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The Mahatma?s seven lives

The name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the ?Mahatma? of our times, is synonymous with simplicity, reports Prakash Patra.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2007 03:15 IST

The name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the ‘Mahatma’ of our times, is synonymous with simplicity and it is apt that the idea of the man himself can be captured in a simple pencil stroke of his characteristic round-rimmed spectacles or even just a swathe of a dhoti and a lathi. Even a fluff of white cloud can tell the story. At the other end, however, are the voluminous research works on his life and times.

In the last year alone, we’ve been deluged by both types of depictions. There’s been Bollywood doing its bit for Gandhigiri. And now, there’s a shower of books on Gandhi, this time by his family members. The first to hit the market was Rajmohan Gandhi’s Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, his People and an Empire. Now, his great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi, has come out with the book under review. And West Bengal Governor Gopal Gandhi, too, is penning a book on the leader.

Many mysteries revolve around the last years of Gandhi’s life, which saw the partition of the country, and his assassination. The author seeks to demolish various theories that led Hindu fanatics Nathuram Godse and others to conspire and kill the leader. The theories mainly revolve around the perception, propagated by vested interests, that Gandhi was pro-Pakistan and that his actions were against Hindu interests. “The Gandhians and Congressmen, by silence on the part of the former and complacence on the part of the latter, have reinforced the lies of the Godseites,” the author comments.

The book chronicles at least seven attempts on Gandhi’s life, the first one being on June 25, 1934. The Pune branch of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in five of these attempts and three attempts suggested the complicity of Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse. Some of the assassination bids were made when the Muslim League had not even thought of demanding Pakistan. Nathuram was even caught in two attempts!

After the crude bomb explosion on January 20, 1948, at Birla House, where Gandhi was living, the police had caught Madan Lal Pahwa, one of the conspirators. He had given ample clues and evidence of the conspiracy being hatched by the Apte-Godse gang, in active connivance with some of the Hindu Mahasabha leaders. Yet, the government failed to take timely action against the conspirators. On January 31, the same gang succeeded in their design.

The book also questions the manner in which the investigations and the trial of the accused were done. It seems that the authorities had shown lack of interest in prosecuting Veer Savarkar, Hindu Mahasabha ideologue and one of the accused, for fear of a Hindu extremist reaction.

The author traces the troubled days of Partition and the last days of Gandhi. He recalls how Gandhi was getting isolated from governance and administration. His puritanical views were being seen as interventions of a “meddlesome old man”. He also makes references to a section within the Congress which shared the extreme Right-wing views on the Partition. Coming out heavily against the RSS, the Hindu Mahasabha and a section of Poona Brahmins for swirling up sentiments against Gandhi, the author has highlighted their role in helping Godse and Apte in the planning and execution of the murder.

The book is an exhaustive account of Gandhi’s murder. Starting with the plot, it covers the killing, the Red Fort trial and the proceedings of the Kapur Commission, which was set up later to look into the conspiracy angle. The author has even traced the journey of the Beretta 9 mm automatic pistol through the Second World War and the various hands it passed through before it reached Godse on January 28, just days before it was used in the killing .

It is the Beretta that, Tushar Gandhi says, provoked him to write this book. In his words, “for the first time I saw and handled the 9 mm Beretta automatic gun Godse had used. I felt extreme rage inside me; at that moment I could have shot a Sanghi. This book is a result of that rage that has been bottled up in me for far too long. My great-grandfather said, ‘Anger is an acid which corrodes the vessel in which it is stored.’ ”

Email Prakash Patra: ppatra@hindustantimes.com