Before January 30, 1948, there were five failed attempts to assassinate Gandhi — in 1934, in July and September 1944, September 1946 and January 20, 1948. Nathuram Godse was involved in three of those attempts. It is when we look at these attempts that it is revealed that the later day myths of him being targeted on the issue of partition and his demand for Rs.55 crores to be transferred to Pakistan, turn out to be utter lies. The book ‘Beyond Doubt — A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination’ edited by Teesta Setalvad published a couple of years back, lays bare this fact. The following are extensive quotes from the book.
First attempt — June 25, 1934
Gandhi was to deliver a speech at the Pune Corporation auditorium. He and Kasturba were travelling in a motorcade consisting of two similar cars. On the way, the car in which the Gandhis were travelling got stuck at a railway 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, grievously injuring the Chief Officer of the Corporation, two policemen and seven others. The bomb was thrown by anti-Gandhi Hindu extremists as mentioned by Gandhi’s Secretary Pyarelal in his book ‘Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase’. After the attack, Gandhi said — “It is sad that this happened. I have no desire for martyrdom 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?”
Second attempt — July 1944
After his release from the Aga Khan Palace imprisonment in May 1944, Gandhi contracted Malaria and was advised rest. He retired to Panchagni, a mountain resort near Pune. A group of 18–20 men reached Panchagni by a chartered bus from Pune and held a day-long protest and shouted anti-Gandhi slogans. When Gandhi was told about this, he invited the leader of the group — NATHURAM VINAYAK GODSE — for a discussion. Godse rejected the invitation,
During the prayer meeting that evening, Godse, dressed in a Nehru short, rushed towards Gandhi. He was brandishing a dagger in his hand and shouting anti-Gandhi slogans. He was overpowered by Manishankar Purohit, the proprietor of the Sruti Lodge of Pune and Bhillare Guruji of Satara, who later became a Congress legislator from Mahabaleswar. Both swore under oath about this attack while deposing before the Kapur commission, set up to investigate the Gandhi assassination conspiracy. The other youth accompanying youth had ran away. Gandhi asked Godse to spend eight days with him so that he could understand Godse’s point of view. Godse rejected and he was allowed to go by a magnanimous Gandhi.
Third attempt: September 1944
Gandhi was preparing to hold talks with Jinnah. The Hindu Mahasabha was opposed to this. Godse and L.G.Thatte openly campaigned against the talks and threatened to stop Gandhi from meeting Jinnah. The talks began in Bombay on September 9 and lasted for 18 days. He travelled from Sevagram to Bombay for the talks. Godse led a gang of men to stop Gandhi. They picketed the ashram to ensure that Gandhi did not leave to Bombay. Dr.Sushila Nayyar testified to the Kapur Commission that Godse was stopped and detained by ashramites as he tried to reach Gandhi and a dagger was found on his person. The police report on the assault placed before the commission also says that a sword was confiscated from the group leader.
Fourth Attempt: June 1946
On the way to Pune, the train carrying Gandhi, known as the Gandhi special, met with an accident between Nerul and Karjat stations. The loco pilot in his report claimed that boulders were placed on the tracks of the train with an intention to derail it. Though the train crashed into the boulders, a tragedy was averted because the loco pilot had slowed down the train before impact.
On June 30, speaking at a prayer meeting in Pune, Gandhi said — “By the grace of God, I have escaped from the jaws of death. I have not hurt anybody. I cant understand why there are so many attempts on my life. Yesterday’s attempt to failed. I will not die yet, I aim to live till the age of 125.”
Fifth attempt: January 20,1948
Gandhi was late in starting his prayer meeting, as the public address system had failed. Madanlal Pahwa, Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare, Digambar Badge, Gopal Godse and Shankar Kistaiya congregated that day at the Birla Bhavan. Madanlal and Vishnu were at the Bhavan and the others reached the prayer meeting through the rear entrance by a taxi driven by Surjeet Singh, the 14th witness of prosecution in the Gandhi assassination trial. Madanlal Pahwa tried to bribe Choturam, a driver staying in Birla Bhavan servants’ quarters to allow him to approach the podium where Gandhi was sitting, ostensibly to take his photograph. When questioned by Choturam about the need for photographing Gandhi from the back and also queried about the lack of a camera, Madanlal walked off as if returning to the taxi, 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 and so they rushed to the taxi and left. The explosion was mild.
Madanlal was identified by Sulochana Devi, the 15 th witness in the Gandhi trial. She lived less than 100 metres from the Birla Bhavan and had come looking for her son that day. She identified Madanlal as the bomber to the Birla Bhavan watchman, who along with a policeman grabbed the fleeing Madanlal. On interrogation, he admitted that he was part of a seven member gang who wanted to kill Gandhi. The plan was for the bomb to go off near the podium and in the ensuing panic, for Badge or Kistaiya to shoot Gandhi. That night Madanlal took the police to the two hotels where the gang members were staying. But they had fled by then. Godse and Apte went back to their hometowns. They reached Delhi on January 29, after procuring a Beretta automatic and eleven bullets with the help of an RSS man.
And on the next day, the Final attempt: January 30, 1948 — Success
As much as Gandhi’s and the Congress’s commitment to a secular and composite Indian nationhood was a deep source of resentment for the proponents of Hindu Rashtra, it was the democratic and egalitarian agenda articulated by the National leadership through the Karachi Resolution that they resented. The attempts on Gandhi’s life that began in 1934 were the Hindutva’s response to the dominant political articulations of nationhood, caste and economic and other democratic rights which challenged the idea of a hegemonic and authoritarian Hindu Rashtra.
Dissociating themselves from criminals acting in their name has been a typical way in which Hindutva organisations have sought to escape legal and moral culpability. There have been attempts to deny the links between the Hindua Mahasabha and the RSS. We should not forget the fact that K.B.Hedgewar, the founder of the RSS, was one of the secretaries of the Hindu Mahasabha. Just like how the Kerala BJP used to deny links between itself and the Hindu Aikya Vedi, until one fine day the Hindu Aikya Vedi President Kummanam Rajasekharan became the President of the Kerala BJP. The previous BJP Government under (moderate hatemonger) Vajpayee did pay an indirect tribute to the assassins by placing a photograph of Savarkar right opposite Gandhi’s in the Parliament hall. The same Savarkar, who is the ideological guru of the current PM.
And today, we saw that ugly sight of the BJP leaders paying tributes to Gandhi in front of his photograph. It speaks much of the continuing strength of Gandhi’s ideals that the followers of his murderers have to still publicly pay tributes to him. While his murderer Godse has to be publicly disowned by his own “sons” and “grandsons”. But, he can take heart from the fact that his 56-inch son has not disowned him yet. But he dare not take his name in public too.