‘At first, I was amazed, but when you’re fighting for a just cause,
People seem to pop up, like right out of the pavement
Even when it is dangerous.
Doesn’t your New Testament say
that when your enemy strikes you in the right cheek,
offer him your left?
People think that the phrase was used metaphorically
But, I’m not so sure. I have thought about it a great deal.
I think Christ meant that you must show courage
That you must be ready to take a blow, several blows and not bow.
When you do that, it does something to the human nature of the oppressor
Something that makes his hatred for you decrease and his respect, increase
I think Christ grasped that
I believe I have seen it work…..’
– Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, to Rev. Charles F. Andrews, South Africa, 1897
There was a chill in the air that evening. Delhi in January is always near freezing.
The man in khaki was clean shaven, neatly dressed in a pair of khaki trousers, as was the norm those days. He had on, a bush shirt, half-sleeved, khaki too. The cold didn’t seem to bother him. In fact, to tell the truth, he didn’t feel anything at all that day.
As he entered through the gate into the lovely garden, a crowd was gathering. Some had come, to sit in on the evening prayers and to catch a glimpse of the father, the great man. And there were others, like him and his saffron-draped handler in the rickshaw outside, who were there to put to test which was stronger – love, or hatred.
The man walked with the flow of the crowd around him. Like a leaf caught in the Yamuna current, he let himself be gently pushed and shoved toward the steps. It was when he was still about a hundred yards away that he saw the great man slowly making his way down, his two young nieces by his side for support. He was still a bit weak from all the fasting.
As for the young man in khaki, there was a much larger conspiracy here, with more insidious forces in play, but he had chosen to be the pawn. He knew that his life wouldn’t be worth two paises after that day, but so be it. Those days there were no suicide vests as otherwise, he would surely have worn one.
On seeing the Mahatma emerge on the steps, the man in khaki didn’t break stride. His face set, his eyes on target, he approached the great man, his steps resolute. And soon there he was, right in front of the Mahatma, kneeling down and touching his feet, to seek his blessings.
That is the moment, when Nathuram Vinayak Godse made history. He suddenly straightened and rose with a jerk that made the Mahatma stagger back a bit. Then, from his khaki trousers, the militant Hindu nationalist brought out a Beretta M1934 semiautomatic. The pistol, manufactured in 1934, was carried by an Italian officer during the invasion of Abyssinia and subsequently taken by a British officer as a war trophy. It is not known how the gun came to India, but it finally made it’s way, unlicensed, into Godse’s hands, probably given to him by one of his co-conspirators.
Godse straightened his arm until the barrel was just a foot away from the Mahatma. For a moment it seemed as if the world came to a halt, while Godse pulled the trigger three times, all three rounds slamming into the Mahatma’s chest, their force throwing him back, sending him sprawling on the lawn, his last words – ‘Hey Ram’ (Oh Lord).
Thus, the only man who might have been the only one who could lift the world out of the abyss it finds itself in today, passed into history.
Of the massive spectacle that was his funeral, Albert Einstein wrote……
“The object of this massive tribute
Died as he had always lived
Without wealth, without property
Without official title or office.
Mahatma Gandhi was not the commander of armies
Nor a ruler of vast lands
He could not boast of any scientific achievement
Or artistic gift.
Yet Kings and Presidents from all over the world
Have joined hands to pay homage
To this little brown man in the loin cloth
Who led his country to freedom.
Generations to come will scarcely believe
That such a man as this
Ever in flesh and blood
Walked upon this earth”
I am thinking that maybe I should send this to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi with a covering note, saying, “Lighten up, man. Maybe there is another way to get to where you want to be.”
But perhaps I am being naïve. Maybe Gandhi was being naïve. Perhaps, even Al-Baghdadi and his ISIS really have no option but to be where they are today, just as Nathuram Godse felt there was no other choice, both extremists, pushed into a corner by what they saw as the ‘aggression of the infidel’. Maybe we have all breached the event horizon, the point of no return.
In the May of 2009, one man certainly did breach his event horizon – David Coleman Headley.
His reconnaissance of Copenhagen over and the framework of a plot against the Jyllands Posten worked out with his Al Qaeda handler, Ilyas Kashmiri, David Coleman Headley headed back to Chicago where he lived in the west side with his wife and four children.
The minute he landed, he was placed under round-the-clock surveillance by the FBI. The concern was whether there was a homeland plot brewing there. Anybody who came in contact with Headley became a target of surveillance. He couldn’t fart without the Americans not only hearing but even smelling it.
The FBI soon learnt that Headley was about to go over to Pakistan and from there on to Denmark once again, this time probably to carry through with his plan to take down Jyllands Posten building with everybody in it.
Once he arrived at O’Hare, the Feds let him check in through security and then the agents approached and arrested him. In custody, Headley sang like a canary, giving up the complete details of his Denmark terror plot. His FBI interrogators found his tone eager and chatty, as if he was at a street-side cafe with them on a balmy afternoon, cool and totally composed. It went like,” Look, I know I can’t beat this rap, so I’m going to help you guys. I’ll give you all the information you need and some.”
David Coleman Headley was touted by the American security establishment as a success story on the war on terror. The US National Security Agency immediately took the credit for the eavesdropping that eventually helped nab him.
But there was more. This canary was unstoppable. To the consternation of the FBI, Headley of his own confessed to another terrorist attack, this one bigger and more deadly, one that had already been carried out, taking 166 innocent lives. He told his interrogators that he had had an active role in every stage of the planning for the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist strike, the one that is now infamous among Indians as India’s 9/11.
The confession that emerged was fascinating. It began to be clear to the Americans that, without Headley’s involvement, the Mumbai attacks might never have got the go-ahead from the Pakistanis. Six months earlier, Mumbai had been the scene of a horrific siege. For 60 hours, the world had watched as first an icon of India, the five-star Taj Mahal Hotel, was set ablaze by ten Pakistani militants belonging to the terrorist outfit, Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT). The gunmen sought out those guests who held British or American passports and methodically gunned them down.
Now in FBI custody and facing a possible death sentence, Headley bargained. Confessing that he worked for the Pakistani Intelligence agency, the nefarious ISI as well as the LeT, he agreed to be a witness for the prosecution. Eventually he was convicted, but America likes to show misplaced appreciation wherever it can. For his ready cooperation with his interrogators, he was given an appallingly lenient sentence of only 35 years that, for many, seemed like a horrendous travesty of justice.
Headley disappeared into the American maximum-security prison network, known as the Supermax Prisons. If he was smart, kept his trap shut and followed orders, he could walk free in 20 years, maybe even less. He could be out free, by the time he was 60. Heck, it isn’t for nothing that they call America the land of the free.
That would have been that, Headley would have passed quietly into history, had it not been for another tumultuous event that occurred shortly after, when something happened, when the world began to look at America a bit differently – as not a leader among nations, but a sneak. Especially in so far as David Coleman Headley was concerned.
It was when the world was rudely shaken awake one overcast May morning in 2013, by a man named Edward Snowden……