The mystery surrounding the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi

On the night of January 30, 1948, Nathuram Vinayak Godse shot Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi dead at point-blank range, as India’s most revered leader was leaving a prayer meeting in the capital, Delhi.

The 38-year-old fan was a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, a right-wing party.

He had accused Gandhi of having betrayed the Hindus by being too pro-Muslim and soft on Pakistan. He even blamed him for the bloodshed that marked Partition, the process through which India and Pakistan were created after independence from Britain in 1947.

A trial court sentenced Godse to death a year after the murder.

He was executed in November 1949, after the high court upheld the verdict. (An accomplice, Narayan Apte, also received the death sentence, and six others were sentenced to life in prison.)

The specter of assassination

Before joining Hindu Mahasabha, Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization) or RSS, the ideological fount of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

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February 1948: Large crowds follow the body of slain Indian nationalist leader Mahatma Gandhi as it slowly makes its way down the funeral route to the immersion ceremony in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself is a long-time member of the 95-year-old mothership of Hindu nationalism. The RSS plays a deeply influential role in your government and outside of it.

For decades, the RSS has shunned Godse, who murdered the “Father of the Nation,” as the Indians love to call their greatest icon.

However, a group of Hindu right-wingers in recent years have praised Godse and openly celebrated Gandhi’s assassination. Last year, an incendiary BJP MP described Godse as a “patriot”.

All this has outraged most Indians, but the RSS has stuck to its guns: Godse had left the organization long before he killed Gandhi.

A new book now claims that this is not entirely true.


Godse, a shy high school dropout, worked as a tailor and sold fruit before joining Mahasabha, where he edited their newspaper.

During the trial, it took him more than five hours to read a 150-paragraph statement in court.

He said that “there was no conspiracy” to kill Gandhi, thus trying to absolve his accomplices of any crime.

He rejected the charge that he had acted under the guidance of his leader, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who gave birth to the idea of ​​Hindutva or Hinduism. (Although Savarkar was cleared of all charges, critics believe the radical rightist who hated Gandhi was connected to the assassination.)

Godse also told the court that he had broken with the RSS long before he killed Gandhi.

Some of the defendants speak with their defense attorneys before their trial for Gandi's murder.  From left to right are Nathuram Vinayak Godse, Narayan Dattatraya Apte, Vishnu Rama Krishna, and the bearded man in the second row is M. Badge.

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Some of the defendants speak with their defense attorneys before their trial for Gandhi’s assassination. From left to right are Nathuram Vinayak Godse, Narayan Dattatraya Apte, Vishnu Rama Krishna, and the bearded man in the second row is M. Badge.

Dhirendra Jha, author of “Gandhi’s Assassin,” writes that Godse, the son of a postal worker and a housewife, was a “prominent worker” in the RSS. There was no “proof” that he was expelled from the organization.

A statement from Godse recorded before the trial “never mentions his departure from the RSS after becoming a member of the Hindu Mahasabha.” However, his court statement said that he “joined the Hindu Mahasabha after leaving the RSS, but remains silent on when exactly he did so.”

“This was a statement that remains one of the most debated aspects of Godse’s life,” says Jha.

In his view, “pro-RSS writers” have used this to “quietly push the idea that Godse had already broken with the RSS and joined the Hindu Mahasabha nearly a decade before he killed Gandhi.”

American researcher J.A. Curran Jr claimed that Godse joined the RSS in 1930 and resigned four years later, but provided no evidence for his claim.

Jha writes that in a statement made to the police before the start of his trial, Godse admitted that he was working for both organizations simultaneously.

Family members have also joined the debate in the past.

Gopal Godse, Nathuram’s brother, who died in 2005, said his brother “didn’t leave the RSS”. Separately, a great-nephew of Godse told a journalist in 2015 that Godse joined the RSS in 1932 and “was neither expelled nor left the organization.”

“Fluid and overlapping relationship”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a long-time RSS member.

Jha, who tracked down the files, also dwells on the links between the two Hindu organizations.

He writes that the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS had a “fluid and overlapping relationship” and an identical ideology.

The two groups, he notes, “always had close connections and sometimes even overlapping membership” until Gandhi was assassinated. (The RSS was banned for more than a year after Gandhi’s assassination.)

The RSS has always echoed what Godse said in court: that he left the organization in the mid-1930s and that the trial showed he had nothing to do with the murder.

“To say that he was a member ofhe RSS is just projecting a lie with political intentions”said Ram Madhav, a senior RSS leader.

MS Golwalkar, one of the most influential leaders of the RSS, described Gandhi’s assassination as a “tragedy of unprecedented magnitude, all the more so because the evil genius is a fellow countryman and a Hindu.”

lingering doubts

More recently, RSS leaders such as MG Vaidya have called Godse a “murderer” who “insulted” Hindutva by killing such a respected figure in India.”

gun and bullets

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Three bullets from this pistol took Gandhi’s life at 5:17 p.m. on January 30, 1948.

Authors such as Vikram Sampath believe that the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha had a stormy relationship.

Sampath, author of a comprehensive two-volume biography of Savarkar, writes that the Hindu Mahasabha’s decision to create a group of volunteers akin to a “revolutionary secret society” to “safeguard the interests of Hindus” had “soured” their relations with India. the RSS.

Furthermore, according to Sampath, the RSS “desisted idolizing people, unlike Mahasabha leader Savarkar, who believed in “hero worship and exaggerated flattery.”

In another book, “RSS: A View to the InsideWalter K Andersen and Shridhar D Damle talk about how the RSS was “tainted with the involvement of a former member (Nathuram Godse)” in the assassination of Gandhi, and “maligned with official backing as fascist, authoritarian and obscurantist”.

However, the doubts that Godse was an inextricable part and never left the RSS have never faded..

Before Godse went to the gallows on November 15, 1949, he recited the first four sentences of the RSS prayer.

“Once again, this reveals the fact that he was an active member of the organization,” says Jha. “Disassociating RSS from Gandhi’s assassin is an invention of history.”

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