First Terrorist of Independent India
…Government have, however, noticed with regret that in practice members of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have not adhered to their professed ideals.
“Undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by the members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunitions. They have been found circulating leaflets, exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and military.”
(The government communique of February 4, 1948, announcing the ban on RSS after Gandhi’s assassination)
On Nathuram Godse, (19 th May 1910 – 15 th Nov 1949) Advani asserts that Godse had “severed links with RSS in 1933… had begun to bitterly criticise the RSS”. This was flatly contradicted by none other than Godse’s brother Gopal, who was also an accused at the trial for conspiracy to murder. He published his book Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in December 1993. Speaking in New Delhi on the occasion of the release of his book, Gopal Godse revealed what many had suspected—they had both been active members of the RSS (The Statesman; December 24, 1993).
(Ref : Whitewashing Godse is part of the Sangh Parivar’s sordid game, From: Frontline, January 26, 2013)
What could be said to be the first act of terrorism in independent India?
Everybody would agree that killing of Mahatma Gandhi by a Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse constitutes the first terrorist act in independent India. Godse, a Maharashtrian Brahmin, hailing from Pune was associated with Hindu Mahasabha at the time of Mahatma’s assassination and had his initial forays in the world of politics with the RSS. During his tour of the area Hedgewar, the first supremo of RSS, use to be accompanied by Nathuram , the future assassin of Gandhi. Godse had in fact joined the RSS in 1930, winning prominence as a speaker and organiser.
The world at large knows how the Hindu fanatics had planned the murder of the Mahatma and how the likes of Savarkar and Golwalkar, the second Supremo of RSS could be held to be responsible for creating the ambience of hate which culminated in the gruesome act. Sardar Patel’s letter to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who was then member Hindu Mahasabha and who later formed Bharatiya Jansangh with RSS’s support provides enough details about the background (18 th July, 1948)
… our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (the RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhiji’s assassination) became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure
If somebody poses before you another simple query relating to similar episodes in the sixty plus year trajectory of independent India – then what would be your response. Perhaps you would like to add the death of Indira Gandhi – killed by her Sikh bodyguards , killing of Rajeev Gandhi – who fell to a suicide attack by a Tamil Hindu woman, or for that matter demolition of the 500 year old Babri mosque by the marauders of the RSS-VHP-BJP-Shiv Sena. If one follows the debate further you would like to underline the 1984 riots ( actually genocide of Sikhs mainly perpetrated by Hindu lumpen elements instigated by the then ruling Congress Party with due connivance of Hindutva brigade), emergence of Khalistani terrorists movement or the eight year old Gujarat genocide executed with military precision allegedly by the RSS and its affiliated organisations led by one of those Hindu Hriday Samrats.
Compare all these major episodes in the history of Independent india – which encompassed many a terrorist acts within them – with the mental image which conjures up in your mind or which finds prominence in the media when one listens to any terrorist act in any part of the country. Does it have any resemblance with the image of a member of the majority community or one of those minority communities ? You would agree that the mental image/projected image has features specific to one of the religious minorities in our country. If in the late eighties or early nineties it would have been the image of a turbaned Sikh, the end of first decade of the 21st century has found its replacement with a bearded Muslim.
Question naturally arises why is it that despite their participation in many a gruesome incidents, the role played by them in instigating riots (as noted by many a commissions of enquiry) or there [their]admission before camera about the planning which went in making a genocide happen (courtesy Tehelka sting operation or the interview given by Keka Shastri to rediff.com) the Hindu fanatic has not become a part of our social common sense. Why when someone called Sadhvi Pragya or Major Purohit or Dayanand Pandey or for that matter Swami Aseemanand are found to be engaged in conspiring and executing terrorist acts and police decipher their certain involvement in similar sinister operations earlier as well, we are ready to call them ‘exception’ and when a completely innocent Muslim youth is arrested by the police, the media is ready to paint him the real mastermind of few terrorist acts. Why the slogan coined by one of the majoritarian formations ‘All Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim’ does not receive broadest possible condemnation which it deserves.
Perhaps there is no simple answer to this query. One will have to delve deep into our past, take a dispassionate look at the anti-colonial struggle and also the tragic phase of partition riots. Simultaneously we will have to discern the threads of our present, understand for ourselves the role of different actors as well as the role of ideologies to reach any tentative understanding. It is for everyone to see that in a multi-religious, multilingual country like ours the complexities of the situation are itself immense. We find ourselves in a situation where while ‘communalism’ of the majority community could be construed as ‘nationalism’, every assertion by the minority community on genuine demands tends to be seen with a ‘communal’ colour. And it follows from this that ‘terrorism’ unleashed by the majoritarians is easily disguised under the bursting of ‘pent up anger’ against the minorities whereas ‘terrorist acts’ committed by minorities of different kinds are construed as the biggest danger facing the nation.
What follows here is an attempt to move beyond the social common sense around ‘terrorism’ where we are witness to continuous stigmatisation of a particular community for actions of its lunatic fringe. This is an understanding which has received a new boost in the aftermath of 9/11 and the ‘war against terror’ unleashed by the US regime, to further its imperialist ambitions.
The need of the hour is to understand that ‘terrorism’ cannot be the monopoly of a particular community. And it is a product of the typical circumstances which societies encounter or find themselves in and the nature of the dominant or dominated forces in operation in those societies and their larger worldview.
In this connection the most important lesson, which should be remembered, is that the law and order machinery should be even handed in its approach in unearthing the truth behind every terrorist incident or act. It should not repeat its earlier folly of stigmatizing the whole community, which it is alleged to have engaged in during last few years after similar terrorist acts. It should also not be seen going soft on Hindu militant formations for fear of providing political capital to Hindutva organizations.
Very few people know the animosity maintained by Hindutva fanatics towards Gandhi which was evident in four attempts on his life before Nathuram Godse’s final attempt. (Chunibhai Vaidya, a leading Gandhian from Gujarat talks about total six attempts. Apart from the details of various attempts mentioned below he talks about an attempt on his life in Sept 1946 also.)
The first one happened in Pune (25 th June 1934) when Mahatma Gandhi was going to Corporation auditorium to deliver a speech. Kasturba Gandhi, his wife was also accompanying him. Incidentally the car in which Gandhis were travelling developed some snag and was delayed whereas the other car which was in their motorcade reached the venue where a bomb was thrown at the car. The explosion caused injuries to some policemen and ordinary people.
The second attempt on Mahatma Gandhi’s life also involved his future assasin namely Nathuram Godse. Gandhi was visiting Panchagani, a hill station near Pune (May 1944) where a young crowd of 15-20 young people came through a chartered bus. They organised a daylong protest demonstration against him but refused to talk when Gandhi invited them. During the prayer meeting in the evening Nathuram rushed towards Gandhi with a dagger in his hand where he was overpowered by others.
The third attempt happened when Gandhi’s talks with Jinnah started in Sep 1944. When Gandhi was leaving for Mumbai from Sevagram Ashram, a group of fanatic Hindu youth led by Nathuram Godse tried to stop him.Their contention was that Gandhi does not travel to Mumbai to hold talks with Jinnah. Nathuram was again found in possession of a dagger.
The fourth attempt on Gandhi’s life (20 th January 1948) involved roughly the same group namely Madanlal Pahwa, Shankar Kistaiya, Digambar Badge, Vishnu Karkare, Gopal Godse, Nathuram Godse, and Narayan Apte. The plan was to attack Mahatma Gandhi and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. In this failed attempt Madanlal Pahwa placed a cotton ball enclosing a bomb on the wall behind the podium in Birla Bhavan, where Gandhi was staying. The bomb went off without creating any panic, although Madanlal Pahwa was caught. Other members of the group who were assigned to shoot Gandhi in the ensuing melee developed cold feet and did not act.
And the last one happened on 30 th January at 5:17 p.m. when Nathuram Godse approached him and shot him three times in his chest at point blank range. All those involved in the crime were arrested and were tried in a court which attracted lot of media attention. Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were sentenced to death by the courts and others were awarded life imprisonment. As far as Savarkar was concerned he was acquitted and set free due to lack of evidence. It was worth noting that Jawaharlal Nehru as well as Gandhi’s two sons, who felt that the two men were merely pawns of top Hindutva leaders, demanded commutation of their death sentence as they sincerely felt that executing the assassins would in fact dishonour their father’s legacy who was a staunch opponent of death penalty. Nathuram Godse as well as the other conspirator Narayan Apte were hanged at Ambala Jail on November 15, 1949.
How did the killers of Gandhi tried [try] to rationalise their criminal act. According to them Gandhiji supported the idea of a separate state for Muslims, thus in a sense he was responsible for the creation of Pakistan. Secondly, belligerence of Muslims was a result of Gandhiji’s policy of appeasement. Thirdly, in spite of the Pakistani aggression in Kashmir, Gandhiji fasted to compel the government of India to release an amount of Rs. 55 crores due to Pakistan.
Anyone familiar with that period of history can decipher that all these allegations are malicious and factually incorrect also. In fact, the idea of communal amity which Gandhi upheld all his life was a complete anathema to the exclusivist, Hindu Supremacist world view of the members of RSS, Hindu Mahasabha. And while nation was a racial/religious construct in the imagination of the Hindutva forces, for Gandhi and rest of the nationalists it was a territorial construct or a bounded territory comprising of different communities, collectivities living there.
And looking at the fourteen year old history of unsuccessful attempts on his life, it becomes clear that the conspiracy to eliminate Gandhiji was conceived much earlier than the successful accomplishment thereof. The grounds advanced for such a heinous crime could be seen as clever rationalisation to hoodwink the gullible.
The issue of Nathuram Godse’s connections with RSS (if any) still remains far from settled. In fact, any discussion on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination has always led RSS and its affiliated organisations to adopt a very ambivalent stand vis-a-vis Nathuram Godse and his team. On the one hand they are found to be making extra efforts to exhibit that neither of them have had any association with him at least at the time of murder. Of course they have not forgotten to argue that one needs to understand the frustration felt by people over Gandhi’s actions.
Look at what L.K. Advani, the then senior leader of BJP said :
‘Nathuram Godse was a bitter critic of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. His charge was that the RSS had made Hindus impotent. We have had nothing to do with Godse. The Congress is in the habit of reviving this allegation against us when it finds nothing else.’ ( The Times of India,November 22, 1993)
As everybody knows people closely associated with Nathuram Godse, who themselves were party to the conspiracy to kill Gandhi, have a different take on the whole relation.
In his book ‘Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi’ (1993) Gopal Godse says unambiguously: “He (Nathuram) has said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.” In the same book he also characterises Advani’s denial of Nathuram’s membership of the RSS at the time of the murder as “cowardice.”
In an interview to ‘Frontline’ (January 28, 1994, Interview by Arvind Rajgopal) Gopal Godse repeats what he had to say :
Q . Were you a part of the RSS
A. All the brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattaaatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather in our homes. It was like a family to us.
Q. Nathuram stayed in the RSS ? He did not leave it ?
A. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.
Q. Advani has recently said that Nathuram had nothing to do with RSS.
A. I have countered him, saying it is cowardice to say that. You can say that RSS did not pass a resolution, saying that, ‘go and assassinate Gandhi.’ But you do not disown him (Nathuram). The Hindu Mahasabha did not disown him.
In 1944 Nathuram started doing Hindu Mahsabha work when he had been a baudhik karyavah in the RSS.
Discussing his brothers’ last moments before the hanging, Gopal Godse tells us in his above mentioned book : on reaching the platform he cited a verse of devotion to the Motherland; the verse in question was as follows:
Namaste sadaa vatsale matribhume
Tvya hindubhume sukhamvardite hum,
Mahamangle puney bhume tvdharthe
Patitvesh kaayaa namaste namaste.
Anyone who has closely watched the daily routine at the RSS Shakha s/he would reveal that the above comprises the opening verse of the RSS prayer sung in every shakha.
“Yashasvi hohun ya (Be successful and return).”
—V.D. Savarkar’s parting shot, quoted in police records, to Gandhi assassin Nathuram Godse and co-conspirator Narayan Dattatreya Apte
It is on record that in his deposition before the court in the Gandhi murder case, Nathuram Godse was conscious to distance himself from RSS as well as from Savarkar. It is a different matter that archival records show that Godse worked closely with Savarkar since 1935. The assasin’s and his other collobrators strategy definitely saved Savarkar from getting convicted in the assasination case despite playing a key role in the conspiracy (as later enquiries revealed).
In fact, the trial judge in the case Atma Charan had framed the first charge against all eight accused, including Savarkar, that they had conspired to commit Gandhi’s murder. Curiously, he convicted all others but let off Savarkar on the technical ground that there was no corroborative proof to confirm approver Digambar Badge’s evidence who became prosecution’s key witness. Yet, the trial judge found Badge to be a trustworthy witness.
Badge happened to be a Hindu Mahasabha worker who had supplied the gun cotton slab to Godse and others and which was used by Madanlal. He told the court many important facts about Savarkar’s involvement in the assassination plot. According to a report in ‘Outlook’ (‘The Mastermind ?’, Rajesh Ramchandran, 6 Sep 2004) which discusses snippets from the National archives to see if RSS icon (namely Savarkar) had any role in Gandhi’s assassination or not.
Badge told the police about the motive of the assassins. “Apte asked whether I was willing to accompany them to Delhi. I enquired for what purpose, whereupon Apte said that ‘Tatyarao’ meaning Savarkar decided that Gandhiji, Jawaharlal Nehru and Suhrawardhy should be finished and that this work had been entrusted to them.”
…”I was asked to remain downstairs .. and both of them, i.e., Apte and Godse went upstairs to take darshan of Savarkar. After five or 10 minutes, they both came down and as they were getting down the stairs, Savarkar followed them down the stairs and said to them ‘Yeshasvi hohun ya (be successful and return)’. On the way back from Savarkar, Sadan Apte told Badge that, ‘Tatyarao had predicted that Gandhiji’s 100 years were over…. ‘
It is worth noting that DCP Jamshed Nagarvala of the Bombay Presidency, who was asked by Morarji Desai, then Bombay’s home minister to put a close watch on Savarkar’s house and his movements after the bomb incident on 20 th January involving Madanlal Pahwa, clearly explains the reasons behind this action in his crime report : “”The source informed that it was at the direct instigation and instance of Savarkar that this conspiracy was hatched and plan prepared to take the life of Mahatmaji, and his pretense to be ill and out of politics was a mere cover…. Hence it was decided to immediately put a watch on the house of Savarkar.” And when Savarkar’s lawyer questioned this move by the police in the trial court and asked the home minister to respond, Morarji Desai is reported to have countered : “ Shall I give my reasons ? It is for Savarkar to decide whether I should answer. I am prepared to give my reasons.” Upon this. Savarkar’s lawyer said : “I withdraw my question.” ( See J.C.Jain, The Murder of Mahatma Gandhi : Prelude and Aftermath, Chetna Ltd, Bombay, 1961,p.104)
Exactly sixteen years after Gandhi’s assassination a public furore forced the then government to take a fresh look at the conspiracy and also to look into the fact that whether there was any deliberate dereliction of duty on the part of people in high authority or not. It got precipitated after a public programme was organised in Pune to celebrate the release of the conspirators from jail after the expiry of their sentences (12 th Nov 1964) and where some of the speakers revealed that they had they had prior information about the murder. Under pressure of 29 members of parliament and public opinion the then Union home minister Gulzarilal Nanda, constituted a commission led by Jeevanlal Kapur, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, to conduct the inquiry.
Kapur commission also examined Savarkar’s role in the assassination. As things had unfolded in the trial court of Atma Charan, Godse had claimed full responsibility for planning and carrying out the attack, in absence of an independent corroboration of the prosecution witness. Here Badge’s testimony was not accepted as it lacked lacked independent corroboration. This was later corroborated by the testimony of two of Savarkar’s close aides – Appa Ramachandra Kasar, his bodyguard, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary, who had not testified in the original trial but later testified before the Justice Kapur commission set up in 1965. Kasar told the Kapur Commission that they visited him on or about January 23 or 24, which was when they returned from Delhi after the bomb incident. Damle deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar in the middle of January and sat with him (Savarkar) in his garden. Justice Kapur concluded: “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group.”
(Excerpts from the book ‘Godse’s Children : Hindutva Terror in India’ 2 nd Edition, 2013)
Postscript : It is not generally known that the day Godse died – 15 th November – is celebrated by Hindutva fanatics as ‘martyrdom’ day in different parts of the country. In parts of western India, such programmes are organised publicly. A play on the life of Nathuram – Me Nathuram Boltoy ( I Nathuram Speak) which looks at those events from the perspective of a Hindutva fanatic runs into packed houses in Maharashtra.
Time to remember that Godse might be dead but the danger of Godse’s worldview gaining further legitimacy exists.