Gandhi’s Assassination Continues to Haunt Hindu Right: Ashutosh
70 years after Gandhi’s assassination, the Hindu right continues to feel haunted by a perception, writes Ashutosh.
It has been 70 years since Gandhi was assassinated. His killers met their due: Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were sentenced to death while others received life imprisonment. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was acquitted. The case of Gandhi’s murder, a closed chapter in our history, is stirred up again and again. It has been the subject of fresh investigation.
There is the Kapur Commission report that had pointed fingers towards the RSS and Savarkar for Gandhi’s assassination. This matter would have been laid to rest a long time ago but for the mention of RSS’ and Savarkar’s involvement.
A petition filed in the Supreme Court now demands a fresh probe into the case based on newly unearthed evidence. Rumours are afoot that Gandhi’s true killers might have escaped justice altogether.
Theory of the Fourth Bullet
A person of interest here is Pankaj Phadnis who is a trustee of an organisation by the name of Abhinav Bharat. He considers himself Savarkar’s disciple. It is common knowledge that there were three shots fired at Gandhi. Of these, two bullets tore through him while the third lodged itself in his body. It was recovered from his ashes following his cremation.
Mr Phadnis now claims that there was a fourth bullet as well suggesting another assassin at the scene. He argues that it is possible that the fourth bullet was the one responsible for killing Gandhi. He also thinks that Force 136, a secret British unit active during the second world war, might have orchestrated the assassination in order to prevent Gandhi from visiting Pakistan and meeting Jinnah after partition, thus uncovering some dangerous secret in the process.
Phadnis points out the presence of Herbert Reiner, a vice-consul at the American embassy, at the scene, who helped in nabbing Godse and Apte. Pankaj wonders whether Reiner’s presence means Gandhi was being protected by a US intelligence agency and if so, why? Did the US intelligence have any inkling about what was to happen? Phadnis has filed a petition under Freedom of Information Act in the US for declassification of relevant reports and is awaiting answers.
Limited Scope for Reinvestigation
The Supreme Court has appointed senior lawyer Amrender Sharan as impartial adviser to examine whether there is scope for re-investigating Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. The court’s decision will come when it does.
Whenever their link with Gandhi’s assassination is brought up, the extreme unease of the Hindutva brigade is known to everyone. It is a cause of constant embarrassment. They are forever trying to erase this fact from public memory, especially with respect to the younger generation.
Pankaj Phadnis’ latest avatar might be another face saving measure though there is something in his petition that is a little hard to digest. His entire hypothesis rests on the presence of a fourth bullet; a bullet that was never found according to experts.
Godse too took full responsibility for the assassination in court, saying that he fired the bullet with the intention of killing Gandhi. Where is the room for doubt? Is there an appropriate reason for reinvestigation?
Trial of Godse
After the assassination, the testimonies of witnesses and the accused were recorded between 8-22 November 1948. The trial commenced on 1 December 1948. Godse declined a lawyer and fought his own case. His brother Gopal Godse was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In his book Maine Gandhi Ko Kyun Maara, he wrote that Godse had told the court that he discharged two bullets from his pistol. The medical report however mentioned three bullets. C K Daphtary, the lawyer for the prosecution had argued that Godse was trying to mislead the court so that he could be given the benefit of doubt.
To this, Godse retorted:
The pistol was automatic. I pressed the trigger only once. It is of no interest to me whether there were two bullets or three. Only one bullet would have been enough and I fired it.
Godse followed it up with:
If any benefit of doubt accrues to me over the number of bullets fired, then that should go to the prosecution.
Godse explained in an exhaustive statement his motives for murdering Mahatma Gandhi. He admitted that he held the man in reverence. He said:
I am ready to accept that Gandhi has suffered a great deal for the cause of the nation. He played an important role in awakening the conscience of our countrymen. He never did anything for his private gain but he has failed to admit that his adherence to the principle of non-violence has resulted in failure on many counts.
Godse further stated:
Though many have contributed perhaps more than Gandhi did with respect to freedom struggle, I still bow my head before him as a mark of respect for his efforts. I did bow to him before I fired at him. He had no right to divide the nation in two. Since the law couldn’t deliver punishment, I took it upon myself to do so. I had no other choice. If this hadn’t happened at my hands, it would have been better. But circumstances were outside my control.
It is clear from Godse’s testimony that a great deal of deliberation went behind his actions. He harboured no regrets and was fully aware of the magnitude of his action. In para 136 of his statement, he states that if patriotism is a sin, he is guilty of it. He claims that he did what he did for the love of mankind. He fired at a person whose policies and actions were responsible for the brutal killings of lakhs of Hindus.
In para 137, he says: “I speak the truth when I say that my life was over the moment I fired at Gandhi to end his.” A few things are evident from his statement:
- He fired the gun.
- The purpose behind the firing was not to frighten or intimidate Gandhi but to kill him.
- He fired after a great deal of deliberation.
- He had concrete reasons for arriving at his decision to fire.
- He believed that killing Gandhi was his only option.
- He knew that he would be hanged unto death after the assassination.
- He had no regrets.
- Like delusional killers everywhere, he believed that he was doing his nation a service by killing Gandhi.
Culprit Had Confessed to his Crime
Is there still room for any doubt about what happened? The culprit admitted to his wrongdoing. Godse wasn’t a simpleton. He was an educated person and an editor of a newspaper. It is true that he used to be an RSS member but under Savarkar’s influence, he had left the organisation to join the Hindu Mahasabha.
His relationship with Savarkar is an established fact. Manohar Malgonkar writes in his book The Man who Killed Gandhi that Godse’s life changed completely after meeting Savarkar.
Digambar Badge, who turned witness for the prosecution claimed that he had gone to meet Savarkar and seek his blessings before Gandhi’s murder. Towards the end of their meeting, Savarkar had said: Come back victorious. Savarkar was arrested for being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi but was acquitted for technical reasons. The blot, however, never quite went away with the Kapur Commission’s report raking it up again in 1966.
Those Who’re Trying to Mislead and Rewrite History
Today, the Hindu right is on the rise. Despite continuous efforts, they cannot, however unseat Mahatma Gandhi from his place in the minds of Indians. They are compelled to change tack and embrace him now.
Some elements still celebrate Godse as a patriot but these have been relegated to the sidelines. Gandhi is still the father of the nation and his assassination continues to taint the reputation of these powers.
Phadnis’ petition is a device to counter this stain and mislead an entire generation about the facts of history. With all due respect to the court, I am confident that these forces will not succeed in their endeavour.
(This article was first published on 12 October 2017 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark the death anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.)
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