Varghese K. George
January 30, 2015
GRIM REMINDER: “January 30, the day Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, is the starkest reminder in the history of humankind of how the same text can be read differently.” Picture shows Mahatma Gandhi’s funeral procession in in 1948.
Both Nathuram Godse and Mahatma Gandhi read the Bhagavad Gita but one became a martyr and the other a murderer
January 30 reminds us of the fact that even the holiest of texts can have subjective and differential meanings.
The sacred Indian verses of Shrimad Bhagavad Gita has been in the news for various reasons in recent months. Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented a copy of the Bhagavad Gita to United States President Barack Obama when he visited the White House last year and one to Emperor Akihito of Japan. He has declared that the Gita would be the gift that he would carry for all world leaders. More controversially, Union Minister Sushma Swaraj advocated that the Gita may be declared the national book of India. Most recently, the BJP government in Haryana declared its intention to teach the Gita as part of the school curriculum.
To say that religion and politics should not be mixed has not only become a cliché, but may be missing the point altogether. Many tall leaders found the reason for their political action in their religious faith. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr are examples. President Obama mentioned in his town hall speech in Delhi last week that his faith strengthened him in his life. It is also true that many kings and emperors of the past used religious faith to justify killings and destruction.Martyr and murderer
Many individuals and organisations advocate and indulge in violence today, and justify it on the basis of religious texts. January 30, the day Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, is the starkest reminder in the history of humankind of how the same text can be read differently. Both read the Bhagavad Gita. One became Gandhi. The other became Godse. One became a martyr. The other became a murderer. Jawaharlal Nehru, for whom the Gita was “a poem of crisis, of political and social crisis and, even more so, of crisis in the spirit of man,” wrote in the Discovery of India: “... the leaders of thought and action of the present day — Tilak, Aurobindo Ghose, Gandhi — have written on it, each giving his own interpretation. Gandhiji bases his firm belief in non-violence on it; others justify violence and warfare for a righteous cause ...”