At last they got him, after five unsuccessful attempts

If Nagpur, in Maharashtra in western India is the physical seat of birth of the ideology that killed the Mahatma and Pune in the same state is the intellectual seat of the self-same Brahminical tradition, Maharashtra is also the state that has through its historians, investigated in-depth into five failed attempts on the Mahatma’s life before the final and tragically successful one

First Attempt: June 1934
Bomb thrown at Pune
During the Harijan Yatra in 1934, the Mahatma visited Pune. On June 25, he was to deliver a speech at the corporation auditorium. The Mahatma and Kasturba were travelling in a motorcade consisting of two similar cars. At one place en route, the car in which the Gandhis were travelling was detained at a railway level crossing.

The first car arrived at the auditorium and the welcoming committee assumed that the Gandhis had arrived and stepped forward to welcome them; just then a bomb was thrown at the car, which exploded, grievously injuring the chief officer of the municipal corporation, two policemen and seven others. The bomb was reportedly hurled by anti-Gandhi Hindu extremists as mentioned by Mahatma’s secretary Pyarelal in his book Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase and by his biographer BG Tendulkar. Pyarelal has written that "This time their attempt was very well planned and executed to perfection…" implying that the attempts before June 25, 1934 failed due to lack of planning and co-ordination. And also that the murderers were getting better with each attempt.

Pyarelal has said, "These people kept photographs of Gandhi, Nehru and other Congress leaders in their shoes. They were trained to shoot by using Gandhiji’s photograph as a target, these were the same people who later murdered the Mahatma while he was striving to bring peace to a riot ravaged Delhi, in 1948."

After the attack, speaking at the function to felicitate him, the Mahatma said, "It is sad that this happened while I am working for the uplift of the Harijans. I have no desire for martyrdom as yet, but if it is to happen, I am prepared to face it. It is easy to kill me. But in trying to kill me why are they inconsiderate to the innocents who are likely to be killed or injured along with me? My wife and three young girls who are like daughters to me were travelling in the car with me. How have they angered you?"

The attacker escaped and there is no record of investigations or arrests. This was the first documented attempt in India on the life of the Mahatma. Many historians have alleged that this was the work of the Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte gang.


Second Attempt: July 1944
Nathuram Attacks the Mahatma, Panchgani
After his release from the Aga Khan Palace imprisonment in May 1944, Mahatma Gandhi contracted malaria and was advised rest by his physician. Gandhi retired to Panchgani, a mountain resort near Pune famous for its pure air and Parsi boarding schools. He stayed at the Dilkhush Bungalow in Panchgani. A group of 18-20 men reached Panchgani by a chartered bus from Pune and held a day-long protest against the Mahatma and shouted anti-Gandhi slogans. When the Mahatma was told about this he invited the leader of this group, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, for a discussion. Nathuram rejected the invitation and continued with the demonstration.

During the prayer meeting that evening, Nathuram Godse, dressed in a Nehru shirt, pyjama (loose Indian pants) and jacket, rushed towards the Mahatma. He was brandishing a dagger in his hand and shouting anti-Gandhi slogans. Nathuram was overpowered by Manishankar Purohit, proprietor of the Surti Lodge of Pune and D. Bhillare Guruji of Satara, who later became a Congress legislator from Mahabaleshwar. Both swore under oath about the veracity of this attack while deposing before the Kapoor Commission, which was set up to investigate the conspiracy angle behind the murder of the Mahatma. The other youth accompanying Godse ran away. This led to a panic in the prayer meeting but Gandhiji remained calm. He asked Godse to spend eight days with him so that he could understand Godse’s point of view. Godse rejected this invitation and was allowed to go by a magnanimous Mahatma.

Before leaving Pune, Godse had boasted to his journalist friends that some important news concerning Gandhi would soon reach them from Panchgani and it did. Joglekar, a reporter with a Marathi newspaper Agrani, published and edited by Nathuram Godse from Pune, corroborated this fact. A. David, the then editor of Pune Herald swore on oath while deposing before the Kapoor Commission that an attempt to murder the Mahatma was carried out by Nathuram Godse at Panchgani that day. The Kapoor Commission rejected this theory because some close associates of the Mahatma who were not present at the said prayer meeting could not corroborate the facts.

The police record shows that there were demonstrations against Gandhiji and that Nathuram Godse was held for trying to rush at the Mahatma shouting anti-Gandhi slogans but does not state whether he was armed. Dr. Sushila Nayyar, the Mahatma’s physician and close associate, testified that one of the protestors was found to be carrying a dagger but could not confirm whether it was Nathuram Godse. But the two men who overpowered Nathuram and later went on to hold very responsible posts were clear in their recollection of the incident at separate instances that they caught and disarmed Nathuram Godse.

The fact also remains undisputed that Nathuram Godse was part of an armed gang of protestors and it is very likely that the gang consisted of Narayan Apte, Karkare and Gopal Godse, the eventual killers of the Mahatma and fanatical followers of Savarkar, a leader of the right-wing Hindu extremists.


Third Attempt: September 1944
Threat to life at Sevagram, Godse involved
Mahatma Gandhi was preparing to hold talks with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the leader of the Muslim League. The Hindu Mahasabha was opposed to this, Nathuram Godse and LG Thatte openly campaigned against this and threatened to stop Gandhiji from meeting Jinnah by any means publicly. The Mahatma began his talks with Jinnah in Bombay on September 9, 1944; the talks lasted for 18 days.

The Mahatma travelled from Sevagram to Bombay for the talks. Godse and Thatte led a gang of men to stop Gandhi and were joined by some from Bengal. This gang picketed the Ashram to ensure that the Mahatma did not leave for Bombay. Dr. Sushila Nayyar testified at the Kapoor Commission inquiry that Nathuram Godse was stopped and detained by ashramites as he tried to reach the Mahatma and a dagger was found on his person. The police report of the assault also placed before the Kapoor Commission says that a jambiya (Indian curved half sword akin to the machete) was confiscated from one of the group consisting of Nathuram Godse, LG Thatte and other unnamed protestors who were arrested while trying to prevent the Mahatma leaving the Ashram. The police report says it wasn’t certain that they meant to harm the Mahatma but they were armed and determined to stop the Mahatma from meeting Jinnah at any cost as evident from their recorded statements.

Pyarelal, in his letter to Tej Bahadur Sapru says, "The leader of the protestors at Sevagram, an extremely bitter and fanatical die-hard, was ready to go to any lengths to stop Gandhiji from meeting Jinnah. The arresting officer who recovered the dagger from the leader of the band asked him mockingly, ‘whether he wanted to become a martyr?’ The leader replied that when Gandhi was eventually killed one of them would become a martyr. The officer again asked him why they were wasting their time and lives in the fight between their leaders and Gandhi. If Gandhi was to be stopped, why didn’t they leave it to Savarkar, their leader? The leader of the gang said, ‘If Savarkar talks with Gandhi it will be an honour for Gandhi. The time will not come for Savarkar to talk to Gandhi. Gandhi will be dealt with by our lowly orderly’." Pyarelal said that the person indicated by the group leader was Nathuram Godse.

No clarification is given about the others in the gang. This was the third time that members of the Hindu Mahasabha from Pune were involved in an untoward incident; Godse was actually named in two of them and in all likelihood the other unnamed persons were the same as the gang which finally succeeded in murdering the Mahatma.


The Fourth Attempt: June 1946

Train sabotaged en route to Pune

On the way to Pune, the train carrying Gandhiji known as the Gandhi Special met with an accident between the Nerul and Karjat stations. The engine driver in his report claimed that boulders were placed on the tracks of the train with the intention to derail it. The train crashed into the boulders but a tragedy was averted because the engine driver was alert and slowed down the train before impact. The Pune police claimed that the boulders were placed to stop goods trains by looters. There were no goods trains on that section before or after the train known as the Gandhi Special carrying Gandhiji and his entourage. The police had not disclaimed sabotage and since the Gandhi Special was the only train on that route at that time it must have been the target.

On June 30, speaking at a prayer meeting in Pune, the Mahatma said, "By the grace of God I have escaped from the jaws of death seven times. I have not hurt anybody nor do I consider anybody to be my enemy, I can’t understand why there are so many attempts on my life. Yesterday’s attempt on my life has failed. I will not die just yet, I aim to live till the age of 125." "But who will allow you to live that long?" was the retort from Nathuram Vinayak Godse, the man who eventually murdered the Mahatma.


The Fifth Attempt: January 20, 1948
Madanlal explodes a bomb, New Delhi
Today the Mahatma was late in starting his prayer meeting, the public address system had failed and thus the delay. The Mahatma had just a couple of days previously ended his fast, after he had been assured about the establishment of peace between the communities in Delhi. It was the period after Partition and also in the immediate aftermath of the cabinet’s decision to give Rs. 55 million to Pakistan.

Madanlal Kashmirilal Pahwa, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, Narayan Dattatreya Apte, Vishnu Ramkrishna Karkare, Digambar Ramchandra Badge, Gopal Godse and Shankar Kistaiya congregated at the Birla Bhavan. Madanlal Pahwa and Vishnu Karkare were at the Birla Bhavan and the others reached the prayer meeting via the rear entrance by a taxi driven by Surjeet Singh who was the 14th witness for the prosecution in the Mahatma Gandhi murder trial. Nathuram Godse was the last to reach Birla Bhavan. Madanlal Pahwa tried to bribe Choturam, a driver staying in the Birla Bhavan servant’s quarters, to allow him to approach the podium where the Mahatma was sitting, ostensibly to take a photograph of him. When questioned by Choturam about the need for photographing the Mahatma from the back and also when queried about the lack of a camera, Madanlal walked off as if he was returning to the taxi, but instead went up to the wall behind the podium and placed the gun cotton slab on the wall and ignited the fuse. The others saw that the plan was not succeeding so they rushed towards the waiting taxi and left, leaving Madanlal Pahwa, Karkare, Badge and Shankar Kistaiya behind. The bomb went off, failing to create a panic.

Madanlal was identified by Sulochana Devi, the 15th witness in the Mahatma Gandhi murder trial, who lived less than 100 metres from Birla Bhavan and who had come looking for her three-year-old son Mahendra, who used to play with other children in the servant’s quarters of Birla Bhavan. Sulochana Devi had seen the gang of eventual murderers coming to Birla Bhavan, Madanlal talking to Choturam, placing the bomb on the wall, the others rushing towards the car, Madanlal lighting the fuse, the bomb exploding and the taxi speeding off without Madanlal. She identified Madanlal as the bomber to Fulsingh, watchman at Birla Bhavan, an armed policeman and a soldier, who were the first to reach the spot where the bomb went off and who grabbed a fleeing Madanlal. On frisking Madanlal at the police camp nearby it was discovered that he was also carrying a hand grenade on his person. The last unsuccessful attempt on the Mahatma’s life thus ended in a fiasco.

On interrogation, Madanlal admitted that he was part of a seven-member gang who wanted to kill the Mahatma. The plan was that Madanlal would explode the bomb as close to the podium as possible and Badge or Kistaiya would shoot the Mahatma in the ensuing panic and stampede and use the chaotic situation to effect an escape. Karkare was to compound the chaos by hurling hand grenades. Badge panicked at the last minute because he saw through the ruse of Godse and Apte. It would have been impossible for him to escape. Without letting the others know, Badge left his revolver in the taxi and told his servant Kistaiya to do the same and also forbade him from doing anything unless specifically ordered by Badge. But the late start to the prayer meeting, Choturam’s cross-questioning of Madanlal and Madanlal’s inability to explode the bomb near the podium panicked the gang of murderers. They abandoned the murder plan, and Madanlal Pahwa. Karkare made good his escape, Badge and Kistaiya merged with the crowd and made their way to the Hindu Mahasabha office where he had a showdown with Godse and Apte and was told to go.

That night Madanlal took the police to the two hotels where the gang members were staying, Nathuram Godse and Apte at the Marina Hotel and the rest of them at the Sharief Hotel. His panicked co-conspirators had flown the coop. The police confiscated a letter and some laundry from the hotel, which corroborated the involvement of people from Maharashtra. Although there were so many previous attempts on the Mahatma’s life by the gang led by Nathuram and Apte and although the laundry confiscated from Hotel Marina bore the initials NVG (Nathuram Vinayak Godse), the police did not act on the evidence.

The gang members returned to their hometowns. Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte, after returning to Pune via Bombay, continued with their intention to kill the Mahatma. They embarked for Gwalior where they purchased a Beretta automatic and eleven bullets with the help of Dr. Parchure and Dandavate. They reached Delhi on January 29 and stayed at the retiring rooms at the station.


The Final Attempt: January 30, 1948
The Mahatma is no more
At 5.10 p.m., Nathuram Vinayak Godse, the murderer, got close to the Mahatma and shot him thrice in the chest from point-blank range and succeeded in finally snuffing out the life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma.

The Hindu Mahasabha and its followers celebrated the murder of the Mahatma by distributing sweets. More than one million people congregated in Delhi on January 31, 1948 to bid a tearful adieu to the Father of the Nation. A sea of humanity followed the funeral cortege of the Mahatma from Birla Bhavan to Raj Ghat.

(From; information based on the books Mahatmey Chi Akher (The End of the Mahatma) by Jagan Phadnis, Gandhi-Hatyakand (The Story of Gandhi Murder), Nathuramayana by YD Phadke, English translation by Mukta Rajadhyaksha for Communalism Combat, October 2000).

Archived from Communalism Combat, August 2004, Anniversary Issue (11th), Year 11    No.100, Cover Story 8



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