Nathuram Godse’s execution order and knowledge of the whereabouts of three of the accused are some of the documents missing from the national archives.
Upon examining the files – contained in 25 CDs in the National Archives of India (NAI) – on Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination and the trial of the accused, the Central Information Commission (CIC) has concluded that “there is no comprehensive record of Gandhi files compiled at one place on assassination of Gandhi”. With the records also revealing that three of the accused had absconded and were never traced, Information Commissioner Sridhar Acharyula has directed the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and Ministry of Home Affairs to get involved in consolidating all the records on the case.
The CIC has also observed that while important questions persist regarding “whether copy of final charge-sheet in Gandhi murder and order of execution of accused number one, Nathuram V. Godse case are missing from the record” and, if so, what action was taken to trace them, the fact remains that there was “no response to the question about apprehension of missing of two important records”. It further stated that National Archives of India too does not hold all the files on Gandhi’s assassination “and they cannot say anything about it as they are merely recipients of records given by others”.
The detailed order is a response to an application filed by Hemanta Panda. He inquired into the records on Gandhi’s assassination by claiming to be a researcher interested in the topic and sought a copy of the FIR registered at Tughlaq Road police station in Delhi, a copy of the final chargesheet in the case and a copy of the order to execute the accused, Nathuram Godse. Acharyulu delved into the research conducted on Gandhi’s assassination and also cited several relevant papers in his response to Panda’s query.
The Information Commissioner noted that the CPIO of the Ministry of Culture, Jayaprabha Ravindran, had submitted that the appellant was allowed to inspect the files at NAI, and was also provided a copy of the charge sheet and FIR. Panda was also provided certified copies of the case documents he needed. But, “he complained that he could not find two important documents, final charge sheet issued by the Delhi Police and order of execution of Nathuram Godse.”
In his order, Acharyulu said, the appellant stated that the record showed that three persons accused of Gandhi’s assassination – Gangadhar Dahawate, Surya Dev Sharma and Gangadhar Yadav – were absconding, but there was nothing to show whether any efforts were made to apprehend them or if the criminal case against them was closed.
Acharyulu said the Tughlaq Road police station had stated that it had deposited the original FIR with the NAI. Ravindran also stated that as the NAI has been under heavy pressure because of RTI requests related to Gandhi, Subhash Chandra Bose and Vallabh Bhai Patel, it has digitised most of its records. She said the records pertaining to the accession of 600 princely states to India under Patel, and the records related to Bose have been made available in their digitised form and are now also accessible in the National Virtual Library Institute and National Science Centre.
Acharyulu also noted that deputy director of NAI, Sanjay Garg, had explained to the commission that when the capital of India was shifted from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to New Delhi in 1911, the Imperial Records Department (IRD) was also shifted to its present building in 1926.
Acharyulu, who also visited the section dedicated exclusively to Gandhi by the NAI – where all the documents and books relating to the leader are placed – said the place has more than 11,000 pages of information on Gandhi’s murder trial records, with everything from the FIR registered at Tughlack Road to the final judgment in the East Punjab high court at Shimla. “As the records are old enough, difficult to be handled, the NAI has rightly digitised it and made accessible in CD form,” he said.
Noting that there were 12 people accused in the case, namely Nathuram V. Godse, Narayan D. Apte, Vishnu R. Karkare, Madanlal K. Pahwa, Shankar Kistayya, Gopal V. Godse, Vinayak D. Savarkar, Dattatraya S. Parchure, Gangadhar S. Dandawate, Gangadhar Jadhav, Suryadeo Sharma and Digamber R. Badge (who had turned approver), the Information Commissioner said the records pertaining to the charge-sheet show that three accused were absconding but the NAI cannot give any opinion or information about why they were not arrested.
Stating that the appellant had demanded a copy of the ‘final chargesheet’, Acharyulu said the “the records did not show any thing like primary or final, but there is one chargesheet and documents containing framing of charges by the court, which are inspected by the appellant. NAI did not possess any of the jail records hence they could not provide a copy of order of execution of Nathuram Godse and another accused.”
Piecing together the complete record
The CIC also noted that since a three-judge bench had analysed Savarkar and Godse’s strong views on Gandhi’s policies as a particular opinion on the historical events of the age – which could be expressed without any restriction – the bench had dismissed the possibility of rejecting the copy of Godse’s statement on the grounds of section 8(1)(a).
Referring to various writings that raised several doubts about Gandhi’s assassination and the events surrounding it, Acharyulu said “people have right to information to clear the above doubts.”
He also said the prime minister declassified 100 secret files pertaining to Bose in January 2016 and promised to release 25 declassified files every month. “This is a significant step towards transparency about the history of national heroes. Similarly, the prime minister needs to place the official documents, declassifying them if necessary, regarding Gandhi. There are huge repositories of books and papers on Gandhi’s life by private and public authorities. Unfortunately, there is no official compilation record at one place about his death,” he said, adding that the PMO should be forwarded the RTI “for their information and necessary action to formulate appropriate policy to build archives of records regarding Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, investigation, trial, punishment, official correspondence, and action taken on the recommendations of JL Kapur Commission”. The commission was appointed by the government to inquire into the conspiracy angle and other aspects of Gandhi’s assassination.
Observing that a copy of the Justice Kapur Commission’s report was available with the Indian Law Institute in New Delhi, he said there was is also a need to build an archive around the subject at the NAI. Acharyulu also suggested that the CPIO should forward the RTI to the MHA so that it can trace the entire record of the Kapur commission’s hearings and depositions, documents and notes on the case.
Likewise, the Information Commission noted that the RTI should be forwarded to the SHO Tughlaq Road for case diaries or any other records on the investigation, including efforts to trace the three absconding accused (if any of the accused were absconding) in the Gandhi assassination case; the Registrar General of Supreme Court of India, for any judicial record on the assassination case; and the Secretary General of Parliament of India, for the complete record of the Kapur Commission’s findings, including the original report on the conspiracy to assassinate Gandhi.