Nathuram Godse, the Man Who Killed the Mahatma

There are several Indians who want to observe 15 November to mark Nathuram Godse’s ‘sacrifice’.

Updated
India
4 min read
File photo of Mohandas K Gandhi. 
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A First Information Report (FIR) filed at Tughlak Road police station in central Delhi on the evening of 30 January 1948 has become an integral, if tragic, piece of Indian history. Nand Lal Mehta was next to Gandhiji when he was shot at point-blank range by Nathuram Godse on the grounds of Birla House.

Nand Lal Mehta’s statement in the Mahatma Gandhi Assassination Case FIR read as follows: “I, along with Lala Brij Kishan, a silver merchant, resident of No. 1, Narendra Place, Parliament Street and Sardar Gurbachan Singh, resident of Timar Pur, Delhi were also there. Apart from us, women from the Birla household and two-three members of the staff were also present. Having crossed the garden, Mahatma climbed the concrete steps towards the prayer place. People were standing on both the sides and approximately three feet of vacant space was left for the Mahatma to pass through. As per the custom the Mahatma greeted people with folded hands. He had barely covered six or seven steps when a person whose name I learnt later as Narayan Vinayak Godse, resident of Poona, stepped closer and fired three shots from a pistol at the Mahatma from a distance of barely 2-3 feet which hit the Mahatma in his stomach and chest and blood started flowing”.

A Trial, Perhaps Too Fair

It took nearly two years for the Indian state and judiciary to convict and execute Nathuram Godse. The government of India went through every legal procedure. His trial was fair, he was allowed to face his accuser and mount a defence for his actions.

Nathuram Godse at his trial. (Photo Courtesy: Photos Division, Government of India)
Nathuram Godse at his trial. (Photo Courtesy: Photos Division, Government of India)

Godse was unrepentant through the trial, and never tried to distance himself from his actions. In the silent footage from his trial you can see Godse, the other accused and his lawyer smiling and interacting with the press.

In November 1948, Godse made a statement in open court that ran over 90 pages. He spoke for five hours about why he killed ‘the father of the nation’.

I would consider it a religious and moral duty to resist and if possible, to overpower such an enemy by use of force. (In the Ramayana) Rama killed Ravana in a tumultuous fight and relieved Sita. (In the Mahabharata) Krishna killed Kansa to end his wickedness; and Arjuna had to fight and slay quite a number of his friends and relations, including the revered Bhishma, because the latter was on the side of the aggressor... He was, paradoxical, as it may appear, a violent pacifist who brought untold calamities on the country in the name of truth and non-violence, while Rana Pratap, Shivaji and the Guru will remain enshrined in the hearts of their countrymen forever for the freedom they brought to them. The accumulating provocation of thirty two years, culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast, at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end immediately.
Excerpt from Nathuram Godse’s Final Statement

While Godse himself was unrepentant, his family did try to appeal the Punjab & Haryana High Court’s decision to execute him.

Who’s Celebrating Nathuram Godse?

A man makes a portrait of Gandhi before the latter’s death anniversary. (Photo: Reuters)
A man makes a portrait of Gandhi before the latter’s death anniversary. (Photo: Reuters)

The Akhil Bahratiya Hindu Mahasabha (ABHM) has decided to celebrate November 15, the anniversary of Godse’s execution, as Balidan Diwas or sacrifice day. To certain fringe elements, Godse has always been a revered figure.

In 2014, the ABHM decided to build temples dedicated to Godse, and earlier this year there was a proposal to name a flyover in Alwar, Rajasthan after him.

Scattered events such as these may lead some to believe one of two things. First, that there is genuine admiration for Godse. This is particularly disturbing given the dangerous, garbled thoughts he expressed in his statements in court.

Secondly, some believe that this growing reverence may be encouraged by the fact that a BJP government has come to power with a resounding majority.

However, the facts as they stand, do not lead irrevocably towards either of the two conclusions.

The Hindu Mahasabha is not a part of the Sangh Parivaar, a term for the RSS and its affiliates. There is as much ideological difference between the two as there is between the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Naxals.

Godse is certainly spoken about more and more, perhaps positively, in recent times. But whether that is because of genuine admiration or merely the ability to make noise on social media and grab headlines is up for debate.

(This article was first published on 14 May 2016 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the birth anniversary of Nathuram Godse.)

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