By: Satyakam Bharti
The Queen of Hills has a history, or rather is an important chapter in the history of a nation state called India. From being the summer capital of British India, to signing of the India-Pakistan agreement, every Shimalite for sure should be aware of the town’s prime past. But it is also not possible to carry unnecessary baggage from the past and thus interesting aspects of Shimla’s past are fast fading from public memory. Probably that explains why it becomes news on Mahatma Gandhi martyrdom day (or was it Godses’?) that his assassination trial was held at Hotel Peterhof (then East Punjab high court). But greater news was that the tourism department would now use part of the hotel to recreate the trial scene and also have a museum for that.
Just as the newspaper report on how Godse stood by his word all through the trial left me confused whether the article commemorated Gandhiji’s martyrdom or Godse’s, the hotel’s plans too set me thinking. Glorification of the martyr in context to our freedom struggle is natural, but glorification of someone like Godse certainly is a different matter, and in troubled times like these even dangerous. The question here is not about accepting Godse as a great patriot or denying Gandhi absolute sainthood, but glorification of extremism (read fanaticism), especially religious. Humanity is already suffering too much on that count, and therefore showcasing a part of history that raises questions about sacrificing a monumental icon at the altar of ultra-nationalism is medieval thinking.
Howsoever noble intentions there may have been in using this chapter of tragic history for tourism promotion, there would always remain apprehensions about how it would effect the imagination of people who visit such a ‘museum’. A hotel that housed at least seven viceroys and governor generals certainly must be having more to showcase than just trial proceedings of a certain assassination case that would anyway not be of help in drawing any conclusion.
The questions the Mahatma’s assassination raised would remain unanswered, therefore highlighting his assassin’s beliefs and actions may not even cause much damage to his philosophy of non-violence and tolerance, but glorification of radicalism in some quarters of our society in recent times raises certain doubts, especially when the state in which such a development is unfurling happens to be ruled by a Right-wing party. But, one should not rush at conclusions, and an exhibition of Gandhi’s photograph not far off from the Hotel Perterhof is testimony to that. Let’s hope the mahatma who lived in Gandhi would keep inspiring humanity for ever.