Why Gandhiji will always win over Godse and farmers over bullies and bigots
An able-bodied 32-yr-old Nathuram Godse shot a frail, 78-yr-old Mahatma Gandhi at point blank range in 1948 and still macho nationalists in 2021 think it was a courageous act, reflects Sujata Anandan
As a rookie journalist my most enduring memory is of a minor riot in Bora Bazaar in South Bombay where Hindu bigots, in the shadow of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots (which I might add had not spilled over to Bombay), decided to go after some Muslim shop owners.
These were mostly lungi-clad Malayalee and Konkani Muslims engaged in trades like coconut selling, embroidery material stores, electric hardware, etc. They operated out of either stalls or very miniscule shops, often living behind those shops in dark, dank quarters. I would never have known their religion had it not been for these ambitious bigots who decided they would take advantage of the fear pervading the city and extract both money and some bullying pleasure from these peaceful shop and stall owners.
But then they got too ambitious and what seemed like meek men interested only in living in peace were pushed too far and they decided to join forces. They folded up their lungis to their knees and ran for their tormentors. The courage of even these early Hindutvawadi bullies was wonderful to see – and very illuminating.
Once they realised the quiet livelihood earners were not so meek after all, they ran for their lives – into the shops owned by others and under the crowded furniture in those dank shops. One of them was spotted and pulled out by a coconut seller. The bully began to beg for mercy - "I have a six year old daughter," he said, "and old parents to look after!" as he fell at the feet of the man he had been tormenting.
Of course, the bullies were let go because those Muslim shop keepers wanted only to be left in peace to earn their daily living. But in later years it was brought home to me that the Hindu bigot is actually just a bully who is tremendously courageous in a mob but requires the protection of weapons - and sometimes the aprons of women – to escape retribution.
Like during the subsequent bloody Mumbai riots of 1992-93 when they crawled out of the woodwork when no policemen were about and the moment they saw cops about, they hid behind the skirts of their womenfolk, knowing the police would hesitate to rough up the women to reach the rioters.
But that is so far as the minor trouble makers go. On a bigger scale, as I write this on the martyrdom day of Mahatma Gandhi, I cannot help but think of how a macho Hindutvawadi able-bodied 32-year-old Nathuram Godse shot a frail, 78-year-old Mahatma Gandhi at point blank range and all Hindutvawadis still think it was such a brave and courageous act. In all cultures, old men, women and children are spared violence and retribution by able bodied young men but here Godse drew his courage from the fact that Gandhiji was a frail, old man and could not have fought back even if he wanted to.
Then here's a personal story that reinforces the exemplary courage of the Hindutva bigots – in 1996, as the BJP was preparing to win the Lok Sabha elections and held a party meet in Bombay, one of my colleagues reported a very fine story about how BJP delegates had preferred Kamathipura, Bombay's notorious red light district, over their party president LK Advani's speech. Deserting the venue in hordes they had compelled Advani to declare his speech as read, so my colleague had followed them to Kamathipura wherein they had declared they had come to
Mumbai to seek pleasure and not ruminate on boring speeches. Naturally, it made the front page of my newspaper and that morning the BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan threatened to break my legs – not that of the male reporter, presumably because he could be expected to break Mahajan's nose in return. Great machismo, I thought and that is now replicating itself in what is happening with farmers at the borders of Delhi.
The bigots have consistently taken farmers for weaklings and have perhaps been taken aback by their powers of sustenance. It is a movement that will go down in the history books for its staying power and for the manner in which the old and aged farmers have not given in to bullying and attempts at violence. Of course, the cowards need the state power of the police to bully and frighten the farmers but despite the attempts to label them as Khalistanis and bully them into vacating the Delhi borders, the movement seems only to grow with non-Sikh farmers from other states, who cannot be dismissed as Khalistanis, too adding to their numbers.
All that the so-called macho men peopling the RSS know is how to bully and "other" those who may differ or disagree with them. And when they do not succeed in their extortionist ways – as those bullies of Bora Bazaar – they seek violence, state-supported or otherwise, to frighten opponents into submission.
A whiff of a retaliatory violence in Bora Bazaar, I saw, made them crawl under desks and shop counters, a police lathi raised in action made them creep behind women’s sarees and when Godse killed Gandhi, he could only shoot at a bare-chested man leaning on the shoulders of two women, equally unarmed and frail as him.
But today, I salute the exemplary courage of the farmers at the Delhi borders. Given their political and military history, they could very easily be provoked and retaliate in kind against their tormentors. But they have shown far more patience and restraint than the Bora Bazaar shop keepers who bullied back their tormentors into submission.
Their patience brings to mind Albert Einstein on Gandhiji. Einstein wrote in German in 1931 to Gandhiji saying, “You have shown through your work that it is possible to succeed without violence even with those who have not discarded the method of violence.” Einstein also said of Gandhiji, "Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."
The first may yet be said about the protesting farmers but neither statement will ever be made about Natuhuram Godse or his political heirs.
That is the victory of Gandhi over Godse and of the farmers over the government.
(Views expressed are personal)