Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi
|Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi|
30 January 1948 |
17:17 (Indian Standard Time)
|Weapons||Beretta M 1934 Semi-automatic pistol|
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated at the Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti) in New Delhi on 30 January 1948. Gandhi was outside on the steps where a prayer meeting was going to take place, surrounded by a part of his family and some followers, when Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist and prominent member of Hindu Mahasabha, approached and shot him three times in the chest at close range. Gandhi was taken back inside the Birla House, where he died. Godse was arrested, convicted in court and later executed.
Prior to his death, there had been five unsuccessful attempts to kill Gandhi, with the first occurring in 1934.
After a previous failed attempt to assassinate Gandhi at the Birla House, Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte returned to Pune via Mumbai (Bombay).With the help of Gangadhar Dandavate, Nathuram Vinayak Godse and Narayan Apte purchased a Beretta M1934 and reached Delhi on 29 January 1948, checking into the retiring room No. 6 at Delhi Railway Station where they chalked out the plan for his assassinations.
Motives for assassination
- Godse felt that it was Gandhi's fast (announced in the second week of January) which had forced the cabinet to reverse its earlier recent decision not to give the cash balance of Rs. 550 million to Pakistan on 13 January 1948. (The Government of India had already given Pakistan the first installment of Rs. 200 million as per their agreement to give Pakistan Rs. 750 million in the division of balance money upon partition. However, in March 1948, the cabinet of Indian government decided to withhold the second installment after self-styled liberators from Pakistan invaded Kashmir with covert support from the Pakistani army). Godse, Apte and their friends felt that this was appeasing Pakistani Muslims at the expense of Hindus in India. This decision of Gandhi and Nehru had also caused Vallabhbhai Patel to submit his resignation. Interestingly, Gandhi's fast was for the restoration of Hindu-Muslim peace and continued for three days after the cabinet announced its decision to give the money to Pakistan. It is possible that Godse may not have known of this, however this cannot be said for certain.
- Godse felt that the sad situation and suffering caused during and due to the partition could have been avoided if the Indian government had lodged strong protests against the treatment meted out to the Minorities (Hindus and Sikhs) in Pakistan. However, being "under the thumb of Gandhi" they resorted to more feeble ways. He also felt that Gandhi had not protested against these atrocities being suffered in Pakistan and instead resorted to fasts. In his court deposition, Godse said, "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 ... if I were to kill Gandhiji. But at the same time I felt that the Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be proved practical, able to retaliate, and would be powerful with armed forces."
- In Godse's own words during his final deposition in the court during the trial, '"...it was not so much the Gandhian Ahimsa teachings that were opposed to by me and my group, but Gandhiji, while advocating his views, always showed or evinced a bias for Muslims, prejudicial and detrimental to the Hindu Community and its interests. I have fully described my Point of view hereafter in detail and have quoted numerous instances, which unmistakably establish how Gandhiji became responsible for a number of calamities which the Hindu Community had to suffer and undergo"
Nathuram Godse was arrested immediately after he assassinated Gandhi, based on a FIR filed by Nandlal Mehta at the Tughlak Road Police station at Delhi . The trial, which was held in camera, began on May 27, 1948 and concluded on February 10, 1949. He was sentenced to death.
An appeal to the Punjab High Court, then in session at Shimla, did not find favour and the sentence was upheld.
Godse approached Gandhi on 30 January 1948 during the evening prayer at 5:17 pm. When Godse bowed, one of the girls flanking and supporting Gandhi, Abha Chattopadhyay, said to Godse, "Brother, Bapu is already late" and tried to put him off, but he pushed her aside and shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range with a Beretta M 1934 semi-automatic pistol chambered in .380 ACP bearing the serial number 606824. Raghu Nayak, who worked as a gardener at the Birla House, was the first to chase Godse and overpower him.
Trial and justice
All of those involved in the crime were arrested and tried in a trial that attracted considerable media attention. Those convicted were either executed or served their complete sentences.
Nathuram Godse and his fellow conspirators Digambar Badge, Gopal Godse, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare and Madanlal Pahwa were identified as prominent members of the Hindu Mahasabha. Along with them, police arrested Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who was suspected of being the mastermind behind the plot. While the trial resulted in convictions and judgments against the others, Savarkar was released on a technicality, even though there was evidence that the plotters met Savarkar only days before carrying out the murder and had received the blessings of Savarkar. The Kapur Commission in 1967 established that Savarkar was in close contact with the plotters for many months.
Trials and convictions
The accused were put on trial at Peterhoff, Shimla which housed the Punjab High Court. Savarkar was acquitted and set free due to lack of evidence. The trial ran for eight months before Justice Atma Charan passed his final order on 10 February 1949. Eight men were convicted for the murder conspiracy, and others convicted for violation of the Explosive Substances Act. Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were sentenced to death by hanging and the remaining six (including Godse's brother, Gopal) were sentenced to life imprisonment although Dattatraya Parchure, who had been found guilty in the original trial was later acquitted on appeal.
Violent incidents took place in Pune, the hometown of Nathuram Godse. Violent incidents occurred in other parts of India as well. After being assassinated, Gandhi had a funeral prepared by all his mourners and he was cremated in a funeral pyre.
In 1934, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was in Pune along with his wife, Kasturba Gandhi, to deliver a speech at Corporation Auditorium. They were travelling in a motorcade of two cars. The car in which the couple was travelling was delayed and the first car reached the auditorium. Just when the first car arrived at the auditorium, a bomb was thrown, which exploded near the car. This caused grievous injury to the Chief Officer of the Pune Municipal Corporation, two policemen and seven others. Nevertheless, no account or records of the investigation nor arrests made can be found. Gandhi's secretary, Pyarelal Nayyar, believed that the attempt failed due to lack of planning and co-ordination.
The second attempt on the life of Mohandas Gandhi may not have been an attempt to assassinate as much as a demonstration of anger by a young man who tried to bow down to Gandhi and was rejected. In May 1944, Gandhi was sent from Aga Khan Palace prison and soon after he contracted malaria. On the advice of doctors, he took a vacation to Panchgani, a hill station near Poona. During his stay at Panchgani, Gandhi was staying at Dilkush Bungalow. A group of 15–21 young men came to Panchgani after realising that Gandhi was staying there. This young crowd was led by Nathuram Godse.
However, by evening, during the prayer meeting, Nathuram Godse rushed towards Gandhi with a dagger shouting anti-Gandhi slogans. He was unable to reach Gandhi as he was overpowered by Mani Shankar Purohit (proprietor of Surti Lodge, Poona) and D. Bhilare Guruji of Satara (who later became a Congress legislator from Mahabaleshwar). The documentary evidence of this attack can be found in the depositions made by Mani Shankar Purohit and D. Bhilare Guruji before the Kapur Commission set up to investigate the assassination of Gandhi. However, the Kapur Commission rejected this theory as many of the close associates of Gandhi were not present during that time.
The third attempt was also a demonstration. However, people who testified before the Kanpur Commission referred to it as an attempt at violence. Mohandas Gandhi began his talks with Mohammad Ali Jinnah on 9 September 1944 which lasted for 14 days. While leaving for Mumbai from Sevagram Ashram, a group of Hindu activists stopped him. They did not want him to go to Mumbai to hold talks with Jinnah, however, these protesters were stopped by volunteers of the ashram. The leader of this group, Nathuram Godse, was again found in possession of a dagger. The policeman who found the dagger then looked up to him and joked, "Why do you want to kill Gandhi? Let's leave it to the leaders themselves... perhaps (Veer) Savarkar will finish off the job!" At which Godse retorted, "Gandhi does not require such an honor. Even the jamadar (sweeper) is enough for that." This incident has also been portrayed in the film Gandhi by Lord Richard Attenborough. However, it is not portrayed as an attempt to murder but as a peaceful demonstration in which the demonstrators were waving black flags.
On 20 January 1948, Madanlal Pahwa, Shankar Kistaiya, Digambar Badge, Vishnu Karkare, Gopal Godse, Nathuram Godse, and Narayan Apte came to Birla Bhavan (aka Birla House) in Delhi to carry out another attack on Mahatma Gandhi and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. Except for Madanlal Pahwa and Vishnu Karkare, everyone else reached the venue through the rear entrance in a cab. Madanlal Pahwa tried to bribe Choturam, the driver at Birla Bhavan, to let him go behind the podium to take pictures of Gandhi. However, Choturam became suspicious and asked Madanlal Pahwa why he needed photographs from behind, and inquired about the absence of a camera. Madanlal Pahwa instead left, making Choturam think he was going back to the taxi; however, he placed a cotton ball enclosing a bomb on the wall behind the podium and ignited it. The bomb went off without creating any panic. The team had left after abandoning Madanlal Pahwa.
On interrogation, Madanlal Pahwa admitted that he was part of a seven-member gang who wanted to kill Gandhi. The plan was that Madanlal Pahwa would explode a bomb as close to the podium as possible while Digambar Bagde or Shankar Kishtaiyya would shoot Gandhi in the head during the ensuing panic and stampede, using the chaotic situation to cover their escape. (Vishnu Karkare was to compound the chaos by hurling hand grenades.) Faced with Choturam's suspicious attitude, Digambar Badge decided at the last minute not to act, and instructed Shankar Kishtaiyya (his servant) to also stand down.
Later, Madanlal Pahwa led the police to the Marina Hotel where Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte had been staying and also to Sharief Hotel where all other gang members had been staying. Everyone had left by that time and the police were only able to recover some letters and clothes which had the initials "NVG" on it. By this time they were able to ascertain that the members of that team were from Maharashtra; however they were not able to establish the identity and the involvement of Nathuram Godse.
During the Gandhi murder trial, Madanlal Pahwa was identified by Mrs. Sulochana Devi, who had come to Birla Bhavan in search of her three-year-old son (who used to play in the servant quarters). She was the fifteenth witness in the trial, and Surjeet Singh, the driver, was the fourteenth witness.
On 12 November 1964, a religious programme was organised in Pune, to celebrate the release of the Gopal Godse, Madanlal Pahwa, Vishnu Karkare from jail after the expiry of their sentences. Dr. G. V. Ketkar, grandson of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, former editor of Kesari and then editor of Tarun Bharat, who presided over the function, revealed six months before the actual event, that Nathuram Godse disclosed his ideas to kill Gandhi and was opposed by Ketkar. Ketkar said that he passed the information to Balukaka Kanitkar who conveyed it to the then Chief Minister of Bombay State, B. G. Kher. The Indian Express in its issue of 14 November 1964, commented adversely on Ketkar's conduct that Ketkar's fore-knowledge of the assassination of Gandhi added to the mystery of the circumstances preceding to the assassination. Ketkar was arrested. A public furore ensued both outside and inside the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly and both houses of the Indian parliament. There was a suggestion that there had been a deliberate dereliction of duty on the part of people in high authority, who failed to act responsibly even though they had information that could have prevented Gandhi's shooting. Under pressure of 29 members of parliament and public opinion the then Union home minister Gulzarilal Nanda, appointed Gopal Swarup Pathaka, M. P. and a senior advocate of the Supreme Court of India, in charge of inquiry of conspiracy to murder Gandhi. Since both Kanitkar and Kher were deceased, the central government intended on conducting a thorough inquiry with the help of old records in consultation with the government of Maharashtra, Pathak was given three months to conduct his inquiry. But as Pathak was appointed a central minister and then governor of Mysore state, the commission of inquiry was reconstituted and Jevanlal Kapur a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India was appointed to conduct the inquiry.
Reappraisal of Savarkar's role
Kapur commission also examined Savarkar's role in the assassination. Godse had claimed full responsibility for planning and carrying out the attack, in absence of an independent corroboration of the prosecution witness Digambar Badge's evidence implicating Savarkar directly, the court exonerated him citing insufficient evidence. According to Badge, on 17 January 1948, Nathuram Godse went to have a last darshan of Savarkar in Bombay before the assassination. While Badge and Shankar waited outside, Nathuram and Apte went in. On coming out Apte told Badge that Savarkar blessed them "Yashasvi houn ya" ("यशस्वी होऊन या" return victorious). Apte also said that Savarkar predicted that Gandhiji's 100 years were over and there was no doubt that the task would be successfully finished. However Badge’s testimony was not accepted as it lacked independent corroboration. This was later corroborated by the testimony of two of Savarkar's close aides – Appa Ramachandra Kasar, his bodyguard, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary, who had not testified in the original trial but later testified before the Justice Kapur commission set up in 1965. Kasar told the Kapur Commission that they visited him on or about 23 or 24 January, which was when they returned from Delhi after the bomb incident. Damle deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar in the middle of January and sat with him (Savarkar) in his garden. Justice Kapur concluded: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group."
Is it true that on the day of the bomb blast during the search of the room at Marina Hotel clothes were found bearing the initials N.V.G. – Nathuram Vinayak Godse -? On the basis of which the police went to Bombay and requested the Bombay police to look for this person, the Bombay police assured the Delhi police to do the needful and asked them to return, but did nothing. Is it true that the Bombay Police failed in tracing Nathuram Vinayak Godse?— Balkrishna Sharma, during the debate on murder of Mahatma Gandhi in the Constituent Assembly of India.
To comment on matters under investigation is both difficult and unwarranted. I can only say that after the arrest and interrogation of the bomber, an officer of Delhi police went to Bombay and briefed the C.I.D. in Bombay. After the briefing, it was decided that some people should be arrested but to arrest them immediately would lead to the other conspirators going underground. So the Delhi police and Bombay C.I.D. decided to defer the arrests for some time to enable them to uncover the conspiracy and all who were involved in it. It is true that the police were on a look out for them but all of them were not in Bombay— Sardar Patel, during the debate on murder of Mahatma Gandhi in the Constituent Assembly of India.
If I am to die by the bullet of a mad man, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips.— 'Mohandas K. Gandhi, 28 January 1948, two days prior to his assassination.
Several books, plays and movies have been produced about the event.
- May It Please Your Honor is a book by Nathuram Godse.
- Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy is a controversial Marathi play about the event. It was briefly banned by the Shiv Sena+BJP ruled State of Maharashtra in 1999 upon directions from the BJP led Central Government.
- Gandhi vs. Gandhi is Marathi play that has been translated in several languages. Its primary plot is the relationship between Gandhi and his estranged son but it also deals briefly with the assassination.
- Why I Killed Gandhi is a publication that contains the original transcript of Nathuram Godse's defence in the trial.
- Nine Hours to Rama is a 1963 British movie based on Stanley Wolpert's novel of the same name, which is a fictional account of the final nine hours leading up to Gandhi's assassination.
- Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth by James Douglass is a non-fiction book that seeks to understand not only the facts of the murder but its importance in the larger struggle between non-violence and violence.
- Hey Ram (2000) - a Tamil-Hindi Bilingual Film by Kamal Haasan about a fictitious plot to kill Gandhi by a man devastated by partition riots and his change of heart even as the real-life plot succeeds.
- In the 1982 film Gandhi, the actor Harsh Nayyar portrayed Godse who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi (played by Ben Kingsley) in the beginning and the end.
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