Several observers believe that the Mahatma’s assassination put back the Hindu political movement by around 40 years. It upset the people so much that they took political refuge in Nehruvian concepts.
There can be no two opinions that Mahatma Gandhi should not have been assassinated. Earlier he had declared that he would not allow India to be partitioned. Even then, if it happened, he said it would be over his dead body.
On 3 June 1947, when Viceroy Mountbatten announced the inevitability of Partition at the Viceregal Lodge, it was meekly accepted by all the leaders present. Gandhi also was equally unprotesting in his acceptance. In due course, how the assets of undivided India were to be divided were also announced. The finances also had to be shared and Pakistan was to get from New Delhi Rs 55 crore.
On 14 and 15 August 1947, the vivisection of the country took place. Most assets as well as personnel went the way they were allocated. People unfortunately underwent untold suffering and bloodshed before crossing the new borders. The massacres involving unspeakable cruelties provoked wrath amongst most people; never before in history were Indians treated so barbarically as during Partition. It was difficult to find Indians whose blood was not boiling—except perhaps that of the saintly Gandhi’s, who continued his daily evening prayers and pleas for peace, accompanied by bhajans such as “Ishwar Allah Tero Naam”. This was an anathema for the refugees from West Punjab, whose near and dear ones had either been butchered or abducted.
Gandhi had gone on a fast unto death and his reason was neither the Partition nor the untold human suffering, but because Government of India had not remitted to Karachi Rs 55 crore. Gandhi was insisting on it, but neither Jawaharlal Nehru nor Sardar Patel was complying. Their reason was that within two months of Partition, Pakistan had the temerity to invade Kashmir and India had to beat back the invaders. In short, India and Pakistan were at war. It was only when Nehru and Patel came to fear for Gandhi’s life that they most reluctantly remitted the money.
We need to recall that it was at Mahatma Gandhi’s insistence that Nehru was appointed president of the Congress party. In early 1946, as per procedure, opinions of the Pradesh Congress Committees were sought on who the party president should be. Fifteen PCCs opted for Sardar Patel, while one chose Acharya J.B. Kripalani. Not a single PCC voted for Nehru. Gandhi was disappointed and asked Sardar Patel to step back and let Nehru be appointed. Contrary to procedure, Nehru’s appointment was confirmed by the 21-member Working Committee of the party. Everyone presumed that whoever was president would be chosen Prime Minister. Freedom was on the anvil and a national government would come into being sooner or later, which it did on 15 August 1947. Earlier in 1939, Gandhi had forced out Subhas Chandra Bose from the presidentship of the party, by not allowing him to form the Working Committee and then by promptly appointing Jawaharlal Nehru in his place without any election.
Partition was a cataclysm and clearly so on the sole criterion of religion—Hindus on one side and Muslims on the other. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who became Governor-General of Pakistan, had declared way back on 22 March 1940 at the Muslim League session in Lahore that Hindus and Muslims were so different that they could not co-exist in one country.
There were millions of Gandhi devotees among Hindus and at the same time there were millions of those who had come to dislike Gandhi because of his policies. The massacres of Hindu refugees, particularly from West Punjab and East Bengal were blood curdling. Then of course there were large numbers of Hindus who were not directly affected, but nevertheless resented Gandhi’s indifference to the suffering Hindus. The fast for the Rs 55 crore to be sent to Karachi in particular drove home their suspicion. Then there were the Muslims, traumatised by partition, who instinctively clung to Jawaharlal Nehru as the leader.
On balance, the revulsion to partition as well as the cruelties on the refugees who continued to arrive by the day were, in India as a whole, no less than the assassination of Gandhi. But the Hindu Mahasabha was also shaken and overcast with shame at the assassination. Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee resigned from the Mahasabha, while the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was in the mood to condemn Nathuram Godse as having committed a most grievous crime.
In 1951, Guru Golwalker happened to be in Kolkata and there he met Dr Mookerjee. Guruji had a meeting with the doctor who proposed that the RSS form a political party without which the Hindu nationalist cause would not be promoted. Guruji made it clear that his organisation was essentially socio-cultural. In turn, he proposed that the doctor should establish a political party and lead it; the RSS would deploy two experienced whole-time workers per province to set the ball rolling for the new political party. Between them they resolved that the name of the new party should not include the word Hindu so that its scope would be broader.
This decision may seem bold and important, but in effect it demonstrated that the Hindu leadership had gone on the defensive, if not also being apologetic. Remember that when Dr Mookerjee, accompanied by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, went to plead with Gandhi for agreeing to Jinnah’s proposal for an exchange of population, the old man’s flat reply was that partition was on a territorial basis and not on religious grounds. Hence, no question of exchanging Hindus from Pakistan with Muslims from India. This was when the division was exclusively on the criterion of religion, Hindu and Muslim.
Within a month or less of the assassination, two or three of the society’s leaders should have gone to see Sardar Patel. It was sufficient to condole the death of Gandhi. Then it would have been time to suggest to the Sardar that he should take over the prime ministership of the country. Fifteen out of 16 Pradesh Congress Committees had clearly opted for him, which meant that virtually the whole party wanted him to lead India. Nehru had been imposed on the country by Gandhi arbitrarily. Now that the Mahatma was gone, there was no obligation to abide by his imposition, which was not only irregular but also undemocratic. In fact, Nehru’s elevation was against all principles of democracy. If the latter resisted, the choice could be thrown open to the Congress Parliamentary Party in the Constituent Assembly. Nehru would have had little support; most of the Muslims were not attending because they had headed for Pakistan. In any case, he could be the Foreign Minister in the Patel Cabinet.
Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee had resigned from the Hindu Mahasabha and thus by his action expressed strong disapproval of what Godse had done. Now the same doctor served as a Cabinet minister in the Nehru government. Yet his conscience did not permit him to continue after April 1950. He resigned and made an eloquent speech explaining his action.
Several observers believed that the Mahatma’s assassination put back the Hindu political movement by around 40 years. It upset the people so much that they took political refuge in Nehruvian concepts. It’s true that those who wept for Gandhi might have felt this way. But what about the rest? They were so many more. The problem lay not with the people. It lay with the Hindu leaders. They lost their nerve and probably consoled themselves that they had limited power. The Congress was all in all. The problem again was that their imagination failed them. They could not visualise that the Hindu-hour had come and Sardar Patel was their leader of the hour. He made no secret of his view that those who were disloyal to India had no place in it. They should cross over to the country to which they were expressing loyalty. These words are taken from P.D. Saggi’s Life and Work of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who quotes the great man as saying “as a friend of Muslims” he thought “it is your duty now to sail in the same boat and sink or swim together. You cannot ride two horses”. “Those who want to go to Pakistan can go there and live in peace.”
The Sardar’s views were as clear as crystal. All that was needed was a public demand for him to become Prime Minister. That it was his duty to Bharat Mata. Instead Hindu leaders were busy only in condemning the assassination. As one senior RSS leader said, “The fight of thought should be fought with thoughts only. It is not right to kill anyone as was done by Godse.” “Some people think that by doing so (killing Gandhi), they have encouraged Hindutva, but that is wrong. In fact, they have insulted Hindutva. I think it was an evil act to kill Gandhi who was such a respected figure in India.” After that act, there was a paralysis of will and action that permitted Nehru to emerge as supreme and suffuse the country with his economic and social doctrines without challenge.