Friday 21 October 2016

The Mastermind?

Outlook sources records from the National Archives to see if the RSS icon had any role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
"Yashasvi hohun ya (Be successful and return)."
—V.D. Savarkar’s parting shot, quoted in police records, to Gandhi assassin Nathuram Godse and co-conspirator Narayan Dattatreya Apte

Barely two km from Parliament House where the BJP has been stalling proceedings to defend Veer Savarkar’s ‘honour’ is the newly built annexe of the National Archives of India. It contains hundreds of documents that link the Hindu right-wing icon to the country’s most famous political murder. The dusty ‘Gandhi murder trial papers’ contain testimonies, police records and special branch reports which prove that Savarkar was not only close to Godse but also part of the conspiracy to kill the Mahatma. In fact, he was among the eight accused who were tried for the Mahatma’s assassination on January 30, 1948. Here is what the archival records, sourced by Outlook, reveal:

Savarkar was Godse’s mentor: Among the exhibits submitted to the special trial court is a letter Godse wrote to Savarkar on February 28, 1938. It clearly proves that the man who assassinated Gandhi knew Savarkar for years. Their guru-chela relationship was bonded by a common ideological belief in a Hindu rashtra.

Godse’s lengthy missive was written after Savarkar became the Hindu Mahasabha president. To quote from Godse’s letter: "Since the time you were released from your internment at Ratnagiri, a divine fire has kindled in the minds of those groups who profess that Hindustan is for the Hindus; and by reason of the pronouncement which you made upon accepting the presidentship of the Hindu Mahasabha confidence is felt that hope will materialise into a reality." Godse also mentioned that "we should have a National Volunteer Army" and 50,000 volunteers of the RSS were ready and waiting. Godse goes on to implore Savarkar to guide those fighting for the Hindu cause. Jamshed Nagarvala, deputy commissioner of police, special branch, Bombay, who conducted the investigations into the conspiracy, in his report noted, "Godse was devoted to Savarkar’s political ideology since 1935. He (Godse) opened the RSS branch in Ratnagiri in 1930."

Such was Godse’s veneration for Savarkar that he put his portrait on his newspaper’s masthead. Godse was the editor and the co-accused Apte was the manager of Hindu Rashtra Prakashan which brought out Agrani. Savarkar chipped in by "advancing" what was then a princely sum of Rs 15,000 to fund the paper.

Godse worked closely with Savarkar: A letter Godse wrote to Savarkar in 1946 establishes this. In it he talks of a Rs 1,000 cheque that Savarkar had got from Sheth Jugal Kishor Birla of Delhi. Savarkar had endorsed on it that the money be paid to Godse. The letter acknowledges the transaction.

According to police records, Godse and Apte were so close to Savarkar that both travelled with him on official tours. Their last trip together was in August 1947, five months before the murder. Though Savarkar strongly denied any hand in the conspiracy, he addressed the assassin respectfully as Pandit Nathuram in his statements to the police and during the trial.

Photocopy of the police crime report of the Gandhi killing case from the National Archives

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