Book Review: Why I Killed the Mahatma by Koenraad Elst

Book Name: Why I Killed the Mahatma

Author: Koenraad Elst

Publisher: Rupa

Rating: 4/5

Book Blurb: It is common knowledge that Mahatma Gandhi was shot dead in 1948 by a Hindu militant, shortly after India had both gained her independence and lost nearly a quarter of her territory to the new state of Pakistan. Lesser known is assassin Nathuram Godse’s motive. Until now, no publication has dealt with this question, except for the naked text of Godse’s own defence speech during his trial. It didn’t save him from the hangman, but still contains substantive arguments against the facile glorification of the Mahatma.
Dr Koenraad Elst compares Godse’s case against Gandhi with criticisms voiced in wider circles and with historical data known at the time or brought to light since. While the Mahatma was extolled by the Hindu masses, political leaders of divergent persuasions who had had dealings with him were less enthusiastic. Their sobering views would have become the received wisdom about the Mahatma if he hadn’t been martyred. Yet, the author also presents some new considerations in Gandhi’s defense from unexpected quarters.

Review: Why I Killed the Mahatma is a compilation of Godse’s defence when he stood trial for Mahatma Gandhi’s murder. The book is meticulously researched and presents some new insights into the mind of the man who took such a drastic step.

It deals in detail with the political consequences of the murder and various ramifications such as the decline of the Hindu Mahasabha. While there have been many accounts of Godse’s trial including his own family member Gopal Godse’s book, this book sets forth with the singular aim of uncovering hidden facets and associated political environment prevailing at the time. On Inconsistency of Gandhi’s Non-Violence policy, the author writes:

“Apart from being extreme and irrational, Gandhi’s non-violence was also not applied consistently Godse has no problem digging up a few examples of Gandhi’s cooperation in violent operations, notably two of the size of a World War. Gandhi’s recruitment efforts for the British Army in World War 1 have already been discussed.” 

The book not only discusses Godse’s reasons but also deals with various political, religious and cultural aspects of Gandhi’s message such as Gandhi versus Secularism, Gandhi’s Failure, Hindu Society’s Failure. All of it makes for a fascinating read. The references provided will serve as a treasure trove for any future researcher.

Writing by its very nature is a political activity and academic writing on political activity should not shy away from offering a critique of political leaders no matter how much they may have been eulogized. The book serves as a worthy critique of different political decisions and policies prevailing at the time through the prism of the Mahatma’s killer. This is an important piece of writing but the sheer academic nature of the book may shun some casual readers.

The ending provides a befitting conclusion called “Learning from Mahatma Gandhi’s Mistakes.” This could wells serve to be mandatory reading for the political leaders of tomorrow so the mistakes are not repeated.


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