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The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi
We don’t need the ghost of Nathuram Godse to pop up at regular intervals to remind us of the singular contribution of Mahatma Gandhi, who earned freedom for India through a unique non-violent movement.
We will be telling a lie to our children if we insist that Gandhiji, the apostle of peace, love and non-violence, and an example of austerity and strict discipline, had no detractors. The prime reason for Godse’s ghost refusing to be exorcised is that textbooks have repeated this lie since Independence.
Godse murdered Gandhi on January 30, 1948, by firing three bullets from his semi-automatic Beretta pistol. The pistol recovered from him had four more live cartridges. He did not fire at any other person present in the prayer meeting. The murder trial started on June 22, 1948, inside Red Fort in Delhi. The prosecution proved that behind the murder was a diabolic conspiracy. On February 10, 1949, trial judge Atma Charan delivered the verdict — acquitted V D Savarkar; death penalty to Godse and his friend Narayan Apte; and life sentences to Gopal Godse, Vishnu Karkare, Madanlal Pahwa, Shankar Kistayya and Dattatraya Parchure.
The state did not challenge Savarkar’s acquittal. All seven convicts appealed before the Punjab high court, then sitting in Shimla, on February 14, 1949. Godse accepted his death sentence but questioned the trial court’s decision to convict him and five others on conspiracy charges.
On May 2, 1949, a threejudge high court bench of Justices Amar Nath Bhandari, Achhru Ram and Gopal Das Khosla commenced hearing on the appeals. Arguing in person, Godse owned up the crime in a bid to get his accomplices exonerated.
Justice Khosla’s book ‘Murder of the Mahatma’,
written after he retired as chief justice of the high court, reveals the reason behind the group’s seething animosity against Gandhi — “group became united by a common hatred of what they believed was the weak-kneed policy of capitulation to Muslim arrogance, as propounded and advocated by Mahatma Gandhi”.
The hatred was fuelled by the killings of Calcutta in 1946 and Gandhiji’s intervention during the Naokhali communal riots. It boiled over when Gandhiji fasted to force the Nehru government to reverse Sardar Patel’s decision to withhold payment of Rs 55 crore to Pakistan. Patel had stalled the payment after Pakistan invaded Kashmir as he feared that funds would be used by Pakistan to buy arms for use against India. This made the conspirators hasten execution of their chilling plan and murder the man revered by millions.
Godse spoke for hours before the Punjab high court and criticised Gandhiji and alleged that his policies led to vivisection of India. He perceived that Gandhiji had belittled historical figures like Shiva ji, Rana Pratap and Guru Gobind Singh. But he was aware of the consequences of his dastardly action.
“Briefly speaking, I thought to myself and foresaw I shall be totally ruined, and the only thing I could expect from the people would be nothing but hatred and that I shall have lost all my honour, even more valuable than my life, if I were to kill Gandhiji. But at the same time, I felt that Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be proved practical, able to retaliate, and would be powerful with armed forces,” Godse said in court. Justice Khosla recounted the court atmosphere: “The audience was visibly and audibly moved. There was a deep silence when he ceased speaking. Many women were in tears and men were coughing and searching for their handkerchiefs... It seemed to me that I was taking part in some kind of melodrama or in a scene out of a Hollywood feature film. I have, however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse’s appeal, they would have brought in a verdict ‘not guilty’ by an overwhelming majority.”
The HC acquitted Parchure and Kistayya but confirmed the conviction and sentence of all other accused. Godse and Apte were executed on November 15, 1949. Godse’s execution did not stop his ghost from popping up several times in court records, from Bombay HC to the Supreme Court.
Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse was released from jail on November 30, 1965. Gopal wrote a book ‘Gandhi Hatya Ani Mee’ (Gandhi Assassination and I). It discussed the genesis of the murder conspiracy, partition of the country, possibility of murder being averted, the trial and the conspirators. The government banned the book and ordered seizure of all copies. Gopal challenged it before Bombay high court. Setting aside the ban, a three-judge bench of the HC in Gopal Vinayak Godse vs Union of India [AIR 1971 Bom 56] repelled the advocate general’s argument that the book was justifiably banned as it justified the attack on Gandhiji and all the things he stood for.
The judgment, authored by Justice Y V Chandrachud (who later became the longest serving CJI), said, “What a common reader would feel about the theme is that Nathuram committed the murder of Gandhiji, not out of any personal motives but because he felt that the country was partitioned on account of Gandhiji’s policy of appeasement and partition had caused untold sufferings.”
Rejecting the AG’s argument that the book propounded that Muslims were opposed to India winning her freedom and this could promote enmity and hatred between Hindus and Muslims, the HC had said, “As a matter of history, the view was widely held that some members of Muslim League were opposed to the British quitting the country and handing it over in the charge of the majority community in India. We do not think that a reference to such a fact several years after India attained independence is capable of promoting feeling of enmity and hatred between the two communities.”
Actor politician Kamal Haasan called Godse a terrorist. Pragya Thakur, a BJP candidate, called him a patriot. If the textbooks had talked about Godse and informed students about him, there would not have been a debate over the issue. All would have firmly believed that Godse was a murderer who got just punishment. It is the suppression of key facts about the conspiracy and reason behind Gandhiji’s assassination which allowed Godse’s ghost to remain alive.
The trial of Nathuram Godse
What happened at the trial?
Godse was sentenced to death in 1948 by a special court set up in Delhi’s Red Fort. In his appeal filed in the Punjab High Court, Godse objected to the court’s finding that there was a conspiracy to kill Gandhi. He remained unrepentant, wrote Justice Khosla, who heard his appeal.
On January 30, 1948, as Mahatma Gandhi was walking towards the prayer mandap at Birla House in Delhi, 35-year-old Nathuram Godse came before him and pulled out a pistol from his pocket. He fired three shots from point-blank range that hit Gandhi in the chest, stomach, and groin. Within 15 minutes, the Father of the Nation was dead.
The trial began in May 1948 at a special court set up in Delhi’s Red Fort. The monument had earlier been the venue for the trials of the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar who was deported to Burma and, around nine decades later, of the members of the Indian National Army.
The trial took place before Special Judge Atma Charan, a senior member of the judicial branch of the Indian Civil Service. The prosecution was led by CK Daphtary, then Advocate General of Bombay, who later became Solicitor General of India, and then the Attorney General for India.
Godse along with other accused, including Narayan Apte and Vinayak Savarkar, were allowed to take the help of counsel of their choice.
In his book, ‘Why They Killed Gandhi: Unmasking the Ideology and the Conspiracy’, Ashok Kumar Pandey wrote, “the law took its course wherein he (Godse) was supplied with legal aid at government expense, and most of his demands during his stay in jail were fulfilled.” On the second day of the trial, Godse admitted that while in detention, everyone had been civil to him, Pandey wrote.
Between June and November 1948, the special court heard 149 witnesses. The prosecution brought on record 404 documentary exhibits and 80 material exhibits.
According to Justice G D Khosla, who was part of the three-judge Bench at Punjab High Court that heard the appeals of Godse and others, during the hearing, the most important witness for the prosecution was Digambar Badge. “He was alleged to be one of the conspirators and an active participant in the murder plan”, Justice Khosla wrote in his book, ‘The Murder of the Mahatma’. After his arrest, Badge admitted his guilt and agreed to incriminate his accomplices, Justice Khosla wrote.
The judgment was pronounced on February 10, 1949. Judge Atma Charan convicted Godse, Apte, and five others of the crime. Both Godse and Apte were sentenced to death. Savarkar was acquitted.
The judge also announced that the convicts could file an appeal against the order. Four days later, all of them filed their appeals in the Punjab High Court, which was then known as the East Punjab High Court, and located in Shimla.
Interestingly, instead of challenging the conviction, Godse’s appeal objected to the court’s finding that he wasn’t the only one involved in Gandhi’s murder and there was a larger conspiracy to kill him.
Appeal in High Court
The appeals were heard by a Bench that including Justice Khosla, Justice A N Bhandari, and Justice Achhru Ram. During the proceedings, Godse refused to be represented by a lawyer and asked to be allowed to argue his appeal himself. The court accepted his request.
Justice Khosla wrote that while speaking in the court, the assassin didn’t repent his crime and used the opportunity to “exhibit himself as a fearless patriot and a passionate protagonist of Hindu ideology”.
“He had remained completely unrepentant of his atrocious crime, and whether out of a deep conviction in his beliefs or merely in order to make a last public apology, he had sought this opportunity of displaying his talents before he dissolved into oblivion,” Justice Khosla wrote.
The Bench gave its verdict on June 21, 1949. It confirmed the findings and sentences of the lower court except in the cases of Dattatraya Parchure and Shankar Kistayya, who were acquitted of all charges.
The convicts also filed a petition for special leave to appeal to the Privy Council, which was the highest court in India during British rule, and was replaced by the Supreme Court in 1950. However, the petition was rejected.
The hanging of Godse and Apte became inevitable after the Governor-General of India rejected their mercy petitions. Godse’s mercy petition was filed by his parents, not him. Both men were hanged on November 15, 1949, in Ambala jail.
Godse was apprehended by military personnel who were at the spot, and his pistol was snatched away. The assassin was beaten by the crowd before police took him into custody. Subsequently, he was lodged at a police station on Tughlaq Road, where an FIR was registered.
A hero to the Hindu Mahasabha
2 Oct might be Gandhi Jayanti for the rest of the country but October 2 was observed by, Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha as `Dhikkar Divas' (day of reproach) on Sunday . The right-wing organisation installed and unveiled a bust of Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi's killer, at its office in Meerut. The organisation had first tried to unveil the statue on December 2014, but had not been successful, and had been trying ever since.
2017/ Godse temple in Gwalior
The Godse idol was established by Mahasabha members in Daulatanj locality of Gwalior
Congress termed the move as anti-national act and demanded punitive action against the perpetrators
The Hindu Mahasabha built a "temple" to Nathuram Godse, Mahatma Gandhi's killer, in Gwalior, triggering a demand by Congress that the Mahasabha be charged with sedition.
"It is an anti-national act, and punitive action should be taken against the perpetrators. We suspect a well-planned conspiracy behind the burning of Mahatma Gandhi's statue in Morena on November 1 and the installation of Godse's statue a fortnight later," said Pradesh Congress chief spokesman K K Mishra.
Leader of opposition Ajay Singh said the Mahatma is being "humiliated" and such acts are being perpetrated in a "planned and organised manner". "It is shameful that in the whole world, Madhya Pradesh is the only place where Gandhi's statue is being burnt and that of his assassin installed," Singh said.
The Godse idol was established by Mahasabha members in Daulatanj locality of Gwalior. November 15 is the day Godse was hanged 68 years ago, as in 2017.