before independence, instead of the period after – to show that it was not simply a question of the question of the payment of Rs 50 crore to Pakistan and the rehabilitation of Hindu refugees which overwhelmed the conspirators. They argue that the conspiracy had roots in the hypermasculine and militant philosophy of Savarkar of the Hindutva. Second, the book highlights the hitherto unknown role played by the besieged princely states and their bureaucracies (especially that of the states of Alwar and Gwalior) in the murder of Gandhi. Thus, several right-wing organizations (Hindu Mahasabha, Hindu Rashtra Dal, Hindu Rashtra Sena, Rajput Seva Sangh) and the notorious princely states united under the leadership of Savarkar just before the independence of India to eliminate the man who ‘they saw it as an obstacle to the establishment. from the Hindu raj. January 30, 1948 was not the first but the last attempt to assassinate Gandhi.
The authors’ account is based on recently discovered archival documents, primarily files from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), State Intelligence Services, and the Department of Criminal Investigations (CID) which consists of diary notes. cases and interrogation reports of intelligence and police officers. investigating the murder plot in conjunction with the Kapur Commission report, the court statements of brothers Savarkar and Godse, the private documents of (Hindu leader Mahasabha) BS Moonje, the Hindu documents Mahasabha, The collected works of Mahatma Gandhi and other primary and secondary printed materials in the National Archives of India, Nehru Memorial and Museum Library in Delhi and the National Archives in London.
Using different types of sources allows for a closer look at the events leading up to Gandhi’s assassination, in addition to informing the reader about several new historical figures, their connections and role in the plot, as well. as the ideas and frameworks of thought that allowed the assassins to justify the murder. The study of Gandhi’s assassination is relevant to the authors because it gives us insight into the current national political turmoil, which seems familiar to the tensions in post-independence politics. While the authors don’t really elaborate on what those tensions were and what seems familiar to them, they present a credible argument and shed new light on the murder plot.
The assassin, the monarch and the fakir comes across as an interesting and welcome intervention in a public speech teeming with hagiographies by Savarkar and eulogies from Godse. However, living as we do in a post-fact and post-truth era, I brooded over whether it was enough for a historian or investigative journalist to deploy ever new facts from their arsenal of records to challenge popular and / or historical speeches received. wisdom. The narrative or speech, that is, the way a story is told, is what makes it powerful and persuasive in a public battle.
His strength does not come only from the facts he discusses, but from the imagery, beliefs, attitudes, ways of being, vocabulary and pride that he generates. Discourse, like myths, holds its own truth and may have little or no basis in reality or in fact. Technology – print, media and digital – also plays a crucial role in the circulation of stories and their infiltration into the public psyche. Could a bullet shower of historical fact overturn Savarkar’s hagiographic narratives in the public arena? At least, hopefully, he would punch holes in it.
In fact, Savarkar’s acquittal in the Gandhi murder plot trial himself echoes the current political game of snakes (speech) and ladders (evidence). Discourse does not feed on facts / evidence, nor does the crime of conspiracy. In legal terms, a conspiracy is an “imaginary crime” that exists before and beyond the actual physical act. This means that the law does not require a person to have committed an act or to have been directly involved in its commission in order to charge. A person could be implicated in the crime by a simple expression of intent and / or by an undertaking to commit the crime. This means that a conspiracy trial is not simply motivated by “facts” or evidence. The elasticity of the definition gives courts flexibility to implicate on the basis of a tenuous connection or suspicion, or to acquit on the basis of insufficient evidence, as happened in the Savarkar case and, six decades later, in the Godhra riots affair.
Thus, it was not only the assassin’s bullets but, as the authors show, the Hindutva discourse on Hindu victimization that brought Gandhi down, and that continues to mutilate Gandhi’s memory. In this, Gandhi becomes a metaphor, as evidenced by the question posed by the authors: which Gandhi did they kill? – a man who resides in the imagination of the Hindutva or a man who was an apostle of peace? The book is a factual response – a chronicle of an announced assassination – to the old imagination that is gaining more and more discursive ground.
(Aparna Vaidik is Associate Professor of History, Ashoka University, Sonepat, Haryana)