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Murder of the millennium

Bhupesh Bhandari  |  New Delhi 

The Mahatma died minutes after Nathuram Vinayak Godse pulled out a Berretta 9 mm automatic and pumped three bullets into the old and frail body, on January 30, 1948, at Birla House in Lutyens' Delhi. Godse was caught. The whole plot, drawn up by a bunch of Hindu fanatics, was soon uncovered and Godse's other partners in the crime rounded up.
Godse and Narayan Apte, both of them unrepentant right up to the end, were hanged at the Ambala jail in the morning of November 15, 1949. Gopal Godse, Vishnu Karkare and Madanlal Pahwa, the other conspirators, were sentenced to 14 years in prison.
The essential details of the most sensational political murder of the 20th century are all very well known. Tushar Gandhi, the Mahatma's great-grandson, takes us back to those days almost 60 years later. And, in the process, blasts some well-established myths.
The popular belief is that a section of India's Hindu population was unhappy with the Mahatma's appeals to end the slaughter of the Muslims and it tried to take revenge by killing him. The fact is, the same set of Brahmin hardliners from Pune had made three attempts to kill him even before the idea of Pakistan was born.
The Godse-Apte gang had made its last attempt to kill the Mahatma on January 20. The attempt failed and Pahwa was caught. In custody, Pahwa sang like a canary about his accomplices but the police failed to lay their hands on Godse, Apte and Karkare, who came back to Delhi for another try. Pahwa took them to the hotel in Connaught Place where Savarkar had stayed and the police got hold of laundry that could have led them to the killers. Clearly, there was a lack of energy to catch the conspirators. "He will come again," Pahwa had told his captors. His warning, unfortunately, fell on deaf ears.
There were other reports from Mumbai (Bombay at that time) of a conspiracy to kill the Mahatma, which had been passed on to Sardar Patel by Morarji Desai. Still, little was done to shield the Mahatma. The security at Birla House was non-existent. Hours before he fired the shots, Godse was seen standing next to the cot where the Mahatma was taking a siesta!
These might sound like conspiracy theories but Tushar Gandhi's reasoning is impeccable. Not just Hindu fanatics, there were many others at that time who did not like what the Mahatma was doing. He had, after all, talked of winding up the Congress after Independence. And when the government of the day had dithered on paying Rs 55 crore to Pakistan, it was the Mahatma who had insisted that the money be paid immediately.
If the lack of concern on the repeated attacks on the Mahatma and the intelligence reports was baffling, the trial of the accused was equally bizarre. Godse and Apte were hanged, though at least two members of the Mahatma's family had asked for the executions to be called off. Eye for an eye was certainly not Gandhian justice.
According to Tushar Gandhi, there was undue haste to let VD Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha ideologue, off the hook. Was it to keep the anger of the Hindus from tipping over? Tushar Gandhi also indicates that one defence paper written by Godse may well have been penned by Savarkar. These questions will probably never be answered. Still, Tushar Gandhi has done well to put them in the public domain.
Though Apte was the leader of the gang that came to Delhi to kill the Mahatma, towards the end it was Godse who had grabbed the initiative. He comes across in the book as a motivated and resolute fanatic who was convinced that the Mahatma had sold out to the Muslims.
Godse and Apte, Tushar Gandhi says, were absolute contrasts. Apte was flashy and something of a ladies' man, while Godse was an introvert and hated women. The story goes, after his parents had lost all their children, an astrologer told them that they could put an end to it if they would bring up their next boy as a girl. Thus, Nathuram grew up in girl's clothes and even had his nose pierced (hence the name""one who wears a nosering). Having lived with unkind jibes right through his childhood, this perhaps ignited an extreme hatred in him. Of course, he was initiated into rabid Hinduism by none else than Savarkar.
LET'S KILL GANDHI
A CHRONICLE OF HIS LAST DAYS,
THE CONSPIRACY, MURDER,
INVESTIGATION AND TRIAL
Tushar A Gandhi
Rupa & Co; 985 pages; Rs 995

First Published: Fri, February 23 2007. 00:00 IST
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