Reflections on the 75th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination

“I broaden my Hinduism by loving other religions as my own,” Mahatma Gandhi wrote. In the struggle for freedom and democratic society in India, “we can do nothing without Hindu-Muslim unity.” 


Gandhi’s love of his fellow human beings, without regard for their religious identity or affiliation, and his affirmation of all forms of spirituality, incensed the radical nationalists among his fellow Hindus.


This love, this commitment to co-existence and reconciliation, was his death warrant.


Seventy-five years ago today, on January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse shot Gandhi dead point blank with a Beretta automatic. 


Shortly thereafter, a reporter found Godse sitting alone in a room in the police station.   When asked whether he had anything to say, Gandhi’s murderer (like Yigal Amir, Yitzhak Rabin’s cold-blooded assassin in 1995) had no regrets.  Godse “smiled blandly” to the reporter and said:  ‘For the present I only want to say that I am not at all sorry for what I have done…’”   


Later, in his testimony to the court, Godse said:  “I bowed [to] him with the pistol between my two palms.   I had removed the safety-catch when I had taken out the pistol from inside my bush-coat pocket… I firmly believed that the teachings of absolute “Ahimsa” as advocated by Gandhiji would ultimately result in the emasculation of the Hindu Community [and] thus make the community incapable of resisting the aggression or inroads of other communities especially the Muslims.”


According to Ramachandra Guha (Gandhi:  The Years that Changed the World: 1914-1948, Knopf, 2018):


“Godse detested Gandhi for his philosophy of non-violence, and for his tolerance of, or love for, Muslims…. But it was with the partition of India and the flight of Hindus and Sikhs from the Punjab that his hatred for Gandhi turned venomous.  When India should be taking on Pakistan, when Hindus should be subduing Muslims, the presumed ‘Father of the nation’ was preaching peace and reconciliation…


“There remains a small cult of Nathuram Godse active today, which seeks to perpetuate the memory of Gandhi’s assassin by building statues and observing his birth and death anniversaries…


“The force that now dominates Indian politics is the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which stands for a muscular Hindu assertiveness.   The BJP’s ideological arm, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS], distrusted Gandhi while he was alive, partly for his philosophy of nonviolence but mostly for his belief that in independent India, Muslims and Christians must have the same rights as Hindus.


Nathuram Godse became a fierce defender of Hindu nationalism through immersion in the ideology and organizational politics of the RSS.  


So did Narenda Modi, India’s BJP leader since 2014.


Earlier today, Prime Minister Modi tweeted:  “I bow to Bapu on his Punya Tithi and recall his profound thoughts. I also pay homage to all those who have been martyred in the service of our nation. Their sacrifices will never be forgotten and will keep strengthening our resolve to work for a developed India.”


Remember, Godse bowed to Gandhi, too.


If Modi and the BJP wish to honor Gandhi, they have much work to do.


They must reinstate Article 370 of the constitution that had protected the autonomous status of India’s only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.


They must end the military occupation of Kashmir and withdraw all troops.


They must strike down the BJP endorsed citizenship law that discriminates based on religion.


They must eliminate the National Register of Citizens (NRC). 


They must dismantle the RSS and root out the toxic legacy of Nathuram Godse.


They must guarantee the safety, security and equal democratic rights of Muslims and all minorities.


They cannot rest.


Nor can we, here in the U.S.


We too have enormous work to do.


We must fiercely reject the toxic ideology of Christian nationalism and white supremacy.


And we must liberate our society from the scourge of gun violence.


Godse used a Beretta M1934, a primitive weapon compared to the choices readily available today, as set out, for example, by the full online catalogue:


“With offerings that span from striker-fired or hammer action and polymer or metal frames, you can find the right pistol for your needs that delivers the unmatched performance modern shooters demand.”  Among the many offerings for concealed carry, for example, the Px4 Storm Full “dissipates recoil away from the shooter’s hand and greatly reduces muzzle jump, making it an extremely fast, accurate and pleasant-shooting handgun.”  The 92FSR_22 Suppressor Ready “brings you the enjoyment and “cool factor” look of a suppressed 92.”  The ARX100 is “the ultimate evolution of the modern tactical semiauto rifle… It takes the concept of a modular rifle to futuristic levels, while maintaining an absolutely simple operation that make it ultra-reliable. With ambidextrous controls, easily-replaceable barrel and virtually endless possibilities for customization and accessorization, the ARX100 is adaptable to any firing scenario and is perfect for today’s most demanding tactical shooter.”


You can add all of these, and countless other models, to your collection of pistols, rifles and semi-automatic weapons — all you have to do is click on on the ‘BUY NOW” link here.


Americans have the unique privilege to take advantage of Beretta’s “concealed carry” family of pistols designed especially for use in U.S. jurisdictions that permit gun owners to hide guns in their clothing or person while in public settings without a permit or license (Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming) or allow “concealed carry” with a license issued to residents (Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, and Wyoming) or issued to residents and non-residents alike (Arkansas, District of Columbia, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin).


Beretta remains one of the most successful gun manufacturers in the world, with over $830 million in annual revenue, more than half of which are generated from gun sales in the United States, including the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons.


We must stop buying guns from Beretta, and close down its operations. 


Same with Smith & Wesson, Remington, Sturm Ruger, Sig Sauer, Glock and all of the others.   


Even then it will take a generation to wash the blood from our hands and from our streets.


Somewhere between 740 BC and c. 686 BC, Isaiah told us what we need to do:  we must beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.


Has anything changed in twenty-eight centuries since?   Nothing has changed — except for the achievements of technological advance, the vast efficiency improvements in the instruments of killing and the number of people who can be killed effortlessly within seconds, the ease of access and use, and the profitability of sales.


We must beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.


Can we do this?   Can we do it in the next ten weeks — the period between the anniversary of Gandhi’s assassination on January 30 and the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4?


Bob Marley asked:


How long shall they kill our prophets — while we stand aside and look?


Abraham, Bapu, Martin, Malcolm, Fred, Medgar, John and Bobby, James, Andrew and Michael; John, Harvey, Tupac, Alberta King, Rev. Pinckney…


Why do we keep on killing our prophets, over and over again?


There are many reasons.   The worst reason is:  we don’t discriminate.   Nobody is safe, anywhere.


To be more accurate, nobody is safe here, in in our beloved country, the United States.


As reported it the Gun Violence Archive, here in the U.S. we have witnessed 52 mass shootings in the first 30 days since the start of 2023.


And even if we beat our swords into plowshares,  it will not be enough.


As the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai reminds us:


Don’t stop after beating the swords

into plowshares, don’t stop! Go on beating

and make musical instruments out of them.

Whoever wants to make war again

will have to turn them into plowshares first.


Jonathan D. Greenberg