Premeditated Conspiracy: ​Re-visiting the Assassination of Gandhi

First published on: January 16, 2015

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In Beyond Doubt – A Dossier on Gandhi's Assassination the author, in her introduction, has argued that the act of the killing far from being spontaneous, was well planned and executed. Attempts to kill Gandhi had begun as far back as 1934 and had more to do with issues of fundamental rights and equal citizenship that were being articulated sharply within the national movement and little to do with the Rs 55 crores given to Pakistan


We ritualistically observe the violent and tragic loss of a man wedded deeply to the equality of all Indians before the state, moreover a man who breathed commitment to non-violence and intra-community harmony, every January 30, 1948 with the sound of a siren at 9 a.m. We fail to appreciate how clear he was on the issue of secularism and democracy and to the vital need for peace and harmony between all Indians.

As pertinently, few Indians are today aware and conscious of the fact, however, that the assassination of Gandhi was a culmination of decades of systematic brainwashing and hate-generation, the success of a bitter and narrow ideological worldview that threatens the very existence of India today. The ideology responsible for the assassination found Gandhi’s twin commitment to secular democracy as also the dignity of all Indians, including Harijans whom he termed, creation of God, a threat to the survival of their narrow view of Indian nationhood.

Beginning with the year 1934 and over a period of 14 years, on as many as six occasions, attempts were made to kill Gandhiji. The last one by Godse on January 30, 1948 was successful. The remaining five were made in 1934, in the months of July and September 1944, September 1946 and 20th January 1948. Godse was involved in two previous attempts, that is, in a total of three.

It would be inappropriate if this Volume did not acknowledge a huge debt of history to D.R. Goyal

Goyal’s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,[1] In the first significant treatise on the organization that the author once belonged to, the chapter, Murder of the Greatest Hindu (that is being reproduced here) illuminatingly records how political expediency altered prime minister Morarji Desai’s unequivocal view on the organization first expressed in his autobiography. "On 30th January, 1948 while Bapu was on his way to a prayer meeting three shots were fired at him from a revolver. Bapu fell and died soon after. Nathuram Godse was the man responsible for the murder. He had been a worker of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in Poona and also the editor of a paper," Thus wrote Morarji Desai in his autobiography published in 1974. This quotation from Morarji Desai’s bioigraphy used to be read out by a guide at the New Delhi Gandhi Smriti, PN Damodaran Nayar by name. It was a part of the narration of the story of martyrdom and no objections had ever been raised till the coming of Janata Party to power. On October 8, 1977 when Morarji, the Prime Minister, accompanied by his colleague Sikandar Bakht (Bharatiya Janata Party-BJP), the minister of Housing, paid a visit to Gandhi Smriti, this part of the guide’s narration was brought to his notice, apparently by some RSS members and sympathisers, as something objectionable. "The Prime Minister’s spontaneous reaction," reports the guide who was a witness to it, "was that these were facts of history and that nobody can change history."5  Thereafter, Goyal tells us, the guide was beaten up by some Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad boys and was unceremoniously dismissed by the management under the control and influence of the Housing ministry. When this question was raised in Parliament, Morarji declared on the floor of the House that he no longer held the opinion which he had expressed in his autobiography. As Goyal so aptly put it, this is a glaring instance of the defence of the RSS being motivated by considerations of political expediency.

As significantly, Goyal in this particular chapter in his book, traces the fact that Bapu’s murder (as expressed by Jawaharlal Nehru in a letter to Sardar Patel on February 26, 1948, was “not an isolated business but part of a much wider campaign organised chiefly by the RSS." Goyal has stated that, going through newspapers of the period (a task that begs undertaking), political stalwarts like Ram Manohar Lohia, JP Narayan and several other people concurred with Nehru and, in fact, criticised the then home minister for showing some leniency towards the RSS. [2]

Apart from the deliberate bid to delude the Indian public mind behind the facts concerning the assassination, equal Goebellian propaganda has tried to link it to the ‘Rs 55 crores being given to Pakistan.” Crude and over- simplistic, this motive has no real bearing on the reality. When the unsuccessful attempts of 1934, 1944 and 1946 were made, the proposal regarding Partition and the matter regarding release of Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan were not in existence at all. The conspiracy to do away with Gandhiji was conceived much earlier. The grounds advanced for this heinous crime are a clever, though extremely limited rationalisations to hoodwink the gullible. Jagan Phadnis,  Y.D. Phadke and Chunnibhai Vaidya together deal with this at length in their work that forms an important part of this book.

It was during the first years of the domination of the NDA (from 1996 onwards) on Indian politics and then during the NDA I regime between 1999-2004, that the public furore around Pradeep Dalvi’s play, Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoye ( I am Nathuram Godse Speaking), was first built up. Historian YD Phadke’s de-construction of the play and its theme, is vital to understand the motives behind this public demand.  Today, during NDA II—a majoritarian regime—efforts to once again stage the play, in multiple shows, to essentially glamorize the killer of Gandhi, are again afoot. Phadke wrote a series of articles, in the Marathi eveninger, Mahanagar later published into a book, Nathuramayan that was translated by Mukta Rajadhyaksha for Communalism Combat into English for the first time and published in 2000.

The play by Dalvi has been based on two books by Gopal Godse, co-conspirator and brother of the assassin Gopal Godse. Gandhi Hatya ani Mee (The Gandhi Murder and I) and Panchavanna Kotinche Bali (The Sacrifice of Fifty-Five Crores)
As Phadke, renowned historian points out, a fledgling Indian state, stunned by the temerity of the assassination, still reeling under the waves of refugees coming from across a hurriedly drawn border with Pakistan, never really undertook a complete and thorough investigation into the political crime in the full sense of the word. Serious questions to be pondered is when there had been five attacks on Gandhi, since 1934, as painstakingly documented by Jagan Phadnis (Mahatmayanche Akher) how come the Government of India became conscious or aware of the possible wider conspiracy only on 31.1.1948 after the funeral rites of Gandhi had been performed wherein 1 million people attended? Home Secretary to the Central government, R. N. Banerjee told the J.L. Kapur Commission that was when, for the first time he heard that there had been a Conspiracy. Until August 1947 a foreign government was in power in Delhi and that could be one plausible reason for this significant lapse.

It would not be out of place to mention that the last Viceroy, Louis Mountbatten, has, since the 1970s when noted Indian historians like A.K. Banerjee, Bipin Chandra and Sumit Sarkar and also some British counterparts have published far more realistic analysis of the rather cynical role played by the last Viceroy than was, until then available, been rightly assigned responsibility for virtually unilaterally pre-poning by 10 months the Partition of India, earlier scheduled for June 1948. Several serious historical works have raised serious questions about Mountbatten’s motives in pre-pointing the appointed hour. What were the factors behind this hurried drawing of an arbitrary line that ran through thousands of villages, overnight deciding on which side your loyalties lay? Was there a cynical, British motive behind the same? Phadnis deals with this while de-bunking satisfactorily the simplistic and puerile argument of the fanatical Hindu communalists that Gandhi was a proponent of an act that resulted in brute communal slaughter and the largest displacement possibly anywhere in the world. As Phadnis aptly points out, quoting historical sources,  “he had deployed 18 thousands police for protecting one and a half crore people when 25,000 police personnel were required along the Punjab border. This was the same Lord Mountbatten who had ordered 14 divisions to descend on the beach of Normandy during Second World War but he depended on 18 thousands of police personnel only, for carrying out partition of such a huge country.”

Part of the sustained propaganda by the RSS, HMS and other sections of the Hindu communalist rightwing against Gandhi (and to justify the act of his assassination) has been through pining the blame for Partition on Gandhi alone, later adding the puerile claim that the government of India’s decision to pass over the legally assigned Rs 55 crores to Pakistan (announced on January 18, 1948) being the final straw on Nathuram Godse’s back. Phadke, Phadnis and Vaidya have through meticulous argument de-bunked these widely perpetuated lies.. When Gandhi announced his fast unto death on January 13, 1948, it was his anguished response to the unabated communal killings that continued. The announcement of the GOI came in the midst of his fast on January 15, 1948. If the handing over this legal obligation to Pakistan was the reason for the fast why did Gandhi continue his fast until January 18, 1948?

Apart from the deliberate bid to delude the Indian public mind behind the facts concerning the assassination, equal Goebellian propaganda has tried to link it to the ‘Rs 55 crores being given to Pakistan.

Gandhi was pained and disturbed by Partition and could not accept that this was the price the country had to pay. Moreover, he was clear, that if there were, in fact irreconcilable differences between the demands of the Muslim league and Hindu Mahasabha, the issue of Partition should be decided after the British government had left and under an Indian government.  For Mountbatten fundamentally under directions of the British government with little knowledge of the Indian sub-continent or south Asia, to arbitrarily decide and draw the border-lie, and announce Partition earlier than planned, was an act that was anathema for Gandhi.

For the record, though this is not the subject matter of this volume, actions of the colonial British dispensation since 1857 (the First Uprising) that have been well-documented by historians[3] reveal  the untoward lengths to which colonial powers went, after crushing the revolt, to sow seeds of deep distrust between India’s two major communities, Hindus and Muslims. In vengeful and repressive acts following the revolt of 1857, the British had undertaken widespread massacres of Muslims in Delhi and Hindus and Muslims in many seats of the rebellion, especially modern-day Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi believed that there was no inherent distrust between India’s two largest communities but was convinced, with this deep understanding of the Indian people, that this distance and distrust had been, and was being, carefully fanned (and cultivated) and generated to serve interests of communalists on both sides of the communal divide. More than anything else it has served the interest of the colonial and neo-colonial powers to date who have benefitted financially (with sale of military arms to both India and Pakistan) since the vivisection.

Gandhi’s deep and intrinsic faith in the shared histories and sense of community (from which emerged his commitment to a secular India nationhood) of all Indians pulled vast millions of Indians to his leadership as their shared this unshakeable vision. The Hindu communalist rightwing has always been most threatened by this articulation of Gandhi’s, above all others.

In this introduction, I will not deal with the absence of intellectual integrity by playwright Dalvi, who has deliberately and with malicious intent, played with historical facts too glamourise a hardened criminal. These aspects have been aptly dealt with by eminent historian Phadke in his work, Nathurmayan that forms part of this Volume. What is important to grasp is that Phadke’s conclusions behind Dalvi’s motive which reveal that demands for the staging of the play (and now a film based on the play) are not either a spontaneous or isolated incident of creative expression but a carefully orchestrated and financed effort by the Sangh to drastically alter the understanding behind the circumstances around Gandhi’s killing in the public mind today.

Misrepresentation and manipulation of historical facts is an essential part of the proto-fascist project that has for over seven decades played with the political assassination, creating a macabre fan club around the killer of the Mahatma while on the other trying to appropriate Gandhi himself. This misrepresentation and manipulation is past decades has often centred around a justification of the conspirators carefully perpetrated killing in the name of angry martyr like outrage against the principles that Gandhi stood for. Gandhi stood above all for as inclusive and representative politics that was and is essential to Indian democracy. Gandhi stood for an equal rights based citizenship and modern secular and bound by law, Indian state. What Gandhi stood for challenged –as did the strong anti-caste, Ambedkarite and Left ideologies/orientations – centuries based caste discriminations and denials asserting bonds of shared co-existence and communal harmony between all Indian religious based communities. While Gandhi and the sum of the entire 150 year old national movement stood firm against British colonial domination, sectarian based nationhoods as represented by the communal ideologies of the HMS, ML and RSS at all times sought succor, compromise and collaboration with the British  government. They were most threatened by this composite nationhood.

Integral to this proto- fascist project or effort, as historian Y.D. Phadke has eloquently pointed out, has been to willfully misrepresent Justice Khosla, who along with Justices Atma-charan, Acchuram and Bhandare held, unequivocally, that both Nathuram and Apte should be hanged. Pradeep Dalvi in his play (that is again to be now shown through a film) has deliberately chosen to ignore fact that the charge of having plotted Gandhi’s assassination was proved.[4] All four judges were unanimous that the six co-conspirators were active in plotting the assassination. The constructed ‘courage’ of Nathuram Godse as he approached his death by hanging has also been successfully countered in Justice Khosla’s own book.[5] Moreover,  while Dalvi in his play (that has now been converted into a film) has blatantly glorified a killed, he has deliberately not heeded the historical truth that the charge of having plotted Gandhi’s assassination was proved in Court.

To quote, from Khosla, “The fact that all seven persons (Nathuram, Apte, Karkare, Madanlal, Gopal Godse and the witness for the prosecution Digamber Badge and his servant Shankar Kistayya) had gone to Delhi before the 20th of January and some of them had travelled and stayed in hotels under assumed names, the fact that all but one of them admitted their presence at Birla House at the time of the explosion, the fact that a number of hand–grenades were taken by Badge to Bombay and were carried to Delhi, and the manner of the hasty dispersal from Delhi of all the conspirators, left very little doubt that all of them had gone to Delhi with a common object, and that their simultaneous presence in Delhi was not a mere coincidence. There was ample evidence of association after the explosion of January 20. There was, for instance, a telegram sent by Karkare who was in Bombay, to Apte in Poona, on January 25. The telegram simply said: ‘BOTH COME IMMEDIATELY’… ’”[6]

Dalvi, not surprisingly, uses macabre twisted metaphors from caste Hindu mythology to justify Godse’s actions. If Ram could kill Ravana and Krishna Kansa, why should Godse not have killed Gandhi, Dalvi asks? The Hindu communalist core has and continues to regard Gandhi as evil because he stood for a united and harmonious India. At this moment, a book published in Bengalrau an RSS man titled, “Gandhi was Dharma Drohi and Desha Drohi — The Supreme Judgement’ is finding wide circulation in print and otherwise.[7] The duplicity and forked tongue of the communal proto-fascists continues: generate hatred for Gandhi through widespread literature and “culture” of the kind that Dalvi’s plays and films represent while cynically seeking to appropriate Gandhi minus his essence. It is a project that can be allowed to succeed only at India’s peril.

“Crude and over- simplistic, this motive has no real bearing on the reality. When the unsuccessful attempts of 1934, 1944 and 1946 were made, the proposal regarding Partition and the matter regarding release of Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan were not in existence at all. The conspiracy to do away with Gandhiji was conceived much earlier.”

At least six months before he committed the act of murder, Nathuram Godse has been vocally expressing his desire to kill Gandhi (in public meetings and private discussions). As aptly analysed by Y.D. Phadke and published by us in Communalism Combat in October 2000, “In October, 1964, Karkare, Madanlal and Gopal Godse finished their term in prison and were released. In order to celebrate this, a Satyavinayak Pooja was organised in the Udyan Hall in Pune on November 12, 1964. Here, speaking in front of 150 to 200 people, GV Ketkar, the then editor of the daily, Tarun Bharat, revealed a sensational secret.  He said that three months before Gandhiji’s assassination, Nathuram used to tell him (Ketkar) that he wished to kill Gandhi. Ketkar said that while discussing the possible consequences of such an act, he had asked Nathuram to consider the political and social fallout. Ketkar also told the gathering that, personally, he was opposed to the idea of assassinating Gandhiji. After the explosion by Madanlal in the prayer meeting on 20th January, Badge returned to Pune. When Badge spoke to Ketkar about his future plans, Ketkar realised that he and his companions were going to assassinate Gandhiji. 

When Ketkar was mentioning all this in a meeting, Gopal Godse, who was sitting next to him, even told him, “Don’t say anything more.” But Ketkar retorted, “Now if I say all this they (i.e. the Congress government) are not going to arrest me.”[8]In October 1947, Nathuram Godse had requested Ketkar to write an article for Agrani. At this meeting, Ketkar reminded Nathuram of his speech in July and asked him if he really intended to murder Gandhiji. Nathuram replied in the affirmative. For one hour or so, Ketkar tried to dissuade him. But it was of no use. However, till he testified before the Kapur Commission, Ketkar had never publicly mentioned this discussion with Nathuram.  The conclusions made at the end of the Kapur Commission Report about Ketkar are as follows:   Ketkar knew in October or November 1947 that Gandhiji’s life was in danger;  From his conversation with Badge on January 23, 1948 or thereabouts, Ketkar knew about the conspiracy planned by Nathuram;   Until he met Badge, Ketkar had no idea that Badge and Apte were also involved in the conspiracy to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi. But since Nathuram had told him in October or November 1947 that he (Nathuram) intended to assassinate Gandhi or such a plan existed, Ketkar knew of Nathuram’s complicity.[9] But till November 12, 1964, Ketkar did not reveal this publicly. This has to be considered an offence on his part. There is no evidence to show that Ketkar took the lead and communicated the information he had to the Bombay government.  One thing is clear from the report of the Kapur Commission. At least three or four months before Gandhiji started a fast to hand over Rs. 55 crore to Pakistan, Nathuram was already voicing his intention to assassinate Gandhiji to a senior leader of the Hindu Mahasabha like GV Ketkar, albeit in private. This means that it is not true that he decided to assassinate Gandhi due to his fast. The fast was only an instrumental cause for Nathuram. To say that Gandhi was ‘The Victim of Fifty-Five Crores’ is just to advance an argument in support of Nathuram’s offence, says Phadke.
Just one more in a series of lies perpetrated by the Hindu right to on the one hand gloat over the killings, promote the culture of violence so abhorred by Gandhi and also cynically appropriate him, a man who stood steadfast against the politics they stand for.

For over six decades since the cowardly act of killing Gandhi, heirs of the hate brigade  manifest in the killing have played a dual, typically contradictory posturing (role). Tring desperately to appropriate a man they simply cannot disregard (note the portrait of Gandhi behind the seat of the first pracharak Prime Minister’s home office)  and continuing to systematically vilify him on their forums and in the public domain. Reams of paper and falsified writings have tried to give stature to Nathuram Godse and his parivar and the most recent examples of building statues or erecting temples to his memory are in piece with the same strategy.

If Gandhi remains a threat for his unwavering and committed belief in fraternity of all Indians, all those who loive on the same soil, Ambedkar needs to be appropriated at a different, equally sinister level. Soon after the take over of the new regime in New Delhi last May, three different publications from Uttar Pradesh (the bhoomi  of the next political Kurukshetra in 2017), emanating from the sangh parivar have fallaciously tried to re-locate the brutal exclusions and atrocities in the name of caste against our own people to the “onset of Muslim rule” trying to build one more atrocious layer of false history and myth making to their hate filled view of the past. Which is a sinister road map for the future.

The fundamentals of India founded after over 200 plus years of struggle gainst colonial rule, that brought all manner and kind of Indians and south Asians on the battle field of the struggle were severely challenged when the brutalities and schisms of communalisms and partition resulted in marring our celebrations of freedom. Today nearly seventy years later, we are challenged fundamentally through a process of majoritarian identity formation, a 31 per cent vote share that brought 282 seats to a regime that cynically disregarded the minority vote. The challenge is manifold, political, social and cultural. To meet it, the resistance has to build at these multiple levels? Are we up to this task? Where the symbols and pictures of a Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Maulana Azad, Nazirul Islam, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Periyar, Basavannah override the forces that not only killed the Mahatma in cold blood on 30.1.1948 but murderously attack Indianness, secularism and the republic, to this date.
(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] Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, First published in 1979, Revised edition in 2000, Radhakrishna Prakashan Pvt Ltd, New Delhi

[2] Ibid 
[4] Khosla,Murder of the Mahatma, pages 237-238
[5] Khosla, Murder of the Mahatma, 1963, pages 244-245
[6] Khosla, The Murder of the Mahatma, pgs. 237–238.
[7] Sadhana Prakashana, 2011, Dr. KV Seetharamaiah, Gandhi an Emeny of the Faith, An Enemy of the Nation
[8]The report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Conspiracy to Murder Mahatma Gandhi, part 1, pg. 61
[9] The Report of the Kapur Commission: Part 2, pg. 358





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