Disproving the charge of conspiracy

After Gandhi’s assassination, the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha looked for ways to save themselves from ruin

January 05, 2022 12:15 am | Updated 12:15 am IST

In his new book, Gandhi’s Assassin: The Making of Nathuram Godse and his Idea of India , Dhirendra K. Jha throws light on a pretrial statement Godse made, which refutes the self-portrait he offered in the courtroom “and the myths which pro-RSS writers created to suppress the real life that the assassin had lived and influences that had worked on him and led him to murder Gandhi.” An excerpt:

What the events would mean ultimately for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Hindu Mahasabha was difficult to predict, but within twenty-four hours of Gandhi’s assassination they were looking for ways that might save them from ruin and salvage some of their standing. The grief of the multitude was unmistakable, and people seemed to have lost their minds. At the heart of the violent reaction lay the sense of grievance nurtured by many people belonging to the depressed castes towards Maharashtrian Brahmins. It was through the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha that a section of Maharashtrian Brahmins had dreamt of achieving the goal of a Hindu Rashtra. The antipathies that emerged after the assassination intensified the popular distrust of the RSS and the Mahasabha. The retaliation on January 31 was intense, beyond what anyone had imagined.

About turn

The next morning, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar issued a written statement from Nagpur: ‘In the presence of this appalling tragedy I hope people will learn the lesson and practise the doctrine of love and service. Believing in this doctrine, I direct all my brother swayamsevaks to maintain a loving attitude towards all, even if there be any sort of provocation born out of misunderstanding and to remember that even this misplaced frenzy is an expression of unbounded love and reverence, in which the whole country held the great Mahatma, the man who made the name of our motherland great in the world. Our salutation to the revered departed one.’

This was not the usual language the RSS used for Gandhi when he was alive. All through, it had spewed venom against him and had even wished his death when he sat on fast a fortnight ago. Rattled by the people’s fury, the RSS now did a one-eighty and Golwalkar quickly claimed that his organisation believed in the ‘doctrine’ of Gandhi. Even the reaction to the attacks on RSS workers and offices was infused with utmost caution. The statement also placed the responsibility for the assassination in a generalised context and made no reference to Godse — perhaps the assassin’s parent organisation lacked the courage to own up to the fact that he was its member.

In fact, another statement, also issued on February 1, by the ‘Sangha Chalak of Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh, Bombay’ totally abandoned Godse. It said ‘the alleged assassin of Mahatma Gandhi was never connected in any way’ with the RSS. ‘We have already condemned the dastardly and cowardly attack on Mahatma Gandhi’s life and we mourn this national calamity. We are observing national mourning by closing our centres for 13 days,’ the statement said. V.D. Savarkar’s attitude was no different. Like Golwalkar, he too grew frantic as soon as the fallout of the assassination became visible. Known for being protective of his reputation, the Mahasabha leader, now in his mid-sixties, was equally prompt in deserting Godse the moment mobs attacked his residence in the morning of January 31. By evening, Savarkar issued a brief statement expressing strong denunciation and condemnation of the murder. Stating that ‘the news of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was too shocking and sudden’, he appealed to the ‘people to stand by the Central Government of Free India and maintain order in the country’. Like Golwalkar, he too made no specific reference to his protégé and ardent follower.

The gravest blow

For Godse, the shift in the attitude of the RSS and Savarkar might have been the gravest blow. Since the time he met Savarkar and joined the RSS, he had been nothing but loyal. The shift showed, if at all it was needed, how deceptive and distorted was the image of his mentors that Godse had kept in his heart. Abandonment by those he had prided himself on being associated with was to worsen his miseries in the days to come.

N.P. Thakur, deputy superintendent of police on special duty in Nagpur, focused specifically on checking the antecedents of Godse and exploring the many rumours that reached Delhi and Bombay after Gandhi’s assassination. For Thakur, a scrutiny of the papers seized from the RSS headquarters at Nagpur removed much of the confusion, which was apparently sought to be created by the Sangh leadership when it declared that Godse had never been associated with it. Thakur came out with specific information, through the scrutiny of these papers as well as his own independent investigations, to nail the lie being spread by the RSS in this regard and unearth the truth about Godse’s past.

The chargesheet revealed that the prosecution had relied heavily on the notebook entries and this became even more apparent as the trial progressed. Godse’s accomplices knew that the only way they could save themselves was by disproving the charge of conspiracy, for the murder would then be seen as the act of a single man. ‘There was one entry to the effect that some money was given to some “Bandopant”. Now Digambar Ramchandra Badge [who had turned approver] had already made it clear in [his] deposition that “Bandopant” meant “Badge”. There were other entries to the effect that some money was given to Nana Apte (Vinayak Rao), some to Gopal (Godse), and some was kept with him,’ noted Gopal. ‘It was obvious that the prosecution attached great importance to these entries as they seemed to help their attempt at providing the existence of a conspiracy immensely.’

In private parleys outside the courtroom, Godse became the target of attack for the serious ‘mistake’ he had committed. In the given situation, there was only one way that Godse could have rectified his ‘mistake’: by vehemently refuting the existence of a conspiracy. In actual terms, this would involve Godse telling the court that the idea to kill Gandhi was solely his own and he never shared it with any of the co-accused. Such a line of argument would help protect not just Apte and Savarkar, but also Gopal.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Random House

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