It is indeed astonishing that even after a lapse of sixty years there should still be ambivalence about the cold-blooded killing of the greatest human being of our times of whom Einstein said: “"Generations to come, it may be, will scarce believe that such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." Rather, it would be unsustainable and totally presumptious to raise an issue that there can be two views of the cold and calulated conspiracy which led to the assassination of the Father of the Nation by diehard fundamentalists nurtured by the RSS.
I had an occasion to play a coincidental role in the background procees leading to the appointment of the Kapur Commission in way back in1965. When Gopal Godse was released after serving his life sentence his homecoming was celebrated by Satyanarayana function at Pune in 1965 wherein shri G.V. Ketkar, editor of Tarun Bharat made a revelation that Nathuram Godse used to discuss with him for a few months before the assasination of Mahatma Gandhi his plans to do so and that he tried to dissuade him. This revelation caused quite a furore. I immediately wrote to the then Chairman of the Gandhi Memorial Fund, Mr R.R. Diwakar requesting him to draw the attention of the Government to this scandalous revelation. In pursuance of my appeal Shri Diwakar wrote to the then Home Minister of India and others leading to the appointment of the Commission. This Commission was initially headed by Shri Gopal Swarup Pathak. On his assumption of a ministerial post Justice Jeeval Lal Kapur was appointed and conducted a fresh inquiry which is published in two volumes entitled: "Report of Commission of Inquiry into Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi" published in 1970.
RSS ROLE IN GANDHI ASSASSINATION
The deep RSS hatred for the Congress nationalist struggle which led to the partition and independence of India culminated in the assassination of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. There has been long a strong suspicion right from the assassination that the RSS cadres had infiltrated in various administrative departments. As Pyarelal, Secretary to Mahatma Gandhi, notes in Mahatma Gandhi: the Last Phase (1958) describing the antecedents of the conspiracy to murder the Mahatma over the lack of security despite the bomb incident on 20th January 1948:
Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated on January 30, 1948 by one Nathuram Godse, member of the Hindu Mahasabha and formerly associated with the RSS. A ban was imposed on the outfit subsequent to the deed.
In a letter to the RSS chief, Golwalkar, on the ban on the RSS following Gandhiji’s assassination, Sardar Vallabhabhai Patel, India’s first union home minister, clearly acknowledged the complicity of the RSS in the Gandhi assassination.
If the deleterious rot of the RSS ideology was so deep at the dawn of freedom one cannot simply imagine its hydra-headed extent today and its cancerous damage to the body politic. I remember as a lad of sixteen, distinctly the pyromania that prevailed in the RSS stronghold at Pune and Sangli (Maharashtra State) by the enraged mobs against the Brahmin community on learning about the identity of Nathuram Godse. At Jaysingpur near Sangli a mob set on fire a stationery shop of one Jain RSS Shakha Chalak-Monitor of RSS branch- who after garlanding a photo of Dr.Hedgewar-founder of the RSS- and breaking the photo of the Mahatma distributed sweets. When the furious mob attacked him he sought refuge before the writer’s father who happened to be a Civil Judge & Magistrate. A Gandhian by temperament he pacified the violent mob and refrained from firing. Such was the writer’s earliest brush with the quintessential RSS ideology and its demonic manifestations in the Hindutva fundamentalism which renders constitutional secular ideal meaningless.
JUSTICE KAPUR COMMISSION OF INQUIRY IN GANDHI MURDER
I corresponded with the then Chairman of the Gandhi Memorial Fund, Mr.R.R. Diwakar in 1964 expressing shock and indignation at the revelation of a Pune Editor that Nathuram Godse used to discuss with him his plan to murder Mahatma Gandhi six months prior to the assassination at the Satyanarayan ceremony held to celebrate the return of Gopal Godse after serving his life imprisonment as the convict in the Gandhi murder case.
When Ketkar made this brazen confession I wrote to the Mr.R.R. Diwakar, the then Chairman of the Gandhi Memorial Fund dated 13th November 1964:
“This negligence is culpable enough, but it assumes unpardonable proportions in the context of a scandalous disclosure which was made by a Poona Journalist. Mr. G.V. Ketkar, former editor of the “Kesari” and now editor of the “Tarun Bharat”
disclosed at a reception given in Poona to Mr. Gopal Godse and Mr. Vishnu Karkare on their release from lifeterms for complicity in the Gandhi Murder case that “he knew from Naturam Godse, assassin of Gandhiji, the plan of Gandhiji’s murder for quite a few weeks earlier.” The report also further says that Naturam “used to discuss with me the pros and cons of his idea to kill Gandhiji.” He (Mr.Ketkar) added that he was opposed to the idea end ‘used to tell Nathuram to consider the consequences, social and political.”
Mr.Diwakar was good enough to respond to my letter stating dated 17-11-64 ‘As to what is to be done I will have to consider the matter.
“The remarks that you have made are too plain and no exception can be taken . But whether something can be done now seems to be remote. However, I shall think over the matter.” And on 2nd December, 1964 Mr.Diwakar wrote to me again: “Much has happened after you wrote to me, and I wrote to the Home Minister and others
“This mornings papers convey the news that a Commission is going to be set up by the Central Government to investigate once again regarding the past, the knowledge of the conspiracy etc.”
Mr.Diwakar consulted some high authorities and also there was a furore in the Parliament. As a result the Government of India appointed a Commission of Inquiry under the Chairmanship of Mr.Pathak to inquire once again into the Gandhi murder conspiracy. On Mr.Pathak's appointment as a minister Justice J.L. Kapur, a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India was appointed.
Twenty years after the assassination, the Justice Jivan Lal Kapur commission of inquiry found that Badge’s evidence was being corroborated by Savarkar’s bodyguard Appa Ramchandra Kasar and Gajanan Vishnu Damle. Justice Kapur’s conclusion: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group."19
The verdict of acquittal was sound in law. However, Union Home Minister Sardar Patel,s conclusion was characteristically clear: "It was a financial wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that (hatched) the conspiracy and saw it through". (Emphasis added, throughout.)
The Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi, which was set up in 1965, deserves greater weight than the verdict of the Sessions Court. It was headed by Justice Jivanlal Kapur of the Supreme Court and was provided with evidence not produced in the court; especially the testimony of two of Savarkar's close aides - Appa Ramachandra Kasar, his bodyguard, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary.
Had they testified in Court, Savarkar would have been convicted. There was none of the ambiguity surrounding Godse and Apte's visits to Savarkar on January 14 and 17, 1948. 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's findings are all too clear. He concluded: "All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group."
As noted by Pyarelal in his Last Phase “On the 17th January according to Badge, Nathuram Godse went to have a lst darshan of Savarkar at bombay. while Badge and Shankar waited outside , Nathuram and Apte went in. On coming out, Apte told Badge that Savarkar had said to them, “Yashasvi houn ya- be successful and return.” Apte was further reported to have said: “Tatyaravani ase bhavishya kele ahe ki Gandhijichi shambhar varshe bharali, ata, apale kam nischit onar yat kahi sanshaya nati- Tatyarao Savarkar has predicted that Gandhiji’s hundred years are over; there is therefore, no doubt that our mission will be successful.”
“After the bomb explosion at Birla House on the 20th January, 1948 one Jagdish Chandra Jain, professor in Ram Narain Ruia College in Bombay, contacted the Chief Minister of Bombay, B.G. Kher, and informed him that he had been helping Madanlal in various ways as a refugee in need. From him he had learnt that there was a conspiracy afoot to assassinate Gandhiji. He also gave to B.G. Kher the names of some of the conspirators and some other details. The Bombay Government passed on the information to Sardar Patel, who was the Minister for Home Affairs in the Union Government, and also to Gandhiji.
“ Acting on the information received from Bombay, Sardar Patel wanted to tighten up security measures and told Gandhiji that he wanted the police to search every person coming to his prayer meetings. But Gandhiji absolutely refused to agree to it or to the police being present in the prayer meetings. His faith did not allow him to put himself under any kind of human protection at the prayer time, he said, when he had put himself under the sole protection of God. It would reduce his profession of faith to a mockery if he gave consent to any proposal for his protection such as the Sardar had mentioned. Finding him adamant, the Sardar resigned himself to whatever Providence might have in store. What, however, surprises one is that in spite of the definite and concrete information of which the authorities were in possession, they should have failed to trace and arrest the conspirators and frustrate their plan. The failure was an index of the extent of the rot that had permeated many branches of the services, not excluding the policd. In fact later it was brought to light that the R.S.S. organisation had ramifications even in Government departments, and many police officials, not to mention the rank and file, gave their sympathy and even active help to those engaged in R.S.S. activities. Even before the bomb explosion, some of the refugee camps in Delhi were known to be buzzing with loose talk about the assassination of Gandhiji and other congress leaders who enjoyed the reputation of being opposed to communalistic ideologies. A letter which Sardar Patel received after the assassination from a young man who according to his own statementhad been gulled into joining the R.S.S. organisation but was later disillusioned, described how members of the R.S.S. at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the “good news”. After the news, sweets were distributed in R.S.S. circles at several places, including Delhi. When the R.S.S. was later banned by an order of the government, the local plice chief in one of the Indian states, accrding to the Sardar’s correspondent, sent word to the organisers to close their office “for thirteen days” as a sign of mourning, and dispense but not to disband. The rot was so insidious and widespread that only the supreme sacrifice could arrest or remove it.”
(pp.752 , 755-56)
There has long existed a strong suspicion, ever since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, that RSS cadres have infiltrated various administrative departments in the country. This fact was also noted by Vallabhbhai Patel when the RSS was banned in the wake of the Mahatma’s assassination. Describing the antecedents of the conspiracy to murder the Mahatma and the lack of security despite the bomb explosion at a meeting that Gandhi was addressing in Delhi on January 20, 1948, Gandhi’s personal secretary, Pyarelal observes in Mahatma Gandhi: the Last Phase (1958):
"What, however, surprises one, is that in spite of the definite and concrete information of which the authorities were in possession, they should have failed to trace and arrest the conspirators and frustrate their plan. The failure was an index of the extent of the rot that had permeated many branches of the services, not excluding the police. In fact later it was brought to light that the RSS organisation had ramifications even in the government departments and many police officials, not to mention the rank and file, gave their sympathy and even active help to those engaged in RSS activities… A letter (to) Sardar Patel after the assassination of Gandhiji from a young man, who according to his own statement had been gulled into joining the RSS organisation but was later disillusioned, described how members of the RSS at some places had been instructed beforehand to tune in their radio sets on the fateful Friday for the "good news". After the news, sweets were distributed in RSS circles in several places… The rot was so insidious that only the supreme sacrifice could arrest or remove it" (p. 756).
If the poisonous rot of RSS ideology ran so deep at the dawn of India’s freedom, one can only shudder at its hydra-headed extent and its cancerous damage to the body politic today.
There is striking evidence that even supposedly independent arms of the Indian administration, such as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), are now under the RSS’ sway. According to reports, while addressing an RSS rally former director of the CBI, Joginder Singh proclaimed that the "RSS is the only hope of the nation".
FASCIST INSPIRATION FOR RSS
Inspiration for the RSS cadres and their paramilitary training was derived from Benito Mussolini’s fascist paramilitary groups, the Blackshirts, after RSS mentor and founder, BS Moonje visited the Italian dictator in 1931. As detailed in Marzia Casolari’s article, "Hindutva’s foreign tie-up in the 1930s: Archival evidence" (Economic and Political Weekly, January 22, 2000):
"To understand militant Hinduism, one must examine its domestic roots as well as foreign influence. In the 1930s Hindu nationalism borrowed from European fascism to transform ‘different’ people into ‘enemies’. Leaders of militant Hinduism repeatedly expressed their admiration for authoritarian leaders such as Mussolini and Hitler and for the fascist model of society. This influence continues to the present day. This paper presents archival evidence on the would-be collaborators."
As Marzia Casolari notes: "Defining the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and, in general, the organisations of militant Hinduism as undemocratic, with authoritarian, paramilitary, radical, violent tendencies and a sympathy for fascist ideology and practice, has been a major concern for many politically oriented scholars and writers. This has been the case with the literature, which started with Gandhi’s assassination and continues up to the present day with works such as Amartya Sen’s "India at Risk", (The New York Review of Books, April 1993) and Christophe Jaffrelot’s The Hindu Nationalist Movement in India (Viking, New Delhi, 1996). The latest book published on the subject is the well-known Khaki Shorts and Saffron Flags (Orient Longman, New Delhi, 1993), which came out soon after the destruction of the Babri Masjid. As a result, the fascist ideological background of Hindu fundamentalism is taken for granted never proved by systematic analysis.
This is an outcome that is, to a certain extent, explained by the fact that most of the aforementioned authors are political scientists and not historians.
"It is a fact that many of those who witnessed the growth of Hindu radical forces in the years around the second world war were already convinced of the Sangh’s fascist outlook. Particularly acute was the perception that the Congress had of these organisations and their character. There is no need to mention the already well-known opinion of Nehru who right from the beginning had pointed at these organisations as communalist and fascist. Less well known is the fact that, as shown by a confidential report circulated within the Congress most probably at the time of the first ban of the RSS after Gandhi’s assassination, the similarity between the character of the RSS and that of fascist organisations was already taken for granted…
"To demonstrate this, I will reconstruct the context from which arose the interest of Hindu radicalism in Italian fascism right from the early 1920s. This interest was commonly shared in Maharashtra and must have inspired BS Moonje’s trip to Italy in 1931. The next step will be to examine the effects of that trip, namely how BS Moonje tried to transfer fascist models to Hindu society and to organise it militarily, according to fascist patterns. An additional aim of this paper is to show how, about the end of the 1930s, the admiration for the Italian regime was commonly shared by the different streams of Hindu nationalism and the main Hindu leaders." As emphasised by Casolari: "More generally the aim of this paper is to disprove Christophe Jaffrelot’s thesis that there is a sharp distinction between Nazi and fascist ideology on one side and RSS on the other as far as the concept of race and the centrality of the leader are concerned."
To justify Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination many calumnious falsehoods have been fabricated by the Hindutva fundamentalists over the years. One of these was that Gandhiji went on indefinite fast from 13th January 1948 to insist on payment of 55 crores to Pakistan. As a matter of fact Gandhi went on fast with an appeal for communal peace. And it is pertinent to recall that Gandhiji was not alone in asking that Pakistan should be given 55 crores as per the pact of partition. Lord Mountbatten, the then governor of Reserve Bank, C.D. Deshmukh too were of the same opinion. Why did the Hindutva fundamentalists, whethger belonging explicitly to RSS or not, target them for murderous attacks?
EARLIER ATTEMPTS TO MURDER THE MAHATMA
The fact is that before the actual assassination in 1948 there were several attempts on Gandhiji’s life from 1934. The first was when Mahatma Gandhi was engaged in a nationwide tour against untouchability he went to Poona on 19th June 1934. On 25th June 1934 he was targetted with a bomb by the Hindutva fundamentalist. There was no question then either of the partition of the country or the 55 crores to be given to Pakistan. The incident of this bomb attack is mentioned by Pyarelal in his Last Phase Part II . Even more detailed information is given in D.G. Tendulkar’s Mahatma Part III. A bomb was thrown at Gandhi on 25th June 1934 when he was going to Pune Municipality conference hall to give his talk . In this bomb attack the chief executive of the municipality along with two police constables were seriously injured. Mahatma Gandhi escaped just because he was in the car behind. Pyarelal says the attack was well planned. The photos of Nehru and other congress leaders were found in the shoes of the attackers which means that the culprits were arrested. Thus before the bomb attack by Madanlal on January 20 1948 there was an earlier bomb attack. Most of the newspapers of the day published reports stating that the bomb attack was to kill Mahatma Gandhi.
Even more significant was another attempt on Gandhi’s life at Matheran in 1944 when Nathuram was arrested when trying to assault Gandhiji with a sharp weapon at Panchgani near Pune as testified by Manishanker Purohit, the proprietor of the Surti Lodge in Pune before the Kapur Commission . It is pertinent to note in this context that Pyarelal testified before the Kapur Commission that the RSS had infiltrated in the police force.
The then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to the then home minister, Vallabhbhai Patel on 26th February 1948 that : “The RSS has infiltrated into our offices and the police force and therefore it is official secrecy cannot be maintained.” Sardar Patel replied the very next day on 27th February 1948 stating that “A group belonging to Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Sawarkar conspired to murder Mahatma gandhi and brought it to fruition.” (Sardar Patel’s Correspondence: Part 6, p.56.)
There was another attempt on Gandhiji’s life when he was going by train from Bombay to Pune on 29th June, 1946. Between Neral-Karjat stations huge rocky stones were put on the railway tracks to cause accident. But due to the watchful railway driver L.M. Pareira the accident was averted but the engine was severely damaged. Pyarelal has written about this incident in the Harijan issue dated July 7, 1946. This train was known as Gandhi Special as testified by Pareira before the Kapur Commission.
Mahatma Gandhi mentioned about this incident in his prayer meeting at Pune on 30th June, 1946. He said:” By god’s grace I have escaped safely from the very jaws of death. I have never hurt anybody, and I have enmity with none. I cannot understand why there should be so many murderous attempts on me. Yesterday’s murder attempt was a failure. I am not going to die so soon. I shall live hunddred and twentyfive years.”
Having known personally Dr.Jagdish Chandra Jain, the Chief Prosecution Witness in the Gandhi murder trial I think I can say that the assassination was a well conceived conspiracy. One has only to read Dr. Jain’s book in Hindi ‘main Bapu ko na bacha saka’ in Hindi and ‘I could not save Bapu’ in English to understand the entire course of the conspiracy.
The very persistence of this question is attended with unflattering implications for all concerned. There remains the nagging doubt that everything necessary was not done to ward off evil from the most precious life in the nation. And these terrible misgivings are substantiated by some important testimony to show that necessary precautions were not taken even when there was clear evidence of danger to the Mahatma’s life.
There is the fervent testimony of Prof. J.C. Jain, chief prosecution witness in the Gandhi Murder Trial, which leaves no doubt that, having got a hint of the impending plan to murder Gandhiji from Madanlal, he (Jain) had apprised the then Bombay Government about the plan. Before that Madanlal had been involved in the bomb explosion at Gandhiji’s prayer meeting on January, 20,1948 which in any case, should have made the Government aware of the utter seriousness of the information given by Dr. Jain.
What did the Government do on the information so received? Did it act in time to avert further danger? It says at did. The Government’s defence was that whatever information they got from Dr. Jain on January 21, 1948. was conveyed to the authorities in Delhi. And what did the Delhi police do?
In this connection the remarks made by Justice Atmacharan, Judge of the Spcial Court, Red Fort, are revealing. Justice Atmacharan said: “ I may bring to the notice of the Central Government the slackness of the police in the investigation of the case during the period between January 20 and 30 1948. The Delhi Police had obtained a detailed statement from Madanlal soon after his arrest on January 20, The Bombay Police had also been reported the statement of Dr. J. C. Jain that he made to the Honorable Morarji Desai on January 21. The Delhi Police and the Bombay Police had contacted each other soon after these statements had been made, Yet the police miserably failed to derive any advantage from these two statements. Had the slightest keenness been shown in the investigation of the case the tragedy probably would have been averted.”
These strictures bring home the fact that there was something seriously amiss with the protection measures accorded to the Mahatma. What cannot be denied is that the Government plainly failed to appreciate the grave implications of the situation that had arisen in the wake of the bombing attempt on January 20, particularly in the light of prior information given by Dr. Jain.
The slackness of the police becomes all the more inexplicable when one considers the aftermath of the bomb explosion. It is very important to note that Madanlal made a confession overnight to the Delhi Police in which he gave the full details of the conspiracy. More important still is the fact that the Delhi Police sent Madanlal’s statement to the Bombay Police by the evening of January 21.
How precisely the Bombay Police reacted to this statement is not clear. But in view of the subsequent course of events culminating in the murder on the event.. of January 30, one fact emerges clearly—that the Bombay Police were not alert in acting upon information supplied by Madanlal’s statement.
In his memoirs published in the book “The Civil Servant in India” Mr R.N. Banerjee, then Secretary for Home Affairs in the Union Government, has made a reference to this incident. He says: “Both Godse and Apte could have been found and nabbed in one of their two Bombay haunts on the 23rd. Unfortunately, nobody took any action on this statement of Madanlal, and the Delhi Police did not even remind the Bombay police. The Delhi magistracy and the Home Secretarial remained ignorant of the statement (as head of the Delhi Police never kept them informed) till the world was staggered by the ‘Hay Ram’ shot on the 30th evening.”
All the available evidence strongly suggests that the Government failed to protect Gandhiji when it could have done so. The stock excuse provided Government for inadequately security measures is that Government did not like persons attending prayer meetings to be scared.
But this excuse is untenable. It should have been perfect possible to apply security measure without Gandhiji’s knowledge. In fact, it is perfectly reasonable to assume that if the security measures adopted to protect other leaders at that time had been applied to Gandhiji the murder could never have taken place.
This is one of the points stressed in a recent book published in Lisbon entitled “Who Killed Gandhi?” by Lourenco de Salvador who is a Goanese by birth and has settled in Portugal. He claims to have been a life-long follower of Gandhiji. The book was printed privately and has been reviewed in a recent issue of the Times Literary Supplement. It is unlikely that the book will find entry in India.
The author admits that ‘the murder (quoted from the above review-not in the author’s words) came as a great shock to everyone but the fanatics: the grief of the Congress leaders was sincere and genuine.. but he (de Salvador) sticks to the point that it need never have happened.
The review also says that “there were certain aspects of the trial of Godse which de Salvador thinks partook of the nature of a cover-up exercise, and he masters evidence for the view that some important testimony was not made public.”
Even Jawaharlal Nehru said in Parliament: “And today the fact that this mighty person whom we honoured and loved beyond measure, had gone because we could not give adequate protection is a shame for all of us..”