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HVK Archives: Look back in anger

Look back in anger - Mid-Day

M V Kamath ()
July 30, 1998

Title: Look back in anger
Author: M V Kamath
Publication: Mid-Day
Date: July 30, 1998

In the last few days I have been trying to recall how I felt when
first I heard of Gandhi's assassination and again how I felt when
I heard Justice Khanna sentence Nathuram Godse to death by
hanging, in the court room set up in the Red Fort, Delhi. I
wonder how many of my newspaper colleagues who covered the Godse
trial are still around. I couldn't be the only one still alive.

The day Gandhiji was assassinated - it was evening - I was in the
newsroom of The Free Press Journal at its old office at 21 Dalal
Street, Fort. I remember how stunned I felt when someone watching
the ticker shouted excitedly as the first flash announced the
news. Our first fear was that the assassin was a Muslim. I
remember a colleague shouting: "Good lord! Hell would break
loose now!" Then came the news that it was a Hindu who committed
the dastardly act. As a middle level reporter I was on the job
gathering reactions. Anger was building up inside me and wanting
some respite, I went out for a long walk, round and round
Horniman Circle.

I thought of all the ways the assassin - by then his identity and
political affiliations had come to be known - could be punished.
I visualised him being driven down the streets of Mumbai in an
open truck, the target of peoples' ire. Remembering my thoughts,
I am shocked at my then gathering spirit of revenge.

Time passed. In 1940 I was posted in Delhi primarily to cover the
second Asian Relation Conference an then was asked to stay on for
a few months more, so I could cover the Constituent Assembly. It
was then that I had a chance to cover the final stages of the
Godse trial in the Red Fort and I still have the press card that
authorised my entry into the court, which I retained as souvenir.

By then I had been covering the court proceedings for some time,
but that last day was something special. The presiding judge was
seated in front of us on the dais. To our right, with a policeman
on each side, stood Godse in prison clothes. The judge went on
reading the judgment. Twenty years imprisonment for this, 30 for
that and some more years for something else, all to run
concurrently and finally, his voice still steady, for the crime
of killing the Mahatma, Godse to be hanged till he is dead.

I was watching Godse's face all the while, wondering how he would
react. He obviously knew what was coming and couldn't have been
in any doubt. When the judge finally banged the gavel to indicate
that the proceedings were over, Godse gave a smart salute to the
judge as if to thank him. There was not a quiver on his face. He
bowed his head slightly and was then led away by the guards.

There was no way anybody could have guessed what was in Godse's
mind. Was he indifferent to his fate? At this point in time, I do
not remember whether he said anything. This is an event that took
place 48 years ago. All I remember is that I was naughtily
impressed by Godse's performance. This was not a killer; he was
an assassin.

His motive was not personal, but ideological. Yes, he did murder
an unarmed man totally wedded to non-violence, the greatest man
India had produced for centuries. But the murder was committed in
broad daylight and Godse had made no effort to run. He could not
nave been in any doubt that he would have to pay the wages of his
sin.

The Free Press Journal's Marathi sister paper, Navshakti,
published my report in translation. I later learnt that Godse had
asked for all Marathi newspapers to see how the trial was
reported. Maybe the Marathi translation of my copy came out
better than in English, but Godse wrote to the editor of
Navshakti to say its reportage was the best of all.

But what was the atmosphere like then? Many of us were not happy
with Gandhiji. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was hesitating to give
Pakistan its share of Rs 55 crore of sterling balances (that
would probably now be equivalent to Rs 55,000 crore) and when
Gandhiji came to know of it, he insisted on India's parting with
that amount. Gandhiji was being fair, but the sympathies of most
of my generation were with Patel, such was our hatred of
Pakistan, If the Sardar wouldn't oblige, said Gandhiji, he would
go on a hunger strike. That made us even more angry with him,
even when we were aware that Gandhiji was morally right. The
Sardar finally relented.

I am mentioning this background in all honesty because such was
our hatred of Jinnah and the Muslim League and Pakistan. It would
be dishonest not to tell the truth.

Godse was wrong in believing that Gandhi was responsible for
India's Partition. But by the end of 1947 so much suffering had
befallen Hindus and so much hatred had been generated that if not
Nathuram Godse, some other 'Godse' would have arisen from among
the people. One had to live in Delhi and visit the refuges camps
filled with Hindus to understand the passions that had been
aroused.

The Sardar has often been accused of not giving protection to
Gandhiji. But the Sardar desisted from insulting Gandhiji,
probably knowing fully well what the consequences would be.

Godse's bullet did not kW Gandhiji. It merely immortalised him.
Godse merely killed a body. But the Mahatma's soul was
sanctified.

The statement Godse made in court should be available. We may
condemn Godse, but he needs to be heard. He reflected the dilemma
of those times. I have not seen the play on him that has now been
banned, nor have I read the script and have no judgement to
offer. But I have no respect for the Congressmen who rioted; what
they were indulging in was a political act strictly intended to
embarrass the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BJP, not wishing to have more mud thrown at it, succumbed to
Opposition pressure and got the play banned. In the last four
months it has been wounded by the media and the Opposition
sufficiently to seek some respite.

It may perhaps take a half a century more emotional wounds to
heal before a play on Godse is attentively listened to. This is
the testimony of a man who covered the Godse trial in all its
overtones and was witness to the injustices of Partition. I state
it in this column for what it is worth.

It is my feeling that if Gandhiji were to be asked, he would have
allowed the play to be enacted. If he could plead for-the right
of Pakistan to get what he thought was its legitimate share,
surely be would plead for Godse's right to be heard, even when
Godse is wrong.

(M V Kamath, veteran political commentator, takes on all comers)


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