Mahatma Gandhi shot dead – Jan 30, 1948 – Ajesh Parackal
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist firing three bullets into his chest
What is meant by the concept of ‘India as a nation? Is it the geographical boundaries that separate ‘political India’ from its neighbouring countries? Is it the common tradition and culture that people share beyond the boundaries? Is it a nationalism as defined by the twentieth century European states as common language, common religion and common enemy? How the soul of India was created? What is the ‘essence’ of India? To understand the development of India as one nation we have to understand the transformation from British India to Independent India. And understanding Gandhi and the Indian independence movement from 1915 to 1947 are essential part of that.
A country that had been divided into several kingdoms, and princely states were further divided by the British into several fragments. These divisions were not merely on the basis of geographical boundaries and were not meant just for administrative functions, but were for making divisions among the people in this part of the world so that they may never unite as one nation and claim their independence.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi when he landed back in India in 1915, he was widely known among the nationalists in India, because of his several engagements in south Africa where he had been for long 21 years, and was welcomed by them hoping that he would take the leadership of the Indian national congress and Indian independence movement.
It took almost six years for Gandhi to come to the leadership of Indian National Congress, before which he travelled widely inside the country especially in the villages, as an ordinary person and tried to understand the pulse of the people.
The strategy he adopted for the independence movement was something that the world had never experienced before. He decided to bank on the inner spirit and conscience of people and took the movement from its political sphere to a more spiritual and ‘personal emancipation’ realm.
Gandhi never claimed to be an original thinker, his political philosophy got its roots from various Indian systems of thought as well as from the western thinkers.
“There is no such thing as “Gandhism” and I do not want to leave any sect after me. I do not claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems…The opinions I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not final. I may change them tomorrow. I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills.” (Gwilym Beckerlegge, World religions reader, 2001)
His most important tools, Sathya (truthfulness) and Ahimsa (non-violence) along with Astheya (non-stealing) aparigraha (non-possession) and brahmacharya (abstinence) were taken from ‘panchamahavrta’ of Budhism and ‘Yamas’ of Yoga philosophy.
This strategy of looking into oneself and relying on inner power which is the heart of Indian philosophy was well taken by the Masses and gradually Gandhi was sawing the seeds of ‘nationalism’ in the minds of people. For him swaraj (self rule) was much more than the political freedom from the foreign rulers, but freedom from all chains of subjections that prevent individuals from achieving inner peace and liberation. Fighting for freedom was not just a political activity for him instead it was Satyagraha (longing for truth). His thought of nationalism was beyond all concepts of modern ‘states’. For him swaraj (self rule) was gram swaraj (village republic) as he was against all forms of accumulation of power and authority. All forms of exercise of power over others whether its by foreign rule or by indigenous rule, they are against the principle of ahimsa (non violence).
His stand against the two nation theory, his strong commitment to religious harmony, and actions for the protection of Muslims in the religiously divided India of 1947 were not acceptable for the hindu extremists. And he was killed by Nathuram Godse, an extremist.
Gandhi is now criticised over several of his stands- political, spiritual and personal. The positions he had taken during the first half of the 20th century cannot be fully understood in the present day socio political paradigms. But the ideals of non violence, trusteeship and satyagraha will remain the greatest contributions of Gandhi and India to modern democracy and independence movements across the globe. And finally, if we live in a country named India, and if we feel proud about our nation, remember that it is because of him who united India as a nation.
And we call him Mahatma.
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