• Last Days of the Mahatma

    An extract from Beyond Doubt: A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination

    Jagan Phadnis

    October 14, 2017


    Image courtesy: The Indian Express


    … [I]n 1944, Nathuram Godse was arrested at Panchgani as he was hurrying towards Gandhiji carrying a knife. This statement has been made before the Justice Kapur Commission by the owner of Surati Lodge of Pune, Shri Manishankar Purohit. Shri B.D. Bhilare Guruji, ex-MLA of the Congress from Mahabaleshwar, who was present, has also said that he took away the knife from the hand of Nathuram Godse (monthly Anubhav, Pune, October 1997). The Justice Kapur Commission concluded that this incident did not happen on the basis of the police diary. …The Commission concluded that the information given by Mr Purohit was not reliable since Dr Sushila Nair was with Mahatma Gandhi and hence she ought to have been aware of the incident. While deposing before the Commission, she had said that she did not remember anything. This argument of the Commission seems fallacious. Because the same Dr Sushila Nair subsequently told the Commission that Nathuram Godse was caught with a knife by the people of Sevagram Ashram, and that he carried the knife so as to take Gandhiji’s life. But the Commission did not take her statement seriously. While the details of this incident are discussed subsequently, it is mentioned here to show that the Commission’s argument that the incident at Panchgani did not happen just because it was not supported by Sushila Nair was wrong, and it did not believe the incident of Sevagram even though Dr Nair had narrated it. Thus, the conclusion drawn by the Commission that Nathuram carried the said knife for puncturing the tyre of Gandhiji’s car is ridiculous.

    … In the year 1966–67, the Justice J.L. Kapur Commission was appointed to investigate the conspiracy behind the murder of Gandhiji. … I was the lone journalist covering the Commission. Shri Jayaprakash Narayan, Shri Morarji Desai, Prof. J.C. Jain, the Assistant Commissioner of Police Mr J.D. Nagarwala, and other high officers and leaders deposed before the Commission. I heard them. The deposition of Gopal Godse, however, was taken in camera. Hence I could not hear the same. Thereafter, I had the opportunity to examine the evidence and papers put forth before the Commission, and then the question which arose in my mind at the age of seven or eight was finally answered.

    Mahatma Gandhi was released from jail in May 1944. But he had malaria. He came to Panchgani in July 1944 for rest and recuperation as advised by doctors. At that time, a group consisting of eighteen to twenty persons came to Panchgani by a special bus from Pune and shouted slogans against Gandhiji the whole day. Gandhiji came to know of this. He called Nathuram Godse to hear him out. However, Godse refused to meet Gandhiji. In the evening, when the prayer meeting started, a young man wearing a Nehru shirt, pajama and jacket rushed towards Gandhiji shouting slogans against him and taking a knife out of the pocket of his jacket. Manishankar Purohit and Bhilare Guruji of Satara caught the said young person, who was Nathuram Godse. There was another young man with him but he ran away. There was commotion in the prayer meeting. But Gandhiji remained quiet and his prayer meeting was conducted as usual. Gandhiji sent a message to Nathuram Godse and invited him to stay with him for eight days, so that he could understand his thinking. However, Godse refused that also.

    Gopal Godse deposed before the Justice Kapur Commission that Nathuram Godse did not go to Panchgani. It is arguable whether Gopal Godse was telling the truth. Mr Joglekar, who was the reporter of Agrani, informed me that Nathuram had told them that some important news would be received from Panchgani while Gandhiji was there, and, accordingly, the news was received from Panchgani. The Congress volunteers took greater precautions and deployed plainclothes police constables at the Dilkhush bungalow where Gandhiji was staying. This security arrangement was made after the said incident. However, Gandhiji objected to this security measure. Gandhiji told them that policemen were not required for his security. Rajaji, Dr Jeevraj Mehta, Bhulabhai Desai and some other Congress leaders were aware of this. The news was published in the 23 July 1944 edition of The Times of India, titled ‘The People of RSS Created Havoc in the Meeting of Gandhiji’. Mr A. David, editor of Poona Herald, filed an affidavit before the Justice Kapur Commission and deposed that Nathuram Godse had rushed towards Gandhi carrying a knife with the intention of killing him on that day at Panchgani. There is a slight difference in the dates in the deposition of Manishankar Purohit. Purohit had given the names of Mr Apte and Mr Thatte also. Dr Sushila Nair had said that some people created a commotion in the prayer meeting at Panchgani held in July 1944, but she could not recollect whether Nathuram Godse was among them. Pyarelal was not there at Panchgani and Sushila Nair had been taken aside when the incident happened. Hence she could not witness what had actually happened. Dr Nair deposed that she did not remember whether Nathuram Godse was there, but she also deposed that Nathuram Godse and Mr Thatte were stopped by the residents of the Ashram when they charged towards Gandhiji in 1946 at Sevagram. She also stated that a knife was found on one of them. There is no mention in the police records of a knife being found at Panchgani. One possibility may be that the police arrived there after the knife was recovered. Hence the police might not have taken note of the same, or they might not have recorded it in apprehension of disciplinary action for the knife being found when the police were present. This possibility cannot be ruled out. Mr Purohit had nothing to gain by giving false testimony. …

    Also read:
    “The word defeat is not to be found in my dictionary…” An excerpt from the novel Fugitive Histories by Githa Hariharan

    Extract from Jagan Phadnis, Last Days of the Mahatma [Mahatmyachi Akher], translated into English by Suresh Bhosale and Bhakti Bhalwankar, in Beyond Doubt: A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination, edited by Teesta Setalvad, New Delhi: Tulika Books, 2015.

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