Saturday, January 28, 2012

This Day in History: Jan 30, 1948: Gandhi assassinated

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, is assassinated in New Delhi by a Hindu fanatic.

Born the son of an Indian official in 1869, Gandhi's Vaishnava mother was deeply religious and early on exposed her son to Jainism, a morally rigorous Indian religion that advocated nonviolence. Gandhi was an unremarkable student but in 1888 was given an opportunity to study law in England. In 1891, he returned to India, but failing to find regular legal work he accepted in 1893 a one-year contract in South Africa.

Settling in Natal, he was subjected to racism and South African laws that restricted the rights of Indian laborers. Gandhi later recalled one such incident, in which he was removed from a first-class railway compartment and thrown off a train, as his moment of truth. From thereon, he decided to fight injustice and defend his rights as an Indian and a man. When his contract expired, he spontaneously decided to remain in South Africa and launched a campaign against legislation that would deprive Indians of the right to vote. He formed the Natal Indian Congress and drew international attention to the plight of Indians in South Africa. In 1906, the Transvaal government sought to further restrict the rights of Indians, and Gandhi organized his first campaign of satyagraha, or mass civil disobedience. After seven years of protest, he negotiated a compromise agreement with the South African government.

In 1914, Gandhi returned to India and lived a life of abstinence and spirituality on the periphery of Indian politics. He supported Britain in the First World War but in 1919 launched a new satyagraha in protest of Britain's mandatory military draft of Indians. Hundreds of thousands answered his call to protest, and by 1920 he was leader of the Indian movement for independence. He reorganized the Indian National Congress as a political force and launched a massive boycott of British goods, services, and institutions in India. Then, in 1922, he abruptly called off the satyagraha when violence erupted. One month later, he was arrested by the British authorities for sedition, found guilty, and imprisoned.

After his release in 1924, he led an extended fast in protest of Hindu-Muslim violence. In 1928, he returned to national politics when he demanded dominion status for India and in 1930 launched a mass protest against the British salt tax, which hurt India's poor. In his most famous campaign of civil disobedience, Gandhi and his followers marched to the Arabian Sea, where they made their own salt by evaporating sea water. The march, which resulted in the arrest of Gandhi and 60,000 others, earned new international respect and support for the leader and his movement.

In 1931, Gandhi was released to attend the Round Table Conference on India in London as the sole representative of the Indian National Congress. The meeting was a great disappointment, and after his return to India he was again imprisoned. While in jail, he led another fast in protest of the British government's treatment of the "untouchables"--the impoverished and degraded Indians who occupied the lowest tiers of the caste system. In 1934, he left the Indian Congress Party to work for the economic development of India's many poor. His protege, Jawaharlal Nehru, was named leader of the party in his place.

With the outbreak of World War II, Gandhi returned to politics and called for Indian cooperation with the British war effort in exchange for independence. Britain refused and sought to divide India by supporting conservative Hindu and Muslim groups. In response, Gandhi launched the "Quit India" movement it 1942, which called for a total British withdrawal. Gandhi and other nationalist leaders were imprisoned until 1944.

In 1945, a new government came to power in Britain, and negotiations for India's independence began. Gandhi sought a unified India, but the Muslim League, which had grown in influence during the war, disagreed. After protracted talks, Britain agreed to create the two new independent states of India and Pakistan on August 15, 1947. Gandhi was greatly distressed by the partition, and bloody violence soon broke out between Hindus and Muslims in India.

In an effort to end India's religious strife, he resorted to fasts and visits to the troubled areas. He was on one such vigil in New Delhi when Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist who objected to Gandhi's tolerance for the Muslims, fatally shot him. Known as Mahatma, or "the great soul," during his lifetime, Gandhi's persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States.

Nathuram Godse Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

Nathuram Godse approached Gandhi on January 30, 1948 during the evening prayer and bowed. One of the girls flanking and supporting Gandhi, Abha Chattopadhyay, said to him, "Brother, Bapu is already late" and tried to put him off but he pushed her aside and shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range with a semi-automatic pistol. Gandhi died almost immediately. After shooting, Godse did not try to run or threaten anyone else. He was attacked and pinned to the ground by the crowd around him and was subsequently arrested when a small group of police officers arrived on the scene a few minutes later.


Following the assassination of Mohandas Gandhi, he was put on trial beginning May 27, 1948 at Peterhoff, Shimla which housed the Punjab High Court.
On November 8 1948, Godse delivered his statement[6] in court enunciating the reasons and motives for the assassination.
As I grew up I developed a tendency to free thinking unfettered by any superstitious allegiance to any isms, political or religious. That is why I worked actively for the eradication of untouchability and the caste system based on birth alone. I openly joined anti-caste movements and maintained that all Hindus are of equal status as to rights, social and religious, and should be considered high or low on merit alone and not through the accident of birth in a particular caste or profession. I used publicly to take part in organized anti-caste dinners which thousands of Hindus, Brahmins, Vaishyas, Kshatriyas, Chamars and Bhangis participated. We broke the caste rules and dined in the company of each other.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Excerpts from Para. 26, 27)
He listed Dadabhai Naoroji, Swami Vivekananda, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, Bal Gangadhar Tilak as his influences, along with the ancient and modern histories of India, England, France, America and Russia, and the tenets of Socialism and Marxism. (Para 27)
All this reading and thinking brought me to believe that above all it was my first duty to serve the Hindudom and the Hindu people, as a patriot and even as a humanitarian. For, is it not true that to secure the freedom and to safeguard the just interests of some thirty crores of Hindus constituted the freedom and the well-being of one fifth of human race ? This conviction led me naturally to devote myself to the new Hindu Sanghatanist ideology and programme which alone I came to believe, could win and preserve the national independence of Hindusthan, my Motherland and enable her to render true service to humanity as well.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Para. 28)
He dismissed Gandhi's policies of truth and non-violence as "nothing new or original" and considered them "implicit in every constitutional public movement". He defended the use of righteous violence against aggression and quoted the examples of Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Guru Govind Singh. He rebuked Gandhi for his "self-conceit" for condemning them as misguided patriots.However,Gandhi had referred to the issue in a completely different way.
He accused Gandhi of paradoxically being a "violent pacifist" who brought calamities to the country through non-violence. According to Godse, Gandhi developed a "subjective mentality under which he alone was to be the final judge of what was right or wrong" and accused him of having too much power.
If the country wanted his leadership, it had to accept his infallibility; if it did not, he would stand aloof from the Congress and carry on in his own way. Against such an attitude there can be no halfway house. Either Congress had to surrender its will to his and had to be content with playing second fiddle to all his eccentricity, whimsicality, metaphysics and primitive vision, or it had to carry on without him. He alone was the judge of everyone and everything; he was the master brain guiding the Civil Disobedience movement; no other could know the technique of that movement. He alone knew when to begin it and when to withdraw it. The movement might succeed or fail, but that could make no difference to the Mahatma's infallibility. 'A Satyagrahi can never fail' was his formula for his own infallibility and nobody except himself knew what a Satyagrahi is.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Excerpt from Para. 69)
Godse rebuked Gandhi's "childish insanities and obstinacies". According to Godse, Gandhi did not allow any room for people to disagree with his "irrational" policies. Thus, Godse held Gandhi's irresponsibility as the cause of "blunder after blunder, failure after failure, and disaster after disaster".
Godse accused Gandhi of having a blatant pro-Muslim policy and quoted Gandhi's support for Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) (which was synonymous to Urdu[7]) as the national language of India after the Muslims objected to Hindi and claimed that all of Gandhi's experiments were at the expense of the Hindus.

Gandhiji began to hold his prayer meetings in a Hindu temple in Bhangi Colony and persisted in reading passages from Quoran as a part of the prayer in that Hindu temple in spite of the protest of the Hindu worshippers there. Of course he dared not read the Geeta in a mosque in the teeth of Muslim opposition. He knew what a terrible Muslim reaction would have been if he had done so. But he could safely trample over the feelings of the tolerant Hindu. To belie this belief I was determined to prove to Gandhiji that the Hindu too could be intolerant when his honour was insulted.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Para. 35)
He explained that Gandhi's unfair treatment and hypocrisy was the cause of his anger.
The fact that Gandhiji honoured the religious books of Hindus, Muslims and others or that he used to recite during his prayers verses from the Geeta, the Quoran and Bible never provoked any ill will in me towards him. To my mind it is not at all objectionable to study comparative religion. Indeed it is a merit.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Para. 48)
He quoted numerous examples of Gandhi's bias such as the fast for the payment of Rs. 55 crores to Pakistan, his support for the Khilafat movement and the invasion of India by the Amir of Afghanistan, his denunciation of the Arya Samaj which included several nationalist leaders, his silence over the subsequent murder of Swami Shraddhanand by a Muslim, his support for the separation of Sind, his placation of Jinnah and the Muslim League, his denial of slaughter and forced conversion of Hindus by Muslims in the Moplah Riots despite evidence to the contrary, opposition to the singing of Vande Mataram, his contrasting treatment of Hindu and Muslim princes, support for cow-slaughter, opposition to Shivaji's Flag, his hypocrisy over the violent Quit India movement (by his call to "Do or Die"), among others. (Para. 69)
Godse firmly believed in a secular State and was opposed to the supremacist demands of the Muslim League (Para 51).
Godse accused Gandhi of infatuation with the Muslim League even after the massacre of Hindus by Muslims after Direct Action Day and despite their increasing disloyalty and treason to the Interim Government. He also denounced the Congress, which had boasted of its "nationalism and secularism", of surrendering to Jinnah and accepting Pakistan at the "point of the bayonet".
This is what Gandhiji had achieved after thirty years of undisputed dictatorship and this is what the Congress Party calls 'Freedom'. Never in the history of the world has such slaughter been officially connived at or the result described as Freedom, and 'Peaceful Transfer of power' If what happened in India in 1946, 1947 and 1948 is to be called peaceful one wonders what would be the violent. Hindu Muslim Unity bubble was finally burst and a theocratic and communal State dissociated from everything that smacked of United India was established with the consent of Nehru and his crowd and they have called it `Freedom won by them at sacrifice'. Whose sacrifice?
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Excerpt from Para. 69w)
According to Godse, Gandhi did not impose any conditions on Muslims because Jinnah and the Muslim League were not at all perturbed or influenced by his fasts and attached no value to his voice. He also criticized Gandhi's epithet "The Father of India" for failing in his paternal duty as he consented to its partition. He claimed Gandhi failed in his duty and proved to be the father of Pakistan.
His inner-voice, his spiritual power, his doctrine of non-violence of which so much is made of, all crumbled against Jinnah's iron will and proved to be powerless.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Para. 91)
He criticized Gandhi's non-violent policy during the communal clashes:
"We should with a cool mind reflect when we are being swept away. Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence. If they put all of us to the sword, we should court death bravely, may they, even rule the world, we, shall inhabit the world. At least we should never fear death. We are destined to be born and die; then why need we feel gloomy over it? If all of us die with a smile on our lips, we shall enter a new life. We shall originate a new Hindustan."

Had this act not been done by me, of course it would have been better for me. But circumstances were beyond my control. So strong was the impulse of my mind that I felt that this man should not be allowed to meet a natural death so that the world may know that he had to pay the penalty of his life for his unjust, anti-national and dangerous favouritism towards a fanatical section of the country. I decided to put an end to this matter and to the further massacre of lacs of Hindus for no fault of theirs. May God now pardon him for his egoistic nature which proved to be too disastrous for the beloved sons of this Holy Land.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Para. 140)
Godse foresaw that he would be hated by the people, his future would be totally ruined, and that he would lose all his honour, which he held more valuable than his life, if he were to assassinate Gandhi. However, he considered that Indian politics in Gandhi's absence would be practical, able to retaliate and be powerful with the armed forces, and that "the nation would be saved from the inroads of Pakistan".
He then confessed that he fired the shots at Gandhi on January 30 1948, on the prayer-grounds in Birla House.
I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to millions of Hindus. There was no legal machinery by which such an offender could be brought to book and for this reason I fired those fatal shots. I bear no ill will towards anyone individually, but I do say that I had no respect for the present government owing to their policy, which was unfairly favourable towards the Muslims. But at the same time I could clearly see that the policy was entirely due to the presence of Gandhi.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Excerpt from Para. 135)
He then accused Prime Minister Nehru of hypocrisy with his speeches of secularism, because he was instrumental in creating the Islamic state of Pakistan along with Gandhi's persistent policy of appeasement towards the Muslims.
Finally, I now stand before the court to accept the full share of my responsibility for what I have done and the judge would, of course, pass against me such orders of sentence as may be considered proper. But I would like to add that I do not desire any mercy to be shown to me, nor do I wish that anyone should beg for mercy on my behalf. My confidence about the moral side of my action has not been shaken even by the criticism levelled against it on all sides. I have no doubt that honest writers of history will weigh my act and find the true value thereof someday in future.
Nathuram Godse, Answer to the Charge Sheet (Para. 150)
In the light of the statement, Justice Khosla commented :
The highlight of the appeal before us was the discourse delivered by Nathuram Godse in his defence. He spoke for several hours, discussing, in the first instance, the facts of the case and then the motive, which had prompted him to take Mahatma Gandhi’s life. The audience was visibly and audibly moved. There was a deep silence when he ceased speaking. Many women were in tears and men coughing and searching for their handkerchiefs. The silence was accentuated and made deeper by the sound of an occasional subdued sniff or a muffled cough…
I have however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse’s appeal, they would have brought in a verdict of ‘not guilty’ by an over-whelming majority.’


On November 8, 1949, Godse was sentenced to death. Among those calling for commutation of the death sentence for the defendants were Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as Gandhi's two sons, who felt that executing their father's killers would dishonour his memory and legacy which included a staunch opposition to the death penalty. Godse was hanged at Ambala Jail on November 15, 1949,[8] along with Narayan Apte, the other conspirator. Savarkar was also charged with conspiracy in the assassination of Gandhi, but was acquitted and subsequently released.


Millions of Indians mourned Gandhi's assassination. The Hindu Mahasabha was vilified and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the RSS, was temporarily banned. However, investigators could find no evidence that the RSS bureaucracy had formally sponsored or even knew of Godse's plot. The RSS ban was lifted by Prime Minister Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in 1949.
The RSS, to this day denies any connection with Godse, and disputes the claim that he was a member[5].
After the assassination, many criticized the Indian government for not doing more to protect Gandhi who, earlier in the week, had been the target of a bomb plot by the same conspirators who later shot him. Of particular concern, was the fact that a Bombay detective had wired the names and descriptions of the assassins along with the fact that they were known to be in Delhi stalking Gandhi. On the other hand, Gandhi had repeatedly refused to cooperate with his own security and had resigned himself to a violent death which he accepted as an inevitable part of his destiny.
A film, Nine Hours to Rama, was made in 1963 and was based on the events leading up to the assassination, seen mainly from Godse's point of view. The film Hey Ram, made in 2000, also briefly touches upon events related to the assassination. The popular Marathi language play Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy (Marathi: मी नथुराम गोडसे बोलतोय)("I am Nathuram Godse, Speaking") was also made from Godse's point of view.[9]


  1. ^ Jeffrey, Robin (1990). India, Rebellion to Republic: Selected Writings, 1857-1990. Sterling Publishers. p. 105.
  2. ^ Gandhi and Godse: a review and a critique By Koenraad Elst,Original from the University of Michigan ISBN 8185990719, 9788185990712
  3. ^ Time (14 February 2000). "His Principle of Peace Was Bogus". Retrieved 3 July 2007
  4. ^ The Hindu (18 August 2004). "RSS releases 'proof' of its innocence". Retrieved 26 June 2007
  5. ^ a b Zee News(IANS) (30 December 2010). "RSS denies Godse was its member, rebuts Cong claim". Retrieved 1 November 2011
  6. ^
  7. ^ Indian critiques of Gandhi by Harold G. Coward page 218
  8. ^ The Times (London), pg. 3. 16 November 1949.
  9. ^ Rediff on the NeT. There is a play called Gandhi vs Godse to make the point of Godse's."Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy - The Transcript". "Watch Marathi Play on Youtube


  1. Elst, Koenraad Gandhi and Godse - a Review and a Critique, Voice of India, 2001. ISBN 8185990719
  2. Godse, Nathuram, Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi, Surya Bharti, Delhi, India, 2003. OCLC 33991989
  3. Godse, Nathuram May it Please Your Honor!, Surya Bharti, India, 2003.
  4. Khosla, G.D. Murder of the Mahatma and Other Cases from a Judge's Notebook, Jaico Publishing House, 1968. ISBN 0-88253-051-8.
  5. Malgonkar, Manohar (2008). The Men Who Killed Gandhi, New Delhi: Roli Books, ISBN 978-81-7436-617-7.
  6. Phadke, Y.D. Nathuramayan

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