By M.R. Narayan Swamy
Title: The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi; Author: Makarand R. Paranjape; Publisher: Random House India; Pages: 331; Price: Not mentioned.
A profoundly moving and gripping book, this is an attempt to understand not only Mahatma Gandhi’s life and message but also the idea of India by inquiring into the meaning of his death. Nathuram Godse may have fired three bullets into the frail, 79-year-old Gandhi, but Makarand Paranjape holds that the Mahatma martyred himself. And this foiled the assassin’s attempt to make Hindu majority India a mirror image of just born Pakistan.
“The lie that Gandhi favoured the Muslims or wished to appease them was created and became an excuse to kill the old man,” says Paranjape. Gandhi’s final 133 days he spent in Delhi (after dousing communal flames in Bihar and Bengal) only prove that Nathuram’s defence was “an elaborate tissue of lies, a deliberate fabrication of half-truths and allegations whose sole purpose seems to be to justify the unjustifiable”.
In the end, Gandhi’s murder put paid to any ambition the Hindu Mahasabha and its followers may have had of using Indian independence as a pretext to turn India into a Hindu nation. “The Mahatma’s martyrdom, in the sense, was a mighty and potent act of love jihad – he died to stop hatred and bloodshed.”
The Hindu right, the book says, is still uncertain and ambivalent about Gandhi’s Hinduism. Gandhi never hid his love for Hindu religion. “I have been imbibing Hindu dharma right from my childhood. Do you want to annihilate Hindu dharma by killing a devout Hindu like me?” he asked.
Godse and his co-conspirators had other ideas. They did what they thought was right. But as Paranjape says, killing the Father “is not the same as eliminating his influence or presence”. Mahatma Gandhi lives on.