I was shocked when a young Indian professional recently advised me to listen to the audiotape of Nathuram Godse’s speech in the court trying him for Mahatma Gandhi’s murder to get the “right perspective” on both Gandhi and Godse. An obvious admirer of Godse, he found the assassin’s rant blaming Gandhi for abetting Partition convincing, thus implying that Gandhi’s assassination was a legitimate act of retribution carried out by a true Indian nationalist.
It is very disturbing to hear of this revisionist version of Gandhi’s assassination that by implication justifies Godse’s action. It not only tarnishes Gandhi’s reputation, but also flies in the face of recorded facts.
In reality, Gandhi opposed Partition until the very end. However, the Congress leadership had increasingly sidelined him by the end of 1946. By that time, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel had come to accept the idea of Partition without even the courtesy of consulting Gandhi. Eventually, the Congress Working Committee (CWC) accepted the Mountbatten plan to divide the country.
On the morning of June 3, 1947, the day the Partition plan was announced, Gandhi told Rajendra Prasad, “I can see only evil in the plan.” Reacting to a question by a reporter whether he would undertake a fast to prevent Partition, Gandhi, uncharacteristically dejected, replied: “If the Congress commits to an act of madness, does it mean I should die?”
It is a matter of record that Patel, on the advice of States Secretary V.P. Menon, had accepted the inevitability of Partition by December 1946 and had signalled this to Nehru. Patel was convinced, as he later stated, that “if India is to remain united it must be divided”. Nehru was also eventually convinced that Partition was a necessary evil in order to neutralise Jinnah’s nuisance value and to establish a strong and centralised Indian state which would not have been possible with Muslim League ministries in office in undivided Punjab and Bengal.
It is instructive to note that at the CWC meeting that accepted the Partition plan there were only two dissenters, both Muslim. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan opposed the plan declaring, “You [the Congress] have thrown us to the wolves”. Maulana Azad, a trenchant critic of Jinnah and the Muslim League and fervently opposed to Partition, remained silent in deference to his friend Nehru who had moved the Partition resolution. Everyone else, including Prasad and Govind Ballabh Pant, voted in favour of dividing the country. Blaming Gandhi for Partition and by implication lionising his assassin is the worst form of historical revisionism. In fact, it is a crime, which all thoughtful Indians must condemn unequivocally.
The writer is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University