Poring over Appu Suresh and Priyanka Kotamraju’s THE MURDERER.THE MONARCH AND THE FAKIR(Harper Collins) at a stretch I have just finished reading it.The story has its own interest and the authors have brought to light things that can never be evaded now.Savarkar and his associates can no longer be simply absolved of guilt as has so far been done.The Prince of Alwar’s religious fanaticism has been proven,but no direct link to the Gandhi murder has been established. In general poisonous reactionary ideas and attitudes linked to backward feudal social and political relics in the colonial set-up seem to have served as props to the whole ghoulish enterprise of assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Murderer The Monarch and The FakirThe authors have done well to dwell on the cult of Godse and the ascendancy of feudal forces including princely families of the recent past in the Congress that ruled India for fifty years without a break to explain the vagueness in the public mind about the real import of the assassination,and the astonishing progress of the campaign to turn things upside down and exalt the assassin into an heroic martyr. Clearly this extraordinary change accompanied a political and ideological offensive to make over society and the state after a radically different model from that upheld by the freedom movement.

It was during the much-lauded Vajpayi government that the signs of such a retreat from democracy and modernity had been quite visible.A few stray instances should suffice.The NCERT was then headed by a new appointed director J.S.Rajput who made no bones about changing the content of school syllabus to re-write history and the idea of India.A new member of the board boasted before other members how he had with his own hands slain a beautiful Muslim girl over whom rioting Hindu youths had started quarrelling.Such news were quite a handful in the dailies then.Justice J.S.Varma had sagely laid down that Hindutva was only a “way of life” and it need not upset anybody.The Gujarat riots went off like a bomb and the noise slowly died down after Vajpayee washed his hands off and went into a retreat for meditation for fifteen days.

Thus the marks of a groundswell of radical transformation of society and the state were not hidden from the view of the public.But the complacent assumption that these were all signs of a healthy democratic churning drugged the press,the academia and the intellectuals into stupor.The easygoing and amiable Vajpayee distilled an aura of liberal fellowship that conquered all resistance.

It was during those sunny days that the Assassin’s brother Gopal Godse who had been released from a long term in prison gave interviews to the press where he extolled Nathuram’s reasons for the murder as entirely sane and rational.He also clarified that while both of them had RSS links they had denied them strenuously to save the top leaders of the organization from the wrath of the public.Plays were staged in Maharashtra based on Nathuram’s passionate testament after the court passed judgment sentencing him to death.The forthcoming release of the film on the same theme has been an outcome of such a climate that disarmed liberals.In my view this scenario should find a place in the epilogue, and unfortunately did not.

Finally,the outlines of the conspiracy do not seem to reach far enough.True all alibis of Savarkar have been exposed as hollow.But is it possible that his intentions if not his plan escaped the radar of all-pervasive British imperial intelligence,both its criminal and the political branches? After all they have honed their skills over two centuries and had an enormous databank to search and fall back upon.What did they do about it?

The ideas must have been in circulation since the partition and its immediate aftermath.The confidential correspondence between the Home Office and the government of New Delhi must have been prolific and substantial.One wonders if the authors had mined this rich vein.

It also so happens that British bureaucracy had been divided vertically between die-hard Tory imperialists and those more liberally inclined towards change.In the Northeast one governor and some top British bureaucrats proposed a ‘Crown Colony’ slicing off some territory to maintain an outpost of the empire.At the very least,as the authors have hinted and as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad had forcefully held in his INDIA WINS FREEDOM, there was agreement across the board among departing rulers that India should be divided in the interest of maintaining imperial influence in the subcontinent.The most reactionary among ‘old India hands’ must have nursed an intense desire to reduce Gandhijee’s influence as he had stood like a rock against the idea of partition as the price of freedom.

The extent of maniacal urge to maintain some remnant of old imperial power and glory among some imperialists may be glimpsed in another and much later eerie episode.Lord Mountbatten,the hero of the widely read FREEDOM AT MIDNIGHT by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins,died at a mysterious car accident.Some independent observers in Britain had drawn upon intelligence leaks and pieced together a narrative that Mountbatten had been deeply disturbed at what he considered the tame progressive abdication of the British monarchy of its earlier imperial dominance before radical forces and was involved in a secret intrigue for a coup,nothing less.Such accidents are modern methods of getting rid of inconvenient elements otherwise close to the seat of power.I am far from saying
that such a shadowy drama had taken place in India.But something close to it could have been there in those murky days on the eve of independence.In that case the assassination plot could have far-reaching ramifications.

It is beyond my comprehension why only the RSS had been banned and not the Hindu Mahasabha,though the tallest leader and some rising stars in that organization had been directly involved in the conspiracy.The rather casual acceptance of the plea that only a few who had insulated themselves from the rest of members of the outfit had been involved in it could well have been a cunning trick to save the organization.Again I do not say that this is what must have happened,but such an angle could have been explored and some faded footprints could have been brought to light.

Hence we owe thanks to the authors for reviving interest in that fatal turning-point of our history and alert the nation to the epicentre of the dreadful seismic events that seem to be overpowering our sense of a normal democracy,indeed of civilization.But a lot more remains to be done,and needs to be done to present to the nation a cogent and credible account of a fateful turn in its history.

Hiren Gohain is a political commentator


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