Sixty three years ago, Gandhi was shot dead by Shree Nathuram Godse This fact has been repeated through writings and speeches of politicians, secularists and others. Rarely, has any one talked or written as to why Godse killed Gandhi? For those interested in knowing this, should go through the book The Murder of the Mahatma by Justice G.D. Khosla (Chatto & Windus, London, 1963). Justice Khosla was one of the three High Court Judges who had heard the appeal of Godse and his accomplices. Given below are some selected excerpts from the above volume:
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 (custodian of evacuee property), 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 large-scale exchange of populations. 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 town and villages of India in big unruly masses. They wanted houses to live in.
CUSTODIAN OF EVACUEE PROPERTY
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. The Custodian selected by the Government of India was a South Indian, and very soon there were loud complaints 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.
PLIGHT OF HINDU REFUGEES
When I visited the Muslim quarters to see things at first hand, and check the inventory of houses prepared by subordinate 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 a shelter after they had been hounded 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?
MUSLIMS TO GO TO PAKISTAN
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 understanding, no sense of justice where my own people were concerned? They expected better treatment from a Punjabi. And much more in the same strain. 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.
GANDHI GOES ON FAST
In my perplexity, I sought Mahatma Gandhi’s advice. 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 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. On the day Sardar Patel made 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’.
I drove to Birla House, well before the appointed time. 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 breaks my heart to see them suffering like this, exposed to the elements. Tell me Bapuji, what should I do? ‘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’.
GANDHI SHOT DEAD
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. 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. 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 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. This was necessary because the judge would have to deal with offences committed beyond his normal territorial jurisdiction. The trial was 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 choice. Eight persons were charged with murder. The examination of the witnesses and the recording of their evidence was concluded on November 6, 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. Four days later appeals were filed in the Punjab High Court on behalf of all seven convicted persons. Godse did not challenge his conviction upon the charge of murder, nor 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.
APPEAL BY GODSE AND OTHERS
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. The Punjab High Court was, at that time, located at Simla. The Government of India had placed at our disposal Peterhoff, a large manorial building which was formerly the summer residence of the Viceroy.
The hearing began on May 2, 1949. At a long table, front of the dais sat an impressive row of advocates representing the appellants and the King. 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. 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.
Nathuram and Gopal Godse were the sons of a village postmaster. 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. Madan Lal Pahwa, a Punjabi Hindu from Pakpattan (now in Pakistan), had the markings of a firebrand. 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 organizing demonstrations by groups of refugees against the Government and its apparent lack of sympathy for the Hindu victims of the partition.
ENMITY TOWARDS MUSLIMS MEANS ENMITY TOWARDS INDIA
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 crore 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 Indo-Pakistan 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 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. 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 Muslims meant enmity towards India.
DISCOURSE BY GODSE
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 attitudes:
Born in a devotional Brahmin family, I instinctively came to revere Hindu religion, Hindu history and Hindu culture. I had been intensely proud of Hindudom 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.
MOTIVES FOR MURDER
Atrocities on Hindus in Naokhali
In 1946 or thereabout the Muslim atrocities perpetrated on the Hindus under the Government patronage of Suhrawardy in Noakhali, made our blood boil. Our shame and indignation knew no bounds, when we saw that Gandhiji had come forward to shield that very Suhrawardy and began to style him as ‘Sahid-Saheb’ – a Martyr Soul (!) even in his prayer meetings.
READINGS FROM THE QURAN IN MANDIR
Not only that, but after coming to Delhi, Gandhiji began to hold his prayer 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 if 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 intolerant when his honour was insulted
CONGRESS GOVERNMENT KILLS THE HINDUS
Just after that followed the terrible outburst of Muslim fanacticism in the Punjab and other parts of India. The Congress government began to persecute, prosecute and 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 festivities and the Congressite Government, and to launch a fighting programme to check Muslim onslaughts.
HINDUS FORCED TO LEAVE PAKISTAN
Five crores of Indian Muslims 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.
GANDHI’S MUSLIM APPEASEMENT
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, nor do I wish to conceal my utter dissent from any disapproval of the very foundation of his policy and methods.
GANDHI’S LAST PRO-MUSLIM FAST
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 half-way 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.
GANDHI: THE JUDGE OF EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING
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 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 sever austerity of life, ceaseless work and lofty character made Gandhiji formidable and irresistible.
Many people thought his politics were irrational, 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.
POLICY OF NON-VIOLENCE AND TRUTH
As regards non-violence, it was absurd to expect 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.
GANDHI AND JINNAH
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. 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.
GODSE’S SELF ASSESSMENT
Briefly speaking, I thought to myself and foresaw that I shall be totally ruined and the only thing that I could expect from the people would be nothing but hatred and that I shall have lost all my honour, even more valuable than my life, if I were to kill Gandhiji. But at the same time I felt that 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. Do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack (sic) and ruin and destruction to lacs of Hindus.
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 of 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”.
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 of 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 an 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 Holywood feature film. I have, however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse’s appeal, they would have brought in a verdict of ‘not guilty’ by an overwhelming majority.
THE FINAL CHAPTER
The final chapter of this sad story takes us to the Central Gaol, Ambala, where Nathuram Godse and Apte were executed on the morning of November 15, 1949. 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.
GODSE’S LAST WISH WAS FOR HIS ASHES TO BE SUBMERGED IN THE INDUS RIVER OF AN UNDIVIDED INDIA,NO MATTER HOW MANY GENERATIONS IT TAKES.THAT URN CONTAINING HIS ASHES STILL STANDS IN PUNE.
INPUT COURTESY-JANSANGH TODAY
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