It is telling that, at his trial for the murder of Gandhi, Nathuram Godse complained bitterly about how the bania (merchant-class) Gandhi had shipwrecked Indian politics with his quaint and enfeebling idea of nonviolence. Gandhi understood well the homology between colonial dominance and masculinity, and he sought to bring to the body politic a conception of politics that valorized the feminine and the non-Brahminical.
Nathuram Godse thus divined what many others did not, namely that Gandhi represented a threat to the idea of India as a masculine, modern nation-state, indeed to the very idea of “normal politics’. India had emerged as a new nation-state from two centuries of colonial rule, and India’s elites, among them some who were Gandhi’s associates, were keen that the country should take its place in the world as a strong nation-state resolutely committed to modernization, industrialization, and the kind of central planning that characterized the policies of the Soviet Union.
Yet Gandhi had initiated a far-reaching critique of industrial civilization and the very precepts of modernity in his tract of 1909, Hind Swaraj. His critics worried that his pervasive influence would be detrimental to the development of India as an economic and political power. Gandhi was, though this could scarcely be admitted, a nuisance, even a hindrance; and when Godse pulled the trigger, there were certainly others who thought that the man had died not a moment too soon.
India’s desire to be read as a nation on the make, a nation that wants to be taken seriously in contemporary world politics has roots in the inferiority complex brought about by colonialism which forever marked Indian civilization with a lack of manliness. Part of the ethos of manliness consists simply in gaining recognition, in being acknowledged. One long-lasting effect of colonialism has been that the Indian continues to look up to the white European male, who confers recognition upon inferiors, and who has established the standard that the Indian (like other formerly colonized people) must meet.
The modernizing Indian middle-classes have been pressing for India’s admission into the Security Council, arguing that India’s might and importance as a nation ought to be recognized. It is the political and economic elite in India who keep saying that India stands third in the strength of its scientific manpower, that it is a member of the ‘Nuclear Club’, that its software engineers are feted in Silicon Valley, and that it is the only Third World nation to join a few of the post-industrial countries as an exporter of satellite and rocket technology.
Ideas like ‘competitive spirit’ are used to develop pride in the nation, refurbish the ever fragile masculinity of man, and promote a cultural ethos that thrives on such notions as individualism and self-improvement. It is this ‘spirit’ of competition that causes heated discussions every four years about why India has less medals in the olympics than some country that nobody has heard of.
The Indian political class has accepted the argument about Indian civilization’s effeminacy and the nuclear explosion was an assertion of its masculinity, and thus a second assassination of Gandhi. India is no longer a soft state, it will not present itself to the world with any ambiguity about its manliness. Thus the obsession with personal security of politicians — the Z security, the commandos — that actually terrorizes the ordinary citizen; this contrasts with the 'effeminate' Gandhi’s mingling freely with the crowds disdaining personal security.
Gandhi was ‘a naked fakir’ not only for Churchill but also to many modern Indians who found his supposed glorification of poverty distasteful and thought that he would hold back India’s future generations. He is symbolically assassinated every year through the empty obeisance at his samadhi and converting him into a saint which is probably the most effective means of removing his influence on Indian politics. His ghost was finally exorcised with the nuclear explosions. Displaying astonishing chutzpah, the first explosion was carried out on Buddha Purnima and was codenamed 'Smiling Buddha'.
What is called “Hindutva” today represents Godse’s legacy, playing out his deep anxieties about the loss of Hindu potency. Gandhi was assassinated. Godse was hanged. But Gandhi vs Godse is a battle that goes on today. We see, for instance, that the feminine (typically signifying vulnerability, passivity, emotion, and so on) is deployed against the masculine (typically signifying impenetrability, control, rationality), and both become attributes of not just individuals, but of institutions, systems, communities, and even nations.
The colonial denigration of the Krishna lore as vulgar made Hindu elites attempt to sanitize their religion. (One British Judge of the Bombay High court even pronounced Krishna 'guilty' of lewd sensuality.) For them a proper God should be like the Semitic Gods - perfect, all-knowing and awe-inspiring. How could a God sing, dance, play with women and steal butter? So the image of Krishna wielding a discus on the index finger of his right hand is promoted. But temples depict the cowherd Krishna rather than the bad omen of the more war-like Krishna of the Mahabharata and popular culture still celebrates the butter thief God.
A crucial characteristic of Hinduism for centuries has been that, unlike other religions, the Gods and Goddesses are neither remote nor frightening. They are not entities outside everyday life but constitute a significant part of it. They are not only part of one’s transcendental life but also of one’s most comic and naughty moments. You pray to them but you can also disown them or joke about them. They not only maintain lofty principles but also show some of our failings. Ever since the promotion of a masculine culture by the colonial rulers, Hindu reformers have tried to make Hinduism more like the Semitic religions. Educated, city-dwellers are more likely to harbor such sentiments.
Whenever we see images of violence we notice that typically, only males are present among the perpetrators. It is not that women never indulge in violence: they can be aggressive and brutal, particularly to other women. But the culture that encourages such violence takes pride in its aggressive masculinity and it plays a key role in its recurrence, justification, and glorification. Women are constantly exhorted to be more like men to climb the ladder of success. The most successful women role models have typically masculine hawkish personality traits ; eg. Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Hillary Clinton. Thatcher was once described as ‘the only man in her cabinet’.
Such a conception of manhood assumes that aggression is natural and desirable in men. A ‘real’ man is eager to pick up a fight, must be muscular and unemotional. Crying is construed as a sign of weakness as it is to show empathy and understanding, gentleness and compassion. Part of what it means to be tough is to suppress empathy towards others, to be embarrassed by fear or any other vulnerability. To be counted as ‘real’ men, they must be ambitious and ruthless in trying to attain their goals regardless of consequences to others. They should approach their activities with a zero-sum, 'I win-you lose' kind of mindset. ‘Real’ men are supposed to take independent decisions that brook no questioning.
All these must be contrasted to features that are perceived to be inherent in women: being irrational, bereft of self-restraint, crying easily, emotional, empathetic but lacking judgment and impartiality. Women are physically and mentally weak, and therefore must be dependent on and protected by their male superiors. It follows that when men display such traits, they become weak, soft, wimpish. Acting like a woman is a betrayal of manhood. Cold-blooded violence shows the opposite: that manliness is fully alive and kicking! In the world of violent masculinities, Gandhian virtues of patience, empathy, understanding etc. are seen as unmanly attributes fit only for women and the weak.