“Even as Gandhi was talking to Mountbatten, the news that he had decided to go on a fast was being broadcast over the news media in all of India’s fourteen languages. In Poona, two men sitting in a shoddy newspaper office read it over their teleprinter. Read it and suddenly made their great decision: Gandhi had to be killed.”
Before I read The Men Who Killed Gandhi by Manohar Malgonkar, I had several uneducated, preconceived notions of Gandhi’s death. I thought it was the impulsive act of only one man blinded by hatred. All Indians know that Mahatma Gandhi died at the hands of an Indian Brahmin known as Nathuram Vinayak Godse. What few people know is that Gandhi’s death came about after a month of planning by several men who were determined to exterminate the man who, in their opinion, was the major factor in bringing about the Partition of their motherland into two nations: India and Pakistan. These men were driven by a nationalistic fervor that was characteristic of the times our country was living in. They felt that the murder of Mahatma Gandhi was the only way in which Indian politics would become practical. The reason for this was not an isolated incident; they genuinely felt that the Indian National Congress, at Gandhi’s behest, was appeasing a “dangerous and fanatical minority of the country”.
Partition not only involved the geographical division of territories and the separation of an administrative apparatus but also the distribution of moveable property. Undivided India possessed approximately Rs. 220 crores out of which 1/4th or Rs. 55 crores was to be handed over to Pakistan but due to the Kashmir War and invasion by Pakistani tribals, the INC was hesitant to proceed with handing over large sums of money to a government they were at war with. Gandhi disapproved of this action and at Lord Mountbatten’s encouragement, announced to go on an indefinite fast. This convinced Godse and his closest friend, Narayan Dattatray Apte that Gandhi, “whose hands were stained with the blood of thousands” due to his policy of non-violence, could not be allowed to die a natural death.
Godse and Apte were members of the Hindu Sanghathan movement which grew into the Hindu Mahasabha under V.D. Savarkar’s guidance. Both men were under his influence and Godse was a Hindu nationalist; a radical who supported all the causes that Savarkar supported. Although Savarkar had nothing to do with Gandhi’s death, his name was dragged in because of his long standing association with Nathuram Godse and also because he was a revolutionary; a firebrand patriot who had galvanized the youth of his generation by his open advocacy of an armed uprising against the British.
The Mahatma’s death was planned by seven conspirators although by the end, only Godse, Apte and their close associate Vishnu Karkare remained. The irony in the whole situation was that these men respected Gandhi and before shooting him, Godse reverentially folded his palms into a Namaste to pay his respects to the great man. But they all felt he could not be allowed to go on. In Godse’s last appeal, his skewed logic makes sense when seen through the eyes of a man who was committed to the nation, his “Holy Land” as he termed it. He accepted that posterity would always condemn him as a murderer, a lunatic who killed the father of his nation; “I fully realized that I would be looked upon as the most despicable fellow in the society.”
Although there is nothing very striking about Mr. Malgonkar’s style of writing, he is able to convey clearly the events that culminated in the Mahatma’s death. The book provides a firsthand account from the conspirators and is insightful because it makes us see the other side of the story. Although the world may condemn them for their role in the murder, this book helps reason out why they did what they did. The book is especially very useful because it contains a plethora of rare photos that were held by the Godse and Apte families.
Godse and Apte were sentenced to hang by the neck until they were dead. Vishnu Karkare, Madanlal K. Pahwa, Gopal V. Godse and Shankar Kistayya were sentenced to transportation for life while Digambar Badge turned approver. All in all, this is a book that has dissolved my prejudice against the man (now men) who executed one of the most memorable murders in history and is definitely a book worth reading.