The Murder of the Mahatma
By : G. D. Khosla
(Formerly Chief Justice of Punjab, who heard the appeal of Nathuram Godse
& others and gave his most historic verdict in the case of assassination)
First Published: 1965
Originally Published by:
Jaico Publishing House,
125 Mahatma Gandhi Road,
Mumbai 400 001
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This is a book of memoirs by a very distinguished Indian judge who in 1959 was
promoted to the office of Chief Justice of the Punjab. It is largely taken up
with criminal cases-of arson, dacoity, poisoning, vendetta, and so on-in which
the author was personally concerned as a judge. Fascinating in themselves,
these accounts are made the more interesting by the author's hamorous and
penetrating comments upon various features of Indian crime-the brilliant gift
for perjury which some of his countrymen display, the long-term village, feuds
that every now and then explode into violence, the subtlety with which alibis
are faked and false identities assumed. The book ends with an authoritative
and moving account of the murder of Gandhi, at whose assassin's long drawn
appeal against conviction and sentence of death the author sat or the Bench.
Gopal Khosla's book will prove of great interest, both to expert in criminology
and the law and to every layman who loves reading about the vagaries of
human nature and the customs of other lands.
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By The Rt. Hon. The Lord Evershed, P.C.
I am proud indeed to have been invited to contribute a foreword to this volume
written from the record of his judicial experience by a distinguished Indian
judge, until recently Chief Justice of the Punjab. I can feel no doubt that the
book will very greatly appeal to English readers who will agree with me in
admiring not only the style and language in which it is written but also the skill
with which the author has selected the subjects of his ten chapters. These
subjects are delightfully varied in their nature and circumstance but are
equally of arresting interest, so that (if I may judge From my own experience)
the reader will in each case await the final denouement with no less
excitement than that experienced in reading the best type of detective story.
My pleasure in contributing this foreword is enhanced by the fact that I share
with the author membership of Lincoln's Inn. which I Shall be excused for
regarding not only as the senior but as the most respectable of those great
English institutions the inns of Court.
Having taken a degree at Cambridge University in mathematics and after his
call to the English Bar the author returned to India and for many years served
as Magistrate, Civil judge and District and Session judge in various places. In
1944 he was appointed a justice of the High court of Punjab, being promoted to
the office of Chief Justice in 1959.
It is from the last of ten chapters of the book that its title is taken; and to the
English readers that chapter must be of particular interest because of its close
connection with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. In the course, of the
chapter the author tells of his experience when he called upon the Mahatma
and sought his advice in regard to certain of the grave problems which afflicted
India as the result of the severance of Pakistan therefrom. On that occasion the
author states his conclusion that Mr. Gandhi had one passion, one source of
strength within him, and that was a deep an pervading feeling of love. He
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Loved Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs and Christians alike' There is here indeed and
obvious nearness to the second great Christian commandment, " Thou shalt love
thy neighbour as thyself': and I cannot doubt that the good relations which have
happily subsisted between this country and India since Indian independence
owe much to this aspect of Mahatma Gandhi's teaching and influence.
I do not doubt that the reader will be no less fascinated by the author's
treatment in the first of his chapters of the question that many people must
often wish to ask of a responsible judge:" What are your feelings when you are
called upon in the exercise of your duty to pronounce sentence of death? " Of
the remaining chapters I daresay that many readers will share with me the
fascination of the astonishing story told in Chapter Six and called the Imperfect
The book brings out also some of the special problems which have been
presented to those responsible for the administration of justice in India and
which deserve careful thought by Englishmen. To one problem I Have already
referred-that which arose from the separation of Pakistan and India and the
terribly distressing circumstance which that separation brought about.
Particularly in the Punjab. The distribution of the population in that part of
India in villages often dominated by families or sections, acutely jealous rivals
of each other, is shown very greatly to have added to the difficulties of the
hard worked police when called upon to investigate crimes and in the course of
such duties, to collect independent and reliable evidence-difficulties which the
author shows have not unnaturally, if regrettably, sometimes tempted, the
police when satisfied that they have found the guilty party to improve upon
what might appear to be the colourless and unconvincing case of the
prosecution. In these respects we in this country may indeed be regarded as
fortunate as we are also fortunate in regard to the great skill and thoroughness
of the medical evidence rendered available to English courts.
The reader may also be struck, as I was, by the frequent recurrence of the
same names though attached of course to wholly different persons. Thus the
name Mohinder Singh occurs in three of the chapters and that of Hakim Khan as
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belonging both to an accessory to a murder and also to one of the victims. They
may perhaps be likened to our own Nation's wealth of Smiths.
In his last chapter Mr. Khosla raises a controversial question with which I was
personally concerned following the visit to this country in 1961 of the
representatives of the American Institute of Judicial Administration to
investigate, with representatives of the English, Legal profession, the problem
of appellate work - namely, the question whether and to what extent a judge
should read the papers and acquaint himself with the facts of a particular case
before it comes before him for hearing, There is no doubt and understandably
in this country and particularly among members of the Bar a feeling that a
judge who has so acquainted himself with the facts of a case is liable to come
into court with his mind substantially prejudiced on one side or the other-as
undoubtedly was the fact in the case described by the author in the last
chapter of this book. This is plainly not the occasion for me to enter the lists
upon such a matter. I do however, venture to make the point that the
opposition to any reading by a judge of the papers in a case before he tries it
may be overstated. If the argument in its extreme from were well founded it
would surely mean that in any appeal the appellant would inevitably win a
judge who knows his job should. I claim, be able to acquaint himself
sufficiently with such matters as the pleadings in the case, the terms of any
judgment under appeal, and the like, in order to save an appreciable amount of
the time taken in Court and therefore an appreciable amount of the costs
incurred which one or other of the parties under our system will eventually
have to pay; and should be able so to do without risk of any closing of his mind
to the arguments which will be presented to him.
But, above and beyond any of the matters to which I have alluded, one
consideration emerges uppermost from a reading of this book which is of the
greatest importance, and which should bring a sense of pride, to all English
readers, namely, the fact that in this great country of India our English system
of law and our English way of administering justice are maintained and revered
as being the best adapted for realising the essential requirements of a free
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people, I had recently the privilege of being invited to sit in Delhi with the
Justices of the Supreme Court of India, and I was indeed greatly moved by the
evident belief which the Indian people have in our English law. I venture indeed
to think that it is one of the strongest links that binds India to our
Commonwealth and, for the future peace and happiness of mankind, may it
long continue! We must therefore be highly grateful to the author of this book
for the striking Illustration it affords of this great truth, I commend in
accordingly with warm good wishes to English readers.
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TOWARDS the end of 1947 I was appointed by the Government of India to deal
with a matter which seemed simple enough to start with, but which, upon
closer examination, revealed a complex and difficult pattern. This assignment
provided me with the only opportunity I have ever had of meeting Mahatma
Gandhi, and conversing with him for a considerable length of time
The formation of Pakistan and the consequent partition of India led to a largescale exchange of population, millions of Hindus and Sikhs were compelled to
leave their homes in what had. Overnight, become a foreign country for them.
They rushed across the border in quite. Unmanageable numbers, using all
available means of transport, and poured into the towns and villages of India in
big unruly masses. They wanted houses to live in. The Muslims of India for their
part were equally panic- stricken and were leaving for Pakistan. The houses
vacated by them were quickly invaded and expropriated by the homeless
immigrants. So great was the rush of refugees and so fierce the wrath which
impelled them that it was well high impossible to enforce any kind of scheme
or order into the chaos which prevailed Rich and commodious evacuee houses
were frequently occupied by ruffianly hooligans who, sometimes, were not
even refugees and had taken advantage of the confusion to improve their status
by grabbing whatever they could lay their hands on, while law-abiding,
individuals belonging to a much higher stratum of society remained homeless.
There were not wanting instances of angry refugees driving Muslims out of their
houses, before they had made up their minds to emigrate, for many of them
hoped to continue, their lives in their old-established homes after the
disturbances, which they hoped would be short-lived had subsided. This was
something the Government of India could not countenance. Mr. Nehru had
declared in unequivocal terms that India was going to be a secular State, and
any Muslims who chose to remain in the country, would be given full protection
and citizenship rights.
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In Delhi, where there were large numbers of Muslim residents, the situation was
at its most difficult. The capital was subjected to a much greater influx of
refugees than any other town. It seemed at one stage that everyone from west
Punjab-doctor, engineer, lawyer, moneylender, industrialist, business man,
shopkeeper, hawker, atrisan and manual labourer-had been impelled by an
irresistible urge to come and live in Delhi, The old cry of Dilli Chalo (let us go
to Delhi) which had been no more than a slogan to rally the forces of
patriotism, had, at last, been answered. But there just weren’t enough houses
to go round.
The Government of India appointed a senior member of the Indian Civil Service
the Custodian of Evacuee Property, It was his duty to protect Muslim property
and 'administer' it according to law. But this was easier said than done. A
Problem of such magnitude and complexity needed a large measure of
initiative, resourcefulness, patience, tact and administrative ability above all it
demanded a knowledge and understanding of the Punjabis, The Custodian
selected by the Government of India was a south Indian, and very soon there
were loud compalints of incompetence, favouritism, nepotism and corruption.
The matter was raised in Parliament, and an immediate sifting enquiry by a
High Court Judge was ordered. The Judge had to be a Punjabi, conversant with
the people of the Punjab and their problems, the choice fell upon me.
In Delhi I called on the secretary to the Ministry of Relief and Rehabilitation,
and asked for the terms of reference of the enquiry entrusted to me, I was told
that the terms were very wide-as wide as I wished. I was to report on the work
of the Custodian and 'clean up the mess'. This was a tall order, and I was
doubtful about the legality of at any rate the wisdom of embarking on such a
vague and limitless venture without something in the form of an order of
Government notification, I went to see the Minister. He assured me that the
secretary had acted under his orders and that there was no need to limit the
scope of my assignment. I would have an entirely free hand and the
government had complete confidence in me, etc., etc.
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Just as I was taking leave of him. He dropped a bombshell: ' The Custodian is
proceeding on leave and it may be some time before his successor is appointed.
So you will be in complete charge of the department. This was staggering. I had
come to hold an enquiry and now I was being asked to run the entire show. But
it was hardly the time to demur or argue about the matter. It would have been
churlish not to shoulder the responsibility, even thought it was being thrust
upon me so unceremoniously.
The next few weeks were like a crazy nightmare. I was so irretrievably
overpowered by the immensity of my task and the multifarious problems
surrounding me on all sides, that I had scarcely any time to look into the
alleged malpractices of the earring Custodian. Thousands of Muslim families,
seeing the temper of the refugees and anticipating trouble, left their houses to
go to the camps set up as temporary shelters, at safe distance from the town.
In most cases a single (usually the oldest) member of the family stayed on as
evidence of continued possession or of animus revertendi. It was difficult to
know which of them would ultimately decide to return home, ad which would
Prefer to go to Pakistan like so many others who had already joined the exodus.
When I Visited the Muslim quarters to see thing at first hand, and check the
inventory of houses prepared by sub-ordinate officials I was besieged by
homeless refugees clamouring to be let into the empty houses abandoned by
Muslim occupants. Was it fair, they asked me to deny them i shelter after they
had been handed out of their homes. How long would they remain lying in the
streets when houses were available? Couldn't I see that they were rapidly falling
victim to exposure and the cold winter nights of north India? Didn't I know full
well that the Muslims would not come back? For years they had been shouting
and agitating for Pakistan, and now their demands had been conceded. If they
didn't want to go to the homeland of their choice, they should be sent there by
force. Had I no feeling. No sympathy, no understating, no sense of justice
where my own people were concerned? They expected better treatment from a
Punjabi. And much more in the same strain.
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In my office I received hundreds of visitors each day. I knew many of them
personally. Among them were my own relatives, friends and acquaintances.
There were others whose names were familiar. Physicians, surgeons, lawyers,
engineers, an X-Ray specialist a well-known caterer of Lahore, a fashionable
tailor, dozens of a retired Government officials came seeking my assistance. All
they wanted was a house - a portion to house, a room, an empty garage or a
shed to live in and to work in. It was not easy to maintain a cool and
dispassionate attitude when faced by these demands, and to remain just and
impartial. I began to entertain doubts about what was just in the
circumstances. Should I let the homeless people occupy the empty houses?
Should I allow the Muslims to be chased out of India as Hindus and Sikhs had
been chased out of Pakistan? I didn't know what answer to make to the people
who importuned me daily, asking for what, they said, was theirs by right.
In my perplexity, I sought Mahatma Gandhi's advice. He was in those days living
in Mr. Birla's house on Albuquerque Road, and held prayer meetings every
evening. I telephoned his secretary, and though he was very busy and had a
crowded programme of visits, interviews and discussions with political leaders,
he agreed to receive me at 11 o'clock the following morning.
But then, suddenly, I was overcome by a strange apprehension, which only they
can appreciate who knew the position held by Mahatma Gandhi in India and the
influence he exercised in every sphere of activity, political, social and
economic. It was reported that there was, about him, an aura of saintliness and
a magical power which hypnotised his interlocutors and reduced them to tame,
supine creatures ready to efface themselves, to agree to whatever he said and
carry out his directions. Lord Irwin was supposed to have been affected in this
manner when he gave his assent to the Gandhi-Irwin pact in 1931. His fasts had
converted his strongest opponents, and it was rumoured that die-hard British
politicians and administrators were unwilling to meet him, lest under his
mysterious spell they compromised their principles. Only a few days previously
the world had witnessed a demonstration of his powers. A sum of 550 million
rupees was due to Pakistan, but the Government of India was reluctant to pay
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it as it was feared that the money would be used by the Government of
Pakistan to purchase arms for use against India in Kashmir where a state of
hostilities prevailed. Sardar Patel, the Home Minister, made a statement to this
effect on January 12, 1948. It was well known that Mahatma Gandhi was
strongly opposed to any decision which might savour of breach of faith on our
part. On the day Sardar Patel his statement, the All India Radio
announced that Mahatma Gandhi had undertaken a fast with the object of
improving Hindu-Muslim relations in the capital. Three days later, the
Government of India announced that immediate effect would be given to the
financial pact arrived at between India and Pakistan, and that orders had been
issued to the Reserve Bank of India to pay the entire amount due to Pakistan.
On the same day Mahatma Gandhi broke his fast. The nationalist newspapers
highlighted these two items of news with bold headlines announcing that the
Government of India had at last surrendered ' to Pakistan due to pressure from
Gandhiji' The leaders of Pakistan were 'overcome with excessive joy', and
though nothing was openly said against Mahatma Gandhi there was an undercurrent of sorrow and resentment at what had happened.
As I turned over these events in my mind, I wondered if I should be able to
place my problem before the Mahatma and explain it various aspects. Sixteen
months later these events were again narrated before me in the quiet but
solemn atmosphere of our court-room in Simla, and we were told of the impact
they had made on certain individuals and of the horrible crime committed by
them. But, sitting in my small office room that day towards the end of January
1948, my only thoughts were of the embarrassing situation in which I had
placed myself. However, the appointment had been made and there was no
question of going back upon it. Also, there was within me a genuine desire, a
pardonable curiosity to meet the great man who had done more to achieve
political freedom for India than the rest of the country put together.
So, the next morning I drove to Birla House, well before the appointed time.
While waiting in the ante-room, I asked the official present if I should speak to
the Mahatma in English or in Hindi. 'Hindi, of course,' was the immediate and
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categorical reply. I felt more at home in English, but I accepted the inevitable,
and began formulating sentences which would adequately express my meaning.
After a moment or two I abandoned the attempt, telling myself that I should
manage somehow. I had heard Gandhiji did not like being addressed as
'Mahatma". I asked the official what was the correct form of address. 'Call him
Bapuji,' he said. There was a touch of scorn in his tone at such crass ignorance
on the part of a High Court Judge.
I removed my shoes and tried to compose myself. Exactly at 11 I was called. I
hurried into the room where Gandhiji was sitting on the carpeted floor. He
wore only a handspun loin-cloth, and from the waist upwards his body was
bare. He was thin, but my no means emaciated. Indeed, his skin had a fresh,
healthy lustre, and his well-massaged muscles rested firmly on his limbs, giving
his body an appearance of youth and quiet vigour. His face was almost
completely free form wrinkles, except when he laughed. A standard electric
lamp stood behind him, and its light came down in a broad cone lighting up his
bald head and the shapely curves of his small shoulders. As I entered, he put
down the paper on which he had been writing, and greeted me in the usual
manner with folded hands.
I sat down near him and began to tell him of my assignment and the difficulties
I had encountered. It was a long story and Bapu listened without interrupting
me. And while I was speaking, and independent mental process started within
me. I was becoming aware that there was no mysterious power of hypnotic
force to which I was being subjected. I had not entered a strange magnetic
field. No spiritual medium charged with a compelling tension surrounded me.
Bapu was listening to me just as any other man might. The realisation of this
fact lent courage and plausibility to my argument, though, by now, I knew that
I was advocating a false plea based on false premises and an emotional urge. I
concluded by saying: 'The Muslims in the Old Fort camp have no wish to stay in
this country. They told me, when I visited them, that they would like to go to
Pakistan as soon as possible. Our own people are without houses or shelter. It
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breaks my heart to see them suffering like this, exposed to the elements. Tell
me, Bapuji, what should I do?
My carefully delivered appeal sounded hollow in my own ears.
'When I go there,' he replied, 'they do not say that they want to go to Pakistan.
They say to me that if we cannot keep them in their own homes, we should
send them to Afghanistan, to Iran, to Arabia, anywhere except to Pakistan.
They are also our people. You should bring them back and protect them:
He had spoken in a calm matter-of-fact voice. What I heard was not a
command, but a simple statement of truth, uttered in a tone which had in it
more of humility than of authority. But what surprised me most was that he did
not seem to be making a final pronouncement. He had said: 'You should bring
them back and protect them', but he kept the discussion open. I mentioned
other facts, other difficulties. He pointed out the flaws in my argument. He did
not digress into a highfalutin moral discourse, but kept to the practical problem
I had placed before him.
And as he went on talking, understanding came to me that this man had only
one sentiment, one passion, one source of strength within him and that was a
deep and pervading feeling of love. He loved Hindus and Muslims, Sikhs and
Christians alike. He loved the British who had ruled over us for 150 years, he
loved the Pakistanis who had hounded out millions of Hindus from their
ancestral homes. He never once uttered the word 'love', but when he looked at
me there was a softness in his eyes-and the trace of a smile on his mouth. I felt
When I left him after having spent thirty minutes in his company, I new what I
had to do. Bapu was completely, utterly right, just as he had been right in
insisting that we fulfill our promise to pay Pakistan 550 million rupees, even
though the money would almost certainly be spent to procure arms for use
against India.
Four days after this interview I was in Simla. It was a cold and foggy evening
with a touch of frost in the air. My wife and I were walking back from the club.
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We noticed a strange hush in the usually crowded and noisy street which in the
main shopping centre of Simla. People were standing is twos or threes, and
speaking in subdued voices. A phrase caught my ear: '... kill our leaders'. As we
went by, another said: 'absolutely mad', and then 'barbarous'. A sort of
premonition made me stop and ask what had happened.
'Mahatma Gandhi has been murdered. Somebody shot him dead'.
I could not believe that such an insane thing could come to pass. Our informer
knew nothing beyond what he had told us, and we hurried home to switch on
the wireless for more details of the horrible tragedy. There was no doubt at all
about the truth of what we had heard. Mahatma Gandhi had been shot dead
while walking to his prayer meeting, that day at 5 p.m., by Nathuram Godse, a
Brahmin from Poona. The assassin had fired three shots at point-blank range.
Mahatma Gandhi was wounded in the chest and abdomen, and fell down on the
spot saying: 'Hai Ram'. The murderer was immediately apprehended and saved
from a lynching by the crowd. The pistol from which he had fired the shots was
recovered from his possession. Gandhiji was carried to his room in a state of
unconsciousness, and he succumbed to his injuries within a few moments.
The whole country was in turmoil. In millions of homes no food was cooked or
eaten that night, and a heavy cloud of gloom darkened the thoughts and
feelings of the people. While the whole nation mourned Gandhiji's untimely
death, the police took up the investigation of by far the most dastardly crime
they had ever and occasion to handle. As the enquiries proceeded, it transpired
that Nathuram Godse was not the only person concerned in the murder. His act
of shooting Gandhiji was the culmination of a widespread and carefully laid
conspiracy in which several persons were involved. It took the police nearly five
months to complete the investigation and declare the case ripe for trial.
The trial commenced on June 22, 1948, before Mr. Atma Charan, a senior
member of the judicial branch of the Indian Civil Service, who was specially
appointed for the purpose and invested with powers to give him the requisite
jurisdiction. I his was necessary because the judge would have to deal with
offences committed beyond his normal territorial jurisdiction.* The trial was
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held inside the Red Fort. Delhi, but the court was open to the public and the
Press, and the proceedings were extensively reported in all newspapers. The
accused persons had full liberty to have the assistance of counsel of their own
The following eight persons were charged with murder, conspiracy to commit
murder and offences punishable under the Arms Act and the Explosive
Substances Act:
1. Nathuram Godse, 37, Editor, Hindu Rashtra, Poona.
2. His brother, Gopal Godse, 27, Storekeeper, Army Depot, Poona.
3. Narayan Apte, 34, Managing Director, Hindu Rashtra, Prakasham, Ltd.,
4. Vishnu Karkare, 37, Restaurant Proprietor, Ahmed nagar.
5. Madanlal Pahwa, 20, Refugee Camp, Ahmednagar.
6. Shankar Kistayya, 27, Domestic Servant, Poona
7. Dattatraya Parchure, 49, Medical Practitioner, Gwalior
8. Vinayak Savarkar, 65, Barrister-at-Law, Landlord and Property Owner,
Three others, viz. Gangadhar Dandwati, Gangadhar Jadhav and Suryadeo
Sharma, were said to be absconding from justice, and the case against them
was heard in absentia. The prosecution case was opened by C. K. Daphtary,
Advocate-General of Bombay (now Attorney-General of India), and on June 24
the examination of witnesses began. In all 149 witnesses were called and a
large number of documents, letters, newspaper articles and other exhibits were
produced in court. The most important piece of evidence was the statement of
Digambar Badge (pronounced Bahdgay), the approver in the case. He was
alleged to be one of the conspirators and an active participant in the murder
plan. Upon his arrest on January 31, the day after Gandhi's murder, he was
subjected to the usual police interrogation. It was not long before he made a
statement admitting his own guilt and incriminating his accomplices. After a
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time he expressed his willingness to appear before a magistrate and repeat his
statement. He was tendered a conditional pardon and thus he became King's
The examination of the witnesses and the recording of their evidence was
concluded on November 6. The prisoners made long statements when asked to
explain the evidence produced by the prosecution, but they chose not to call
any witnesses, though a number of documents were placed before the court by
way to defence. Arguments of counsel lasted a whole month, and the court
pronounced judgment on February 10, 1949. Out of the men Charged. Savarkar
was acquitted, two, viz. Nathuram Godse and his friend Apte, were sentenced
to death and the remaining five were awarded sentences of imprisonment for
life. The trial judge, at the time of announcing his order, informed the
convicted persons that if they wished to appeal from his order, they should do
so within fifteen days. Four days later appeals were filed in the Punjab High
Court on behalf of all the seven convicted persons. Godse did not challenge his
conviction upon the charge of murder, not did he question the propriety of the
death sentence. His appeal was confined to the finding that there was a
conspiracy. He assumed complete and sole responsibility for the death of
Mahatma Gandhi, and vehemently denied that anyone else had anything to do
with it.
An appeal in a murder case is, according to High Court Rules and Orders, heard
by a Division Bench consisting of two judges, but owing to the unique position
which the deceased had occupied, the complexity and volume of the evidence
which would have to be considered and appraised and the unprecedented
interest aroused by the case, the Chief Justice decided to constitute a bench of
three judges to hear the appeal by Godse and his accomplices. The judges were
Mr. Justice Bhandari, Mr. Justice Achhruram and myself. We decided that as a
special measure we should resume the old practice of wearing wigs, and that
on our entry into the court-room we should, as in the olden days, be preceded
by our liveried ushers carrying silver-mounted staffs.
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The Punjab High Court was, at that time, located at Simla, where it had been
hurriedly set up during the autumn of 1947, because at no other place was
suitable accommodation available. The Government of India had placed at our
Disposal Peterhoff, a large manorial building which was formerly the summer
residence of the Viceroy. It was a picturesque house standing in pleasant surroundings and commanding a view of the distant hills with their snow-covered
peaks. But it was scarcely suitable for a high court. The vice-regal bedrooms,
stripped of their opulent furnishings and silver-plated fittings, gave an
appearance of mock austerity, but even the largest of them was not
commodious enough for a court-room in which, besides the judge and his
reader, half a dozen lawyers and their clerks spent several hours a day; and
often the parties to the case under consideration also came to see how their
lawyers were handling their misfortunes and hopes and how the judge was
reacting to the pleas put forward on their behalf. There must be a table for the
judge, another for his reader and stenographer, a separate table for the
lawyers on which they can place their briefs and the law books they cite. And
when a few book-shelves to hold law reports and other books of reference were
placed along the walls, there was no room left for the public. We had a
constant feeling of being cramped, and there was nothing that we could do to
improve matters. Chandigarh and the massive High Court building into which
we moved in the beginning of 1955 was still no more than an idea. Fortunately
the non-litigant public of Simla was incurious about High Court proceedings,
and we seldom had any visitors. But the hearing of the appeal in the Gandhi
murder case was expected to arouse widespread interest and bring large
numbers of lawyers, pressmen and spectators to court each day, and there was
not a single court-room which could accommodate even the persons actually
engaged in dealing with the appeal.
The ballroom on the ground floor was being used as a passage giving access to
the court-rooms on the first floor. Constructed for vice-regal entertainment
during the summer months when the seat of the Government of India used to
move from Calcutta to Simla, the large hall was cold and draughty. However,
with a few minor alterations and the additions of a dais at one end, it became
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an admirable court-room, and the generous teak wood staircase which came
down to the specially constructed dais displayed a dignity worthy of the robed
and bewigged judges who day after day for a period of six weeks marched down
it, preceded by ushers resplendent in their scarlet and gold liveries and
carrying tall silver-mounted staffs- symbols of the triple embodiment of law.
Such splendour and glory had not been witnessed in the refugee High Court
since it had been forced to abandon its old seat in Lahore. The staffs had been
put away in a store-room because the narrow corridors between the bedrooms
allowed no play for processional ritual, and even the wigs had ceased to be
worn because many of the advocates had left them behind in Lahore in their
stampede to safety; and at Simla they had made a formal request that the
dress regulation be relaxed in this respect. Their re-appearance on the opening
day of the appeal was, therefore, all the more impressive.
The hearing began on May 2, 1949. It was a bright day with the gold of the sun
lying in a thin layer on the lawns of Peterhoff. There was a cold breath in the
air, and the ball-room was warmed by a dozen or so electric fires. Policemen
stood guard at the entrance, and admission to the court-room was regulated by
passes issued by the Registrar. This was done partly for reasons of security, but
chiefly to limit the number of persons who could be accommodated without
taxing the patience of our staff or disturbing the proceedings. When we took
our seats on the dais, I saw that the room was full to capacity. All the blackcoated and gowned lawyers who were not engaged in arguing their cases before
other judges had spread themselves over the privileged front rows in a large
inky splash. Behind them sat the members of the gentry of Simla, who had
succeeded in exercising a sufficient measure of their influence to secure
passes. There were separate seats for pressmen and reporters, and to the right
of the dais a score or so of chairs had been reserved for the V.I.P.'s. These
comprised the wives and daughters of hon'ble judges and high Government
At a long table in front of the dais sat a impressive row of advocates
representing the appellants and the King. There was Mr. Banerjee, a senior
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 19
advocate from Calcutta, for Apte and Madanlal Pahwa, Mr. Dange for Karkare,
Mr. Avasthi of the Punjab High Court, engaged at public expense to represent
Kistayya, who was too poor to pay counsel's fees, and Mr. Inamdar from Bombay
for Parchare and Gopal Godse. Nathuram Godse had declined to be represented
by a lawyer, and had made a prayer that he should be permitted to appear in
person and argue his appeal himself. This prayer had been granted, and so he
stood in a specially constructed dock. His small defiant figure with flashing eyes
and close-cropped hair offered a remarkable and immediately noticeable
contrast to the long row of placid and prosperous-looking lawyers who
represented his accomplices. The plea of poverty on which Godse had based his
request to be present in person was only an excuse, and the real reason behind
the maneuver was a morbid desire to watch the process of his disintegration at
first hand and also 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.
On the right-hand end of the front row sat four lawyers who were appearing for
the prosecution-Mr. Daphtary, Advocate-General of Bombay, Messrs. Patigar
and Vyavakarkar, also from Bombay, and Mr. Kartar Singh Chawla of our own
High Court.
I have made it a rule never to make a deep study of any case before the actual
hearing begins. I usually read ' the judgement appealed against to acquaint
myself of the salient facts and get an overall impression of the matter I have to
deal with. I have always been of the view that too close a pre-study of the
evidence and a mastery of the details involved hinder a fair and impartial
hearing, because, away from the open atmosphere of the court and without the
point of view of the two parties before it, the mind is apt to interpret the
whole case in the light to its personal prepossessions. This builds up an
unconscious resistance against the arguments of counsel, for though judges are
perpetually advertising the remarkable fluidity of truly judicial minds and their
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 20
capacity for remaining open till the last word in a cause has been uttered,
eminent judges are notoriously obstinate and difficult to dislodge from their
beliefs and convictions. I have known judges who come to court even more fully
prepared than the lawyers engaged by the parties. I have a suspicion that they
do this partly from a sense of their high duty, but also because of their desire
to make an exhibition of their industry and erudition. No matter how learned
and experienced the judge, if he has made a deep study of a case he will
inevitably have formed an opinion regarding its merits before he comes to
court. So, he will start with a bias and it will be difficult to displace him from
his position, for his subconscious mind will refuse to admit that something
important escaped his close study of the case or that a certain piece or
evidence was erroneously interpreted. A truly liquid mind is a very rare
commodity among high judicial dignitaries.
My friend and colleague Mr. Justice Achhruram has always been a very
industrious lawyer. He commanded an extensive and lucrative practice at the
bar before he was raised to the bench, and he brought with him his inimitable
capacity for hard work and his deep knowledge of civil law. Criminal law and
procedure had remained comparative strangers to him, though he had often sat
on a bench dealing with criminal matters. For weeks before the appeal of
Godse and his accomplices came up for hearing, he had been studying the bulky
volumes in which the entire evidence, oral and documentary, was contained.
There were -in all 1,131 printed pages of foolscap size and a supplementary
volume of 115 pages of cyclostyled foolscap paper. He had taken pains to look
up a number of reported cases dealing with some legal aspects of the trial, and
had made a note of these rulings. So, when he came to court on the morning of
May 2, he showed a complete understanding of the facts of the case as well as
of the points of law raised in the memoranda of appeals.
I have always had the profoundest respect for my quondam colleague, both as a
lawyer and as a judge, and I shall continue to respect his learning, but his habit
of industry had a most unfortunate consequence on the first day of the Godse
appeal. The case was opened by Mr. Banerjee, who started by putting forward
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 21
an argument that a charge of conspiracy could not survive the consummation of
the purpose of the conspiracy, and the conspirators could not be tried on
multiple charges of conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi and also of actually
murdering him. They should have been tried for murder and abetment to
murder. Mr. Banerjee's argument was that owing to this serious irregularity the
trial of all the appellants was vitiated. It was, as lawyers say, a nice point, and
much could be said for and against it; but no sooner and Mr. Banerjee uttered a
few sentences than Mr. Justice Achhruram cut him short by drawing his
attention to a number of reported rulings from the various High Courts of India.
Mr. Banerjee tried, in vain, to expound the law on the subject according to his
own understanding of it. The merest reference to a decision which supported
his argument was repulsed by a volley of rulings to the contrary. My friend Mr.
Justice Bhandari, as the senior-most judge of the bench, felt that he should be
the one to guide and control the proceedings, which during the course of the
day resolved themselves into an animated duologue *with Mr. Banerjee being
allowed to utter only a few brief and minor speeches. Bhandari J. was greatly
concerned about the unusual trend which the hearing had taken, and thought
that the bench was making a far from dignified exhibition of its judicial
attitude in a case which was drawing very widespread attention. He feared we
might convey the impression that we had already made up our minds about the
whole case and had no wish to examine, the merits of any argument advanced
on behalf of the convicted persons.
After the day's proceedings were over he came to my chamber and confided to
me his irritation over the day's proceedings and his misgiving about the future
conduct of the case. He asked me how he should deal with the situation. I
agreed with him that the day had been a very unusual one, and, if the faces of
the large audience were any indication, we seemed to have provided a great
deal of entertainment for the gallery.
'But he won't let the case proceed. Gopal, we can't go on like this. The lawyer
should be allowed to argue his case.'
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 22
'H'm, yes. But, you know, some judges like to talk. They just can't help chipping
in when counsel is arguing. It happens even in England.'
'Don't you think I should speak to him? You see, we have spent five hours over
the case and we haven't advanced a single step forward.'
'Well, you might mention it to him. He won't like it.'
Mr. Justice Achhruram didn't like it. In fact, he greatly resented it, and for the
next few days relations between two of the members of the bench were far
from cordial. They hardly spoke to one another, and each greeted the other
with a scowl. Fortunately this quarrel was short lived, and was soon forgotten
in the complexities of the case and the intricate pattern of the evidence each
detail of which had to be scrutinised and appraised.
I shall not dwell upon the legal issues raised before us, as they contained little
of any interest to the general reader, and even to the lawyer they offered only
a few familiar aspects of procedural rules and were scarcely germane to the
merits of the case. Before, however, narrating the story of the manner in which
the conspiracy was hatched and its purpose achieved, let me briefly introduce
the individuals upon whose destinies we were called upon to make a
Nathuram and Gopal Godse were the sons of a village postmaster. They were a
family of six, four brothers and two sisters. Nathuram, the second child, was
not an industrious student, and he left school before matriculating. He started
a small business in cloth, but when this did not prove profitable he joined a
tailoring concern. At 22 he joined the Rashtrya Swayam Sewak Sangh - an
organisation of which the avowed aim was to protect Hindu culture and
solidarity. A few years later he shifted to Poona, and became Secretary of the
local branch of the Hindu Mahasabha.* He took part in the civil disobedience
movement in Hyderabad, where Hindus were complaining of being deprived of
their rights by the Muslim government of the Nizam. Nathuram was arrested
and sentenced to a term of imprisonment. He had, by now, become deeply
involved in Hindu politics and had read widely in History and Sociology. He
decided to remain free from the bonds and impediments which matrimony
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 23
brings with it, and to devote all his energies to the aim he had set before him.
At Poona he met Apte, who was then employed as a school teacher, and started
a newspaper Agarni. The name was later changed to Hindu Rashtra. Godse was
strongly opposed to what he called Mahatma Gandhi's policy of appeasing the
Muslims, and adversely criticised any move to concede Jinnah's demands. He
was resentful of Mahatma Gandhi's visits to Jinnah, of his friendship with
Surawarthi, a Muslim leader from Bengal. The Government warned him when
his writings became inflammatory and dangerous to public peace. This did not
suffice; his security deposit under the Press Security Act was forfeited. He was
asked to make a fresh deposit, and the money was hurriedly collected from the
sympathisers of the Hindu Mahasabha cause. The bomb incident of January 20,
1948, was reported in Hindu Rashtra with more than touch of gloating
satisfaction in the headline: REPRESENTATIVE ACTION SHOWN BY ENRAGED
Godse had made a study of Bhagwadgita and knew most of its verses by heart.
He liked to quote them to justify acts of violence in pursuing a righteous aim.
He had a fiery temperament which he usually endeavoured to conceal under a
calm and composed exterior.
His younger brother, Gopal, was not quite so passionate in his espousal of the
Hindu cause. After passing his matriculation examination he, too, joined the
tailoring concern in which Nathuram worked. He married and had two
daughters. After working for some time for the Hindu Mahasabha, he joined the
Army as a member of the civilian personnel, and was appointed a store-keeper
of the Motor Transport Spares Sub-Depot at Kirkee, a military station near
Poona. During the war he went to Iraq and Iran and came back with a fuller
understanding of the rights of men and the importance of freedom. He was
greatly influenced by Savarkar's speeches against the proposal to divide India,
and became converted to the creed of violence. His brother, Nathuram,
counselled discretion and said to him: 'You are a married man with
responsibilities and commitments. Think twice before embarking on this
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 24
dangerous course.' Gopal hesitated, thought over the matter, but in the end
decided to throw in his lot with Nathuram.
Narayan Dattatrya Apte came of a middle-class Brahmin family. After taking his
B.Sc. degree he became a school teacher at Ahmednagar. There he started a
rifle club and joined the Hindu Rashtra Dal.* During this time he met Nathuram
Godse and became friendly with him. In 1943 he joined the Indian Air Force and
was awarded a King's Commission. Four months later he resigned because his
younger brother's death necessitated his return home to look after the affairs
of the family. The following year he joined Godse to help him with his news
paper on the management side. His close association with Godse converted him
to the belief that nothing substantial could be achieved in the political field by
peaceful means. To the last he displayed a more steadfast and courageous
attitude than Godse, though he did not possess Godse's religious fervour nor his
ebullient enthusiasm.
Vishnu Hamkrishnan Karkare had a chequered childhood and adolescence. His
parents, unable to support him and bring him up. took him to an orphanage
and, leaving him there, abandoned him. He ran away and earned his livelihood
by taking up odd jobs in hotels and restaurants. He joined a troupe of travelling
actors, and finally started a restaurant of his own in Ahmednagar. He became
an active member of the Hindu Mahasabha, and was elected secretary of the
district branch. It was thus that he came to know Apte, and the two became
close associates. With Apte's help, Karkare successfully contested the election
to the Ahmednagar Municipal Committee. In 1946 he went to Noakhali with a
relief party to render assistance to the victims of Muslim mob violence. He
stayed there for three months and witnessed the kidnapping and raping of
Hindu women. He came back greatly embittered and expressed his indignation
when Mahatma Gandhi said that he had not seen a single instance of kidnapping
or rape. The payment of Rs. 10,000/- to Ghulam Sarwar, a Muslim M.L.A. of
Bengal, amounted, he said, to awarding a vicious criminal because Ghulam
Sarwar had been responsible for many acts of violence against the Hindus.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 25
Madanlal Pahwa, a Punjabi Hindu from Pakpattan (now in Pakistan), had the
makings of a firebrand. He ran away from school to join the Royal Indian Navy.
When he failed to pass his examination he went to Poona and joined the Army.
After a brief period of training he asked for, and was given, a release order. He
went home to Pakistan, and when large-scale rioting started in 1947, he was
evacuated to Ferozepore. He saw his father and aunt being massacred by a
Muslim mob before he left Pakistan. He tried in vain to secure employment,
and his continued failures added to his sense of resentment. In December 1947
he met Apte and Godse, and began organising demonstrations by groups of
refugees against the Government and its apparent lack of sympathy for the
Hindu victims of the partition.
Shankar Kistayya was the son of a village carpenter. He had no schooling of any
kind and remained illiterate. After an unsteady period of temporary jobs, he
went to Poona and obtained employment at a shop. There he met Badge, who
dealt in daggers, knives and (surreptitiously) in firearms and ammunition.
Badge offered to take him as his domestic servant, and Kistayya agreed to serve
him at a salary of Rs. 30/- per month. Kistayya proved a willing and energetic
worker, and besides doing Badge's house-work he washed his clothes, looked
after his shop and acted as his rickshaw coolie. But when his wages fell into
arrears he decamped with a sum of money which he had collected from an old
woman on his master's behalf. After the money was spent he went back to
Badge and Badge re-employed him. Thereafter he 'went steady' and became
Badge's trusted agent for carrying contraband arms and weapons to his
customers. There was at that time quite a flourishing trade in illicit arms owing
to the' communal trouble in Hyderabad and other parts of the country.
Dr. Dattatraya Parchure was a Brahmin from Gwalior. His father held a high
post in the Education Department of the State and was a greatly respected
individual. Parchure qualified as a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, and joined
the State Medical Service. He was dismissed in 1934 and began practising
privately. He took an active part in the activities of the Hindu Mahasabha, and
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 26
was elected the Dictator of the local Hindu Rashtrya Sena. In this capacity he
became acquainted with Godse and Apte.
Vinayak Savarkar, or Veer Savarkar as he came to be known, was a barrister and
historian. He joined a revolutionary body and was sentenced to transportation
for fourteen years. He was subsequently interned. On his release in 1937 he
joined the Hindu Mahasabha and devoted himself to the Mahasabha's objective
for united India. He was for many years the president of this body, and
exercised a great deal of influence over its deliberations and policies. He
resided in Bombay, and his house Savarkar Sadan was visited by all Hindu
leaders, and the meetings held there were viewed with an eye of Suspicion by
the authorities.
Digambar Ramchandra Badge (pronounced Bahdgay), the approver, a Maratha
from Challisgaon in Esat Khandesh, had a brief period of schooling, and long
before the stage of matriculation could be reached he abandoned studies and
went to Poona to earn his livelihood. He experienced considerable difficulty in
obtaining permanent employment, and had to be content with temporary jobs
of various kinds. Once, he resorted to satyagrah in front of the residence of the
Chairman of the Poona City Municipality, The post he was offered did not
satisfy him and he left it. For some time he collected funds for a charitable
institution and went with a money-box from door to door, his remuneration
being one-fourth of the collections made by him. He bought small quantities of
knives, daggers and knuckle-dusters from a shop and hawked them. The
business brought him a little more money than what he had been able to earn
hitherto. Gradually he expanded the scope of his activities, and finally started
a shop of his own: The articles he dealt in did not require a license for sale or
purchase, and were at that period in great demand by political agitators and
members of anti-Muslim associations. The Hindus re- siding near the border to
the Muslim State to Hyderabad were particularly good customers. Badge, thus,
came into contact with members of the Hindu Mahasabha and began attending
the annual sessions of this body wherever they were held. On each occasion he
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 27
opened a bookstall, well stocked not only with books but with the more popular
knives, daggers and knuckle-dusters.
He met Nathuram Godse and Apte at the residence of Veer Savarkar, president
of the Hindu Mahasabha. In 1947 he enlarged his business, adding contraband
firearms and ammunition to his stock-in-trade. These he acquired and disposed
of surreptitiously through his 'contacts' of which, by now, he had many in Poona
and in Bombay. These transactions were far more lucrative than the sale of
books on patriotism and Hindu solidarity.
Such was the composition of the group which came together and 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 evidence led in court revealed that the plan to put an end to this
state of affairs was conceived by Godse and Apte in December 1947. In the
course of the weeks that followed others joined the small band, and the details
of the plan began to be worked out. The decision to strike was taken on
January 13, when it was learnt that Mahatma Gandhi had started his fast to put
pressure upon the Government of India and compel it to review its former
decision to withhold the payment of 55 crores rupees to Pakistan. When after
three days the Government surrendered to Mahatma Gandhi's demand, and
announced its revocation of its previous decision by declaring that the IndoPakistan agreement relating to financial adjustments would be implemented
immediately, the conspirators could wait no longer. They hastened to complete
their arrangements and achieve the aim they had set before themselves.
The execution of this plan needed forethought, teamwork and a dovetailing of
movements and arrangements which were not free from a certain measure of
complexity. The first thing that Godse did was to make and assignment of his
assets. He himself was unmarried and had no commitments to leave behind
when his immortal longings were satisfied. The two persons who were nearest
to him, and for whom he felt most concerned were his brother. Gopal, and his
friend and associate, Apte. They had joined him in this perilous undertaking,
and they ran a grave risk of losing their liberty and possibly their lives. He held
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 28
two insurance policies of Rs. 2,000/- and Rs. 3,000/- respectively on his life. On
January 13 he nominated Apte's wife as the beneficiary under the first policy,
and on the following day he similarly assigned the second policy for Rs. 3,000/-
to his brother's wife. Then, accompanied by Apte, he left Poona for Bombay,
with his mind a little easier in, at least, one respect.
On the same day Badge, accompanied by his servant, Shankar, also left for
Bombay. They took with them a bag containing two gun-cotton slabs and four
hand-grenades which were deposited for safe custody in the house of Dixitji
Maharaj, a prominent nationalist, religious leader and an old patron of Badge.
Badge had frequently sold knives and daggers to him for 'distribution among
Hindus living near Muslim States, for their protection'. Badge spent the night at
the office of the Hindu Mahasabha, and in the morning Godse and Apte met him
there and discussed the details of their plan. Pahwa and Karkare had been in
Bombay since January 10, and they, too, joined the deliberations at the Hindu
Mahasabha office. All five of them went to call on Dixitji Maharaj and pick up
the bag containing the explosives. Dixitji Maharaj had a friendly talk with his
visitors, and believing that the hand-grenades were to be used against the
Muslims of Hyderabad, where communal trouble was brewing, went to the
length of explaining the best manner of working and throwing a hand-grenade.
But when Apte asked him for the loan of a revolver, he made an evasive reply.
The visit of these five persons remained in Dixitji's memory because of a
prediction made by an astrologer that he (Dixitji) would suffer bodily harm on
January 17. In fact, on that day, he fell down and hurt himself, and he
remembered subsequently that it was just two days before the accident that
Badge and his companions had come to visit him. Dixitji was thus able to recall
the whole incident and narrate it, complete in all details, when he gave
evidence at the trial.
Pahwa and Karkare had no further business in Bombay, and Pahwa wanted to
see his relatives in Delhi and discuss with them the question of his marriage.
So, these two left Bombay by train on the evening of the 15th. They arrived at
Delhi on the 17th, and after a fruitless i attempt to get living accommodation
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 29
at the office of the Hindu Mahasabha engaged a room in a small and inexpensive hotel in Chandni Chowk. While registering their arrival, Karkare gave a
false name, describing himself as of B.M. Bias. Pahwa stated his correct name
but entered a wrong address in the column 'Permanent address'.
Badge and his henchman, Shankar, went back to Poona, and after entrusting his
arms and explosives to a sympathiser of the Hyderabad State Congress returned
to Bombay on the morning of the 17th. There they met Godse and Apte at the
railway station in pursuance of a previous appointment. Money was needed for
carrying out their project, and they went round Bombay on a campaign of
collecting funds. By representing that they needed money for the Hyderabad
movement, they succeeded in securing Rs. 2,100/- from a number of persons.
The same afternoon Godse and Apte travelled to Delhi by plane. They bought
their tickets under assumed names-Godse representing himself to be D.N.
Karmarkar and Apte, S. Marathe. In Delhi they stayed at the Marina Hotel, and
abandoning the aliases they had adopted for the air journey registered
themselves as S. Deshpande and M. Deshpande. In this hotel they stayed till the
20th. Badge and Shankar travelled to Delhi by train and reached there on the
evening of the 19th. They went to the Hindu Mahasabha Bhavan and stayed
Gopal Godse was, as I have already mentioned, employed as a store-keeper in
an Army depot near Poona. On the 14th he submitted an application for seven
days' leave beginning January 15. The leave was refused on the ground that he
was required to appear before a board of officers on the 16th. On the 16th he
renewed his application and asked for a week's leave from the 17th. This was
granted, and he was able to reach Delhi on the evening of the 18th. His train
was late, and he was fast asleep when it arrived at the New Delhi railway
station. His brother, Nathuram, who had come to receive him, thus could not
see him. The train went on to Old Delhi, and there Gopal alighted and spent
the night on the platform with a group of refugees. The next morning he went
to the Mahasabha Bhavan and met his friends. Arrangements for their stay in
the Bhavan were made, and further consultations took place at Pahwa's hotel in
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 30
Chandni Chowk. All the seven conspirators had thus arrived in Delhi by the
evening of January 19. They had provided themselves with two revolvers, some
gun- cotton slabs and several hand-grenades. One of the revolvers was a service
weapon which Gopal Godse had with him from the time he had been posted
abroad. At Nathuram's request he had brought it with him, and the other
revolver was procured by Badge from Sharma, an old client of his to whom he
had formerly sold it. The hand-grenades and gun-cotton slabs were all provided
by Badge.
On the morning of the 20th Apte, Karkare, Badge and Shankar paid a visit of
reconnaissance to Birla House. Birla House was approached from what was then
known as Albuquerque Road.* Beyond the main house were situated the
servants' quarters. There was a verandah at the back of the quarters, and in
front of the verandah a large platform had been constructed. It was here that
the prayer meetings of Mahatma Gandhi were held. Mahatma Gandhi himself
sat on a wooden divan under the verandah root while the members of the
audience disposed themselves on the platform. The wall behind Gandhiji's divan
contained a trellis-work window which provided ventilation to the room
beyond. The back gate of the house opened on to a service lane, and most of
the regular visitors came to the prayer meetings by this gate. The conspirators'
entered the house by the back door and inspected from outside the room with
the trellis-work window. A one-eyed man was sitting in front of the door of this
room, and they did not think it wise to seek entry into it at that moment and
thus draw attention to themselves, but they walked round through the
verandah and, finding no one within sight, Apte measured the openings of the
trellis-work with a piece of string. He came to the conclusion that it was
possible to fire through these openings which were wide enough to allow even
the passage of a hand-grenade of the size they had brought with them. It was
decided that Godse and Apte would direct operations by giving pre-arranged
signals at appropriate moments. Badge, armed with a revolver and a handgrenade, would enter the servants' quarters behind Mahatma Gandhi's seat by
pretending that he intended to take a photograph of the prayer meeting
through the trellised window. Pahwa would explode a gun-cotton slab near the
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 31
back gate, in order to distract the attention of the gathering at the prayer
meeting and to create a stampede. In the ensuing confusion, Badge was to
shoot at Gandhiji with his revolver from behind and follow up by throwing his
hand-grenade at him. From the front his servant, Shankar, was to duplicate his
master's performance by similarly firing a revolver and throwing a handgrenade. Gopal Godse, Pahwa and Karkare were then to throw a hand-grenade
each and everyone was to escape as best he could.
The revolvers brought by Badge and Gopal Godse had not been tested to see if
they fired accurately. Badge's revolver was an old one which he had sold to one
of his customers and had borrowed it back from him for the occasion, and
Gopal's revolver had lain unused with him for several years. So after the
reconnoitering at Birla House, Apte, Badge, Gopal and Shankar went into the
forest behind the Mahasabha office to try out the weapons. It was seen that the
chamber of Gopal's revolver was defective and did not work. A shot fired from
Badge's revolver fell very short of the target. Apte declared that this revolver,
too, was useless. Gopal undertook to repair the weapons, and Shankar was sent
to fetch a bottle of oil and a penknife from his bag in the Mahasabha office.
While Gopal was engaged in repairing the revolvers a Forest Guard was seen
approaching. The weapons were quickly hidden, and Pahwa spoke to the guard
in Punjabi to allay any possible suspicion on his part. When the guard passed on
to continue his round, the repairs were completed, but there was no further
trial firing.
A final meeting at Marina Hotel took place in the early afternoon, Nathuram lay
on his bed, complaining of a severe headache, and the others sat round him
while the details of their plan were discussed and the weapons and explosives
were distributed. The Primers and fuse wires in the slabs and hand-grenades
were*fixed, and Nathuram admonished them to perform their parts with
diligence and care. 'It is your last chance,' he said, 'you must not fail: Fictitious
names were assigned to everyone, which were to be used should need to
address each other in public arise. They changed their clothes and Karkare even
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 32
painted a false moustache, darkened his eyebrows and placed a red mark on his
forehead to give him the appearance of a devout Brahmin.
The crowd at the prayer meeting was bigger than usual, as this was Mahatma
Gandhi's first public appearance after the 12th when he had undertaken his
fast. A failure of the electric installation put the loud-speakers out of use, and
Gandhiji's feeble voice could be heard only by a few who sat near him. But his
discourse was repeated to the audience by Dr. Sushila Nayyar, a prominent congress worker and a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi.
Gandhiji referred to the Peace Pledge taken by the residents of Delhi, and said
Delhi had done a great thing and he hoped that the signatories had taken their
pledge with Truth, represented by God, as their witness. If Delhi acted
truthfully, the effects of its action would be felt all over the world. He was
sorry, however, that the Hindu Mahasabha had repudiated the pledge through
one of its officials. Enmity towards the Muslim meant enmity towards India.
He went on to speak of a suggestion that he should pay a visit to Pakistan to
stop the acts of violence against non- Muslims. Suddenly there was a loud
report as if something had exploded. A moment's restlessness was observed on
the periphery of the audience, and some persons were seen moving away, but
Gandhiji asked everyone to remain seated and continued with his discourse.
After he had concluded it, Dr. Sushila Nayyar repeated the substance of the
speech to the audience from her notes. A large portion of the audience near
Gandhiji's seat did not know what had caused the loud report and where
exactly the explosion had taken place. Gandhiji himself thought that it was
some form of military practice and, therefore, nothing to worry about. It was
only when the prayer meeting was dispersing that those who had been sitting
near Gandhiji's divan learnt that a Punjabi youth had exploded a gun-cotton
slab near the back gate of Birla House. No one was injured, and the misguided
youth had been immediately apprehended and handed over to the police. A
hand-grenade, complete in every respect, was recovered from his coat pocket.
Some people said that the young man's name was Madam Lai Pahwa, and that
he was a disgruntled refugee who was merely making an exhibition of his bad
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 33
temper. Pahwa was taken away by the police for interrogation, and the
scandalised visitors went home talking about the outrage in subdued voices.
The well-laid plan of the conspirators had completely failed. All seven of them
had arrived at Birla House and disposed themselves according to the decision
taken by them. But at the last moment, Badge's courage failed him. He found
two persons standing in front of the door which provided access to the room
behind Gandhiji's divan. One of these men was the one-eyed man they had seen
in the morning. A one-eyed man is proverbially ill-omened, and Badge suddenly
realised that if he fired his revolver and threw his hand-grenade through the
trellis- work window, he would be irretrievably trapped inside the room and
escape would be impossible. He told Godse that he would, on no account, enter
the room. A hurried consultation took place, and after a public attempt to
persuade Badge to adhere to the original design, his refusal was perforce
accepted. Pahwa was told to detonate the slab of gun-cotton, and when the
explosion took place the others waited for a general stampede which was to
provide them with the opportunity for completing their task. Strangely enough,
there was no stampede, no panic and no confusion. A few persons moved away.
Pahwa was caught and handed over to the police, and the prayer meeting went
on almost as if nothing had happened. The calculations of the conspirators were
completely upset, and they scampered away in a state of near panic. Badge and
Shankar hired the first tonga they met on the road, and after taking their
baggage from Hindu Mahasabha Bhavan caught the night train for Poona.
Nathuram Godse and Apte went to Kanpur where they stayed for one day, and
then went on to Bombay where they arrived on the 23rd. Karkare and Gopal
Godse spent the night of the 20th at another hotel and registered under
assumed names, Gopal professing to be G. M. Shastri and Karkare, Rajgopalan.
On the 21st they took the train back to Poona.
Pahwa's arrest and the failure of their plan disheartened the conspirators but
did not deflect them from their purpose. During the week that followed they
had hurried consultations. They had to strike at once, because they feared that
Pahwa would not be able to maintain his silence when subjected to police
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 34
interrogation, and it would not be long before they were traced and taken into
custody. Nathuram announced his intention to assume the entire responsibility
for the project and perform the deed single-handed. It was, he argued, the
best and indeed the only way to bring their plan to a successful conclusion and
lead them to the fruition of their desires. Karkare, in his statement to the
police, gave a vivid description of the talk he had with Godse and Apte on the
26th at Thana.* This was his first meeting with them after the debacle of the
We walked and came to Thana railway station, and sat down on the cement
platform near the goods yard. This was a completely secluded place. It was
about 9.45 p.m. and it was a moonlit night. This place was suggested by Apte
and Godse as they did not want anyone to overhear our conversation. On taking
our seats on the platform I asked Apte and Godse how they had come back from
Delhi after the explosion of January 20. Godse was in a calm mood and asked
me not to discuss anything about the matter but talk or our present
circumstances and also of our future plans. This was urgent, because Madan Lai
had been arrested and he would disclose our names. Godse also said that we
would be arrested by the police and our plans to assassinate Gandhiji would
fail. He, therefore, suggested that there should not be nine or ten persons in
the execution of the plan, because history showed that such revolutionary plots
in which several persons were concerned had always been foiled, and it was
only the effort of a single individual that succeeded. He mentioned several
instances for history and told us that acts of single persons, such as Madan Lai
Dhingra and Vasudev Rao Gogate, had been successful, because they were
individual efforts. He had, therefore, decided to assassinate Gandhiji singlehanded. He asked me to go on to Ahmednagar, if I so desired, and carry on the
work of Hindu Mahasabha. He also requested me to push the sale of the shares
of Hindu Rashtra Parkasham and to look for a good writer in place of Apte. I
was stunned by this suggestion and I saw that Apte was silent. I thought that
Godse and Apte must have discussed the matter; and that Apte was fully aware
of Godse's intention. Inside me I felt that Apte had made up his mind to stand
by the side of Nathuram. I had heard that Godse was ashamed to show his face
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 35
in Maharashtra and I asked him if this was his reason for preparing himself to
die. Godse looked stunned and determined and told me not to say such things
and carry out the work entrusted to me. I insisted on knowing how they were
going to commit the murder of Gandhiji. Godse then told me that he would
procure a revolver within a day or two, or would find some other means of
killing Gandhiji, and until he had accomplished his aim. He would not enter
Maharashtra. I felt that I should also be with them and told Godse that I, too,
was prepared for the worst and would join them in their project. I was told
that Badge and Shankar had reached Poona safely and were attending to their
work. Godse also told me that Apte had gone to Poona and settled his private
affairs. On hearing this I became very excited, and declared my intention to do
whatever they did, even at the risk of my life. Apte, on this, gave me Rs. 300/,
and asked me to go to Delhi the next day. Godse and Apte were at that time
staying in a hotel at Bombay under assumed names, V. Vinayakrao and D.
Vinayakrao. On the 25th they had booked two seats on the plane going to Delhi
on the morning of the 27th, giving the same false names, V. Vinayakrao and D.
In the meantime the police were making extensive enquiries just as Godse and
Apte had feared. The course of these enquiries was guided not so much by what
Pahwa had revealed to the police after his arrest but by a piece of indiscretion
committed by him before the incident of January 20. In the beginning of
October 1947 Pahwa came into contact with a Bombay professor, Dr. J.C. Jain.
Pahwa appealed to him for help, saying that he was a refuggee who had lost
everything in Pakistan and wanted to earn his living in whatever way was
possible. Dr. Jain, who besides being a professor of Hindi is the author of
several books, offered to engage him as an agent for the sale of his books and
pay him a commission on the sale proceeds. Pahwa agreed, but this job did not
prove very profitable. It did, however, establish a friendly relationship between
the two men, and Pahwa began to speak of his emotions and aspirations. He
boasted of his exploits at Ahmednagar, saying that he had assaulted Rao Shaib
Patwardhan at a public meeting because he was preaching Hindu-Muslim unity,
adding with a note of triumph that the police had left him alone as they were
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 36
all 'Hindu- minded'. He had organised a volunteer corps to devend Hindus and,
in particular, the refugees. On one occasion in the beginning of January he
spoke, with a mysterious air, of a plot to murder a leader. Dr. Jain thought the
young man was merely boiling over with indignation, and did not believe that
there was any truth in what he said. But the next time he met Pahwa ne asked
with the name of the leader who was to be the victim of their plot, and when
Pahwa revealed the name or Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Jain, though still
increduious, gave him some fatherly advice, telling him not to behave like a
foolish child. 'You are a refugee,' he said, 'you have suffered a great deal in the
Punjab riots. Begin yourself a victim of violence, you should not seek your
remedy in violence,' and so on at great length in this strain. When Pahwa let
him, Dr. Jain believed that he had converted the young man, if indeed there
was any basis of truth in the story of the plot, and dismissed the matter from
this mind as a thing of small consequence.
But when only a week later he read of the outrage at Birla house and the arrest
of Madan Lai Pahwa, he was indignant with himself for having remained so
criminally complacent, and at once telephoned Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the
Minister for Home Affairs, who was present at Bombay, and Mr.S.K. Patil,
President of the Bombay Provincial Congress Committee. Neither of them was
available, but he was able to speak to Mr. Kher, the Chief Minister of Bombay,
first on the telephone and then personally in his office. He also saw Mr. Morarji
Desai, who was then the Home minister of Bombay State. He told them the
story of the plot to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi just as he had heard it from
Pahwa. The police at once took the matter up and began a vigorous search for
the persons who were reported to be Pahwa's associates.
Godse and Apte arrived at Delhi, by plane, at 12.40 p.m. on January 27. The
same afternoon they left for Gwalior by train, reaching there at 10.38 p.m.
They drove in a tonga to the house of Dr. Parchure, and stayed the night with
him. The object of their visit was to procure a pistol which would fire
accurately. In this they were successful, and a pistol was obtained from one
Goel who was a member of Dr. Parchure's volunteer corps. Godse and Apte then
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 37
returned to Delhi, reaching there on the morning of the 29th. They engaged a
retiring-room at the Old Delhi railway station, and stayed there till the next
morning. Karkare had in the meantime come to Delhi, on the 28th, by train,
and in pursuance of a prearranged plan he met Godse and Apte at the gate of
the Birla Temple at noon on the 29th. Godse told him that a pistol had been
procured from Gwalior, and that everything was ready for the final
accomplishment of their plan. Godse was in a grim mood and began to explain
his motives for taking the entire burden upon himself.
'Apte has responsibilities. He has a wife and child. I have no family. Moreover, I
am an orator and a writer; I shall be able to justify my act and impress the
Government and the court of my good faith in killing Gandhi. Now, Apte, on the
other hand, is a man of the world. He can contact people and carry on the
Hindu Rashtra. You must help him in the conduct of the newspaper and carry
on the work of the Hindu Mahasabha.' "
In the evening Karkare suggested a visit to the cinema, but Godse repelled the
suggestion saying that he wanted to rest. Apte insisted, arguing that a little
diversion would take his mind to the business to the following day and cheer
him up. But Godse turned away and began reading a book. So Apte and Karkare
left him and spent three hours entertaining themselves at the first cinema
house they came to.
On the morning of the 30th Godse appeared calm and self-possessed, but a
close observer could discern signs of an inner agitation which was battling with
a determination to meet his doom with the resignation of a fatalist. He was up
first of all, and was bathed and dressed while Apte and Karkare were still
asleep. All three had a light breakfast and then drove in a tonga to New Delhi.
After paying off the tonga they walked to a thick forest not far from where they
had alighted, and Godse fired three or four rounds from his pistol while Karkare
standing on a high rock kept watch. Godse was satisfied with the performance
of his weapon, and the party returned to Old Delhi.
Godse spoke very little in the afternoon and continued to wear a determined
expression. To Karkare he said: 'you will miss me the next time.' What he meant
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 38
by 'next time' was not quite clear. At 4.30 p.m. he hired a tonga, and, waving a
final good-bye, drove away. Karkare and Apte followed him to Birla House in
another tonga a few minutes later. The prayer meeting had not yet started, but
a crowd of about 200 persons was awaiting the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi.
Godse was moving among the people apparently unconcerned. Suddenly, there
was a stirring in the crowd, and everyone stood up to form a passage for
Mahatma Gandhi, who was seen coming up slowly with his hands resting on the
shoulders of two girls who were walking by his side. As he raised his hands to
join them in the customary greeting, Godse took a quick step forward, pushed
aside the girl on Gandhiji's right and, standing in front of him, fired three shots
in quick succession at point-blank range. Mahatma Gandhi collapsed and fell
down, saying 'Hai Ram'
Godse made no attempt to escape. He was caught, and the people nearest to
him fell upon him in an attempt to belabour him. A police officer who was
present rescued him and led him away from the fury of the crowd. In the panic
that followed, Apte and Karkare came out with the people rushing from Birla
House. They made ' their way to the Old Delhi railway station and returned to
Events now moved rapidly. Pahwa's revelation to Dr. Jain could no longer be
regarded as the silly talk of a misguided and imaginative youth. It became proof
not only of Pahwa's individual design but of a wider and deeply laid plan in
which more than one or two persons were concerned. The field of investigation
was widened 'to cover the entire country, and the tempo was accelerated.
Arrests followed in quick succession. Badge was taken into custody on January
31, Gopal Godse on February 5 and Dr. Parchure was apprehended from his
house in Gwalior the same day. Shankar was arrested on February 6, and Apte
and Karkare on February 14. Prolonged interrogation of the prisoners took
place, and long statements were made by each one of them. Hundreds of
persons were examined, and at last the complete picture of the conspiracy and
the manner of its execution were pieced together.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 39
At the trial the defence of the conspirators was a simple one. Godse admitted
firing his pistol at Mahatma Gandhi and fatally wounding him; but he
maintained that it was his individual act, and nobody else had any concern with
or knowledge of what he had planned to do. He could not but admit that he
and Apte travelled to Delhi by air on January 17, and again on January 27, each
time under assumed names. He further admitted that he and Apte had stayed
at the Marina Hotel in New Delhi from January 17 to January 20, and registered
their arrival by giving false names. He admitted the brief visit to Dr. Parchure
at Gwalior and the facts that he gave a fictitious name to the attendant at the
Delhi railway station while booking a retiring-room for himself.
Apte similarly admitted the manner in which he had travelled to Delhi with
Godse on both occasions and stayed at the Marina Hotel during their first visit.
He also admitted going to Gwalior and seeing Dr. Parchure, but he denied that
he had gone back to Delhi with Godse. He said that he had parted company
with Godse and returned to Bombay directly from Gwalior.
Karkare admitted coming to Delhi in the company of Pahwa on January 17, and
staying at Sharif Hotel under the assumed name of B. N. Bias. He denied having
paid a second visit to Delhi and being present there on the day of Mahatma
Gandhi's murder. He professed complete ignorance of the alleged conspiracy.
Shankar, when he was examined by the trial judge, after the conclusion of the
evidence for the prosecution, made a statement supporting in a large measure
the deposition of his employer, Badge, and pleaded that he had merely carried
out his master's orders. But after arguments no his behalf had been addressed
to the court by his counsel, he retracted his previous statement, and in a
written petition explained that he had been compelled by the police to admit
the allegations of the prosecution. No police influence could, of course, have
been exercised upon him, once the case was placed before the court, and his
subsequent resilement must have been the result of persuasion by his coaccused.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 40
Gopal Godse totally denied his participation in the conspiracy and even
repelled the allegation that he had gone to Delhi on January 18 and been
present there on the 20th.
Pahwa's defence was that he had gone to Delhi to express his resentment
against the treatment which was being meted out to refugees like himself. He
had been at pains he asserted, to explode the slab of gun-cotton at a safe
distance from everyone, so that no harm should be caused by his act.
Dr. Parchure said that Godse and Apte had come to him and asked him to send
some volunteers in order to stage a peaceful demonstration at Delhi; but he
had flatly refused to fall in with their wishes. He denied that he had helped
them to procure a pistol.
The defence plea thus amounted to no more than this: There was no conspiracy
to murder Mahatma Gandhi. The explosion of January 20 and the shooting of
Mahatma Gandhi were the individual and unrelated acts of Pahwa and
Nathuram Godse respectively. No evidence was, however, led by the prisoner in
support of their plea, and they contented themselves by challenging the
veracity of the prosecution story on the principle that the prosecution case
must fall or stand by itself, and a bad case needs no rebuttal.
As already observed, the trial judge acquitted Savarkar and convicted the
remaining seven persons, holding that the charge of conspiracy to murder had
been proved against all of them.
Since association is the most important ingredient of conspiracy, the attempt of
learned counsel for the appellants before us was to break down the links which
connected the conspirators. They sought to show that no one except Pahwa was
responsible for the outrage of January 20, and Nathuram Godse alone was
guilty of the murder of Mahatma Gandhi, while the others did not even know of
his intention. The evidence of the witnesses who had seen the various
appellants together at different times was vehemently attacked, the
unsatisfactory features in their evidence were stressed upon and each minor
discrepancy was played out to the full. It is not difficult to pick out
inconsistencies and contradictions in the statement of the most truthful witness
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 41
after he has been subjected to a lengthy and tiring cross-examination by a
clever lawyer. We gave the fullest benefit to every reasonable doubt to the
accused persons, rejecting the evidence of any witness whose statement
aroused suspicion or whose story did7
not sound natural. For instance, it was
alleged by the prosecution that on January 20, before going to Birla House,
Apte had lent his coat to Pahwa and retained the trousers which matched it.
Pahwa was wearing this coat when he was arrested after the explosion, and the
trousers were recovered from Apte's trunkon April 16, 1948. Apte had been
arrested on February 14; and, taking the view that Apte's house and his
belongings must have been subjected to a thorough search at the time of his
arrest, we declined to rely upon the belated recovery of the trousers as a piece
of evidence proving the close association of Apte and Pahwa immediately
before the explosion of January 20. Similarly, we did not accept the story that
Karkare and Godse had both spent the night of January 20 in a hotel room at
Delhi. The statements of casual witnesses, e.g. taxi and tonga drivers, hotel
boot-blacks, chance encounters, were, out of abundant caution, not fully relied
upon. There was, however, enough material to hold that a conspiracy had been
formed with the object of murdering Mahatma Gandhi, and that Nathuram
Godse had acted in the furtherance of the common object of this conspiracy.
The fact that all seven persons had gone to Delhi before the 20th of January
and some of them had travelled and stayed in hotels under assumed names; the
fact that all but one of them admitted their presence at Birla House at the time
of the explosion; the fact that a number of hand-grenades were taken by Badge
to Bombay and were carried to Delhi, and manner of the hasty dispersal from
Delhi of all the conspirators left very little doubt that all of them had gone to
Delhi with a common object, and that their simultaneous presence in Delhi was
not a mere coincidence. There was ample evidence of association after the
explosion of January 20. There was, for instance, a telegram sent by Karkare
who was in Bombay, to Apte in Poona, on January 25. The telegram simply said:
'BOTH COME IMMEDIATELY', and this telegram was signed with the name 'B. M.
Bias'. The telegram summoned Godse and Apte to Bombay.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 42
We gave Dr. Parchure and Shankar the benefit of doubt and, accepting their
appeal, acquitted them. The conviction and sentence of the remaining five
appellants were confirmed.
The highlight of the appeal before us was the discourse delivered by Nathuram
Godse in his defence. He spoke for several hours discussing, in the first
instance, the facts of the case and then the motives which had prompted him
to take Mahatma Gandhi's life. He had pursued the same line in the long written
statement which he had filed in the trial court, and the following passages
taken from this statement will give some indication of his opinions and
Born in a devotional Brahmin family, I instinctively came to revere Hindu
religion, Hindu history and Hindu culture. I had been intensely proud of
Hinduism as a whole. Nevertheless, as I grew up. I developed a tendency to
free thinking unfettered by any superstitious allegiance to any 'ism' political or
religious. That is why I worked actively for the eradication of untouchability
and the caste system based on birth alone. I publicly joined anti-caste
movements and maintained that all Hindus should be treated with equal status
as to rights, social and religious, and should be high or low on their merit alone
and not through the accident of birth in a particular caste or profession. I used
publicly to take part in organised anti-caste dinners in which thousands of
Hindus, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Charmars and Bhangis broke the caste
rules an dined in the company of each other.
I have read the works of Dadabhai Naoroji, Vivekanand, Gokhale, Tilak along
with books of ancient and modern history of India and of some prominent
countries in the world like England, France, America and Russia. Not only that,
I studied tolerably well the current tenets of Socialism and Communism too.
But above all I studied very closely whatever Veer Savarkar and Gandhiji had
written and spoken, as to my mind, these two ideologies had contributed more
to mould the thought and action of modern India during the last fifty years or
so, than any other single factor had done.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 43
All this reading and thinking brought me to believe that, above all, it was my
first duty to serve the Hindudom and the Hindu people, as a patriot and even as
a humanitarian. For, is it not true that to secure the freedom and to safeguard
the just interests of some thirty crores of Hindus constituted the freedom and
the well-being of one-fifth of human race? This conviction led me naturally to
devote myself to the new Hindu Sanghatanist ideology and programme, which
alone, I came to believe, could win and preserve the national independence of
Hindustan, my Motherland, and enable her to render true service to humanity
as well.
In 1946 or thereabouts the Muslim atrocities perpetrated on the Hindus under
the Government patronage of Suhrawardy in Noakhali, made our blood boil. Our
shame and indignation knew to bounds, when we saw that Gandhiji had come
forward to shield that very Suhrawardy and begun to style him as 'Shahid Saheb'
-a Martyr Soul (!) even in his prayer meetings. Not only that, but after coming
to Delhi, Gandhiji began to hold his prayers meetings in a Hindu temple in
Bhangi Colony and persisted in reading passages from the Koran as a part of the
prayer in that Hindu temple, in spite of the protest of the Hindu worshippers
there. Of course he dared not read Geeta in a mosque in the teeth of Muslim
opposition. He knew what a terrible Muslim reaction there would have been it
he had done so. But he could safely trample over the feelings of the tolerant
Hindu. To belie this belief I determined to prove to Gandhiji that the Hindu too
could be in tolerant when his honour was insulted.
* * *
Just after that followed the terrible outburst of Muslim fanacticism in the
Punjab and other part of India. The Congress Government began to persecute,
prosecute the shoot the Hindus themselves who dared to resist the Muslim
forces in Bihar, Calcutta. Punjab and other places. Our worst fears seemed to
be coming true; and yet how painful and disgraceful it was for us to find that
the 15th of August 1947 was celebrated with illuminations and festivities, while
the whole of the Punjab was set by the Muslims in flames and Hindu blood ran
in rivers. The Hindu Mahasabhaites of my persuasion decided to boycott the
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 44
festivities and the Congressite Government, and to launch a fighting
programme to check Muslim onslaughts.
* * *
Five crores of Indian Muslim have ceased to be our countrymen; virtually the
non-Muslim minority in Western Pakistan has been liquidated either by the most
brutal murders or by a forced tragic removal from their moorings of centuries;
the same process is furiously at work in Eastern Pakistan. One hundred and ten
million people have been torn from their homes of which not less than four
million are Muslims, and when I found that even after such terrible results
Gandhiji continued to pursue the same policy of appeasement, my blood boiled
and I could not tolerate him any longer. I do not mean to use hard words
against Gandhiji personally, not do I wish to conceal my utter dissent from and
disapproval of the very foundation of his policy and methods. Gandhiji in fact
succeeded in doing what the British always wanted to do in pursuance of their
policy of 'Divide and Rule'. He helped them in dividing India and it is not yet
certain whether their rule has ceased.
* * *
The accumulating provocation of 32 years, culminating in his last pro-Muslim
fast, at last, goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhiji should
be brought to an end immediately. On coming back to India he developed a
subjective mentality under which he alone was to be the final judge of what
was right or wrong. If the country wanted his leadership it had to accept his
infallibility; if it did not, he would stand aloof from the Congress and carry on
in his own way. Against such an attitude there can be no halfway house; either
the Congress had to surrender its will to his, and had to be content with playing
the second fiddle to all his eccentricity, whimsicality, metaphysics and
primitive vision, or it had to carry on without him. He alone was the judge of
everyone and everything: he was the master brain guiding the civil
disobedience movement; nobody else knew the technique of that " movement;
he alone knew when to begin it and when to withdraw it. The movement may
succeed or fail; it may bring untold disasters and political reverses, but that
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 45
could make no difference to the Mahatma's infallibility. 'A Satyagrahi can never
fail' was his formula for declaring his own infallibility and nobody except he
himself knew who a Satyagrahi was. Thus Gandhiji became the judge and the
counsel in his own case. These childish inanities and obstinacies coupled with a
most severe austerity of life, ceaseless work and lofty character made Gandhiji
formidable and irresistible. Many people thought his politics were it- rational,
but they had either to withdraw from the Congress or to place their
intelligence at his feet to do what he liked with it. In a position of such
absolute irresponsibility Gandhiji was guilty of blunder after blunder, failure
after failure and disaster after disaster. No one single political victory can be
claimed to his credit during 33 years of his political predominance.
* * *
So long as Gandhian method was in the ascendance, frustration was the only
inevitable result. He had, throughout, opposed every spirited revolutionary,
radical and vigorous individual or group, and constantly boosted his Charka,
non-violence and truth. The Charka had, after 34 years of the best efforts of
Gandhiji, only led to the expansion of the machine-run textile industry by over
200 per cent. It is unable even now to clothe even one per cent of the nation. -
As regards non-violence, it was absurd to except 40 crores of people to regulate
their lives on such a lofty plane and it broke down most conspicuously in 1942.
As regards truth the least I can say is that the truthfulness of the average
Congressman is by no means of a higher order than that of the man in the
street, and that very often it is untruth, in reality, masked by a thin veneer of
pretended truthfulness.
* * *
Gandhiji's inner voice, his spiritual power and his doctrine of non-violence, of
which so much is made of, all crumbled before Mr. Jinnah's iron will and proved
to be powerless.
Having known that with his spiritual powers he could not influence Mr. Jinnah,
Gandhiji should have either changed his policy or could have admitted his
defeat and given way to others of different political views to deal with Mr.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 46
Jinnah and the Muslim League. But Gandhiji was not honest enough to do that.
He could not forget his egoism or self even for national interest. There was.
thus, no scope left for the practical politics while the great blunders-blunders
as big as the Himalayas were being committed.
* * *
Those who personally know me take me as a person of quiet temperament. But
when the top-rank leaders of the Congress with the consent of Gandhiji divided
and tore the country-which we consider as a deity of worship- my mind became
full with thoughts of direful anger.
* * *
Briefly speaking, I thought to myself and foresaw that I shall be totally ruined
and the only thing that I could except 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 the Indian
politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be practical, able to retaliate,
and would be powerful with armed forces. No doubt, my own future would be
totally ruined but the nation would be saved from the inroads of Pakistan.
People may even call me and dub me as devoid of any sense or foolish, but the
nation would be free to follow the course founded on reason which I consider to
be necessary for sound nation-building. After having fully considered the
question, I took the final decision in the matter but I did not speak about it to
anyone whatsoever. I took courage in both my hands and I did fire the shots at
Gandhiji, on 30th January 1948, on the prayer-grounds in Birla House.
There now remains hardly anything for me to say. If devotion to one's country
amounts to a sin, I admit I have committed that sin. If it is meritorious, I humbly claim the merit thereof. I fully and confidently believe that if there be any
other Court of justice beyond the one founded by the mortals, my act will not
be taken as unjust. If after death there be no such place to reach or to go to,
there is nothing to be said. I have resorted to the action I did purely for the
benefit of the humanity. I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 47
policy and action had brought rack (sic) and ruin and destruction to lacs of
* * *
May the country properly known as Hindustan be again united and be one, and
may the people be taught to discard the defeatist mentality leading them to
submit to the aggressors. This is my last wish and prayer to the Almighty.
My confidence about the moral side to my action has not been shaken even by
the criticism leveled against it on all sides. I have no doubt honest writers of
history will weigh my act and find the true value thereof on some day in future.
Godse had, while talking to Apte and Karkare, claimed a measure of
competence in the arts of writing and public speaking. He made full use of his
talents during the trial and at the hearing of the appeal. Before us, he
reiterated the arguments he had advanced before the trial judge and
supplemented them with some fresh points which he had not thought of before.
His main theme, however, was the nature of a righteous man's duty, his
dharma as laid down in the Hindu scriptures. He made moving references to
historical events and delivered an impassioned appeal to Hindus to hold and
preserve their motherland and fight for it with their very lives. He ended his
peroration on a high note emotion, reciting verses from Bhagwadgita.
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. The silence was accentuated and made
deeper by the sound of a occasional subdued sniff or a muffled cough. It
seemed to me that I was taking part in some kind of melodrama or in a scene
out of a Hollywood feature film. Once or twice I had interrupted Godse and
pointed out the irrelevance of what he was saying, but my colleagues seemed
inclined to hear him and the audience most certainly thought that Godse's
performance was the only worth-while part of the lengthy proceedings. A
writer's curiosity in watching the interplay of impact and response made me
abstain from being too conscientious in the matter. Also I said to myself: 'The
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 48
man is going to die soon. He is past doing any harm. He should be allowed to let
off steam for the last time.'
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 of ' not guilty' by an overwhelming majority.
The final chapter of this sad story takes us to the Central Gaol, Ambalal, where
Nathuram Godse and Apte were executed on the morning of November 15,
1949. After the conclusion of the trial they had been sent there to await the
decision of the appeal preferred by them. Apte began to write a treatise on
some aspects of Indian philosophy which he completed a day or two before his
execution. Godse contented himself with regarding a number of books.
The two condemned prisoners were led out of their cells with their hands
pinioned behind them. Godse walked in front. His step occasionally faltered.
His demeanour and general appearance evidenced a state ot nervousness and
fear. He tried to fight against it and keep up a bold exterior by shouting every
few seconds the slogan 'Akhand Bharat' (undivided India). But his voice had a
slight croak in it and the vigour with which he had argued his case at the trial
and in the High Court seemed to have been all but expanded. The desperate cry
was taken up by Apte who shouted 'Amar rahe' (may stay forever). His loud and
firm tone made an uncanny contrast to Godse's at times, almost feeble
utterance. The Superintendent of the goal and the District Magistrate of
Ambalal who had come to certify the due execution of the High Court's order
observed that, unlike Godse, Apte was completely self-possessed and displayed
not the slightest sign of nervousness. He walked with a firm step with his
shoulders thrown back and his head held high. Taller than Godse by several
inches, he appeared to dominate over him. There was, on his face, a look not
so much of defiance and justification of what he had done, as of an inner sense
of fulfillment, of looking forward to a rightful end to the proceedings which had
occasioned so much sound and fury. It was said afterwards that Godse had,
during his last days in gaol, repented of his deed and declared that were he to
be given another chance he would spend the rest of his life in the promotion of
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 49
peace and the service of his country. Apte, on the other hand, maintained an
unrelenting attitude. Till the very end he refused to admit his guilt, nor did he
plead his innocence in the cringing tones of a beaten adversary. The study of
Bhagwadgita and his own experiment in writing a treatise on philosophy may
have taught him the futility of protest or prayer, or it may be his naturally stoic
temperament, but he walked to his doom with the self-assurance and
confidence of a man who is about to receive no more and no less than the
expected and deserved reward for doing his duty.
A single gallows had been prepared for the execution of both. Two ropes, each
with a noose, hung from the high crossbar in parallel lines. Godse and Apte
were made to stand side by side, the black cloth bags were drawn over their
heads and tied at the necks. After adjusting the nooses, the executioner
stepped off the platform and pulled the lever.
Apte died almost at once and his still body swung in a slow oscillating
movement, but Godse, though unconscious and unfeeling, continued to wriggle
and display signs of life in the shivering of his legs and the convulsing of his
body for quite fifteen minutes.
The dead bodies were cremated inside the gaol, the ground where the pyres
had been erected was ploughed up and the earth and ashes taken to the
Ghaggar river and secretly submerged at a secluded spot.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 50
Appendix (A) Letters appeared in times of India July-1998
It is indeed depressing to note that a dastardly murderer of the father of our
nation who successfully led us to freedom is being depicted as a national hero
like Bhagat Singh or Rani of Jhansi in a drama enacted at Mumbai. Every murder
is a crime irrespective of its motive, and the murder of a world figure who was
an apostle of peace and love, and to whom the whole nation owes its deep
respect and veneration, is the most despicable and cowardly crime. Its
glorification not only hurts the national ethos and culture, but also encourages
intolerance in public life, and incites that class of people who are not ready to
tolerate the opposite view in public affairs, to resort to violence to settle the
Prima facie, this becomes an offence punishable under Section 505 IPC which
seeks to punish the making or publishing of any statement which is likey to
incite any class of persons to commit any offence against any other class of
If you, by your statements in dramatic performance try to justify a political
murder and glorify the murderer, you are inciting a class of political opponents
to resort to violence against their political rivals, and when subsequently, you
hire an irresponsible scribe to raise you to the status of a national hero, you are
destroying a democratic and civilized society where public life is at the mercy
of goons.
It is not just enough to stop the performance of this silly drama. The
government should not only prosecute the author, performers and the
organisers, an impartial inquiry into the whole episode in view of the fact that
the Shiv Sena chief has now come out openly to defend this shameful act.
T U Mehta, Ahmedabad. (Ex. Chief-Justice- Himachal Pradesh)
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 51
(Time of India July 1998)
Apropos your Editorial "No licence to Act" (July 20). the ban on staging of play
'Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy' is unlikely to settle the dust of controversy, rather
this has once again thrown open the vexed issues of permissible limits and
nature and content of free speech rights guaranteed under the constitution.
While it will be justifiably argue that the prohibition on the drama without
seeing it is in the nature of pre-censorship, it would be countered contending
that even the slightest downplay of Mahatma Gandhi could not be tolerated.
Recurrence of controversies of the kind have been more often than before in
recent times. The Rashtrapita was portrayed in advertisement of shoes or the
other day was ridiculed on a private television channel; painter Hussain
tirelessly goes on to draw nude pictures of Hindu Gods and few year back there
was a heated reaction from the nationalists when the apex court had upheld
the right of the minority community students to refuse to sing the national
anthem. The common moot question is what is the place of freedom of speech
and expression vis-a-vis national values in the democracy of our country.
As far as the play on Godse is concerned, and as such in all audio and visual
speecn and expression, the primary yardstick to judge the permissibility or
otherwise of them is not what is said or expressed therein but how, why and
with what intention it is said. In the enjoyment of freedom of speech, however,
it is most desirable that its expansion has the intake of values of culture,
nationalist outlook and national pride and honour. Our national leaders,
historical achievement, national symbols and cultural values are the real valueattributes for the society and they have to be protected and respected if their
sanctity. Are we to permit licence to say anything on the plea of right to say
everything and thereby compromise these ideals and values?
Your editorial is right in saying that the Indian Society should be taught that the
freedom of speech has to be exercised in responsible manner. The difficulty
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 52
arises because there are no manageable criteria in this regard. Though the
constitutionally conferred right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) is
delimited in its enjoyment by the reasonable restrictions provided in Article
19(2). these reasonable restrictions do not contain the ground of national
values, pride and honour to restrict freedom of speech and expression.
Parliament needs to consider this aspect. Nilay V. Anjaria, Ahmedabad.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 53
(India Today Aug. 1998)
were escorted from the death now in Ambala prison. Clutching a map of
undivided India in one hand and the bhagwa dhwaj (saffron flag) in another. 38-
year-old Nathuram Godse and37-year-old Narayan Apte walked to the gallowe
chanting in unison a Sanskrit invocation to the motherland Godse died instantly,
but Apte's end was more painful-he had to be hanged a second time. A few
hours later their bodies were cremated outside the prison walls, immediately
afterwards, the whole area was ploughed and planted with grass so that no one
could identify the spot and build a shrine.
Fifty years later, there is no public shrine in Ambala honouring the assassins of
Mahatma Gandhi, in history textbooks, Godse is perfunctorily dismissed as
Gandhi's killer and Apte's reputation as the brain behind the murder has been
forgotten. For generations of post-independence Indians, they mean nothing
and signify even less. Yet, the ghost of Godse refuses to go away. Every now
and then it emerges from the recesses of the past to haunt a nation that is still
unsure of how to cope with its history. On at least three occasions in the past
three decades, the austere Chitpavan Brahmin from Pune has been put in the
dock posthumously and made to answer for the three bullets that felled the
greatest apostle of non-violence this century.
It happened again this month Pradeep Dalvi's play Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy
(I am Nathuram Godse speaking) was calculated to take the Marathi stage by
storm. Written in 1984, Dalvi struggled for 14 years to get the script approved
by the Stage Performances Scrutiny Board a curious culture police that exists in
all states. It took the election of a Shiv Sena-BJP government in the state the
appointment ant a new board and some minor changes for the play to receive a
certificate. Based on Godse's testimony to the Appeals Court in 1948, it sought
to skillfully dramatise the flip side of Gandhi's murder. "I wanted to reveal the
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 54
assassin's character, his convictions, thinking and why he went out of his way to
kill Gandhi." Says Dalvi. "It's important to understand his compulsion."
When it opened to a packed Shivaji Mandir auditorium on July 10. The response
was staggering, but in an entirely unexpected way. Godse's spirited
denunciation of Gandhi for nurturing a fledgling Pakistan and being insensitive
to the plight of Hindu refugees and his passionate appeal for akhand undivided
Hindustan were not merely dramatically compelling but emotionally
captivating. So powerful was the projection of Godse that the play almost
seemed like a justification for a cold.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 55
(India Today Aug. 1998)
sense of divine mission. "We were the persons." says Gopal Godse in a matter of
fact way. "who felt Gandhi should never meet a natural death. It was not in our
hands. It was destiny. So far as we were concerned, he deserved only death as
a punishment."
This perverse conviction was, however, not matched by a similar strategic
finesse. Judged by contemporary standards, the plot to kill was marked by
amateurishness and colossal ineptitude. That they ultimately succeeded in their
grisly project owed more to good luck and the Mahatma's complete indifference
to his personal security. Initially preoccupied with hare-brained schemes to
fight the Razakars in the Nizam's Hyderabad, Narayan Apte came into contact
with Digamber Badge, a small-time gun-runner. Madanlal Pahwa, an
enterprising refugee from Punjab, and Vishnu Karkare, a hotel owner of
Ahmednagar whose conscience was stirred by the massacre of Hindus in
Noakhali. Nathuram Godse was more ocupied in editing Hindu Rashtra, writing
fiery editorials declaiming against the injustice to Hindus and reading Perry
Mason thrillers. Together, they had a cause and a desire to do something
daring. The only thing missing was target.
That problem was resolved on January 12, 1948. As soon as the tele-printers
signalled the news of Gandhi's fast to pressure the Government into paying Rs.
55 crore to Pakistan. Godse and Apte deemed he must die. Godse wrote to his
insurance company changing the beneficiaries of his two life policies, his
brother Gopal applied to his employers for leave so as to recover a disused
revolver he had buried in Kirkee, near Pune, and Apte began a frenetic search
for guns and grenades. They decided on January 20 as the D-Day but almost
missed the flight to Delhi because they first landed up in the wrong airport.
Godse, Apte and Karkare checked into Marina Hotel and the others into the
Hindu Mahasabha Bhavan. After a quick round of Birla House they decided on a
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 56
five-pronged commando operation. The bomb did go off but the gun did not
fire. Pahwa was caught and should have spilled the beans had it not been for
the rivalry between the Delhi and Bombay police.
The other conspirators rushed back to Bombay. Then, flush with a generous
donation from a benefactor, they haunted for another weapon. Godse, Apte
and Karkare flew back to Delhi on January 27, travelled by train to Gwalior and
purchased a 1934 Italian-made automatic 9mm Beretta. Returning to Delhi two
days later, they checked into the railway retiring room. That evening, Apte and
Karkare went to see a film in Chandni Chowk, while Godse went to have himself
photographed. The next day, they went to the Ridge behind Birla temple and,
for the first time, tested the weapon. It worked.
It worked once again in the afternoon. Godse believed he had saved India. After
arrest, he insisted the doctors certify him normal, blooded murder. By the time
the play was six shows old, tickets were fetching a handsome premium in the
black market. Long exposed to the deification of the Father of the Nation, the
audience revelled in a heady dose of revisionist history.
That's when the present intruded into the past. Well aware of the BJP's
diffidence on the subject-Godse was initially nurtured by the Sangh Parivar and
the RSS was banned after Gandhi's assassination-the Congress chose to make an
issue of the play in Parliament. On July 16, it was joined by the rest of the
Opposition in demanding a ban on Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy. In the next two
days the issue snowballed. In Kerala the ruling Left Democratic Front even tried
to link the matter with a local controversy over the Sivagiri Mutt. Always
anxious to keep his liberal credentials intact Prime Minister Atal Binari
Vajpayee was particularly agitated on receiving an agonised letter of protest
from veteran Gandhian Usha Mehta. He instructed Home Minister L.K. Advani to
take action.
For Advani it was an awkward predicament Personally opposed to bans and
censorship as an opposition leader he attacked the ban on Salman Rushdie's
"The Satant verses" the home minister was never the less aware that the issue
could get out of hand Apart from resurrecting the hoary controversy over the
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 57
RSS alleged involvement in the Gandhi murder there was the danger that the
Opposition would use the issue to disrupt both Parliament and the Maharashtra
Assembly. He first advised the Mahohar Joshi Government to ensure that the
issue didn't became a law and order problem But before the state Government
could act he bowed to vajpayees pressure and advised the state Government to
prohibit its performance" The Government Advani told Parliament, "strongly
disapproves of anything that denigrates the hallowed memory of Mahatma
Gandhi and belittles the unique role he played in leading the nation of
freedom" The lofty statement barely concealed the fact that the Government
had bowed to pressure and succumbed to expediency
The Center's "advice" left the Maharashtra Government with no option but to
prohibit the play. Says state Culture Minister Pramod Navalkar, the man behind
the crusade against lurid advertisements and shows in pubs: "We were not very
pleased to ban it. But we couldn't let it become a law and order issue either."
Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, who has never concealed his admiration for
Godse. wasn't pleased either. "I interpret it as prohibition, not as ban.” he said
Next, it was the turn of the Left to join the "ban" wagon so as to please the
Congress. The Kerala police raided the offices of Tapathi Pusthaka Prasadhaka
Sanghom (operating from the RSS office) in Kannur, seized 25 copies of the
Malayalam translation of Godse's court deposition, May It Please Your Honour,
and arrested the printer. The Government used its powers under Section 153 of
the Indian Penal Code that permits action to prevent the spread of communal
hatred. It conveniently ignored a 1983 court ruling that section 153 cannot be
misused to thwart historical research.
This month's events mark the fourth time that Godse has been at the center of
a storm since his execution. First, the Government prohibited the distribution
of Godse's testimony in court, despite it being a part of the court records.
Second, the Delhi Administration banned the original Marathi version of Gopal
Godse's Gandhji's Murder and After when it was published in 1967, Gopal, the
younger brother of Nathuram was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 58
the Gandhi murder plot and released from prison in 1965. He challenged the
ban in the Bombay High Court. In a landmark 217-page judgment delivered in
1968, the court said. "We think that the claim of the publisher that Gandhi's
assassination is now a matter of history' fairly justified. "Considering the
government's claim that the book would contribute to communal disharmony.
The high court said it was least concerned with the author's motives. The
central theme of the book Partition and Gandhi's murder-was deemed a
legitimate subject for study by any citizen of India.
The Bombay High Court judgment came too late to reverse the Government's
ban on American academic Stanley Wolpert's Nine Hours To Rama published in
1962. Actually, the novel on Gandhi's assassination was a casualty of its
celluloid version, directed by Mark Robson (of Peyton Place fame) and starring
German actor Horst Buccholz as Godse. For reasons unknown, the Union
Cabinet disapproved of the film after a private showing in November 1962-at
the height of the Sino-lndian war. In 1988, when Penguin India.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 59
(India Today Aug. 1998)
There are many in Pune who still revere Godse and Apte. For the families of the
Mahatma's killers, upholding their legacy is a matter of intense pride.
MINUTES BEFORE HE faced the gallows in Ambala jail, Nathuram Godse had his
will testified by the magistrate presiding over his execution. "My ashes," he
instructed his elder brother Dattatraya. "may be sunk in the holy Sindhu river
when she will again flow freely under the aegis of the flag of Hindustan... It
hardly matters even if it took a couple of generations for realising my wish.
Preserve the ashes till then..."
After cremation, the ashes of Godse and Narayan Apte were not handed over to
their families. Jail officials took the urns to a railway bridge and dropped the
ashes into the Ghaggar river. Later in the afternoon, one of them narrated the
experience to a shopkeeper in the bazaar. The shopkeeper in turn hurriedly
whispered the information to Indrasen Sharma, a local Hindu Mahasabha worker
employed by The Tribune. Sharma accompanied by two fellow Mahas'abhaites.
Immediately left for the spot. "The river was only six inches deep." says
Sharma, now living in retirement in Delhi, "and we managed to collect half a
matka of ashes." That matka has handed over Om Prakash Kohal, a lecturer in a
local college, who in turn passed it on to one Dr L.V. Paranjape in Nasik. There
it lay in safe custody until it was handed over to Gopal Godse in 1965 after his
release from prison. It is now preserved, as per Godse's wishes, in a silver urn in
a residential flat in Pune.
Each November 15, since 1950. Godse's "martyrdom day" is observed in Pune.
First, the portraits of Godse and Apte, inset in a map of akhand Hindustan are
garlanded. Then, lamps-the numbers signifying the years since his death-are lit
and an aarti performed. Finally, the audience takes a collective pledge to work
towards full-filling Godse's dream of a united India. "It took the Jews 1,600
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 60
years to recover Jerusalem." Says Gopal Godse and each year they took the
pledge next year Jerusalem.
The gatherings are small-though the number of Godse ceremonies across India
has actually grown in recent years-but to the committed. Godse remains the
symbol of a cause. "Those of us who were young and believed in the Hindu
Mahasabha ideology did feel that Gandhi deserved to die for his anti-national
activities." says Vikram Savarkar, whose uncle Veer Savarkar was the ideological
guru of Godse and Apte. "There is a part of the samaj that realised the
significance of Nathuram's act." says Gopal Godse. "There was sympathy but
people were also afraid."
The tear was understandable. After Gandhi's death, the ire of Congress workers
was directed at the Brahmins of Pune. There was organised rioting and Pune
was under curfew for a week. Later many were detained by the police because
of their links with the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha. "It was difficult time,"
recounts Sindhu Godse, Gopal's wife. "Our house was looted and we were
teased and harassed. That was Gandhism." Sindhu was even advised by many
well-wishers to revert to her maiden name. She refused. "I was married into the
Godses. Even if I fall down, I will remain a Godse. I proudly said I was
Nathuram's sister-in-law."
"My confidence about the moral side of my action has not been shaken even by
the criticism levelled against it on all sides." Godse told the Appeals Court
confidently. That sense of righteousness has rubbed off on the Godse and Apte
Champutai Apte was only 14 when she married the dashing and chainsmoking
"Nana" Apte. By 31 she was widowed, and a year later lost her only child. Today
she lives in the attic of her father's ancestral house, her only luxury an old
alarm clock kept in a glass case. Her only reminder of her husband is an old
photograph and her mangalsutra that she continues wearing- "He told me not to
live like a widow". Always aloof from politics, she only got to know of Apte's
involvement in the Gandhi murder after his arrest in Mumbai was she angry? "I
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 61
was not angry. He has given his life for the nation. I am living a proud life.
What regret?"
That reassurance has come from the support of Pune's closely knit Chitpavan
Brahmin community. In the vanguard of revolutionary nationalism, the lighteyed Chitpavan Brahmins were among the first to embrace Hindutva, an
ideology they perceived as the logical extension of the legacy of Shivaji, the
Peshwas and Lokmanya Tilak. Out of place in both the social reform movement
of Mahatma Phule and the mass politics of Mahatma Gandhi, large numbers of
them looked to Sarvarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha and finally, the RSS for
inspiration. The Godse cult stems from this mindset and time has only proved a
partial healer.
Godse was a familiar figure in Pune in the 1940s and Apte's father was a
respected scholar involved in charitable work. They were part of the old city's
Brahmin establishment. Their role in the Mahatma's murder may have shocked
the city but the act didn't make the Godses and Aptes social out casts. Sindhu
Godse ran a small engineering business while Gopal was in prison and
Champutai retired as a nursery schoolteacher. "My children never suffered in
school," says sindhu the teaching Community was very understanding adds
Champutai: "I too never suffered. The community was very supportive."
That supportiveness did not stem from a belief that Gandhi deserved to die.
The murderers of India's greatest son were nurtured in an ambience were
Gandhism was equated with effeteness. These were modern India's early elites
who prospered under the Peshwas, benefited from English education, supported
the early nationalists and got lost in democracy. For this they held Gandhi
—SWAPAN DASGUPTA and ASHOK MALIK sought the Home Ministry's
permission for a paperback edition of the novel, it was informed that "we
have reviewed the file and have no reason to change our decision to ban the
book". The ban persists to this date though extracts of the book are freely
accessible on the Internet.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 62
What explains this strange reluctance on the part of successive governments to
permit any public deliberation on the Gandhi murder? Gandhi was one of the
most outstanding personalities of this century. His leader ship of the national
movement was unquestioned and his role in history is assured. His assassination
was a dastardly act and Godse stood condemned by public opinion much before
the judicial verdict against him was pronounced. In death, Gandhi and Godse
may have got intertwined but in life they were simply not on par. So why is
Godse's critique of Gandhi being singled out of official action.
From a liberal point of view, the heavy-handedness of the Government is
inexplicable. "Controversial ideas need to be debated in public." says Wolpert,
who was at the centre of another controversy in 1996over his biography of
Jawaharlal Nehru, pointing to the fact that even Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf is
available in countries that were invaded and brutalised by the Nazis. "If we
keep banning art and books, where will we end up?" asks National School of
Drama Director Ram Gopal Bajaj. Adds playwright Girish Kanard: "Whatever its
critique of Mahatma Gandhi, we all have a right to see the play and decide for
ourselves. What worries me is the proliferation of an old RSS-Shiv Sena
technique: collect 200 to 300 people, create a law and order problem, divert
attention from the actual creative work and cause a situation where a ban
seems the easy way out."
In the case of Godse, however libertarian arguments are met with reservations.
If former Congress president Sitaram Kesri is gung-ho that "the ban is totally
justified because glorification of Gandhi's assassin means that as a nation we
are endorsing what he did others are a little more cautious. Says leader
Somnath Chatterjee: "Ordinarily one wouldn't support an attempt to interfere
with the freedom of expression but in a situation in which a play is being used
to portray a murder as a martyr one cannot but reluctantly support such a
That freedom is not absolute licence is conceded by all, but does it have to
be tempered with political expediency "killing Gandhi didn't put the end to
Gandhism." says Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde.
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 63
"Stopping the play doesn't mean that Godse's ideology will be banned." Munde is
right, but will find it daunting to apply the same logic to his government's
offensive against painter M. F. Husain and sundry pop stars. Conviction cannot
become a matter of political convenience. In Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena and a
section of the BJP are understandably sore at having been forced to stop Dalvi's
play. Will this experience now prompt them to abandon state sponsored
exercises in ideological and cultural purification? Or will it prompt a wave of
savage ideological retaliation centered on counter-in-tolerance? A section of
the saffron camp certainly feels that the Vajpayee Government is pulling its
punches and not doing enough to prompt the party's distinctiveness. This,
however, is a fringe view. The leadership sees in the Godse controversy an
opportunity to extricate the party from the taint of being "Gandhi's killers'. Now
in positions of authority the BJP is in search of respectability and wouldn't mind
jettisoning the last strands of the Godse connection. Having placed Gandhiji is
the Sangh Parivar pantheon, the BJP is unlikely to regress.
In any case, pre-determined ideology is inadequate to comprehend the
complexities of Godse. The assassin of Gandhi wasn't a crank along the lines of
the murderers of Martin Luther King and John F. Kenedy. Godse failed to
matriculate but he was nevertheless an accomplished Marathi polemicist with
definite and clear views of what constituted right and wrong. "It was not a
supari Killing, says former Hindu Mahasabha president Vinayak Savarkar who
knew both Godse and Apte."Godse was a learned man. He had ideological
reasons for doing what he did."
Those ideological reasons were spelt out by Godse in his lengthy deposition to
the court. In it, with copious references to philosophy and contemporary
politics, he spelt out his belief and Gandhi "had no right to vivisect the country,
the image of our worship. But he did it all the same". From all accounts it was a
masterly performance. Even the judges were impressed. Justice G.D.KhosIa,
who sat on a three-bench court of appeal/later wrote that women could be
seen sobbing after Godse's final deposition. "I have... no doubt that had the
audience of that day been constituted into a jury... they would have brought in
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 64
a verdict of not guilty by an overwhelming majority. "Gopal Godse, in fact,
traces the Government's determination to suppress the debate about his
brother to the power of his arguments. "They did not want the truth to
Such a suggestion seems unduly conspiratorial. The Government's real fem
stemmed from the high emotive content of Godse's justification of his "moral
but "illegal" act. In the context of the 1950s, when Indian democracy was still in
its infancy, it was a legitimate fear. Partition and its accompanying horrors
were still fresh in the popular imagination and Godse s message was calculated
to have an inflammatory, effect. But that was 50'years ago. Today; much of
what angered Godse and his coconspirators is of academic interest. The
refugees from Pakistan have resettled and even prospered and Indian
nationhood hasn't been bar tried away, as Goase feared. Even Hindutva is alive
and kicking. A ban born out of anxiety has little relevance. Godse has been
tried, found guilty and punished. He now belongs to history.
Actually, it was the Mahatma who had the proverbial last word. When
Godse's associate Madanlal Pahwa, a refugee from Punjab, threw a bomb at
his prayer meeting a few days before the murder, Gandhi implored forgiveness and understanding. Indicating that Pahwa may have been miss-guided
by the Bhagwat Gita, he nevertheless cautioned: "The youth should realise
that those who differed from him were not necessarily evil.'
It's a message that should be compulsory rending for those politicians who
insists on playing football with the past.
Please read further for understanding Gandhiji's views on "Partition of India" a
recent publication of Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya- Mumbai-named as
"Gandhiji's on Partition" - Views of Gandhiji's gethered from "Collected works of
mahatma Gandhi" available at Mani Bhavan, labournum Road, Gamdevi,
The Murder of the Mahatma Page 65
G.D. KHOSLA Gopal Das Khosla was born at Lahore on December 15, 1901 and
the first few years of his life were spent in various towns of punjab where his
father a member of the Civil Service, was posted from time to time. He was
educated at St. George's College, Mussorie, and Emenuel College, Cambridge,
where he took the B.A. (Hons.) degree in Mathematics in 1923. In 1925, he
became a Civil Servant. As Magistrate, and later Session judge, he saw a great
deal of urban and rural Punjab, and had ample occasion to study the Punjabi,
way of life in its different aspects. He was a judge of the Punjab High Court. He
took an active interest in Music, dramatics and culture of Northern India, and
was anxious to promote tourism, especially in the mountainous regions of India.
From his childhood, Khosla has been interested in the world of letters. The
study of Urdu and Persian in his school days gave him a taste for languages, and
while in Europe he learnt to read and speak French. He was a regular radio
broadcaster and had given more than 200 talks at home and abroad. His major
literary works are Stern Reckoning, our Judicial System, Himalayan Circuit, and
The Price of wife.

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