Abstract

This essay considers the representation of Gandhi in the detailed statement given to the court by his assassin, Nathuram Godse, in 1948. It discusses how Gandhi was perceived by those who wished to re-create Hinduism as a modern political ideology. Juxtaposing the views of Godse and his political mentor, V. D. Savarkar, with those of Gandhi, the essay focuses on the overdetermined invisibility or illegibility of Gandhi's conceptions of truth, religion, and political community in the discourse of the Hindu right. A bleak realization regarding the contemporary extent of this illegibility drives this essay. While the radically egalitarian potential of Gandhi's language has not been substantively inherited by any significant group in the political sphere today, Godse's language has found many heirs in India as well as in other countries.

Nathuram Godse was thirty-eight years old when he shot and killed Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi on January 30, 1948. In response to a routine question by the reporter who saw him a few hours later, Godse gave his age as twenty-five. In a recent book, Dhirendra Jha reads this lie as stemming from Godse's “craving for a virile image”—an image he perhaps feared might be tarnished by the slightest suspicion of aging.1 Jha, like others before him,2 finds one possible source of such a craving for virility in Godse's childhood. Since all three sons born to his mother before him had died in infancy (only a daughter had survived) his parents had grown fearful that they might be the victims of a curse. In order to trick and defeat malevolent spirits, they brought up Godse as a girl child, even getting his nose pierced so he could wear a nath (nose-ring). It was only after his mother had given birth to other sons, Nathuram's younger brothers—who also survived—that they became convinced they had warded off the curse and allowed Nathuram Godse to discard his feminine accessories.

Whether or not this childhood veiling of masculinity substantively and directly affected Nathuram Godse's attachment to images of masculine virility, the incident certainly allows us to perceive something that might have appeared as “common sense” in the community of Maharashtrian Chitpawan Brahmins to which Godse's family belonged: namely, the idea that the feminine, itself poor in value, may nevertheless prove useful when strategically deployed to secure, save, or protect the masculine. Femininity could assume value only when employed as subterfuge and trickery. It was apparently difficult to imagine that anything carrying the aura of the feminine might be valuable in itself. A series of differentiations between the visible and the hidden, public claims and secret intent, what may become manifest and what must be safeguarded hence assumes significance. Such a series may also structure the discourse and work of other subversive political groups, but in the psychobiography of Hindutva or Hindu nationalism it acquires an enigmatic complexity, embedding sexual difference in the tracks of the political in an almost uncanny allegorical register.

Arrested immediately after killing Gandhi, Nathuram Godse presented a detailed statement to the court in his own defense in November 1948. The statement was later published by his brother Gopal Godse, himself a defendant in the case, who was imprisoned until 1965. I started thinking about writing this essay after some of my students at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi expressed a surprised appreciation for Nathuram Godse after reading his statement. While they did not think Godse should have killed Gandhi, they were quite persuaded by his arguments. When students who think of themselves as being committed to a democratic and pluralistic India nevertheless admire Godse's ideas, one cannot help but recognize that the framework he wrote in has gained wide legitimacy today. His argument appears logical and persuasive even to those who may otherwise think of themselves as secular and liberal. Perhaps it would be better to say that it remains persuasive, for Godse's statement elicited sympathy and admiration even in its own day despite the broad-based mourning for Gandhi.3 What Godse said in that statement when he explained his reasons for killing Gandhi and presented his own analysis of Gandhi's politics expressed the thoughts and sentiments of many, and not only of a fringe minority. Indeed, the themes that Godse invoked in the statement—including a fundamental distrust of Gandhi, a conviction that his actions did not match his words, and a sense that his self-presentation differed from his true being and hence rendered suspect the very category of truth that was the foundation of Gandhi's political thought—were shared by many who did not share Godse's politics.

Nathuram Godse was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, a Hindu nationalist party founded in 1915, as well as of the Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization) founded in 1925. Strongly influenced by his mentor, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883–1966), Godse founded his own organization, the Hindu Rashtra Dal, in 1942. There might be several reasons that many students—and other young “liberal” people today, including those who might support queer rights and even Dalit rights in India—find his defense statement so persuasive. In this essay, I will attempt to address some of these reasons, while also pointing toward some fundamental divergences between the Hindu-imperial4 approach to the question of political community and Gandhi's approach. If Gandhi's language appears to us today as burdened by an exhausting piety or an eccentric fastidiousness—or if it seems like the tiresome hectoring of a moralistic preacher—that is similar to how it appeared to many of his contemporaries as well. Of course, this same language has also been heard very differently by some of his own contemporaries as well as ours. However, the radically egalitarian potential of this language has not been substantively inherited by any significant group in the political sphere today. Godse's language, however, has found many heirs, not only in India but also increasingly in other countries.5

Sacrifice

The first reason for the appeal of Godse's language—the one that accounts for its clear affective impact—is that Godse comes across as a nationalist who was willing to sacrifice his own life for the country. In other words, he comes across as a man of some integrity: if by integrity we mean the courage to act according to one's beliefs, regardless of the consequences.6 This seems evident from the fact that when he killed Gandhi, he was quite aware that he was also giving himself the death sentence. It would be hard to argue that he killed Gandhi for a purely selfish motive. However, the fact that Godse was willing to sacrifice himself in the act of killing Gandhi could also be read in a different way if we pause to ask what exactly might have driven him to the act. For integrity itself is a rather curious concept. Just as national “integrity” may function as an excuse for suppressing dissident voices and minority concerns, what appears as moral integrity may also sometimes function as a screen that hides dissident, murky, and unacknowledged motivations. In Godse's case, it seems quite evident that at least one disavowed factor was important: the image of Savarkar, who popularized the term Hindutva (Hinduness) to advance the idea of Hinduism as a political rather than religious category. While Savarkar's complicity in Gandhi's murder may be juridically unproven, it nevertheless seems clear that Godse's act was performed, at some level, for his eyes. It was, one may say, addressed to Savarkar.7 I will return later in this essay to the images and themes that traverse Savarkar's own work and that doubtless exerted a strong influence on Godse and others who were part of, or sympathized with, Hindu nationalist/imperialist groups.

If a readiness to sacrifice oneself for one's convictions seems admirable and noteworthy in itself to young readers, regardless of the substance of these convictions, this may be because such readiness is not often witnessed today. As I have suggested elsewhere, a political orientation marked by an aspiration to suffer or a longing for death may have receded from our contemporary political arena.8 This arena is marked not only by the ascent of majoritarianism around the world but also by what Jacques Derrida has called the “kenotic horizon of the death of the God” and a related “anthropological re-immanentization”—that is, the valuing of human life and its rights above all commitments to any transcendent truth or divinity.9 Yet this arena of the immanent can nevertheless produce its own version of sacrifice, for it is also a biopolitical arena that functions by constantly separating lives imbued with value from those designated as disposable or, increasingly, torturable. Hence, there may not be much to admire about sacrifices such as Godse's. Invoking a psychoanalytic framework, Étienne Balibar has suggested that the subject of such sacrifice may itself be tyrannized by its own identity—an identity that has become, in his words, an identity identical to itself: “Hence, its presence rules out all otherness, commanding its own realization—at the price, when circumstances dictate, of the subject's self-obliteration—by way of elimination of every trace of otherness and thus all ‘internal multiplicity,’ all différance in the self (the ‘us’) and its others without which no self could exist.”10 Though Balibar is speaking here about instances of extreme mass violence, his analysis is nevertheless pertinent in this context since at stake for Godse and Hindu nationalists in general was precisely the expunging of all otherness and difference. Balibar's analysis proposes that the subject compelled to violently oppose or eliminate traces of difference, even to the point of eliminating itself, may function not as a subject guided by its own will, but rather as an instrument acting at the behest of a fetishized, self-identical identity. Such an analysis could be productively compared with several others with which it shares some strong thematic movements: for example, Hannah Arendt's understanding of evil as the cultivation of (or the accession to) thoughtlessness and the erasure of internal division;11 Simone Weil's observation about force being as “pitiless” to the one who possesses it as to its victims;12 and Jacqueline Rose's thoughts about the immense difficulties of resisting masculine identification as well as about the price exacted by such identification.13 While there are certainly important differences among all these analyses, what they all advance is a sense that the subject of violence, the perpetrator, might not be master of its own actions—or even more strongly, that it might be enslaved precisely by its drive for mastery.

To be sure, such analyses are not offered to exonerate perpetrators or to release them from responsibility, but instead—and here I am thinking specifically of Balibar—to draw attention to the significance and necessity of practices and movements of disidentification, of internal spacing and the dissolution of fetishized collectivities, and even of political “representation” as opposed to the idealization of an immanent community in democracy.14 I will return later in the essay to the theme of representation.

Despite his enthusiastic membership in Hindu nationalist organizations, in his court statement, Godse does not present himself as a Hindu fundamentalist—someone whose vision was of a theocratic state. On the one hand, he was certainly inspired by the idea of a Hindu polity. On the other, he was able to reconcile this idea with his own version of secularism. Thus, like Savarkar, he could view and present himself as a secularist—indeed more of a secularist than Gandhi—and thus present himself as dedicated to a particular vision of India as a secular democracy. At the very least, this tells us that he did not have any contempt for the secular as such, insofar as he wanted to align himself with it. But if Godse values the secular, it is partly because it enables him to argue against protections or safeguards for minorities. Disregarding religion is important to the extent that it allows for the erasure of difference between the majority and the minority, so that “secularism” may function as the alibi and dupe of majoritarianism. But there is also another reason why the secular gains significance: it enables religion to be recast as an entirely political category.

Interest

Part of the appeal of Godse's defense, I suspect, lies in the way it presents an aggressive, intolerant, and ethnonationalist politics in the language of rationality, interest, calculation, and “democratic” majoritarianism. His discourse functions as a kind of secret code: addressing two audiences at once, it preserves a veneer of rationality while at the same time stoking the passions of those who share its premises. Even more disturbingly, its “secret” message may be intercepted and accepted even by those who consciously disavow it. For example, in one passage, Godse presents himself as committed to secularism: “In my writings and speeches I have always advocated that the religious and communal consideration should be entirely eschewed in the public affairs of the country; at elections, inside and outside the legislatures and in the making and unmaking of Cabinets. I have throughout stood for a secular State with joint electorates.”15 On the one hand, this might appear today as a perfectly reasonable “secular” stance. On the other, to anyone familiar with the politics of early twentieth-century India, the reference to “joint electorates” would be instantly legible. Arguments in favor of “joint electorates” in the 1930s and 1940s played, one might say, a role analogous to the one played by arguments against affirmative action (“reservations” in the Indian discourse) in our own conjuncture. While they appear commonsensical to many, including those who consider themselves liberal and committed to an egalitarian meritocracy, they are based on forgetting or erasing long histories of deep inequality, of suffering on one side and privilege on the other—complex, troubled histories that seethe and push, a mass of tremors beneath the ground on which we stand.

Having first presented himself as a secular person, Godse in a subsequent passage criticizes the Congress for labeling the Hindu Mahasabha—a party formed, as its name indicates, to represent only Hindus—a “communal” body: “Really speaking, if any institution were to look to the interests of a particular community without hindering the growth of national spirit, why should one use the word ‘communal’ in the sense of an abuse to that institution . . . When the Congress recognized the Muslim League as representing the Muslim Community viewed from a logical point of view it would not have been out of place to recognize the Hindu Mahasabha as representing the Hindus, or, at least the Congress should openly have declared that it would look to the interests of the Hindus.”16

This apparently logical point of view relies, first, on a logic of representation that is itself represented as straightforward and self-evident but was in fact most contentious, and, second, on a simultaneous projection and erasure of the crucial difference between the (Hindu) majority and the (Muslim) minority. For the moment, however, let me pause on a category that Godse regularly invokes, as if to summon to his aid the discourse of contractual liberalism: that of interest. The political arena is presented in this passage as divided between different religious communities, each with its own interest. Of course, Godse was not the first to associate religious community with the category of interest. His statement hence may be just one example among others that reveal how “democracy” has often been received as nothing but the legitimization, or the formal enclosure, of a new stage in the centuries-old process by which religious (or, indeed, ethnic or racial) communities are formed and reformed as political factions struggle for dominance. By infusing new life into the concepts of majority and minority, a narrow and formal idea of democracy thus facilitates—in perhaps an unprecedented way—the recasting of religion as an entirely this-worldly (secular) phenomenon: as an identity and hence as the ground of interest, rather than, for example, as that which protects or safeguards an opening to the divine.

Godse's court statement thus appears to be structured in a way that allows him, on the one hand, to present himself as a believer in secularism and, on the other, to claim that his first duty is to serve Hindus, “as a patriot and even as a humanitarian act.” “For,” he says, “is it not true that to secure the freedom and safeguard the just interests of some thirty crores of Hindus constituted the freedom and the just interests and well-being of one fifth of the human race?”17 What is good for humanity, in this logic, is what is good for many humans. Does this move not cover over the premise of socioeconomic antagonism that is itself the necessary reference and condition from which this conception of interest arises? Louis Althusser's powerful reading of Rousseau's narrative about the social contract dramatically brings into view the ground of such interest.18 As Alberto Toscano writes in a recent (and brilliant) discussion of this reading,

Among the foremost conditions for posing the problem of the social contract in terms of this founding act [the act of constituting a people], in Althusser's reading, is the emergence of the category of interest, a category that can only arise in a generalized state of war which is in its turn the precondition for the socialization of human beings after the end of the forest . . . The rise of the interested individual, of the one who harbours goods as one of his forces, shows that for Rousseau, when it comes to the dialectic of forced socialization, opposition comes first.19

While I cannot engage with this reading in detail here, my point is that the category of interest, to which Godse appeals so often, itself arises in a foundational text of modern political thought as a category created precisely to obfuscate or contain the aggression that produces it. But there is a further complication as well. Whereas for Althusser it is the denegation of the group, the class, that becomes the ideological task of Rousseau's Social Contract (a task that enables bourgeois class interest to masquerade as general interest), in the Indian context, we see a complex maneuver involving several kinds of groups, or more precisely several possible but disavowed political units. The religious group comes to the fore and presents itself as the one most capable of representing the true essence of the individual, but in doing so it veils the relative power and powerlessness of other groups, those constituted along the axes of class, gender, and caste. Indeed, since the primary concern of the politicized religious group, as I have suggested, is not religion at all, it functions only as a vehicle for disavowed and publicly unnamable groups to gain ascendancy, as long as they are able to situate themselves within the space opened and sanctified by “religious” identity.

Ashis Nandy's analysis of Savarkar and Godse connects their aspirations as well as their antipathy for Gandhi to the insecurities faced by Chitpawan Brahmins whose traditional status had been eroded, not only by colonialism, but also by the growing commercial power of metropolitan Bombay.20 Dhirendra Jha has also remarked upon the peculiar atmosphere of Poona in the 1930s, describing it as a “bubble of conservative Chitpawan traditionalism in a fast-changing India,” and noting that “the end of the Hindu era was nowhere experienced so despondently nor was the increasing craving for its revival so intense as it was in Poona.”21 Like Nandy, Jha connects Hindu revivalist movements in Maharashtra with an idealization of the eighteenth-century Maratha Empire and the desire to replicate a new polity under the leadership of Chitpawan Brahmins. In reading Savarkar's own account of that empire, one cannot but be struck by the fact that what attracted him most about the history of the Marathas were moments when they defeated their enemies.22 He repeatedly returns to such images of the total destruction of the enemy, whether in the early Indian War of Independence (1909) or in Hindu Pad Padshahi (1925). Virility as the capacity to inflict violence appears recurrently in Savarkar's work as the central site and image of revolutionary fervor. If the capacity to inflict violence as revenge is itself imagined as an incontestable political virtue, indeed as the political virtue par excellence, this suggests that perhaps repeated references to interest in Godse's statement should be read as more complex signs—as elements of a disingenuous discourse. These are elements entrusted with the task of attenuating or masking the immense attraction of masculinist upper-caste Hindu power for votaries of Hindutva.

Vikram Visana has proposed in a recent essay that Savarkar “before Hindutva” broke with liberal and contractual models of governance to propose a revolutionary and populist theory of sovereign peoplehood derived from the history and culture of western India.23 Focusing on Savarkar's influential history of the revolt of 1857, The Indian War of Independence (1909), he argues that Savarkar's exclusionary politics developed in response to the British implementation of separate electorates, and that “his recourse to conspiratorial and spiritual appeals to a visceral sense of dharma were intended to circumvent India's utility centered political order.”24 This is, at least in some ways, a persuasive reading, especially when we bear in mind the immense popularity and significance of The Indian War of Independence and the early Savarkar for revolutionary groups of the 1920s, including that of the Marx-influenced Bhagat Singh and his comrades.

Visana's foregrounding of the idea of sovereignty is right on the mark. For sovereignty itself is at least as much about dominance, power, and rule as it is about independence. In Savarkar's writings, a voracious desire for power constantly overshadows the desire for freedom. There is little reflection on what freedom might mean—especially for different kinds of groups—apart from functioning as a means for the acquisition of power.

In her monumental study of totalitarianism, Arendt connects the quest for power for its own sake with the quest for expansion for its own sake. Both phenomena emerge, in her analysis, with the “political emancipation of the bourgeoisie.”25 They prepare the ground for what follows—namely, totalitarianism and the end of freedom, or the closure of the political realm as such. Arendt suggests that the “political” subject who desires power and expansion for their own sake has in fact substituted a private aim (power) for a public one, and an economic aim (expansion) for a political one. Such a subject has thus become incapable of thinking or acting in relation to the public political space shared among a community. In her extended discussion of Hobbes as the preeminent philosopher of the bourgeoisie, Arendt draws attention to his portrait of bourgeois man masquerading as the universal human. She notes, among other things, that this is a being “without the capacity for truth,”26 and one who is primarily concerned with whatever is advantageous to him as an individual:

The individual [as described by Hobbes] will consider his advantage in complete isolation, from the point of view of an absolute minority, so to speak; he will then realize that he can pursue and achieve his interest only with the help of some kind of majority. Therefore, if man is actually driven by nothing but his individual interests, desire for power must be the fundamental passion of man. It regulates the relations between individual and society, and all other ambitions as well, for riches, knowledge, and honor follow from it.27

If I seem to be driven solely by my own interest, then, Arendt surmises in her reading of Hobbes, I must be propelled by something I do not disclose. What drives me, in other words—I am attempting to follow her line of thought here—cannot be something as psychically trivial as mere interest, something calculated to serve me well. This interest must be recognized, instead, as the agent of something more powerful that possesses me: a passion. It is this passion, Arendt supposes, that becomes manifest in the ferocious pursuit of every individual interest. Perhaps we could even extend this thought a little to say that “interest” appears here as the conscious, public, and legitimate form taken by a disavowed passion for power. As Stephen Engelmann has astutely asked in his study of “interest” in modern political thought, the question to pose here might be: “What role did it play in making all passions and practices seem governed or governable by economic rationality”?28

Domination

While taking note of Visana's argument, we can nevertheless state that there are also significant continuities between the pre- and post-Hindutva Savarkar. The most prominent of these might be the thirst for domination through violent revenge. Revenge—the enactment of aggression and hatred for achieving formal “equality”—is most often presented as justice in Savarkar's writings as well as in Godse's statement.29 It is clear, however, that what appears as equality or justice at such moments is in fact an all-consuming desire for supremacy and domination. An attachment to (patriarchal) hierarchy has been so integral to Hindutva groups that it is difficult to find in these texts any sustained reflection on the idea or practices of equality.

The principle of eka chalak anuvartitva (following one leader) was introduced by Hedgewar at the November 1929 meeting of the RSS. Writing about this, A. G. Noorani notes that Hedgewar “categorically stated that a svayamsevak had to obey the orders of the sarsanghchalak [the supreme leader] at any stage, under any circumstances and without any hesitation.”30 The admiration shared by various Hindu Nationalists for Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy has been well documented; by the end of the 1930s, it had often been publicly voiced: “In 1939 The Mahratta published a series of articles in favour of the international policy of Italy and Germany, while Kesari of December 8 and 15, 1939 published an article bearing the title ‘Failure of Democracy and Rise of Fascism.’”31 It thus appears that democracy may have been valued only as a provisional stage toward a dictatorial system based on an erasure or exclusion of difference and the “virtuous” obedience of citizens. “Freedom” from the British may have been quite frankly envisaged as ushering in the end of freedom.

To glimpse the immense appeal of domination for both Savarkar and Godse, let us recall the last passage of Savarkar's 1922 treatise, The Essentials of Hindutva:

Thirty crores of people, with India for their basis of operation, for their Fatherland and for their Holyland with such a history behind them, bound together by ties of a common blood and common culture can dictate their terms to the whole world. A day will come when mankind will have to face the force. Equally certain it is that whenever the Hindus come to hold such a position whence they could dictate terms to the whole world—those terms cannot be very different from the terms which the Gita dictates or the Buddha lays down. A Hindu is most intensely so, when he ceases to be Hindu; and with a Shankar claims the whole earth for a Benares “Waranasi Medini!” or with a Tukaram exclaims, “My country! Oh brothers! The limits of the universe! There the frontiers of my country lie.”32

It seems quite evident that at stake here are not the specific “terms” dictated by the Gita or the Buddha. The substance of those terms seems patently insignificant, since in the text Savarkar has just spent considerable effort persuading his readers that Buddhism's ahimsa and universalism was and remains a vital danger to nationalism. Indeed, it quickly becomes evident that, under the name of Buddhism, the real object of Savarkar's attack is Gandhi. So the philosophy of Buddhism, or even of the Gita, is not important; instead what is essential is the ability to “dictate terms to the whole world”—that is, to become a powerful force in the eyes of others. The word “dictate,” repeated three times in this brief passage, alerts us to this deep fascination with power. We may recall here that when the Hindu Mahasabha organized an agitation in 1938 against the Nizam of Hyderabad, the leader of each group of agitators was called a “dictator” and Godse himself was the “dictator” of the first group.33 Even if we keep in mind that the term “dictator” was in fact widely used for leaders in the 1930s, including those in the Congress, Savarkar's enthrallment to the image of Hindus “dictating terms to the whole world” remains significant.

The question for him is how to mold the Hindus into a force capable of dictating terms to the world. And so he proposes the idea of Hindutva: an idea fusing territorial control with cultural homogeneity. If the true citizen can be only one for whom the country is both fatherland and holy land (pitrubhumi and punyabhumi), as he asserts, that is not primarily because religion as a connection with or appeal to the divine is vital for citizenship. It is instead because the holy seems to Savarkar to be the most potent means of ensuring and preserving allegiance, fidelity, and brotherhood. He is strongly attracted to the idea of what he calls, in Hindu Pad Padshahi, a “militant church”—and indeed, Islam is for him an outstanding example of such a church. As he puts it in that text, the “Muhammadans” had the “fierce unity of faith” that Hindus lacked.34 For Savarkar, religion's most important function seems to be to strengthen the resolve to exterminate the other, if not in their physical existence, then in their difference—or, to be more precise, in their difference as an equal other.

Minority

In 1909, the same year Savarkar's The Indian War of Independence was published in English, Gandhi wrote a book that could hardly be more different in its fundamental orientation: Hind Swaraj. Here he writes, as though in direct response to Savarkar and Godse: “It is a superstition and an ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority. Many examples can be given in which acts of majorities will be found to have been wrong, and those of minorities to have been right. All reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities.35 When Gandhi says, without reservation or caveat, that all reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities, it seems that the very meaning of “minority” has changed; it is now imagined primarily as a group capable of reform. If reform always opposes the majority, then there must be something in the very nature of the majority that resists reform and clings to the status quo.

In this framework, the terms “majority” and “minority” should not be read as referring to fixed demographic categories; instead they refer to those who, at any given moment, happen to be more or less powerful. Gandhi's distrust of the moral capacities of the majority only grew stronger over time. In a speech he gave on December 22, 1947, he exhorts Indian Muslims to see “the virtues of being a minority”: “They must remember that the best days of Islam were the days of the Prophet Mohammed's minority in Mecca.”36 And in 1947, urging Muslims not to leave their homes simply because they are verbally persuaded to do so, he writes: “The public, in this case representing the majority community (that hateful expression), should rigidly refrain from taking the law into its own hands.”37

In his thought-provoking discussion of Gandhi's approach to the minority in his book The Impossible Indian, Faisal Devji makes several intriguing observations. Taking seriously Godse's accusation that Gandhian politics neglected the majority, Devji agrees that Gandhi's politics indeed took as its basis the minority: first the Indian minority in South Africa and then the Muslim minority in India. However, he goes on to argue that such a minority, in the imperial context, cannot be seen simply as a minority since it inevitably carries the weight of what one might call its “elsewhere” compatriots. (I should note that these are not Devji's terms.) In drawing attention to the distribution and movement of populations in the imperial context, Devji makes a connection between the early twentieth century and today's global context. Both render unstable the categories of minority and majority by heightening, in different ways, the significance of diasporic populations and their relation to the politics of the “home” country. But Devji's argument is finally not about numbers. The minority, he writes, “was to Gandhi a moral category more than anything else.”38 He refers here to Gandhi's description of a lesson he learned from his friend Simmonds in South Africa, who believed that “truth is always with the minority” and is “corrupted in the hands of a majority.”39

In the introduction to his profoundly instructive study of Gandhi, Ajay Skaria also refers to the same incident:

Simmonds would often playfully tell him that if Gandhi's party ever became big, then he would “withdraw his support of me,” for in the hands of the “‘majority’ (major party) [mota paksh] even truth becomes untruth.” Here and elsewhere, minority names not so much a sociological or historical category as a way of being. Relinquishing sovereignty, satyagrahis must strike for an equality of and with the minor. As that phrase suggests, the minor is never simply an individual—minority names here rather the community that perdures without sovereignty, and yet without submitting to majority or sovereignty.40

Why would truth necessarily “become” corrupted and false in the hands of the majority? Doesn't truth remain the same regardless of who speaks it? What could truth mean for Gandhi? It seems evident that he repeatedly gestures toward a fundamental antagonism between truth and power. If truth cannot abide power, or cannot abide with power, it is perhaps because he envisions power as distinct from force. Though at times Gandhi uses the two terms interchangeably, in general one could say that they are differentiated in his lexicon. For example, in 1942, he writes thus about nonviolence: “A man who is intentionally unarmed relies upon the unseen force called God by poets, but called the unknown by scientists. But that which is unknown is not necessarily non-existent. God is the Force among all forces known and unknown. Non-violence without reliance upon that Force is poor stuff to be thrown in the dust.”41

Power, however, is conceived differently. In the same year, he also writes, “A violent revolution only brings about a reversal of power.”42 Power here seems to be figured in a negative register as sovereignty attained through, or dependent on, violence. It seems closer to the early Greek concept of kratos, which Nicole Loraux has memorably described in terms of “having the upper hand” and as linked to victory, especially in battle.43 Jean-Pierre Vernant, drawing on Émile Benveniste's Dictionary, has similarly defined kratos as “the superiority that enables a warrior to dominate his opponent, to prevail against him and vanquish him in combat.”44

Once we attempt to understand such a perspective, we could perhaps perceive that Gandhi's democracy—at least in its most promising reading45—has nothing to do with preserving the interests of the majority or safeguarding its culture or rights. As if marking his distance from the revolutionary demand for rights, in 1941, Gandhi writes in a telling personal letter to Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, almost as one would write to a beloved: “Renunciation of rights brings special happiness.”46 On the contrary, his work repeatedly suggests that democracy has to do with providing for the weakest and systematically resisting the very violence and, indeed, the fundamental untruth that preserves the majority's status. Implicit in Gandhi's writings is the idea that the very division between the majority and the minority is sustained by violence. That is why for him, violence itself is the object of scrutiny; there is nothing “idealistic” about renouncing it. Rather, such renunciation seems to him to be the only plausible (and even practical) path. This deep aversion to violence and, even more essentially, Gandhi's ambivalence about power—his constant struggle with it and his moral convictions about its corrosive and violent effects—cannot be assimilated by Godse.

In Godse's discourse, Gandhi's refusal to unequivocally celebrate power repeatedly distorts his image. Since he repeatedly questions majoritarian claims, Gandhi emerges in Godse's text as the Hindu most responsible for betraying Hindus and hence India. For Godse, Gandhi's policy of “appeasement” and his “pro-Muslim” fasts can only be evidence of his desire to “please” Muslims. It's hard not to notice in this context that Godse's tone is sometimes that of a petulant child complaining about parental favoritism; in such a display of envy and rivalry, Godse perhaps indeed turned Gandhi into the “father” of the nation even as he railed against this epithet.

Gandhi thus emerges in Godse's discourse not only as a kind of sycophant of Muslims, but also as eccentric, whimsical, and primitive, given to “fads of truth and non-violence.”47 While Godse is not the only one who viewed Gandhi in this way, this strain is particularly strong in his text.48 The word “fad” is used more than once to refer to Gandhi's insistence on truth and nonviolence. To be fair, Gandhi himself sometimes refers to himself as a “faddist,” but by this he almost always refers to his experiments with diet and medicine, not to those with truth and nonviolence.

These two images of Gandhi are not unconnected. Once the political realm has been reduced to an arena staging only contests for power, and democracy to a regime based on the majority's interest, truth has no recourse except to appear as a fad: something like Santa Claus, in whom only children believe. In the remaining sections of this essay, I will first focus on the figure of the Muslim and the concept of representation in the discourse of Hindutva as well as in Gandhi's discourse. I will then briefly return to Gandhi's conception of truth and ahimsa in political life.

Hindu/Muslim

In the passage I cited earlier from The Essentials of Hindutva, Savarkar says a Hindu “is most intensely so, when he ceases to be Hindu.” Taken out of context, this idea of “ceasing to be Hindu” could easily find an echo in some of Gandhi's writings as well. For example, in a speech given at a prayer meeting in the last month of his life, Gandhi said something that may, at first glance, appear to resonate with Savarkar's proposal:

Today we must forget that we are Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims or Parsis. If we want to conduct the affairs of India properly we must be only Indians. It is of no consequence by what name we call God in our homes. In the work of the nation, all Indians of all faiths are one. If Hindus say that they will kill Muslims or will not permit them to live in India they will be committing suicide and the Muslims will be spared the trouble of killing the Hindus. We cannot commit suicide. We are Indians and we must lay down our lives in protecting Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Sikhs and all others.49

Although there is a superficial similarity in Savarkar's call to the Hindu to cease being a Hindu and Gandhi's call to “forget” one's Hinduness, most striking is the essential difference between the two. When Savarkar says that a Hindu would be most intensely Hindu when he ceases to be one, he imagines a time when a Hindu would no longer be someone who belongs to a particular community or is devoted to a particular religion; he would cease to be marked as Hindu and occupy the place of the universal instead. That is when he would become, as Savarkar says, “most intensely Hindu.” This aspiration, in Savarkar's texts, is particular to Hindus: it is only the Hindu who is exhorted to universalize himself.

On the other hand, Gandhi's call to “forget” one's religious identity is not meant for Hindus alone but for everyone. Indeed, this passage, so simple on one level, is remarkable for the way it transforms a familiar public/private divide, often invoked in nationalist discourse, into something quite different: namely, a difference between two modes of dying. It might seem that Gandhi, contrary to his usual positions, is making an appeal that renders one's religious identity almost inconsequential: something that belongs in the private realm and must be forgotten when one enters the national or the public sphere. However, things are not so simple, for it turns out that the Hindu will “commit suicide” by killing or expelling the Muslim. This suggests that a nonadversarial relation to the Muslim is essential for the Hindu to remain Hindu. By forgetting this relation, the Hindu will die. It is this death that worries Gandhi: “We cannot commit suicide.” To safeguard against such death, one must be prepared for another death, which arrives when one lays down one's life as an Indian to protect Hindus and Muslims alike.

Gandhi does not fear death as such; he fears instead the suicide that results from forsaking one's essential and protective relation to the other. In a similar vein he also says that Hinduism will be destroyed if Hindus continue to kill Muslims. Correspondingly he believed that if Pakistan considered itself the greatest Islamic power in the world, then it must protect its Hindu and Sikh residents.50 In 1947, assaulted daily by news of the violence sweeping across North India, he wrote, “Muslims will not serve Islam if they annihilate the Hindus; rather they would thereby destroy Islam. And if the Hindus believe that they would be able to annihilate Islam it means that they would be annihilating Hindu dharma.”51

For Gandhi, then, being religious entails nothing if not an essentially protective orientation toward all religions. To be religious is to protect religion itself and to protect, one could say, the very opening of a human call to divinity. This religious identity, or rather this religious dissolution of identity, is the basis of (and indeed builds) Gandhian national identity—that is, becoming Indian. Deliberately and resolutely disregarding all scriptural, mythic, or exegetical passages that extol the superiority of any one faith above others, he steadfastly held on to the idea that the spark at the heart of each religious tradition is the same; in destroying the other, one's own faith is also destroyed. Religious identity remained, for Gandhi, an essentially this-worldly affair; in the other world, he believed, there would be no such divisions among human beings. Religion protects that which comes from and will return to the other world.

This protective relation to religion itself, as well as to the religious other, must not be read as belonging to the sphere of that “protection” whose corollary is obedience: the protego ergo obligo that Carl Schmitt has called the “cogito ergo sum” of the state.52 On the contrary, what I protect in this case is that which is most valuable to my own self—that which, perhaps unbeknownst to me, nevertheless suffuses my own being. Only in this light can we appreciate the distinction between Gandhi and Savarkar. For Gandhi, I cease to be Hindu—that is, I kill myself as a Hindu—when I cease to respect and protect the other, not only as a living being but precisely in his/her spiritual being. Whereas Savarkar says that I become most Hindu when I cease to be one among different and equal others and become instead the imperial and universal one—when I become the norm that extends its dominion over the entire earth.

How is this image of the Hindu produced? In the writings of Savarkar, Godse, and Hindu nationalist groups more generally, the image of the Hindu itself seems to be governed and produced by two rotating images of the Muslim. The first is of the Muslim as the enemy who is nevertheless admired and emulated.

The Mohammedans, when they came, found a source of irresistible strength in the principle of theocratic unity, indissolubly wedded to a sense of duty to reduce all the world to a sense of obedience to a theocracy, an Empire under the direct supervision of God. The Hindus, wedded to individual liberty and philosophic views of life and the ultimate cause of causes, fallen a prey to the most decentralizing and disabling institutions and superstitions . . . had naturally from a national point of view degenerated into congeries of small states . . .53

Both Muslims and Hindus are “wedded”—the former to duty, to the task of “reducing” the world to obedience, and the latter to liberty, to “decentralizing institutions,” which operate on the same plane as superstitions. Here Savarkar's vision of the past seems fundamentally shaped by a contemporary debate between fascism and democracy and by his own fascination with fascism. In his language, the Muslim appears, indeed, as an early figure of fascism—embodying the militarism and unity necessary for domination. But although Hindus, for Savarkar, had been on the wrong path earlier, they eventually “absorbed much that contributed to the success of the Muhammadans.”54 Just as Hindus had gradually learned from Muslims, so would they learn from Europeans.55 The only lesson to be learned from one's defeat is how to be more like the one who defeats, or how to be more like the conqueror.

Perhaps this is also a kind of love—indeed a most difficult love, so deeply imbued with hate—for those one wishes to exterminate and replace. It is love, not for the other as existent but for something in the other that one values and wishes to imbibe. In other words, it is mimetic rivalry. Gandhi's love for Muslims was of a different kind. I say “Gandhi's love” because that is what Godse is most perturbed by, and “love” is the word he uses.56 Indeed, one sometimes detects a hint of something excessive, unscrupulous, and even indecent in this love as it is imagined by Godse. For example, complaining about Gandhi's preference for “Jana Gana Mana,” the song that later became India's national anthem over the popular Hindu nationalist song “Vande Mataram,” Godse says: “The infatuation of Gandhiji for the Muslims and his incorrigible craving for Muslim leadership without any regard for right or wrong, for truth or justice, and in utter contempt of the sentiments of the Hindus as a whole was the high water-mark of the Mahatmic benevolence.”57 In this example, as well as in the one that follows, concerning the banning of the famous song “Shiva Bavani”—celebrating the victory of the seventeenth-century Maratha ruler Shivaji over Muslim armies—it seems that Godse simply refuses to recognize that such songs might be offensive not only to Muslims but to anyone not interested in propagating hate and division. It is as though he has no access to such a perspective.

One concludes that the Muslim man (in these texts, both self and other are most often imagined as masculine) may be admired or despised but cannot be imagined as vulnerable, as eliciting compassion. The figure of the Muslim as a rapist and a conqueror appears often in this discourse. The power of the Muslim is resented all the more strongly because he so closely resembles the Hindu. Indeed, this similarity may be one reason that it is the Muslim, rather than the Englishman, who becomes the focus of the Hindu's resentment and envy. Here are the words of Lala Lajpat Rai, a prominent leader of the Indian National Congress and a member of the conservative Hindu reformist organization, the Arya Samaj, in an article published in 1907:

A question has often haunted us, asleep or awake, as to why is it that notwithstanding the presence among us of great, vigorous and elevating truths, and of the very highest conception of morality, we [Hindus] have been a subject race, held down for so many centuries by sets of people who were neither physically nor spiritually nor even intellectually so superior to us as a fortiori to demand our subjection.58

Embedded in this statement is an admission that the British were perhaps indeed superior to Hindus and hence their rule could be justified and accepted in a way that Muslim rule couldn't be. In his commentary on this statement, Chetan Bhatt rightly remarks that this narrative severely minimizes British colonialism by subsuming it within a much longer account of foreign invasions.59 More pertinent for our discussion, however, is the way the passage allows us to glimpse why it was the Muslim, rather than the Englishman, who became the most conspicuous recipient of Hindu resentment during the time of British colonialism.

On the one hand, the Muslim is resented for being just like the Hindu, only more aggressive and powerful. On the other, he is despised for coming from the “dregs of Hindu society,” to quote Shyamaprasad Mookerjee. The historian Joya Chatterji cites this remark when she proposes, in the context of her study of Bengal, that upper-caste contempt for the Muslim drew on an available repertoire of caste and class prejudices.60 The looming fantasy of the Muslim rapist and abductor has been repeatedly activated in Islamophobic discourse, most recently in the focus on “Love Jihad.” We can presume that young Hindu men who come under the sway of this fantasy at once pleasurably identify with the figure of the male (transgressive) Muslim and are simultaneously horrified by that very identification. The horror of such possible identification may account for the vicious brutality with which Muslim men are “put in their place” in ways all too readily available in a caste society.

In his statement, Godse returns again and again, almost compulsively, to the idea that Gandhi harbors a “consuming desire to please the Muslims”; that whatever would please Muslims was Gandhi's “heart's desire”; and that he wanted only to “surrender” and “capitulate” to them.61 The intensity of this anger is perhaps symptomatic of the repressed suspicion that Hindutva itself may have already “capitulated” and “surrendered” to a certain image of the powerful, violent, and victorious Muslim. What we are faced with, hence, are two different versions of “surrender.” One is Gandhi's, where he surrenders to or agrees with the wishes of Muslims, breaks with a presumed allegiance to identitarian community in order to acquiesce to the more vulnerable one: a “surrender without subordination,” to use Skaria's phrase.62 The other is Godse's; his indignant revulsion at the thought of “surrendering” to the Muslim may be a symptom of having already surrendered to (that is, accepted as an ideal to be emulated) an internalized image of Muslim unity, aggression, and violence.63

Representation

The political struggles of the 1930s and 1940s in India clearly demonstrate how closely linked the question of political representation was with the varied images and modes of representation of different communities and political actors, or (to use Gayatri Spivak's terms) how inseparable debates about “proxy” were from the creation and dissemination of “portraits.”64

Godse's entire argument in his explanatory statement is summarized when he writes, “The only effective remedy to relieve the Hindus from the Muslim atrocities was, to my mind, to remove Gandhiji from this world.”65 On this account, Gandhi had based his political program fundamentally on the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity, but had consistently acted as though Hindus alone must sacrifice their interests to bring about such unity. The bloody partition of the country proved, as far as Godse was concerned, that Gandhi had been delusional all along. However, instead of recognizing what appeared to Godse (and many others) as a colossal error (if not a downright crime), Gandhi in his last year had insisted that India pay the money owed to Pakistan as part of the partition settlement and that the treaty between the two countries be honored. Here one must also note that what became for Godse the proverbial last straw has been viewed by others as Gandhi's “finest hour.” For example, in a moving essay, historian Irfan Habib writes, “To him [Gandhi] 1947 did not make Pakistan a country which he could not serve.”66

The question of representation had been a bone of contention ever since the India Councils Act of 1909 provided separate electorates to Muslims in the Bengal Legislative Assembly. Muslims and Dalits (or “untouchables,” the lowest in the caste hierarchy of Hinduism) feared that they would never have adequate representation in elected legislative bodies if separate electorates were not provided by law. The Indian National Congress, the most powerful political party in preindependence India, was itself dominated by upper-caste Hindus and not in favor of separate electorates, though it did reach a short-lived pact with the Muslim League in 1916 when it accepted separate electorates for Muslims. While Gandhi became amenable to separate electorates for Muslims, he steadfastly opposed them for lower-caste Hindus: a political decision that positioned him as an unyielding adversary of Ambedkar and the Dalit rights movement.

It is telling that Godse's discussion of electorates never refers to the question of separate electorates for Dalits, or indeed, to any of the concerns raised by Ambedkar. Though, early in his statement, he says that he “worked actively for the eradication of untouchability” and “publicly joined anti-caste movements,” he never refers to his participation in any anticaste body or party, mentioning only his work in the Hindu Nationalist RSS (Rashtriya Svayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteer Corps) and the Hindu Mahasabha (Grand Assembly of Hindus), a party founded in 1915, which became more prominent as an independent entity after Savarkar assumed its leadership in the 1930s.

Though Gandhi finally refrained from objecting to the Muslim demand for separate electorates, he never seems to have accepted the idea in principle. His reasons, however, were not the same as Godse's. Whereas Godse's (and the Hindu right's) opposition to separate electorates arose from their wish to consolidate Hindu domination, albeit through a strategic deployment of secular “equality,” Gandhi's opposition was based on the idea that one's own denominational identity should not prevent one from representing others. To be fair, in this context one must also note a moment in Godse's statement when, in voicing his opposition to the Government of India Act of 1935, he makes the convincing argument that the “communal franchise” made the formation of a “parliamentary party on political and economic grounds” impossible.67 Yet it is hard to give too much credence to the vision embedded in this sentence since the text as a whole seems unable to conceive of such a party under any but Hindu domination.

Gandhi's position, as one might expect, was quite different. In 1941, Gandhi writes, “Every Congress man must represent in his own person all Hindus and non-Hindus alike.”68 A year later, he says, “I cannot speak as a mere Hindu, for my Hinduism includes all religions. I can speak only as an Indian.”69 And in 1947, “I consider myself a representative of all the true religions.”70 One can find many such examples in his writings. Such remarks seem to be based on two premises. First, that the difference between different religions or different religious traditions, though significant in terms of cultural attachment and tradition, is also essentially irrelevant for any believer. And second—perhaps following from this—that the relation of the truth or essence of any religion to its traditions, texts, and so on is itself historical and profane rather than sacred; it is closer to the order of allegory than that of symbol.

If upper-caste Hindus found such ideas ridiculous, so did Muslims and Dalits. Mohammad Iqbal, perhaps the most brilliant Muslim intellectual of the period, found it ludicrous that Hindu leaders of the Congress Party could claim to be “the sole representatives of the peoples of India.”71 The claim to represent one who does not wish to be thus represented can be experienced only as a gesture of violence—of silencing, appropriation, or subordination. Though I have not focused on this concern in this essay, I do not want to ignore this dimension of Gandhi's assertions. Like an undertow or a shadow, it never dissociates itself from his thought. As Skaria puts it, “Gandhi's attempt to affirm the absolute equality of all being comes undone in many instances because, while this conservatism profoundly reworks the traditions that he departs from, it also often conserves the immeasurable inequalities of these traditions.”72

Nevertheless, I also find something compelling in Gandhi's insistence that one's own religion cannot and should not prevent one from representing those who belong to other religions. For what one is always called upon to represent, we may surmise, is not an interest attached to an identity or a group but a principle that must govern the community as a whole in its relation to others. This is indeed the most fundamental idea in any conception of representative democracy. In a very different way, and certainly a more persuasive and practical way, Ambedkar had also voiced a roughly similar idea, when, toward the end of his most dramatic work, Pakistan or the Partition of India, he presented a vision of a mixed party of Hindus and Muslims. In a memorable passage, he strongly criticizes Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League and the first governor-general of Pakistan, for having regenerated the Muslim League in 1937 instead of working to found such a party. The kind of party Ambedkar imagines would have been based on “an agreed programme of social and economic regeneration.” Today, when some of Ambedkar's comments about Pakistan are regularly cited without context, especially in right-wing Hindu publications, it is all the more important to recall and consider what he wrote in this regard: “There are many lower orders in the Hindu society whose economic, political and social needs are the same as those of the majority of the Muslims and they would be far more ready to make a common cause with the Muslims for achieving common ends than they would with the high caste of Hindus who have denied and deprived them of ordinary human rights for centuries.”73

Truth

For the political realm as imagined by Savarkar and Godse, truth and nonviolence are irrelevant because the interest of the majority has replaced truth. Today such a move seems intuitively pragmatic and hence persuasive. In a democracy, why shouldn't one strive to accomplish what is in the best interest of the majority? In response to this, one might say that both “interest” and “majority” rely on shaky premises. Where the former presupposes a calculative and nonfissured subject (an idea that has been repeatedly questioned by literary, philosophical, and psychoanalytic thought), the latter presupposes the privilege of a single mark of distinction and identity.

In Godse's text, Gandhi can be imagined as a dangerous but demented old man, besotted with Muslims, more the father of Pakistan than of India, a betrayer of Hindus and India—at least partly because his language has been rendered obsolete. “In Gandhiji's politics, there was no place for consistency of ideas and reasons. The truth was what Gandhiji only could define. His politics was supported by old superstitious beliefs such as the power of the soul, the inner voice, the fast, the prayer, and the purity of mind.”74 The “ji” that Godse habitually uses becomes here a mocking suffix, indicating not respect but derision: a derision reserved for those who are old and past their prime. More importantly, Hindutva politics emerges here as a politics unable to comprehend interiority—a masculinist, pragmatic politics that has no use for “superstitious” beliefs in the soul, the prayer, the inner voice.

What is this inner voice? In Gandhi's autobiography, it sometimes appears as the voice of duty. Because it guides him toward the right path, he describes it as a voice to which he “delighted in submitting.”75 That it is the inner voice that speaks to him of his duty indicates he must turn his gaze—or rather his ear—away from the public realm in order to discern his duty; this voice can be heard only by retreating from the noise and chatter of the world into the interior of the self. One cannot know one's duty without listening to a voice in Hindutva texts either, but here is a voice that exhorts one to recognize one's historical and communitarian fidelity; it is the voice, for example, of a Savarkar who must repeatedly remind Hindus of their own past and future glory, persuading them to recognize, emulate, and hence overcome their enemies. Since this duty arises only from one's social identification, from a prior allegiance to one's community of birth, it can have nothing to do with a truth that one knows only as principle and not as rule, to recall Ambedkar's famous distinction in Annihilation of Caste.76 Hence truth and nonviolence can appear only as “fads” in Godse's statement,77 as he forces a determined return to the empirical and the pragmatic:

As regards non-violence, it was absurd to expect 40 crores of people to regulate their lives on such a lofty plane and it broke down most conspicuously in 1942. As regards truth, the least I can say is that the truthfulness of the average Congressman is by no means of a higher order than that of the man in the street and that very often it is untruth in reality masked by a thin veneer of pretended truthfulness.78

The normalization and universalization of a particular subject is at work here—one for whom nonviolence can only be too lofty an ideal; for whom revenge, on the contrary, is natural; and for whom the question of truth in politics is an unnecessary distraction. The deep antipathy of such a political orientation to the very thought of truth is obscured by rendering either trivial or hypocritical the aspiration to truth.

Let me return here to Arendt. Writing about the ancient and familiar conflict between truth and politics, Arendt articulates the conflict between the interest of the majority and truth in perhaps its most penetrating form: namely, would one want the truth to survive even if the world were to perish? Pitting herself against the irrelevance of truth to politics, Arendt declares that “no human world destined to outlast the short life span of mortals” can survive the rendering irrelevant of truth.79

Writing in 1967, Arendt seems most urgently concerned about the fate of a world that considers truth an inconvenience to be disregarded and, if need be, destroyed. If she seems occupied with factual truth in her essay “Truth and Politics,” it is because she sees in the modern world a tendency to change the very nature of factual truth, either by acts of mass deception and propaganda that include self-deception or by blurring the line between fact and opinion. The blurring of this line, which transforms facts into opinions, draws them into the struggle between different interests instead of letting them remain the ground on which opinions should be based. Arendt recognizes why politics—understood as a space of freedom and action—might be inherently resistant to what she calls the despotism or coercion of truth (a truth that no one can control or alter). She is convinced, however, that the very freedom that is so important to the political realm can be preserved only by respecting the limits of this freedom—limits that no one is free to change and that cannot be changed.

Arendt is acutely conscious of the fragility peculiar to the factual—a fragility most brazenly exploited by totalitarianism. But it would be a mistake to believe that her concern is only with factual truth. While this is not the place for an extended analysis of Arendt's conception of truth, I would nevertheless like to point toward a curious and, I think, symptomatic shift or displacement that occurs in this essay. In brief, it almost seems at times that, though Arendt sets out to defend truth, in fact she struggles to do so. After all, as she herself points out, it is lying that is in some ways more closely aligned with what she privileges most throughout her work: action, freedom, and changing the world.80 Only gradually does it become apparent to the reader that what drives the essay is not simply Arendt's concern with preserving factual or historical truth but more fundamentally her concern with the unparalleled importance of testimony and her fear that the very possibility of truthful testimony might be in peril in the modern world. Though she never says so explicitly, I am convinced that it is her concern for truthful testimony that brings together various aspects of the essay; what repeatedly draws her attention is not truth as such but the capacity for truth telling.

This becomes evident when we note the significance of Homer and Herodotus to her thought—examples she often refers to in her work. Both are valued for their ability to give impartial testimony: to represent not only the victor but also the vanquished as heroic, glorious, and marked by pain and suffering. It seems, then, that at the heart of the essay is an unmistakable albeit implicit link between two ways of conceiving and presenting the self. One involves the impartial and hence disinterested testimony that Arendt admires in Homer and Herodotus and the other an abstention from the hubris of conceiving the human as omnipotent—as capable of changing even the past.81

If Arendt, the philosopher of natality, of freedom, and new beginnings, could not clarify the link between these two idealized modes of conceiving the self, perhaps this was because both involve a fundamental recognition not of the human capacity for action but instead of human finitude. It seems to me that Arendt's sense of an essential relation between truth and finitude might explain her somewhat ambivalent characterization of truth in this essay.

The power and significance of truth arises in that it opens by delimiting the sphere of human freedom. The freedom of public life is determined and made possible by that which humans cannot change. “Conceptually,” writes Arendt in an evocative sentence, “we may call truth what we cannot change; metaphorically, it is the ground on which we stand, and the sky that stretches above us.”82 Arendt aligns truth here with the concept of necessity—that which is both contingent and unalterable. What she seems to be describing is a necessary resistance of the necessary without which any conception of freedom would be meaningless.

For Gandhi as well, truth is of the order of a law not subject to human intervention or fabrication. This is the law that he continually sought to realize through practices of ahimsa—or nonviolence. But this law, though universal, does not manifest itself clearly. One must continually search to discover its specific and singular meaning—that is to say, one must constantly struggle to discover how to enact it—but one can do this only through “experiment” since the path to truth remains hidden. Strictly speaking, such experiments are not made with truth, contrary to what the title of his autobiography indicates. Truth itself is not available for experiment; however, in the search for it, one experiments with one's own self and with different modes of acting and thinking. Through such experiments, Gandhi struggles to decipher and follow a law that does not give any rules of application.

If Arendt traces the “disinterested pursuit of truth”83 to impartiality and the ability to be just to both friend and foe, Gandhi goes much further. His truth enjoins him to “love the meanest of creation as himself” and “to rise above the opposing currents of love and hatred, attachment and repulsion.”84 It is not difficult to perceive how strange such an orientation seems in the field of politics—so strange that it has often been read as being either foolishly utopian or simply hypocritical. But for Gandhi it was absolutely essential that politics not take as its basis either the self-interested individual or the self-interested group.

I have been reading Gandhi, off and on, for many years. Nevertheless, reading him today is in some ways a new and hard-hitting experience because of how prescient he sounds. I will conclude simply by citing one representative passage, from August 12, 1920, that seems to reach across the decades and confront us with the force of clarity:

The swaraj of my conception will come only when all of us are firmly persuaded that our swaraj has got to be won, worked and maintained through truth and ahimsa alone. True democracy or the swaraj of the masses can never come through untruthful and violent means, for the simple reason that the natural corollary to their use would be to remove all opposition through the suppression or extermination of the antagonists. This does not make for individual freedom. Individual freedom can have the fullest play only under a regime of unadulterated ahimsa.85

Acknowledgments

I thank V. Sanil and Ajay Skaria for their probing discussion of earlier drafts of this essay, the three anonymous reviewers selected by Critical Times for their extremely helpful and detailed comments, and Ramsey McGlazer for his thoughtful editing.

Notes

3.

According to a witness, Judge Atma Charan, who heard Godse's statement, even had tears in his eyes at one stage, and listened throughout with “rapt polite attention” (Noorani, The RSS, 121).

4.

I use this term instead of the usual “Hindu-nationalist” since it seems to me that the nationalism advocated in texts of the Hindu right was in fact always imbued with a vision of empire.

6.

Drawing attention to the similarities between Godse and Gandhi, Ashis Nandy goes so far as to call them both “committed and courageous nationalists” (“Final Encounter,” 56).

7.

Manohar Malgonkar writes that Godse “venerated Savarkar as a guru, as someone who bore a touch of divinity” (The Men Who Killed Gandhi, 23), and Ashis Nandy calls Savarkar Godse's “ego ideal” (“Final Encounter,” 59).

22.

Savarkar, Hindu-Pad-Padashahi. See, for example, 142, 144.

29.

Among fictional works depicting the communal violence of the partition of India, one short story by the great Hindi writer Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’ stands out. Titled “Badla” [Revenge], it draws on the double implication of the word in Hindi, signaling both revenge and change or reversal, and beautifully brings to light the immense and powerful distinction between the two.

35.

Gandhi, Hind Swaraj, 92; emphasis added.

45.

Of course, a far more skeptical and critical reading is always possible, as has been persuasively demonstrated by many of Gandhi's opponents, including B. R. Ambedkar.

48.

In judging Godse, one must keep in mind that his criticism of Gandhi's obstinacy, tyranny, and deviousness at times echoes that of Gandhi's other critics, including the revolutionaries belonging to the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, as well as the great Dalit leader Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. However, one simply cannot imagine a Bhagat Singh or even less, an Ambedkar, killing Gandhi. Indeed, Ambedkar capitulates at a charged moment on the issue of separate electorates precisely to save and not kill Gandhi.

63.

Pursuing, in a different way, the question of Hindu internalization of, and identification with, the Muslim, Faisal Devji draws an intriguing connection between the changing relation of Gujarat's diasporic trading communities with their homeland and the changing (i.e., increasingly hateful) relations of Gujarati Hindus with Muslims. Devji writes, “Yet is it not perhaps their own former selves that these Gujaratis want to rid themselves of in the figure of the Muslim as a minority from abroad?” (Impossible Indian, 56).

81.

Elsewhere, Arendt writes, “If Western philosophy has maintained that reality is truth—for this is of course the ontological basis of the aequatio rei et intellectus—then totalitarianism has concluded from this that we can fabricate truth insofar as we can fabricate reality; that we do not have to wait until reality unveils itself and shows us its true face, but can bring into being a reality whose structures will be known to us from the beginning because the whole thing is our product” (Essays in Understanding, 354).

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis.
Politics and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Hegel and Marx
. Translated by Brewster, Ben.
London
:
NLB
,
1972
.
Ambedkar, B. R.
Annihilation of Caste with a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi
. 3rd ed.
1944
. In Vol.
1
of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, edited by Moon, Vasant,
23
96
.
New Delhi
:
Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
,
2020
. https://www.mea.gov.in/Images/attach/amb/Volume_01.pdf.
Ambedkar, B. R.
Pakistan or the Partition of India
. In Vol.
8
of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, edited by Moon, Vasant.
New Delhi
:
Dr. Ambedkar Foundation, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment
,
2020
. https://mea.gov.in/Images/attach/amb/Volume_08.pdf.
Arendt, Hannah.
Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought
.
New York
:
Viking Press
,
1968
.
Arendt, Hannah.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
.
New York
:
Viking
,
1964
.
Arendt, Hannah.
Essays in Understanding: 1930–1954
. Edited by Kohn, Jerome.
New York
:
Schocken
,
1994
.
Arendt, Hannah.
The Origins of Totalitarianism
.
New York
:
Harcourt Brace and Company
,
1979
.
Balibar, Étienne.
Violence and Civility: On the Limits of Political Philosophy
. Translated by Goshgarian, G. M.
New York
:
Columbia University Press
,
2015
.
Bhatt, Chetan.
Hindu Nationalism: Origins, Ideologies, and Modern Myths
.
Oxford
:
Berg
,
2001
.
Butler, Judith. “
Thinking Cohabitation and the Dispersion of Sovereignty
.” In
Sovereignty in Ruins: A Politics of Crisis
, edited by Edmondson, George and Mladek, Klaus,
220
38
.
Durham, NC
:
Duke University Press
,
2017
.
Casolari, Marzia. “
Hindutva's Foreign Tie-Up in the 1930s: Archival Evidence
.”
Economic and Political Weekly
,
January
22
,
2000
:
218
28
.
Chatterji, Joya.
Bengal Divided: Hindu Communalism and Partition, 1932–1947
.
Cambridge
:
Cambridge University Press
,
1994
.
Derrida, Jacques. “
Faith and Knowledge: The Two Sources of ‘Religion’ at the Limits of Reason Alone
.” In
Religion
, edited by Derrida, Jacques and Vattimo, Gianni,
1
78
. Translated by Weber, Samuel.
Stanford, CA
:
Stanford University Press
,
1998
.
Devji, Faisal.
The Impossible Indian: Gandhi and the Temptation of Violence
.
Cambridge, MA
:
Harvard University Press
,
2012
.
Engelmann, StephenG.
Imagining Interest in Political Thought: Origins of Economic Rationality
.
Durham, NC
:
Duke University Press
,
2003
.
Godse, Nathuram.
Why I Assassinated Gandhi
. Compiled and edited by Mehra, Virender.
Delhi
:
Farsight
,
2014
.
Gandhi, M. K.
An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth
. Translated by Desai, Mahadev.
Boston
:
Beacon
,
1993
.
Gandhi, M. K.
Mahatma Gandhi Selected Political Writings
. Edited and introduction by Dalton, Dennis.
Indianapolis
:
Hackett
,
1996
.
Gandhi, M. K.
Hind Swaraj and Other Writings
. Edited by Parel, Anthony J..
Cambridge
:
Cambridge University Press
,
1999
.
Gandhi, M. K.
The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
.
98
vols.
New Delhi
:
Publications Division, Government of India
,
1999
.
Habib, Irfan. “
Mahatma Gandhi and the National Question
.”
Social Scientist
47
, no.
1
(
2019
):
3
14
. https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/26611492.
Jha, Dhirendra K.
Gandhi's Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and his Idea of India
.
Gurugram
:
Penguin Random House India
,
2021
.
Loraux, Nicole.
The Divided City: On Memory and Forgetting in Ancient Athens
. Translated by Pache, Corinne and Fort, Jeff.
New York
:
Zone
,
2006
.
Malgonkar, Manohar.
The Men Who Killed Gandhi
.
Delhi
:
Macmillan
,
1978
.
Nandy, Ashis. “
Final Encounter: The Politics of the Assasination of Gandhi
.” In
Debating Gandhi
, edited by Raghuramaraju, A.,
45
72
.
New Delhi
:
Oxford University Press
,
2006
.
Noorani, A. G.
The RSS: A Menace to India
.
New Delhi
:
LeftWord
,
2019
.
Rose, Jacqueline. “
Feminism and the Abomination of Violence
.”
Cultural Critique
, no.
94
(
2016
):
4
25
.
Savarkar, V. D.
Essentials of Hindutva
. http://savarkar.org/en/encyc/2017/5/23/2_12_12_04_essentials_of_hindutva.v001.pdf_1.pdf. Accessed
April
23
,
2023
.
Savarkar, V. D.
Hindu-Pad-Padashahi or A Critical Review of the Hindu Empire of Maharashtra
.
Madras
:
B.G. Paul and Co.
,
1925
.
Savarkar, V. D. [An Indian Nationalist].
The Indian War of Independence of 1857
.
London
:
1909
.
Sawhney, Simona. “
Bhagat Singh: Sacrifice, Suffering, and the Tradition of the Oppressed
.” In
Love and Revolution in the Twentieth-Century Colonial and Postcolonial World
, edited by Arunima, G., Hayes, Patricia, and Lalu, Premesh,
233
61
.
Cham
:
Palgrave Macmillan
,
2021
.
Schmitt, Carl.
The Concept of the Political
. Translated by Schwab, George.
Chicago
:
University of Chicago Press
,
1996
.
Sherwani, Latif Ahmad, ed.
Speeches, Writings and Statements of Iqbal
.
New Delhi
:
Adam
,
2015
.
Skaria, Ajay.
Unconditional Equality: Gandhi's Religion of Resistance
.
Minneapolis
:
University of Minnesota Press
,
2016
.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “
Can the Subaltern Speak?
” In
Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture
, edited by Nelson, Cary and Grossberg, Lawrence,
271
313
.
Urbana
:
University of Illinois Press
,
1988
.
Toscano, Alberto. “
A Just People, or Just the People? Althusser, Foucault, and Juridical Ideology
.”
Consecutio Rerum
5
, no.
8
(
2020
):
163
83
.
Vernant, Jean-Pierre.
Mortals and Immortals: Collected Essays
. Edited by Zeitlin, Froma I..
Princeton, NJ
:
Princeton University Press
,
1991
.
Visana, Vikram. “
Savarkar Before Hindutva: Sovereignty, Republicanism, and Populism in India, c. 1900–1920
.”
Modern Intellectual History
18
, no.
4
(
2021
):
1106
29
. http://doi.org/10.1017/S1479244320000384.
Weil, Simone, and Holoka, James P..
Simone Weil's The Iliad, or, The Poem of Force: A Critical Edition
.
New York
:
P. Lang
,
2003
.
Zhou, Steven. “
From India, Islamophobia Goes Global
.”
Foreign Policy
,
July
1
,
2020
. https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/01/india-islamophobia-global-bjp-hindu-nationalism-canada/.
This is an open access article distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).