January 30, 2001


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Arvind Lavakare

An Assassin's Account

Today is Martyr's Day, marking the day when Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated exactly 53 years ago from pistol bullets fired by Nathuram Godse, 37, the bachelor editor of two Marathi language newspapers in Poona as it was then known.

After the heinous deed, Godse raised his hand holding the gun and called for the police. He was apprehended without resistance.

His trial was conducted in a special court at New Delhi's Red Fort from May 27, 1948 to February 10, 1949 when he was sentenced by the single judge to be hanged until dead under Section 302 0f the Indian Penal Code.

His appeal to the Punjab high court was heard by three judges in May and June 1949. On the 22nd of the latter month his death sentence was confirmed. He did not plead for mercy and prohibited others from doing so on his behalf.

Accordingly at the jail in Ambala, in the pleasant, early sun of November 15, 1949, he walked to the hangman's platform, a copy of the Bhagwat Gita in his hands, after he had satisfied his last living desire to 'have a cup of coffee before the swing.'

On reaching the platform, he recited a Sanskrit verse of devotion to the Motherland; soon, his hands were tied behind him; part of the rope from the noose put around his neck was left on his shoulders; his toes were strung together by a cord. He shouted Vande Mataram loudly enough for the sound to reverberate in a radius of a hundred feet in the silent ambience around. And at 8 am that day, the hangman pulled the lever, the bridge gave way, the rope dropped and Gandhi's assassin was instantaneously dead.

He had left behind no property, no valuables. His last wish, recorded in his will, signed before a magistrate, remains unfulfilled: that his ashes be immersed in the river Indus (Sindhu) which is in Pakistan but on the banks of which, he said in his will, our pre-historic Rishis had composed the Vedas.

Today, on Martyr's Day, when Islamic jihad is bleeding India with a thousand wounds across the entire land even as a strong Hindu revivalist movement takes shape, the question rises from the Phoenix so to say. 'Was Gandhi's assassin a fanatic Hindu or a fierce nationalist who could not accept the 1947 Partition of undivided India?'

You be the judge and jury on the basis of the following few excerpts from the long statement in English read out by the assassin himself on November 8, 1948 at the Red Fort before it became a part of the record that can be found in Printed Volume II Criminal Appeals Nos 66 to72 of 1949, Punjab high court, then at Simla in view of Lahore having become a city of Pakistan.

'The background to the event of 30th January 1948 was exclusively political. The fact that Gandhiji used to recite during prayers verses from the Gita, the Quran and the Bible never provoked any ill-will in me towards him. In this vast area live people of various faiths and I hold that these creeds should have full and equal freedom for following their beliefs.

'In my writings and speeches I have always advocated that religious and communal considerations should be entirely eschewed in public affairs of the country... I have throughout stood for a secular State with joint electorates.

'I am prepared to concede that Gandhiji did undergo sufferings for the sake of the nation… I shall bow in respect to the service done by Gandhiji to the country and to Gandhiji himself for the said service, and before I fired the shots I actually wished him and bowed to him in reverence

'Since the year 1920, after the demise of Lokmanya Tilak, Gandhiji's influence in the Congress became supreme. His activities for public awakening were phenomenal… and were reinforced by the slogans of truth and non-violence. To imagine that the bulk of mankind is or can ever become capable of scrupulous adherence to these lofty principles in its normal life… is a mere dream. It was the heroic fight put up by Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj that first checked and eventually destroyed Muslim tyranny in India. It was absolutely correct tactic for Shivaji to kill Afzal Khan as the latter would otherwise have surely killed him. In condemning Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Guru Gobind as misguided patriots, Gandhiji has merely exposed his self-conceit.

'During more than thirty years of the undisputed leadership of the Mahatma there were more desecration of temples, more forcible and fraudulent conversions, more outrages on women and finally the loss of one third of the country.

'Gandhiji was, paradoxically, a violent pacifist… He had often acted contrary to his professed principles and if it was for appeasing the Muslim, he hardly had any scruple in doing so.

'By the Act of 1919 separate electorates were enlarged and communal representation was continued not only in the legislative and local bodies but extended even within the Cabinet… Government patronage to Muslims in the name of Minority protection penetrated throughout the body politic of the Indian State and the Mahatma's slogans were no match against this wholesale corruption of the Muslim mind. The position began to deteriorate and by 1926 it became patent to all that Government had won all along the line but Gandhiji... went on conceding one undemocratic demand after another to the Muslim League in the vain hope of enlisting its support in the national struggle.

'The communal principle became deeply embedded in the Reforms of 1935. Mr Jinnah took the fullest advantage of every situation. During the war, 1939-44, Mr Jinnah… promised to support the war as soon as the Muslims' rights were conceded; in April 1940, within six months of the War, Mr Jinnah came out with the demand for Pakistan on the basis of the two-nation theory.

'The 'Quit India' campaign of 1942 had completely failed. Britishers had triumphed and the Congress policy can be quite correctly described as 'Peace at any price'… The Congress compromised with the British who placed it in office and in return the Congress surrendered to the violence of Jinnah, carved out a third of India to him an explicitly racial and theological State, and destroyed two million human beings in the process.

'Gandhiji is being referred to as the Father of the Nation -- an epithet of high reverence. But if so, he has failed in his paternal duty… Had Gandhiji really maintained his opposition to the creation of Pakistan, the Muslim League could have had no strength to claim it and the Britishers also could not have created it in spite of all their utmost efforts… The reason was… the people of this country were… vehement in their opposition to Pakistan. But Gandhiji played false with the people. He has proved to be the Father of Pakistan.

'…after handing over crores of Hindus to… Pakistan, Gandhiji and his followers have been advising them not to leave Pakistan but continue to stay on. Every day that dawned brought forth news about thousands of Hindus being massacred… Gandhiji did not even by a single word protest and censure the Pakistani Government…

'About Kashmir, Gandhiji again and again declared that Sheikh Abdullah should be entrusted the charge of the State and that the Maharaja of Kashmir should retire to Benares for no particular reason than that the Muslims formed the bulk of the Kashmiri population. This stands out in contrast with his attitude on Hyderabad where although the bulk of the population is Hindu, Gandhiji never called upon the Nizam to retire to Mecca.

'About this very time he resorted to his fast unto death. Every condition given by him for giving up that fast is in favour of Muslims and against the Hindus. One of the seven conditions was to the effect that all the mosques in Delhi which were occupied by the refugees should be vacated… and be made over to the Muslims. Gandhiji got this condition accepted by the Government… Those were the days of bitter or extreme cold and on the day Gandhiji broke his fast, it was also raining. Families after families of refugees who had come to Delhi for shelter were driven out and while doing so no provision was made for their shelter and stay.

'The decision to withhold the payment of Rs 55 crores to Pakistan was taken by our government which claims to be the people's government. But this decision of the people's Government was reversed to suit the tune of Gandhiji's fast.

'All his fasts were to coerce Hindus.

'Honourable Pandit Nehruji has himself taken a leading part in the acquiescing to the establishment of Pakistan, a theocratic State. But he should have realised that it will never bring prosperity to the Indian Union with a State founded on fantastically blind religious faith and basis.'

In retrospect today on January 30, 2001, that last uncanny prescience of the assassin may well have permeated the Punjab high court ambience while the assassin was delivering his statement. Justice Khosla, one of the three judges hearing the appeal, wrote after his retirement: 'There was a deep silence when he ceased speaking. Many women were in tears and men coughing and searching for their handkerchiefs... I have no doubt that had the audience of the 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 great Gandhi's assassin 'not guilty'? You decide in the light of the reality that, ever since its illegal invasion of Jammu & Kashmir in October 1947, Pakistan has continued to bleed us till date with a thousand cuts and more, from Kargil to Kanyakumari, from Assam to Ahmedabad.

Arvind Lavakare

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