Mahatma Gandhi: What if Nathuram Godse had never killed Mahatma Gandhi?

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi: What if Nathuram Godse had never killed Mahatma Gandhi?

Would the social, economic and political situation of India turned out to be different? If yes, how? Was the untimely death of the father of nation a setback for India or vice-versa ?

6 Answers

Alternate History. Lets see.... Gandhi lives on, if only for a few more years given his age. History branches out for sixty five years.

Before I can suggest an alternate sequence of events, there are a few facts that are relevant and necessary to explain this question. These are events pertaining to the final five months of Gandhi's life, and some of his opinions from that time frame:
  • Gandhi went back to spinning yarn after India was granted freedom. He stayed grounded and acknowledged that freedom was the first of the many baby steps that our country had to take. This was his first indication that he was moving away from main stream politics and wanted to concentrate on social problems of society.
  • When others were celebrating the "Tryst with Destiny" speech, Gandhi was fasting in Calcutta on Independence Day.
    That is the reason why people will not find the face of the Indian Independence struggle/ Father of the Nation in any of the videos filmed on August 15th 1947. He was urging for peace between the religious groups in Bengal, which had recently been partitioned into India and East Pakistan(Bangladesh). Horace Alexander was with him.
  • He was also aware that his supporters had moved away from selfless principles of the Swaraj movement into power mongering territory. Quoting Stanley Wolpert, from Wikipedia:
The plan to carve up British India was never approved of or accepted by  Gandhi...who realized too late that his closest comrades and disciples were more interested in power than principle, and that his own vision had long been clouded by the illusion that the struggle he led for  India's freedom was a nonviolent one
  • Gandhi had resigned from the Congress once in 1934 and made a come back in 1936 because he believed Independence was a higher priority than social causes
  • Lord Mountbatten continued as a Governor General and Gandhi did meet him from time to time, but he never attended any of the parties that were hosted by Mountbatten
  • Gandhi was against building any kind of mass ideology around his personality. He was against erecting any statues for him
  • Nehru was not elected to the post of party president. He was simply nominated to the post by Gandhi because of his diplomacy and negotiation skills
  • He was also of the opinion that the titans of the freedom movement should continue their fight.... for equality, self help, social justice and helping those who had no representation
  • Ideologically Gandhi had no organized stand (in black and white related to communism or capitalism or socialism) other than the fact that it was right thinking. Though he was familiar with works of Tolstoy and Thoreau, his real inspiration was The Bhagvad Gita. Real life experiences from what he saw first hand forged most of his policies.
  • His ideology can be described as part capitalism minus centralization and part communism minus violence with socialism as the major contributor, as it promoted equality - which Gandhi had fought for all his life
  • His stand was that India should be a agrarian economy, with elements of Sarvodaya(local governance, local economy, local production and consumption). Gandhian economics is a vast subject and I will skip it.
  • Gandhiji wanted to help Pakistan as well. Remember that problems were present on both sides of the border. To quote him:

When my work here is finished I shall go to Pakistan

  • He wanted to form the Lok Seva Sangh, a organization dedicated to improving the condition of the socially backward and distance himself from politics. If possible, he wanted to persuade most of the Congress membership to join his new task and quit Congress. He had not yet decided whether the Congress should be dissolved or was it to function on a lesser scale. This was because if the Congress was to be dissolved, then it would lead to a major political vacuum and he was afraid of extreme
  • He wrote a piece on Harijan called as "Congress Position" in which he suggested that Indian National Congress should have a part in the role in National politics, but without the bureaucracy. I am quoting a part of his writing. This was on 27 Jan '48, three days before his death:
The Indian National Congress which is the oldest national political organization and which has after many battles, fought her non violent way to freedom, cannot be allowed to die. It can only die with the nation. A living organism ever grows or it dies. The congress has won political freedom, but it has yet to win economic freedom.
  • On 28 Jan '48, Gandhi was nominated by six different people for the Nobel Peace Prize. This was his fifth nomination and he was almost certain to win it in '48. The peace prize cannot be given posthumously unless the person was already selected by the committee, which is the reason he was not given the award
  • On 29 Jan '48, one day before he was killed, he wrote another piece in which he was against the Congress as a political body
Though split into two India having attained political independence, the Congress in its present shape and form ie as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine has outlived its use....For those and other similar reasons, the All India Congress Committee resolves to disband the existing Congress organization and flower it into a Lok Seva Sangh...

So to summarize, he had the opinion that Congress had outlived its use, he wanted to work for social causes (food!!, equality), he wanted to help Pakistan, he was against the use of his image in politics, he wanted an agrarian economy, he wanted social welfare schemes, he wanted us to remember his ideas, not erect monuments and most importantly he was thinking of disbanding Congress. This was the Gandhi during his final days.

These are events that happened immediately after he died:
  • Gandhi had no organizational affiliations, no formal title in the political circles and no will when he died
  • Congress leadership banned RSS and many other political parties for nearly a year and Bapu's death resulted in 200 thousand arrests,mostly members of these parties
  • Congress was a mish-mash of people from a wide spectrum of political affiliations including capitalists, communists, socialists, students, and everything else that can be mentioned. The only thing holding them together till '47 was that they had to gain independence
  • After the common goal (Independence) was achieved, they would have gone  their separate ways and formed a myriad of political parties, but  Gandhi's assassination made many of them stick together a little longer.
  • Even though Gandhi was against capital punishment, Godse was hanged (Gandhi's two sons appealed that it would be his wish to not hang Godse)
  • His death cemented the Congress as a national political party
  • Quoting from Wikipedia for better explanation:
Professor Yasmin Khan argues that Gandhi's death and funeral helped  consolidate the authority of the new Indian state. With Nehru and Patel  in charge, the government made sure everyone knew the guilty party was  not a Muslim. Congress tightly controlled the epic public displays of  grief over a two-week period - the funeral, mortuary rituals and  distribution of the martyr's ashes - as millions participated and hundreds  of millions watched. The goal was to assert the power of the government  and legitimize the Congress Party's control.

Gandhi's death and funeral linked the distant state with the Indian people and made more understand the need to suppress religious parties  during the transition to independence for the Indian people.

Assumptions that we can make based on conditions at that time:
  • He was 78, was relatively healthy when he died. He was frail and weak from fasting, and suffered from fatigue, but he was on a good diet and there was no major disease that he suffered from (that I am aware of) that could have resulted in death
  • Assume that he was active for another 5 years and that no other attempt is made on his life(Godse had attempted once before and there were 3 more attempts - no one including Gandhi took his security seriously). There was no way that he was going to retire, as he was determined to die serving his country anyway

Some changes many not be as drastic, in some others, definitely so. The changes that can be inferred from the many facts and the few assumptions above, in no particular order are:

Political and business scene:
  • This is a typical poster of the Indian National Congress today:
    If  Gandhi had gone ahead with his plans for a Lok Seva Sangh (People  Service Group) and distanced himself from the Congress politically as he was planning to a day  before he died, this  poster would be a joke or meme today
  • Congress as a party has ruled for 55 years out of the 65 years in the central government, this will not be the scenario if the previous argument is true
  • There would be parties other than Congress and BJP as the major contenders in the National scene. Parties from other political spectrums would have sprung up.
  • Caste based politics would be much less prevalent
  • Socialism would have gained overall, whether globalisation started in 90s or earlier or later depends on many factors
  • As I pointed out before, Gandhi was not against capitalism (and by implcation globalisation) per se - he was against exploitation. By extension of his own principle of coexistence, we can argue that capitalism, sarvodaya and rural economy can co exist if everything is regulated and decentralized.
  • The effects sixty years later would be speculative at best, but Congress stands to lose, that much is certain.
India - Pakistan relations:
  • Gandhi was holding talks with Horace Alexander and Rajaji about the First India - Pakistan war that broke out in October '47. A cease fire was declared in two months, but it is still the matter of hostility between Inida-Pak even today. Strategically the POK- COK - IOK regions are inhospitable and hold little value.
  • As I pointed out, relation between the two countries were not yet a complete failure, as many leaders like Gaffar Khan (Pakistani citizen who was awarded Bharath ratna) held him in high regard and he would have been welcome in Pakistan as well. Gaffar Khan said many years later, of India:
Gandhism is dead. Gandhi is completely forgotten. It is Buddha all over again
  • Gandhi was being considered as a serious candidate for the Nobel Peace prize in the year '48. It is almost certain that he would have received the honor if he was alive.
  • The effects that this might have had in the fragile set up between the two countries is positive and significant. Think about it - a current Nobel Peace prize winner to negotiate peace talks
  • True, Gandhi could not stop the partition, but he could have pulled some kind of treaty / settlement after the initial power balance was stablilised
Gandhism movement and Sarvodaya:
  • It wouldn't be far fetched to say that the mass Gandhian movement died with Gandhi. It exists in some form or the other, but limited to a few people who follow mundane details like kadhi and leave out the bigger principles. Simply put modern Gandhian movement has not kept up with the times.
  • If he died of a natural causes a few years later, Gandhian movement would been significantly different
  • The standards for calling someone a  "Gandhian" has dropped to pathetic levels. Apparently today everyone from those those who publicly support capital punishment to those who bear fire arms are termed "Gandhian". These would have changed for the better if Gandhi had a clear role in national movement for a few more years.
  • After  Gandhi was assassinated, his spiritual successor, Vinoba Bhave (who was alive till '83) was nowhere close to  the effect that Gandhi had. Other than a land donation scheme of  parched useless land to landless people(the effects of which are  debatable) there was very little that he actually did in terms of  religious harmony (he wrote interpretations of various religious works though) and social upliftment. Bhave openly supported Indira Gandhi's government and the emergency (which Gandhi would have gone on a fast to object given what effects  against democracy it had) and excessively tried to imitate Gandhi
  • He  effectively abandoned the more important principles like helping the  people without representation. For instance, Gandhi wanted to bring  access to education and make certain communities self reliant. Bhave did not work towards this. We still have plenty of tribal groups(70 at last  count) left to fend for themselves in several parts of the country  against big name mining companies. Brikesh Singh from Green peace is living on a tree to raise awareness about protecting tigers from mining companies, but there is no major NGOs raising awareness about these people. Strange isn't it?

  • Naxalites and Maoists movements started (and have popular support) because certain groups feel that they were left out during development efforts. These reason for these movements to spring up would have been mitigated if inclusive development had targeted these isolated groups.
  • If Gandhi was alive for a little longer, the Gandhian movement would have major impact on these areas
Religious setup:
  • Many of the religious problems that Gandhi set out to solve still exist in the same form. Examples: The North-eastern India religious clash problem (which he was trying to solve on Independence day no less), rioting in Ayodhya and Gujrat etc
  • This can open up a can of worms, so I am leaving it closed.
Farming and agriculture:
  • Gandhi envisioned a future where India would be a major farming producer in the world, with Indian farmers being viewed in a positive light.
  • in his credit, Nehru introduced great agrarian reforms, but they were still controlled by the rural elite and never trickled down to the masses
  • Farmer suicides in most southern states will not be as prevalent today if farming was given the importance it deserves
  • Contrary to popular belief, farming in states other than Punjab, UP and Haryana is very difficult despite free electricity schemes.
Framing of constitution:
No changes here. It was in line with his principles.

Gandhi was a visionary and everyday that he was alive did indeed have an effect on the history of India. He was not a politician, he was not the typical humanitarian aid worker, he was not an expert on international law or an economist. In fact he cannot be put into any one category at all, and that is what makes him special. He has his fair share of detractors and critics, but they have the luxury of analysing and tearing apart decisions that he made decades ago in some of the toughest situations a human being can face.

Thus it can be argued with evidence that India would be much different, for the better if Gandhi had lived on for a few more years. To sum it up, when he died, we gave him titles, we have put his picture on every currency note and his name on everything imaginable, but we have not fulfilled most of his ideals.

Disclaimer: I do not wish to speculate on the possible negative effects that Gandhi  would have had if he were alive longer, simply because it would be an insult to his memory.  There are enough discussions online about his character flaws. Some of  them are indeed true, but aren't flaws a part of everyone? Before the  discussions in the comment section, you can read my case for Netaji  here:
India: Who was a better leader between Mahatma Gandhi and Subhas Chandra Bose?

References and further reading:
Congress Position reference in a website maintained by the Govenment:
The book Mahatma Gandhi by Sankar Ghose, with reference to 'Congress Position' and his final statements:
Nobel Committee regrets its decisions: