Nathuram Godse was caught red-handed in the act of murdering Gandhi with a gun, witnessed by hundreds of people. This was a straightforward case of cold-blooded murder. He accepted in the courtroom: “I took courage in both my hands and I did fire the shots at Gandhiji on 30th January 1948, on the prayer-grounds of Birla House.”
He further states, “There was no legal machinery by which such an offender (Gandhi) could be brought to book and it was therefore that I resorted to the firing of shots at Gandhiji as that was the only thing for me to do.”
If the same antiquated sense of justice that Godse believed in was to be applied to him, he would have been killed there and then.
Fortunately for him, the people who ran the affairs of the country then had far more faith in democratic rights and the rule of law. Hence the law took its course wherein he was supplied with legal aid at government expense, and most of his demands during his stay in jail were fulfilled. On the second day of his hearing while asking for extra water, Godse acknowledged that he was surprised by the civility shown to him in detention.
He then proceeded to utilise the legal procedure to his full advantage. On 8 November 1948, when permitted by the court to argue his case, he read out a ninety-two-page hand-written statement. Thereafter, when the rest of his co-accused moved an appeal in the Punjab High Court, Godse moved one along with them as well, ostensibly to state that there was no conspiracy in Gandhi’s murder, but in effect to seek an opportunity to read out the statement again.
It is surprising to note while going through the records of the court proceedings that an accused of a daylight murder could be permitted to list out reasons for it and justify the killing. No allegation levelled at Gandhi could have legally remitted the punishment.
A statement filled with baseless charges against Gandhi and the hate-filled propaganda countering which a secular state had just been founded could very well have been kept out of the court proceedings.
One of the judges in the three-judge bench of the Punjab High Court, Justice Khosla, did indeed try to stop the recording of the statement citing its irrelevance to facts of the case, but the other two judges seemed mesmerised by the melodrama.4 Douglass, in this connection, makes a pertinent remark:
The fact that Judge Atma Charan allowed Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s confessed assassin, to speak for nine hours, in an ideological assault on Gandhi and a judicial defence of Savarkar, shows just how much the court was subservient to the political power of Gandhi’s murderers.
Although Savarkar never even once turned his gaze towards Godse in the courtroom, there is a widely held scholarly view that he had in fact either wholly written or applied finishing touches to the statement. [For example, see Let’s Kill Gandhi by Tushar Gandhi.] Savarkar had done this before, in the case of Madanlal Dhingra forty years ago, although the judges of the Old Bailey court in London did not permit Dhingra to read it out.
This statement by Nathuram was published by Gopal Godse in a Marathi book titled Gandhi Hatya Ani Mi or “Gandhi’s Murder and I” subsequent to his release from jail. Before its publication as a book, the statement had already been serialised in a Marathi magazine called Painjan. On 6 December 1967, its publication was banned.
Gopal Godse filed a writ against the ban in the Bombay High Court and a three-judge bench in its verdict on 6 August 1989 lifted the ban. Not only has this book continued to be published, but versions with different names and all kinds of alterations are also widely publicised and sold.
To cite an example, a “Bhagat Singh Vichar Manch” published a version in 2019 titled Maine Gandhi Vadh Kyon Kiya (“Why I Killed Gandhi”). The book, apart from Nathuram’s statement in the court, contains “glimpses” of his supposed correspondence (whose sources cannot be verified) and a separate section to demonstrate the innocence of Savarkar in the matter.
This particular section, aside from several unverified instances, broadly repeats the facts as put out by Malgonkar. Interestingly, the high praise of Savarkar here has inadvertently verified the allegation that he used to cross-check the statements made by Godse. The anonymous editor writes:
“Nathuram himself wrote what he had to say in Marathi which later would be translated into English. Nathuram had a wish that Savarkar would contribute some parts. Savarkar ji would reply – I do not need to write anything on your behalf. Show me what you write and if need be, I shall suggest changes.”
The editor, letting his imagination run riot, has concluded that Godse could not speak English, when in fact all his statements to the court are in English.
The version published by Hind Pocket Books, titled Gandhi Vadh Kyon (“Why the Gandhi Murder”) could be considered the most authentic. This version is copyrighted by Gopal Godse and I have used the same for the basis of my arguments. There is another version, published under the same title by Rashtrahitaishi Prakashan, Chennai.
That book, claiming to be “completely authentic” has neither an ISBN number, nor a year of publication, nor any address to contact the publishers. The last three chapters of the book contain the same misinformation against Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru using certain photographs that form the content of WhatsApp forwards these days.
The book mentions a certain Purushottam Nagesh Oak as a reference for “true history”. The Internet Archive (archive.org) also has a book named “Why I Killed Gandhi”, which mentions Nathuram Godse as the writer and copyright holder. The publication year is 1949, the year when he was hanged, and bears no ISBN or publisher’s name!
These are of course just some instances of the forces that have inherited the legacy of Nathuram Godse using the statement he gave in court – which was an attempt to attack Gandhi ideologically after wounding him mortally – to further their anti-democratic ends by means of false allegations and made-up stories.
Lying was a matter of habit for Godse who had not only concealed the role of Savarkar in the whole affair but denied that there ever was a conspiracy in the murder. His allegations against Gandhi reveal a mind brainwashed by constant training of a kind that can make one accept canards as logic. Those allegations have subsequently been used to poison the minds of generation after generation, and repeatedly result in sectarian violence and hatred.
Excerpted with permission from Why They Killed Gandhi: Unmasking the Ideology and the Conspiracy, Ashok Kumar Pandey, Speaking Tiger.