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Ricochets From An Old Gun

Ricochets From An Old Gun

Author: Lloyd Rudolph
Publication: Outlook
Date: March 7, 2007
URL: http://www.outlookindia.com/full.asp?fodname=20070305&fname=Booksa&sid=1

Introduction: Tushar Gandhi's claim of Bapu's assassination as conspiracy is naive rather than new, and emotional

Books by Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of the Mahatma, and Rajmohan Gandhi, Bapu's grandson, are benefiting from the wave of Gandhi consciousness generated by the hugely successful film, Lage Raho Munnabhai. Both Gandhi heirs have taken the great man off the pedestal on which post-independence generations have placed him, Rajmohan by giving us Mohandas: A True story of a Man, His People, An Empire, Tushar by giving us the story of Let's Kill Gandhi! A Chronicle of His Last Days, the Conspiracy, Murder,

Investigation and Trial. Rajmohan, an established scholar of contemporary India, broke new ground in Gandhi scholarship by featuring Gandhi's private life, including re-examining his relationship with Rabindranath Tagore's niece, Saraladevi. Rajmohan Gandhi has a well-deserved reputation as a scholar of contemporary India and his book enhances that reputation. The younger Tushar has hitherto been known for gaining possession of an urn containing the residue of his great-grandfather's ashes and immersing them in the Ganga at Allahabad, trying to use the Gandhi image in a film advertisement for a credit card company, and piggy-backing on the Congress's re-enactment of Gandhi's 1930 salt march on its 75th anniversary with an 'International Walk for Peace and Justice'.

Tushar Gandhi's 1,012-page book presents itself as an expose of a conspiracy to murder Gandhi.

India's reading public should be grateful to him and to his publisher for making available to current generations the story and the documents surrounding Gandhi's death at the hands of Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948. On the other hand, his claims that he has exposed a conspiracy to murder Gandhi and that Gandhi's death was a murder rather than an assassination are more sensationalist than credible.

Tushar Gandhi thanks "writers (he mentions six) who wrote on the subject before me" and tells us that he has "internalised much of their writing", an admission that casts doubt on the novelty of his conspiracy story. The doubt gets more serious with his failure to recognise or use the extensive scholarship on the circumstances surrounding Independence, Partition and Gandhi's death. I mention only two, Sucheta Mahajan's Independence and Partition: The Erosion of Colonial Power in India [2000] and Ashis Nandy's 1980 essay, "Final Encounter: The Politics of the Assassination of Gandhi", in At the Edge of Psychology: Essays in Politics and Culture.

Nandy's essay opens with the sentence, "Every political assassination is a joint communique. It is a statement which the assassin and his victim jointly work on and co-author.... No political assassination is ever a single-handed job.... The killer...represents larger historical and psychological forces which connect him to the victim." Nandy goes on to present a penetrating and persuasive case for the symbiotic relationship between Godse and Gandhi. Drawing on Robert Payne's 1968 biography of Gandhi, Nandy brings out "the element of collaboration in the assassination of Gandhi", where "crucial roles were played by Gandhi's protectors in the Indian police and its intelligence branch, by the bureaucracy, and by important parts of India's political leadership including some of Gandhi's dedicated followers".

Tushar Gandhi's charge that Brahmins, particularly Pune Brahmins, killed Gandhi is a pernicious version of communalism. It stereotypes and holds collectively guilty an entire community rather than identifying particular agents and their motives. Blaming the Brahmins for Gandhi's murder makes it clear that Tushar is innocent of Nandy's detailed and penetrating analysis of Godse's, Apte's and Savarkar's Chitpavan context.

Tushar speaks of Gandhi's murder.A murder is a private and personal act. An assassination by contrast is an act with public, political motives and consequences. Godse and his collaborators assassinated Gandhi in the context of the struggle over the meaning of Indian national identity and the circumstances and consequences of Partition. Finally, it is sad that a Gandhi descendant can write that "I felt extreme rage inside me at that moment (of handling the 9 mm Baretta automatic gun Godse had used). I could have shot a Sanghi. This book is a result of that rage that has been bottled up in me for far too long. My great-grandfather said: 'Anger is an acid which corrodes the vessel in which it is stored'". And so it has.

Lloyd Rudolph is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, University of Chicago, and co-author of Postmodern Gandhi and Other Essays: Gandhi in the World and at Home (OUP).

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