Essay

RSS & Gandhi’s murder

Print edition : October 14, 2016

Gandhi's last journey. Seen in the cortege are Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and J.B. Kripalani. Photo: Photo Courtesy: Gandhi Smriti

The accused in the Gandhi murder case during the Red Fort trial case: (from left, front row) Nathuram Godse, Narayan Dattatraya Apte, and Vishnu Ramakrishna; (seated in the second row behind Godse and Apte) Digambar Ramchandra Badge; (from right, last row) Gopal Godse and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. Godse was deeply hurt by Savarkar's 'calculated, demonstrative non-association with him' during the trial. Photo: The Hindu Archives

L.K. Advani, who stated in 1993 that Godse was 'a bitter critic' of the RSS and 'we have had nothing to do with Godse'. Photo: V. Sudershan

There is enough historical evidence to nail the RSS’ lie that Nathuram Godse was not a member of that organisation when he assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in 1948.

ON Saturday, September 10, I was invited to lunch at a dear friend’s home. Present were his sister and brother-in-law. On seeing me she told me, in disbelief and mild shock, that some flunkey of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) had claimed on the TV that I had apologised for asserting that the RSS had killed Gandhi. I was, momentarily, taken aback. I had never tendered any apology to this disreputable and utterly despicable body, orally or in writing. Indeed, no person of any intelligence would make such an assertion either, however deep his loathing for the RSS—like this writer’s. The reason is simple. Whether it is a registered society or a company, it is still an organisation and acts, necessarily, through its members or officials.

To deny that the RSS killed Gandhi is, therefore, to raise an Aunt Sully for the sheer pleasure of knocking her down. No one alleges that any such resolution was passed by the RSS’ Kendriya Karyakari Mandal at a meeting in its cavern in Nagpur, or that Godse had acted on its behalf. What is alleged is that he was a member of the RSS and shared its ideas. What is relevant is that he fully shared his organisation’s outlook on hate and violence and this is what drove him to commit that ghastly crime. The RSS cannot escape blame, as Vallabhbhai Patel pointed out to Syama Prasad Mookerjee. An organisation whose member commits a crime incurs odium. What could be the fons et origo, the origin, of the slander? My mind went back to an unfortunate episode 15 years ago when I wrote a weekly column from 1992 to 2000 for The Statesman, which was edited by a dear friend, Cushrow R. Irani, who had bravely stood up to Indira Gandhi’s authoritarian regime during the Emergency. He was generous; be it in regard to space or content.

Sadly, around 2000, our friendship came under a strain. We disagreed on a couple of things; especially on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). We communicated less. I agreed to go to Kolkata to participate in a debate held under the auspices of the paper, on September 16, 2000, only in order to clear the air over my writings on Kashmir. He politely brushed aside my anxieties on the growing differences. The RSS had filed a case of defamation in New Delhi in respect of an article I had written; rather, in respect of a cartoon that was published as an illustration [to the article]. Irani referred to the RSS’ case defiantly in his speech on that occasion in the presence of Sushma Swaraj and a friend, Salman Haidar. His resolve to fight it out was impressive.

It was most unfortunate that my effort at a candid talk did not succeed. In the last week of December that year, I received a letter from him informing me that my review of a book on Kashmir would not be published and in future I should contribute reviews only of books that were sent to me and of none other. In all those nearly nine years I had freely reviewed books which publishers had sent to me directly, including foreign publishers. I was hurt and offended and wrote back instantly to say that I would not be writing for The Statesman after all. It was a hasty and ungracious response. Irani was naturally most offended and hurt, too; quite rightly so. The friendship suffered.

I mention this personal episode, unusually, because it has a bearing on the case that was filed and its conclusion. To begin with, I was roped in despite the fact that there was not a word in my article on Gandhi’s murder, let alone the RSS’ responsibility for that crime. There are fortunately two documents of unimpeachable credibility on the two crucial points, namely, my article and Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse’s membership of the RSS.

The first is a letter by one Suresh Bajpayee, secretary, RSS, which was published in The Statesman as early as on January 25, 2000, almost exactly a year before I was obliged to appear before a magistrate in one of the Tis Hazari Courts in New Delhi. It read thus: “We have seen with pain and anguish the cartoon published on the editorial page of your paper in the issue of 15-16 January along with the article ‘RSS and Services-II’. It shows a person wearing shorts, white shirt with folded sleeves and wearing a cap firing from a pistol on Mahatma Gandhi. On the back of the assassin have been written the words ‘RSS’. The Mahatma is seen fallen on the ground with blood flowing from his chest. The author of this cartoon is some Debabrata. Thus, the cartoon clearly tells the reader that it was the RSS organisation which murdered Mahatma Gandhi. We are sure that you are aware of the basic facts of the matter which are contrary to what has been shown in the cartoon.” The next nine long paragraphs were devoted to establishing the RSS’ innocence.

Three features deserve note. First, there was no reference to me at all or even a mention of the writer of the article. Secondly, the subject of the article was not Gandhi’s murder but the ban on the recruitment of members of the RSS, besides those of bodies like the Jamaat-e-Islami, to public services. The Gujarat government headed by Narendra Modi sought to lift the ban with the encouragement of his then patron L.K. Advani, Union Home Minister. Lastly, the entire grievance ventilated in this letter was in respect of the cartoon alone. The cartoonist’s name was mentioned.

What, then, was I supposed to apologise for? A statement I had not made? Yet, some months later, a criminal complaint was filed against Irani, as Editor, Printer, and Publisher, the cartoonist and, incredibly, against me, as the writer of the article.

When the case first came up for hearing in January 2001, I was under handicaps more than one. My relations with Irani, though not severed, were strained. I did not know a single member of the Bar practising in those courts and I would be obliged repeatedly to fly from Mumbai to New Delhi at my own expense. Since Irani, judging by his speech on September 16, 2000, seemed set on fighting out the case, I readily accepted his offer of joint appearance through an advocate of his choice. I was obliged to go to Delhi once to seek exemption from personal appearance, which the court readily granted. To ask for a discharge on the ground that no offence was disclosed against me at all was to break ranks and incur unpleasantness. Especially since Irani was committed to fighting out the case.

Queries about the progress of the case later elicited vague answers in reassurance and, finally, the information that it was all over, hinting at a settlement. My requests for its terms were ignored. To this day I do not know what those terms were and whether the advocate who represented us all was instructed to apologise for all of us orally in court or whether there was a written apology agreed to by Irani; if so, it was not shown to me, nor, of course, the terms of the statement in court. If it was an apology, my consent and approval were not sought at all. I was not party to any settlement that might have been reached between C.R. Irani and the RSS. He never mentioned any apology.

I could not possibly have concurred in any apology. Only a few days earlier, my book The RSS and the BJP had been launched; on December 6, 2000, by Jyoti Basu in New Delhi. It had a whole chapter (4) on “The RSS and Gandhi”. It was published by LeftWord. In 2002, after the case got over in 2001, LeftWord published my book Savarkar and Hindutva: The Godse Connection. Its chapter 5, on Gandhi’s murder, sets out the entire evidence on Nathuram Godse and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the RSS and BJP’s ideologue, and refutes the claim that Godse had left the RSS.

Since then, I have missed no opportunity to nail the Sangh Parivar’s lies; to cite a few: 1. On September 28, 2005, in Chennai, I spoke at the Asian College of Journalism on Savarkar’s complicity. The discussion was moderated by N. Ram, then Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. 2. In an article in Hindustan Times of March 4, 2003, I reverted at length to the theme of attacking the decision to put up Savarkar’s portrait in Parliament House opposite that of Gandhi. 3. In an article in The Hindu of January 30, 2013, entitled “How Savarkar escaped the gallows”, I dealt at length with his culpability for the crime.

Thus, for over a decade and a half, I have consistently, unflinchingly written on the nexus between Savarkar and Godse and also Godse’s membership and loyalty to the RSS without anyone in its media wing challenging my credentials. I shall continue to do so as long as I am alive.

Gopal Godse’s testimony

This brings me to the second document. It is an interview given by the assassin Nathuram Godse’s brother, Gopal Godse, also an accused in the case, to Arvind Rajagopal. It was with reference to the BJP president L.K. Advani’s statement on November 21, 1993, that Godse was “a bitter critic” of the RSS and “we have had nothing to do with Godse” ( The Times of India, November 22, 1993).

This is what his brother Gopal Godse had to say of Advani and of Nathuram’s membership of the RSS. The questions and answers are set out:

“Q. Were you a part of the RSS?

A. All the brothers were in the RSS. Nathuram, Dattatreya, myself and Govind. You can say we grew up in the RSS rather than in our homes. It was like a family to us.

Q. Nathuram stayed in the RSS? He did not leave it?

A. Nathuram had become a baudhik karyavah (intellectual worker) in the RSS. He said in his statement that he left the RSS. He said it because Golwalkar and the RSS were in a lot of trouble after the murder of Gandhi. But he did not leave the RSS.

Q. Advani has recently said that Nathuram had nothing to do with RSS.

A. I have countered him, saying it is cowardice to say that. You can say that RSS did not pass a resolution, saying that, ‘go and assassinate Gandhi.’ But you do not disown him [Nathuram]. The Hindu Mahasabha did not disown him. In 1944 Nathuram started doing Hindu Mahasabha work when he had been a baudhik karyavah in the RSS” ( Frontline, January 28, 1994).

Let me now proceed to revert to the entire subject “with added enthusiasm” and nail the RSS’ lies to the counter. The evidence may be considered under five heads—the RSS’ addiction to hate, laced with venom; its use of violence; the relationship between the Hindu Mahasabha, led by V.D. Savarkar, and the RSS, and, relatedly, between Godse and Savarkar, coupled with his membership of the RSS; the BJP; and lastly, the exposures at the Gandhi murder trial.

1. Dislike is not uncommon among political adversaries; hatred is rare. The RSS’ hatred is laced with venom. Its supremo M.S. Golwalkar’s book Bunch of Thoughts (1966) reeks of venomous hate towards Muslims, Christians, and Communists (Chapter 12); and towards Gandhi: “Those who declared ‘No swaraj without Hindu-Muslim unity’ have thus perpetrated the greatest treason on our society. They have committed the most heinous sin of killing the life-spirit of a great and ancient people. To preach impotency to a society which gave rise to a Shivaji who, in the words of the great historian Jadunath Sarkar, ‘proved to the whole world that the Hindu has drunk the elixir of immortality’, and to break the self-confident and proud spirit of such a great and virile society has no parallel in the history of the world for sheer magnitude of its betrayal.…

“This leadership only came as a bitter climax of the despicable tribe of so many of our ancestors who during the past twelve hundred years sold their national honour and freedom to foreigners, and joined hands with the inveterate enemies of our country and our religion in cutting the throats of their own kith and kin to gratify their personal egoism, selfishness and rivalry. No wonder nemesis overtook such a people in the form of such a self-destructive leadership.” The reference to “nemesis” is significant.

Savarkar shared this poison. On May 14, 1944, he said: “The Hindu Sangathanists should not contribute a single pie to the Congressite Kasturba (Gandhi) Fund ( Historic Statements, page 109).

Conspiracy and the hunt for Golwalkar

2. Violence. Rajeshwar Dayal, who became Foreign Secretary, was Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh in 1947. He testified: “I must record an episode of a very grave nature when the procrastination and indecision of the U.P. Cabinet led to dire consequences. When communal tension was still at fever-pitch, the Deputy Inspector-General of Police of the Western Range, a very seasoned and capable officer, B.B.L. Jaitley, arrived at my house in great secrecy. He was accompanied by two of his officers who brought with them two large steel trunks securely locked. When the trunks were opened, they revealed incontrovertible evidence of a dastardly conspiracy to create a communal holocaust throughout the western districts of the province. The trunks were crammed with blueprints of great accuracy and professionalism of every town and village in the vast area, prominently marking out the Muslim localities and habitations. There were also detailed instructions regarding access to the various locations, and other matters which amply revealed their sinister purport.

“Greatly alarmed by those revelations, I immediately took the police party to the Premier’s house (G.B. Pant). There, in a closed room, Jaitley gave a full report of his discovery, backed by all the evidence contained in the steel trunks. Timely raids conducted on the premises of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) had brought the massive conspiracy to light. The whole plot had been concerted under the direction and supervision of the Supremo of the organisation himself. Both Jaitley and I pressed for the immediate arrest of the prime accused, Shri Golwalkar, who was still in the area.

“Pantji could not but accept the evidence of his eyes and ears and expressed deep concern. But instead of agreeing to the immediate arrest of the ring leader as we had hoped, and as Kidwai would have done, he asked for the matter to be placed for consideration by Cabinet at its next meeting. It was no doubt a matter of political delicacy as the roots of the RSS had gone deep into the body politic. There were also other political compulsions as RSS sympathisers, both covert and overt, were to be found in the Congress party itself and even in the Cabinet. It was no secret that the presiding officer of the Upper House, Atma Govind Kher, was himself an adherent and his sons were openly members of the RSS.…

“Golwalkar, however, had been tipped off and he was nowhere to be found in the area. He was tracked down southwards but he managed to elude the couriers in pursuit. This infructuous chase continued from place to place and weeks passed. Came January 30, 1948, when the Mahatma, that supreme apostle of peace, fell to a bullet fired by an RSS fanatic. The whole tragic episode left me sick at heart” ( A Life of our Times, 1998, pages 93-94; emphasis added).

The Home Minister, Vallabhbhai Patel, wrote to the Mahasabhaite in the Cabinet, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who founded the Jan Sangh in 1951, in these terms: “As regards the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, the case relating to Gandhiji’s murder is sub judice and I should not like to say anything about the participation of the two organisations, but our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (i.e. the RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of Government and the State. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure” ( Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Volume 6, page 323). Thus, the RSS created the atmosphere Patel described in which the crime was committed.

3. Nathuram Godse as member of the RSS. His brother Gopal Godse’s testimony is conclusive. As for the Mahasabha, Nathuram Godse was besotted with Savarkar. Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s book Freedom at Midnight was based on police records. They record that he took to “a new kind of secular shrine, the headquarters of the RSS” (page 365). The RSS and the Mahasabha had at times lovers’ quarrels. In September 1932, the Mahasabha said that it “appreciates the efforts of Dr. Hedgewar for starting a strong organisation of Hindus named Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh in Central Provinces and Berar (whose capital was Nagpur) and other places and recommends that its branches be established in all Provinces so that it may be an Akhil Bharatiya Organisation” ( History of the Hindu Mahasabha, page 199; an appendix has a laudatory note on the RSS on page 425).

In a letter to Savarkar, Nathuram Godse wrote: “It is a fact generally accepted that if there is to be a Hindu Sangathan not only in Maharashtra but in the whole of India, it would be systematically brought about by one, and the only powerful institution, that is the RSS” (K.L. Gauba, Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, 1969, pages 83-84; the letter was an exhibit in the trial. The book is based on the trial records).

4. The BJP’s rejection of Gandhi. For some time, the BJP echoed its predecessor, the Jana Sangh, and their mentor, the RSS’ disdain for Gandhi. In the mid-1990s, when the capture of power at the Centre was in sight, it did a volte face. On October 5, 1997, the RSS mouthpiece Organiser published an advertisement by a Delhi publisher for six “Readable Attractive New Books”; two of them were by Gopal Godse: Qutab Minar is Vishnu Dhwaja and Gandhiji’s Murder and After. The third book advertised was May it Please Your Honour, the assassin’s statement in court. Another was by the judge who ordered the locks of the gates to the Babri Masjid opened on February 1, 1986, in flagrant breach of the law. Organiser is hardly likely to accept advertisements for books critical of the RSS.

Two decades after the assassination, on January 11, 1970, Organiser, then edited by K.R. Malkani, could remember Gandhi only in these terms in its editorial: “It was in support of Nehru’s pro-Pakistan stand that Gandhiji went on fast and, in the process, turned the people’s wrath on himself.” So, Nathuram Godse represented “the people”, and the murder he perpetrated was an expression of “the people’s wrath”. In 1961, Deen Dayal Upadhyaya said: “With all respect for Gandhiji, let us cease to call him ‘Father of the Nation’. If we understand the old basis of nationalism, then it will be clear that it is nothing but Hinduism.”

The Times of India editorially noted on October 17, 1989: “Mr. Advani, while holding forth on ‘Bharat Mata’, now goes so far as to deny that Mahatma Gandhi was the Father of the Nation.” None should be surprised at a photograph showing the RSS supremo, M.S. Golwalkar, sharing, in Pune in 1952, a platform with V.D. Savarkar, who had narrowly escaped conviction in the Gandhi murder case.

In a complete volte face, Sushma Swaraj, the BJP’s general secretary belatedly declared on October 17, 1997: “Mahatma Gandhi is not the monopoly of the Congress Party.” There was a spate of false claims of loyalty to the Mahatma, which I exposed in detail in my book The RSS and The BJP (pages 81-83).

A lawyer’s letter

5. At the trial. Godse did his best to deny proximity to Savarkar to protect him while Savarkar virtually disowned him. An able advocate, P.L. Inamdar, himself a devotee of Savarkar, secured the acquittal of his client, D.S. Parchure. His book reveals his disenchantment with Savarkar as well as his surprise at Savarkar’s acquittal for reasons he does not conceal from the reader ( The Story of the Red Fort Trial 1948-49, Popular Prakashan, 1979, pages 141, 143 and 147). I quote it in extenso as it sheds light on Savarkar’s character and his “innocence”. The book has received little notice.

Inamdar writes:

“During the whole of the trial, I never saw Savarkar turning his head towards even Nathuram, who used to sit by him, in fact next to him, much less speak with him. While the other accused freely talked to each other exchanging notes or banter, Savarkar sat there sphinx-like in silence, completely ignoring his co-accused in the dock, in an unerringly disciplined manner. He did not talk to me in court during the whole of the trial except once. He had, I thought, perhaps resolved to act in court, his defence against the charge of conspiracy with Nathuram or with any one of the accused and, in fact, to perform his role demonstratively, even with respect to the counsels of the other accused!

“During the various talks I had with Nathuram, he told me that he was deeply hurt by this—Tatyarao’s [Savarkar’s] calculated, demonstrative non-association with him either in court or in the Red Fort jail during all the days of the Red Fort trial. How Nathuram yearned for a touch of Tatyarao’s hand, a word of sympathy, or at least a look of compassion in the secluded confines of the cells! Nathuram referred to his hurt feelings in this regard even during my last meeting with him at the Simla High Court!....

“Savarkar had prepared a written statement in defence of his case replete with appendices of newspaper cuttings and he read out the statement in the court with all the gimmicks of an orator bemoaning his fate of being charged with the murder of Mahatmaji by the independent Indian Government, when he had admired and eulogised the personality of the Mahatmaji so sincerely and so often. Savarkar actually wiped his cheeks in court while reading this part of his oration….

“Savarkar claimed that he was wholly innocent of the crime! I am alive to the stage of his career at which Savarkar then was. But believe me, Savarkar was very nervous and was getting more and more agitated as the trial progressed. In the second week of September 1948, I received word from our senior, Bhopatkar, to say that Savarkar wanted to see me and that he had sought the permission of the court, allowing me to visit the jail for that purpose. I was a little surprised and moreover nervous to have to tread on the path of my seniors, but my vanity took over and I consented to go to the jail and see Savarkar. I saw Savarkar on or about the second Saturday in September 1948 in the Red Fort jail. …After a few words of explanation as to why he had called me, and warding off my humble protest for being called upon to interfere in the work of my seniors, he said, ‘I have very much liked your terse and correct expression. …I want your opinion and assistance. I hope you do not mind.’

“‘Oh! It will be my proud privilege,’ I said, and we proceeded to discuss the case against him in particular and also in general. I found him well posted with the details of the case against him; they were very few. He talked about them in thoroughly learned and elaborate legal jargon using such expressions as hearsay evidence of the first degree, second degree, etc. All that I had to do was, either express my approval of the line of argument, or suggest a few variations, which he made a note of. He repeatedly asked me if he would be acquitted and wanted me to assure him sincerely. What I noted was that he did not ask me a single question about the case against my clients, Dr. Parchure and Gopal Godse or about any of the other accused including Nathuram, nor any question about me personally. I spent nearly three hours with him.…

“I do not remember even today, when and how Judge Atma Charan read out the operative portion of the order of acquittal of Savarkar! All I remember even today is that I had tried to look hard at Atma Charan, asking myself if he was the same Atma Charan who had one day said to me: ‘Believe me, I shall do full justice to the case which you have so ably put up!’ I angrily told myself, ‘Yes, this is Atma Charan’s answer to the last paragraph of the summing up of the case!’”

Disbelief, even anger, at Savarkar’s acquittal is as apparent as it is justified. Inamdar knew a lot.

Inamdar, himself a committed Mahasabhaite ideologically, knew the truth. He had no hesitation in asserting that “Nathuram was a staunch RSS man” (page 25). He writes of “the avowed RSS leaders from Poona, Nathuram Godse and Apte” (page 108). This reference was part of his argument at the trial. He knew how very close Nathuram Godse was to Savarkar. Such a major operation would not have, however, been undertaken without the supremo’s blessings.

Approver Badge’s version

The sole witness against Savarkar was Digambar Badge, who had turned approver. On January 14, 1948, moments after they met that day in Bombay, Apte, Godse and Badge went to Savarkar Sadan. “Apte asked me to wait outside. Apte and Godse went inside. They came back 5-10 minutes later. Apte asked me if I was prepared to go with them to Delhi. I asked him as to what was the work at Delhi. Apte told me that Tatyarao had decided that Gandhiji, Jawahar Lal Nehru and Suhrawardy should be ‘finished’ and had entrusted that work to them. He further told me that for that purpose I should accompany them to Delhi.” Badge returned to Bombay on January 17 and met Godse and Apte.

“We got down from the taxi, and walked down to the house of Savarkar. Shankar was asked to wait outside the compound of Savarkar Sadan. Apte, Godse and I entered the compound of that house. Apte asked me to wait in the room on the ground floor. Nathuram Godse and Apte then went up. They came down after 5-10 minutes. Godse and Apte as they came down the stairs were followed immediately by Tatyarao. Tatyarao said be successful and come. The exact words used were ‘Yashasvi houn ya’. Tatyarao had addressed these words to Apte and Godse. We four then got into the taxi and proceeded towards the Ruia College. Apte said in the taxi that Tatyarao had predicted that Gandhiji’s hundred years were over. Apte further said that there was no doubt that our work would be successfully finished. The exact words used were ‘Tatyaravani ase bhavishya kale ahew ki Gandhijichi sambhar varshe bharali—ata apale kam nishchita honor yat kahi sanshya nahi.’”

The judge noted: “The examination and the cross-examination of the approver went on from 20.7.1948 till 30.7.1948. He was cross-examined for nearly seven days. There was thus an ample opportunity to observe his demeanour and the manner of his giving evidence. He gave his version of the facts in a direct and straightforward manner. He did not evade cross-examination or attempt to evade or fence with any question. It would not have been possible for anyone to have given evidence so unfalteringly stretching over such a long period and with such particularity in regard to the facts which had never taken place. It is difficult to conceive of anyone memorising so long and so detailed a story if altogether without foundation.”

Badge was accepted as a truthful witness. But the law required that an approver’s evidence must be independently corroborated. He was the sole witness. That corroboration came later before a former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Jivan Lal Kapoor, in 1966 when a Commission of Inquiry was constituted and he was asked to inquire into all the aspects of the conspiracy. Two aides of Savarkar deposed before him—Appa Ramchandra Kasar, his bodyguard, and Gajanan Vishnu Damle, his secretary. Both confirmed Badge’s account of Savarkar’s meetings with Godse and Apte.

Justice Kapur observed: “The statements of both these witnesses show that both Apte and Godse were frequent visitors of Savarkar at Bombay and at conferences and at every meeting they are shown to have been with Savarkar. …All this shows that people who were subsequently involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi were all congregating sometime or the other at Savarkar Sadan and sometimes had long interviews with Savarkar…. Apte and Godse visited him both before the bomb was thrown and also before the murder was committed and on each occasion they had long interviews.”

Had they but testified in court, Savarkar would have been convicted. There was none of the ambiguity surrounding Godse and Apte’s visits to Savarkar on January 14 and 17, 1948. Appa Ramchandra Kasar told the Kapur Commission that they visited him also on or about January 23 or 24 when they returned from Delhi after the bomb incident. Gajanan Vishnu Damle deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar “in the middle of January and sat with him [Savarkar] in his garden”.

Justice Kapur concluded: “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group”.

Justice Kapur found that “many RSS members were members of the Hindu Mahasabha”. One of his conclusions: “(4)(a) The RSS was the best organised and militant Hindu organisation in India and although it was not affiliated to the Hindu Mahasabha, its prominent organisers and workers were members of the Hindu Mahasabha ideology.”

Behind the ban on RSS

Why was the RSS banned if it was pure as driven snow —and banned by Patel? The reasons were set out in a communiqué on February 4, 1948, soon after Gandhi’s assassination on January 30. It said: “Undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity, and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunitions. They have been found circulating leaflets exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and the military. These activities have been carried on under a cloak of secrecy, and the government has considered from time to time how far these activities rendered it incumbent on them to deal with the Sangh in its corporate capacity.

“It was then unanimously agreed in November 1947 that the stage when the Sangh should be dealt with as an association had not yet arrived and that individuals should continue to be dealt with sternly as hitherto. The objectionable and harmful activities of the Sangh have, however, continued unabated and the cult of violence sponsored and inspired by the activities of the Sangh has claimed many victims. The latest and the most precious to fall was Gandhiji himself.

“In these circumstances it is the bounden duty of the government to take effective measures to curb this reappearance of violence in a virulent form and as a first step to this end, they have decided to declare the Sangh as an unlawful association.” Gandhi’s murder forced the government to deal with the RSS “in its corporate capacity”.

On February 14 and 15, 1948, the Mahasabha’s working committee said: “It was a matter of shame and humiliation that the alleged assassin was connected with the Hindu Mahasabha” and “unequivocally condemned this foul act”.

Since Godse was very much a member of the RSS, as his own brother testified, will the RSS follow the Mahasabha’s example and hang its head in shame?

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor