Beyond Doubt II – The Assassins of Gandhi

First Published on : 09 Jan 2015

Between 1925, when Gandhi offered unqualified support to the Vykom Satyagraha, launched by some of the local leaders of Travancore (in modern day Kerala), who were protesting the ban on the entry of untouchables on the roads surrounding the Vykom temples. Gandhi, through Young India carried the message of the struggle of the satyagrahis all over India and finally the matter began to be tackled by the national press. In March 1925 he went to Vykom, addressed public meetings and held discussions with leaders of the orthodox sections opposing the campaign. Finally in January 1926 the Travancore government yielded to the Vykom satyagrahis and announced the opening of the roads around the temples to the untouchables. Gandhi pushed further, insisting that all public institutions, including temples to all. Thereafter, Gandhi’s fast unto death to implement the Communal Award on September 20, 1932, and its aftermath – the Poona or Yeravda Pact also gave a huge impetus to the movement for some justice to the untouchables. Diffferences between Ambedkar and Gandhi have been widely documented and analysed. The validity of Ambedkar’s arguments, even on the goals and priorities of the All India Untouchability League (later re-named the Harijan Sevak Sangh) which he felt were individualistic and reform driven not aimed at the political and social emancipation of all Dalits can be read among other places, in the correspondence between the two great leaders and thinkers whose followers to date, display an unfortunate animosity.  Even on the two Bills before the Central Legislature in 1933, Ambedkar and Gandhi had detailed discussions, and differences.

The point, however, remains. That Gandhi, who drew his moral force from his religion and wished to fundamentally reform and alter its approach to the structured inequity and indignity of caste, posed a great threat to those who would rather speak in the name of the Hindu faith, the fanatical fringe.

It is to contextualize and comprehend the politics, motivations and circumstances behind the killing of Gandhi that this Volume has been dedicated. We have, in Communalism Combat, since its establishment in 1993 made efforts to de-construct the motives and machinations of the religious right. In the October 2000 issue of the magazine we first carried extracts from Jagan Phadnis’ book Mahatmanche Akher, as also an English translation of a series of articles by YD Phadke, Nathuramayana, de-constructing Pradeep Dalvi’s play, Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoye. These had been first published in the original in Marathi eveninger, Mahanagar. Chunibhai Vaidya’s pamphlet published by the Gujarat Lok Samiti, Ahmedabad first in Gujarati was then translated into seven Indian languages.[1]  Thereafter in August 2000, in the eleventh anniversary issue of the magazine we reproduced critical government of India archival documents related to decisions and events immediately following the assassination. At this moment, certain unassailable archival truths that are actually at this present moment at risk of having been destroyed, need to re-enter the public domain.

RSS held Responsible for Gandhi Murder
The first are the Government of India documents that were issued immediately following the assassination. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was banned through a Government resolution dated February 2, 1948. The document reproduced here has been obtained by us from the archives of the government of India. The language of this resolution is unequivocal when it speaks of the determination of Government of India “to root out the forces of hate and violence that are at work in our country and imperil the freedom of the Nation and darken her fair name. In pursuance of this politics (the GR says] the GOI has decided to declare as unlawful the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the Chief Commissioner’s Provinces .Similar action is also being taken in the Governor’s provinces. ”

The banning of the RSS within five months of India becoming independent and within two days of the dastardly killing of Mahatma Gandhi has been linked to the ‘undesirable and even dangerous activities carried out by individual members of the Sangh who have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunition. They have been found,” reads the text of the GR, “ circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and the military….The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.” The GR was first published in the August 2004 issue of Communalism Combat, as part of the cover story, titled Hey Raam.

In all minor and major bouts of communal conflagration, this tactic of the Sangh and its affiliates is evident. From Jabalpur 1961 to Trilokpuri 2014 the sustained hate-ridden rumour-mongering and campaigns like love jehad or ghar vapsi have been matched by sectarian offensives by minority communalists be in Sahranpur(2014) or Bombay (2015). As a result, today as in 1947-48 at the level of people, distrust between different sections of Indians is being carefully perpetrated with the overt or silent complicity by the regime in power.

Drawing unequivocal conclusions on the culpability of the RSS, the government of India, in 1948, with Jawaharlal Nehru as prime minister and Sardar Vallabhai Patel as Home Minister, held the RSS guilty for the killing of the Mahatma.  The story does not end here. The communication(s) between the GOI through the prime minister and home minister with the RSS following the ban has generated heat with the falsehoods perpetrated by the Sangh deliberately distorting even this. On September 11, 1948, the famous letter written by India’s first home minister Sardar Patel to RSS chief.MS Golwalkar strongly decries the systematic hate tactics of the Sangh before and after Gandhgi’s assassination. This letter has been quoted in full in Desraj Goyal’s Rahstriya Swayamsevak Sangh.[2] More importantly, this and another letter written by Patel to the founder of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee dated July 18, 1948 make the links between the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha clear.[3]

The first letter is of particular significance since it outlines the kind of activities the RSS was observed to indulge in. Says Patel on September 11, 1948, “But the objectionable part arose when they, burning with revenge, began attacking Mussalmans. Organising Hindus and helping them is one thing but going in for revenge for its sufferings on innocent and helpless men, women and children is quite another thing……..All their speeches were full communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison and enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As a final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the sacrifice of the valuable life of Gandhiji. Even an iota of sympathy of the Government or of the people no more remained for the RSS. In fact the opposition grew. Opposition turned more severe, when the RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death. Under these conditions it became inevitable for the Government to take action against the RSS.”

The critical need to place these communiqués/documents in the public domain cannot be over-stressed. Particularly because there has been a devious and concerted bid to completely distort history and the RSS culpability behind Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.

A press note of the GOI dated November 14, 1948 relates to the outright rejection of the representation of Mr Golwalkar to the Home Ministry to lift the ban on the RSS. This press note also obtained from the archives of the GOI, was also first published in the August 2004 issue of Communalism Combat, as part of the cover story, titled He Ram. This press note that makes clear the government decision not to lift the restrictions on the RSS has made strong observations on the ‘anti-national, often subversive and violent activities of the RSS”. The GOI took into account the considered opinion of provincial governments before arriving at this decision. An article of The Indian Express dated February 7, 1948 reports that an RSS leader from Nagpur who had presented Godse with the revolver with which he killed Gandhi had been arrested. Other persons arrested included Professor Varahadpande of the City college, Nagpur. This report states that another professor of Nagpur had told his students a day before the assassination that “Gandhiji would be murdered.” An associate of the gang of conspirators, Devendra Kumar is reported by the same newspaper to have surrendered to the District Magistrate, Mirzapur and was taken to Lucknow under armed escort.

That Gandhi, who drew his moral force from his religion and wished to fundamentally reform and alter its approach to the structured inequity and indignity of caste, posed a great threat to those who would rather speak in the name of the Hindu faith, the fanatical fringe.

All these and other documents are today in grave threat of destruction by the current Indian government. Headed by a pracharak of the RSS, the present government with a brute majority seeks clearly and insidiously to complete a sinister project put into motion with Gandhi’s elimination. Between June 5- July 7, 2014, that is, within nine to 39 days of assuming power, 11,100 files from the Ministry of Home Affairs were destroyed by the present government. A group of historians and other citizens immediately joined a campaign started by academician, Purushottam Agrawal to seek information on the files that were destroyed. On August 27, 2014 the response to the campaign query under the Right to Information Act did not clarify matters. Following the uproar in Parliament in its ongoing monsoon session, the Indian Home Minister, Rajnath Singh said that “documents pertaining to Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Louis Mountbatten and others are safe.”  To date, no clear information has been received on the issue and there remains a threat that these papers may have been destroyed. There is also no unequivocal assurance on the preservation of crucial central and provincial government documents related to the Mahatma Gandhi assassination, the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha.

On a far more detailed and thorough application under the Right to Information Act (2005) made by Venkatesh Nayak of the Common Wealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI)[4] , an analysis of the vague replies provided by the ministry of home affairs (MHA), suggest the following:- a) Even after more than a month of destroying the 11,100 files, the MHA does not have, in one comprehensive list, details of all files that were destroyed; b) The Public Information Officer (PIO)’s reply that the even the list of files that were weeded out has not  been compiled till date indicates that the procedure for properly identifying files for weeding out was simply not followed;[5] c) the refusal to give details of this process both to Parliament when the issue was debated and now when a request is made under RTI, is shocking to say the least. What worsens the case is the audacity of the PIO’s reply sent more than 30 days after the request was received in the MHA that the information will be given only on payment of fees. Under the RTI Act it is simply not open to a PIO to charge any fees for giving information after 30 days. Nor can the supply of information be deferred to a date beyond 30 days; d) the PIO’s reply to this query is simply not a sensible reply at all. Let alone the names, even the designations of the officers who authorised destruction of files is being denied under the RTI Act in a roundabout manner; e) the PIO’s reply to Nayak indicates that National Archives was not consulted at all during this weeding our process. So how old were the records that were weeded out is a serious question which was not satisfactorily answered either in Parliament or in response to the RTI application; f) What then was destroyed in June-July 2014 is a mystery that neither the Home Minister’s reply in the Rajya Sabha nor the PIO’s reply clarifies As can been established, the direct association of the RSS with the Gandhi assassination is clearly documented in  contemporaneous government documents and records and subsequently. The fact of this association remains tenuous in sections of the public mind due to the deliberate machinations to blur this direct connect.

Gandhi cannot be abandoned by Hindu communalists, so like Ambedkar, in other ways, he  is sought to be appropriated. This appropriation however, comes with a cost, of manipulating what he stood for when it came to secularism, caste and the very nature of democracy. The assassination of the Mahatma, the first act of terror in independent India, remains, thanks to the systematic efforts of the proto-fascist project of the Hindu right, the subject matter of deep contestation.

(Excerpted from the Introduction to the publication edited by the Author, Teesta Setalvad – Beyond Doubt-A Dossier on the Gandhi assassination published by Tulika Books)

[1] This had also been reproduced by us in English in Communalism Combat, October 2000.
[2] First published in 1979, Revised edition in 2000, Radhakrishna Prakashan Pvt Ltd, New Delhi
[3] Both letters can be read in the Sardar Patel Correspondence, Volume 6, edited by Durga Das





Related Articles

Related VIDEOS