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Seven deadly sinners

The Man Who Killed Gandhi is the story of events that led up to the murder of Mohandas Gandhi, writes Soumitro Das.
Hindustan Times | By Soumitro Das, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUN 02, 2008 08:40 PM IST

The Men Who Killed Gandhi
Manohar Malgonkar
Rs 395
PP 354

There were seven of them in all: Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare, Madanlal Pahwa, Digambar Badge, Shankar Kistayya and Gopal Godse.

The first three were members of the Hindu Mahasabha and Godse had even been a secretary to its founder V Savarkar. Godse and Apte .D. ran a Hindu right-wing paper called - what else? - Hindu Rashtra.

The Mahasabha was wedded to the idea of what the Sangh Parivar calls ‘ khand A Bharat' (Undivided India) and Apte and Godse worked tirelessly raising funds for the paper from Mahasabha sympathisers and propagating their poisonous ideas.

Pahwa was a refugee from Punjab who, after a horrifying journey through blazing fields and carnal savagery, had landed up in a camp at Chembur, Bombay.

He enjoyed the patronage of one Dr J.C. Jain, a professor of Hindi, and soon came into contact with Karkare who was the Mahasabha boss for Ahmednagar, just outside Pune.

Badge was a seller of arms, that is the best way to describe him. He kept country-made pistols and hand grenades that neither he nor his ignorant assistant Shankar Kistayya could manipulate with any degree of comfort. Kistayya didn't even know who Gandhi was and blindly followed Badge in exchange for a sum of Rs 20, plus board and lodging.

Gopal Godse was Nathuram's brother, a God-fearing man with a family to look after, but who never once expressed any regret or remorse for providing Nathuram with the weapon with which Gandhi was shot.

From Malgonkar's narrative we learn that the original conspiracy was to blow up the Pakistani constituent assembly in Karachi and wipe out the top Muslim League leadership.

This hare-brained scheme was, however, soon put to rest as it proved to be logistically impossible.

Meanwhile two things had happened. One, Pashtun raiders had stormed into Kashmir and were knocking on Srinagar's doors. The other thing that happened was that India owed Pakistan Rs 55 crore, which it initially refused to turn over to Pakistan as it would naturally be used to bolster Pakistan's war effort.

Also, there were daily reports from the Punjab of Hindus and Sikhs slaughtering Muslims mercilessly. So, Gandhi went on a fast unto death with two items on his agenda: the transfer of Rs 55 crore to Pakistan, and the immediate cessation of all rioting and massacre within Indian borders.

This was the news that came over the Hindu Rashtra's teleprinter that inspired Godse and Apte with the same brilliant idea - kill Gandhi.

The idea was for Madanlal to explode a gun-cotton slab and then lob grenades from all directions at the dais where Gandhi took his seat during the evening prayer meeting at Birla House. The appointed day was January 20.

Madanlal exploded his gun-cotton slab, but the others either lost nerve or lost their sense of purpose in the confusion that then ensued. Madanlal himself ran around the ground like a headless chicken until he was nabbed by the cops.

Nathuram Godse decided the day after that there would be no more collective skullduggery; that he would kill Gandhi on his own without help from anybody. The police had 10 whole days between January 20 and January 30 to nab the conspirators.

Madanlal was duly tortured and told the police three things: one, that there were seven conspirators in all; two, that they were led by a man who ran a paper called Hindu Rashtra, and three, that they would come again. All the Bombay Police had to do was to consult the register of media publications and dig out the name and address of Hindu Rashtra.

No arrests were made. And Madanlal didn't blabber all that much either. With the result that on January 30, 1948, Nathuram Godse simply walked up to Gandhi and pumped three bullets into his chest.

Soumitro Das is a Kolkata-based writer

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