EDITORIAL

Mahatma’s legacy

Mahatma Gandhi’s assassition still provides ammunition for political parties in 21st century India, the most recent instance being the RSS defamation case against Rahul Gandhi. On the 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign trail, the Congress vice president had said at a rally in Bhiwandi in Maharashtra that ‘the RSS people had killed Gandhi’. After an aggrieved RSS worker filed a defamation case against Rahul Gandhi, the Bhiwandi court last month adjourned proceedings till March 3 next when charges will likely be framed. Before that, temperatures rose as the slanging match between Congress and RSS went back and forth. After the Bombay High Court turned down Rahul Gandhi’s plea to quash crimil defamation action, the Supreme Court too declined his plea for exemption from persol appearance before the Bhiwandi court. However, he withdrew the plea, expressing readiness to face trial on the ground that he stood by ‘every word’ of his statement. Clearly, both sides will seek to extract full political mileage once the court drama resumes next month. Mahatma’s assassin thuram Viyak Godse was said to be an active RSS and Hindu Mahasabha member; there were also allegations that he did not act alone on that fateful January 30 evening in 1948 when he fired three bullets at the Apostle of Peace. But what exactly did he say during trial, which culmited in his and co-conspirator rayan Apte’s hanging? The statement and trial documents of Godse, both in Red Fort special court and in Punjab High Court, have remained undisclosed. Why? Because the government of the day feared the documents may tarnish the image of the Father of the tion.

The Central Information Commission (CIC), responding to an RTI petition, has now directed the tiol Archives of India to ‘pro-actively disclose’ on its website thuram Godse’s statement and all other records related to the case. “One may disagree with Godse and his co-accused, but we cannot refuse disclosure or circulation of his opinion. At the same time, neither Godse nor the holder of his theme or opinion can go to the extent of killing a person whose philosophy he cannot agree with,” said the CIC in its order. Since the information is more than 20 years old, it cannot be withheld; Section 8(1)(a) of RTI Act is also not applicable to prohibit disclosure on the grounds that it could affect the country’s security or relations with foreign countries, or lead to Hindu-Muslim enmity. Central Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyulu said that Mahatma Gandhi’s life, character and image as a champion of peace, Indian Independence and Hindu-Muslim unity couldn’t be tarnished ‘either by his physical elimition or by writing hundreds of pages of adverse alysis of his policies’. On the lines of declassification of Subhash Chandra Bose files, the CIC has recommended to the Prime Minister’s Office to build detailed archives on Gandhi’s assassition, investigation, trial, punishment and official correspondence, as well as action taken on the JL Kapur Judicial Commission’s recommendations and findings into the conspiracy angle. It remains to be seen whether the government or the opposition will read anything good in CIC’s order, or will play politics over it. Sangh Parivar ideologues have been accused of flirting with Godse’s ideology and seeking to justify his act. It is all very well to say that the ideology that killed the Mahatma is alive and kicking today, ready to unleash more mischief. But the truth, as always, will set us free. It can do no harm if the present and future generations know the complete truth about every aspect of Gandhi’s dastardly killing, whose fallout was so poigntly described by Pandit Nehru with the words: “The light has gone out of our lives”. The CIC is correct in saying that the Mahatma’s legacy is too big to be destroyed, or even tarnished. The more Gandhi is studied, the clearer it becomes how right he was in so many ways — like his insistence on cleanliness, integrity, decentralization of power, holistic development, work for every pair of willing hands, and above all, non-violence as the only way for human civilization to survive.