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Gandhi and Godse: Understanding the Mahatma by Knowing His Assassin Better

Veteran journalist Dhirendra K Jha's new book takes a new look at Mahatma Gandhi's assassin's life.

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Veteran journalist Dhirendra K Jha's new book 'Gandhi's Assasin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and His Idea of India' published by Penguin RandomHouse takes a new look at Mahatma Gandhi's assassin's life.

Here is an excerpt from an interview with the author:

What inspired a book on Nathuram Godse?

I initially planned a profile of Godse. I was already in the middle of my archival research on the RSS. During my research, I stumbled upon Godse's pre-trial statement—in Marathi—and got very excited about that. You see, everything written on Godse is based on his court statement. While the court rejected all his claims, that statement is still seen as reliable. This newly discovered statement is corroborated by archival records, papers seized from RSS headquarters in Nagpur. This pre-trial statement is significant to understand Godse and the organisations he belonged to.

Is understanding Godse important to understand Gandhi?

Yes, to some extent, it is. Particularly the later phase of Gandhi when he launched the Civil Disobedience movement. Gandhi's nationalistic politics generated all kinds of reaction—Hindutva politics was one of them. Savarkarite politics emerged out of anxieties caused by Gandhi's politics.

How important is it to study Savarkar to understand Gandhi?

Without seeing Gandhi and Savarkar together, it is not possible to understand the sinister part of history that led to Gandhi's assassination and continued thereafter.

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Is the author of this book biased? He appears so when reading terms like "he fell on his knees and wrote mercy petitions" about Savarkar.

No, I don't think I'm biased. I'd have used the same phrases for Gandhi, too, had he written mercy petitions.

Is the book's agenda countering the view that Gandhi's assassin wasn't part of the RSS?

A serious effort has been made for a long time to dissociate the RSS from Gandhi's assassination. Any attempt to share facts countering this myth looks like being 'agenda-driven' to some people.

Why does the book focus on some specific incidents in Godse's life? Like, his unhappiness at his real age being guessed after he had assassinated Gandhi.

I was trying to understand Godse's psychology. His mental makeup reflects at several stages. Certain traits of Godse continue throughout his life—even after he had assassinated Gandhi. Without understanding those traits, impossible to understand Godse.

Did you think that the book might end up lionising Godse? Was there a 'danger' of focusing unduly on Godse, the man, as against Godse, the assassin?

This book is not about Gandhi's assassination. It is a life history of Nathuram Godse. I tried to hide nothing about his life. I have put all available facts for readers to judge.

Did you end up sympathising with Nathuram Godse, the man, at all?

What Godse did, what his guides did first resulted in Gandhi's assassination and now it's reached a stage where India's democracy is in danger. How can there be any sympathy?

Was there no sympathy for even Nathu, the child?

I tried to isolate myself.

What was the most difficult aspect of this research?

Researching and writing about two young women—Manorama Salve and Sevanti—was disturbing. It was clear, and I could see how their lives were devastated. They were used and left shattered.

Gandhi, Bose, and Savarkar: Were they using different means to the same end?

Gandhi and Bose had the same goal: India's independence. They disagreed with each other and pursued the goal in their own ways. Savarkar was anti-British in London. But, after coming out of jail, he didn't involve himself in any nationalist movements. His anti-British position transformed into anti-Muslim action. By doing so, he helped the British in their divide-and-rule policy.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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