“Why I Killed The Mahatma: Uncovering Godse’s Defence” by Koenraad Elst

The title is arresting and I had to read this book though I had never till now heard even remotely of the author, Dr Koenraad Elst. I am glad that Rupa Publications have published, “Why I Killed The Mahatma: Uncovering Godse’s Defence” in 2018. It is a balanced account of what motivated Nathuram Vinayak Godse to assassinate Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Father of the Nation. On that January evening in Delhi in 1948, barely a few months after India became an independent nation, Godse shot Gandhiji at point blank range. You may agree with Nathuram Godse or you may not, but this book makes you consider issues from his point of view and explains why he opposed the Mahatma, going so far as to kill him in cold blood and make no effort to escape. 

The copyeditors at Rupa got this one wrong. Where the copyright and publication details are given, it says, “the views and opinions expressed are the author’s own  and the facts are as reported by her ( emphasis mine) which have been verified….” . One is therefore surprised to see Dr Elst’s photograph at the rear of the book which shows a man with a flowing beard. I wondered if he looked more like a Hindu religious leader than a scholar from Belgium. Dr Elst has a Doctorate in Oriental Studies with a dissertation on Hindu Nationalism for which he spent a few years in India in the 1980s. The book is dedicated to the memory of two erudite Indian scholars, Ram Swarup and Sita Ram Goel of whom the author thinks very highly.

As is well known, Godse chose to defend himself at his trial. For decades his speech in his defence was banned in India. Dr Elst, in this book, elaborates on Godse’s defence and arguments, highlighting the issues that made him hate the Mahatma. Godse felt Gandhi was responsible for the Partition of India and for favouring Muslims against the Hindus in the post-Partition riots which took a heavy toll in many Indian cities and the border areas. Godse believed Mahatma Gandhi made little or no effort to visit the areas of what became Pakistan to stop the killing of the Hindus but was quick to fast against the killing of Muslims in Delhi which took place because of the tales brought back by Hindu refugees who had lost everything including many members of their families. Godse also opposed Gandhi for his support to release Pakistan’s share of accumulated foreign exchange reserves to the newly created State of Pakistan even as they fought its first war with India on Kashmir.

You must read the book for yourself to come to your own assessment of history. However much he hated Gandhiji and his policies, there was no justification for Godse to kill Gandhiji. Yet, this book gives you some idea of what drove him to do so. Godse made no attempt to run away nor did he shoot himself after he had killed Gandhiji. He wanted his views to be known and used them in his defence in his own trial.  Dr Elst’s book expounds on this very defence. As Godse, said, “…it was my ardent desire to give vent to my thoughts in an open Court. Akhand Bharat Amar Rahe. Vande Mataram.”

I would highly recommend this book to every lover of Indian history. It covers Godse’s views on Gandhiji’s approach to many important issues during the period 1918 to 1948. As Dr Gautam Sen writes in his Foreword to the book, ” Godse’s lengthy speech to the court highlights the profoundly political nature of his murder of Gandhi.”



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