On November 15, 1949 two men, Nathuram Vinayak Godse and Narayan Apte, went to the gallows for assassinating the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Sixty-seven years later, while there are attempts to rehabilitate Godse as a ‘martyr’ and build temples in his honour, a trial is on in a court in Bhiwandi (Maharashtra) which may finally nail the relationship between Godse and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Fresh evidence has surfaced from the London archives of India Office Library & Records to suggest that links between Godse and the RSS might not have been as tenuous as the RSS would like everyone to believe.
An outward telegram sent by the British Foreign Office on February 13, 1948 claimed, “It has now been established that Godse, arrested as Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin, was a member of the ‘R.S.S.S.’ (sic) and of the Mahasabha”. A copy of the telegram is now in possession of The National Herald (see visual).
The telegram also records the following : “ …the initial disturbances were clearly spontaneous acts of indignation, provoked too in some places by R.S.S.S. demonstrations welcoming the assassination…”.
The telegram went on to report, “In particular Jai Prakash Narain, the leader of the Socialist Party of India…called upon the Government to crush the Muslim League, Mahasabha and the R.S.S.S., and to resign as a symbolic atonement for its ineffectiveness in preventing the death of the Mahatma. He also demanded a change in the appointment of the Home Minister ( Sardar Patel, right wing)…”
The telegram was sent to ‘His Majesty’s Representatives’ at various capitals including Washington, Moscow, Berlin, Paris, Cairo and Kabul.
The RSS has always denied any responsibility for Gandhi’s assassination, pointing out that Godse had left the RSS before committing the act. The ‘cultural organisation’ has always claimed, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that it had nothing to do with politics. It has also claimed with some justification that neither the Gandhi assassination trial by the special court in Red Fort nor the two subsequent inquiry commissions had found enough evidence to link the RSS with the killing.
Larry Collins, Dominique Lapierre and AG Noorani among others have maintained that there was little doubt that Godse had retained deep links with the RSS which itself was an offshoot of the Hindu Mahasabha. Gopal Godse has also confirmed in various interviews that his brother had never left the RSS and that he might have denied association with the RSS to shield the organisation after the assassination. Gandhi’s assassin had maintained that he had left the RSS and became active in the Hindu Mahasabha.
Even later Noorani pointed out that Digambar Badge, the approver in Godse’s trial, had told the court that Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who lived till 1966, was indeed part of the conspiracy. But not having found any independent witness to verify the approver’s statement, Noorani wrote, the court gave the RSS benefit of doubt. Noorani points out that Savarkar’s bodyguard, Apte Ramchandra Kasar, and secretary Vishnu Damle, had later admitted to Savarkar’s involvement in the conspiracy.
Uttam Sengupta is Executive Editor of National Herald. He tweets at @chatukhor