New Delhi: The amicus curiae appointed by the Supreme Court in a special leave petition filed by researcher Pankaj Kumudchandra Phadnis seeking a re-investigation into Mahatma Gandhi’s murder has held that “no substantive material has come to light…requiring either a re-investigation of the Mahatma Gandhi murder case or, to constitute a fresh fact finding commission with respect to the same”. However, the report has once again brought the role of former Hindu Mahasabha president Vinayak D. Savarkar into sharp focus.
In his report, senior advocate Amarendra Sharan, who was assisted by his colleagues Sanchit Guru and Samarth Khanna, has noted that “the bullets which pierced Mahatma Gandhi’s body, the pistol from which it was fired, the assailant who fired the said bullets, the conspiracy which led to the assassination and the ideology which led to the said assassination have all been duly identified”.
The amicus curiae also delved deep into Savarkar’s role in Gandhi’s assassination. He finally observed that “during the entire episode of the unveiling of the conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi, no suggestion has been put by any of the advocates either from the defence or prosecution or by the trial court that there was a larger conspiracy involving others apart from those accused”.
Of 12 accused, two were sentenced to death, three got life term
Following Gandhi’s murder at 5:15 pm on January 30, 1948, in the presence of a large number of people in New Delhi, the assailant was arrested on the spot and an FIR was registered half an hour later at Tuglaq Road Police Station. There were a total of 12 accused who were charged and prosecuted under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code, Indian Arms Act, Explosives Substances Act and so on.
Nathuram Godse and Narayan D. Apte were both convicted by the trial court on February 10, 1949 and the high court on June 21, 1949 and sentenced to death. Vishnu Karkare and Madanlal Pahwa were given life sentences by the high court. Shankar Kistayya was convicted by the trial court but acquitted by the high court. Gopal Godse was convicted and given a life sentence. Savarkar was acquitted by the trial court and let off as no appeal was filed in the high court. Dattatraya S. Parchure was sentence to life imprisonment by the trial court but acquitted by the high court. Digambar R. Badge turned an approver. Gangadhar S. Dandawate, Gangadhar Jhadav and Suryaeo Sharma absconded.
Badge, who was granted a pardon on June 21, 1948, “disclosed the conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi. His statement was duly corroborated by independent witnesses,” Sharan’s report says.
In November 1966, a one-man commission, under Justice Jivan Lal Kapur, was formed after the grandson of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, G.V. Ketkar, said that he had prior knowledge of the danger to Mahatma Gandhi’s life. A large number of witnesses were examined by Justice Kapur and the commission submitted its report on September 30, 1969. But “thereafter a quietus was given”, said the amicus curiae.
The commission had examined the “role of Savarkar” at length. The amicus curiae noted that “Vinayak D. Savarkar, who was the former president of the Hindu Mahasabha and was the foremost ideologue of the right wing Hindutva philosophy at the relevant time. His close relationship with both Nathuram V. Godse and Narayan Apte is well documented. However, Godse and Apte drifted apart from Savarkar on the issue of Savarkar supporting the Nehru led government in 1947 and hoisting of the national flag on 15.08.1947.”
On Savarkar’s acquittal in Gandhi’s assassination case, the amicus curiae observed that “Vinayak D. Savarkar was acquitted of the charges of conspiracy by the Ld. Trial Court because the statement of the approver, PW 57, Digambar R. Badge with respect to his role remained uncorroborated”. But what remains intriguing is that “no appeal against his acquittal was filed before the Hon’ble High Court”.
However, the report of the amicus curiae observed that “the Kapur Commission, which was set up in 1965 in its report dated 30.09.1969 has dealt with the role of Savarkar in detail”.
Stating that the Commission had remarked on the matter at Page 317 of its Volume II, the report of the amicus curiae quoting the panel said:
“The statement of Appa Ramchandra Kasar, bodyguard of V. D. Savarkar (Ex. 277) which was recorded by the Bombay Police on 4th March 1948 shows that even in 1946 Apte and Godse were frequent visitors of Savarkar and Karkare also sometimes visited him. During the period when the question of Partition of India was being discussed all these three used to visit Savarkar and discussed with him the question of the Partition and Savarkar was telling Apte and Godse that Congress was acting in a manner detrimental to the Hindus and they should carry on propaganda through the agency of the Agrani against the Congress, Mahatma Gandhi and his dictatorial policy.
In August 1947 when Savarkar went to Poona in connection with a meeting Godse and Apte were always with Savarkar and were discussing with him the future policy of the Hindu Mahasabha and told them that he himself was getting old and they would have to carry on the work.
In the beginning of August 1947, on the 5th or 6th, there was an All India Hindu convention at Delhi and Savarkar, Godse and Apte travelled together by plane. At the Convention the Congress policies were strongly criticised. On the 11th August Savarkar, Godse and Apte all returned to Bombay together by plane.
In the month of November 1947 there was a conference of All India State Hindu Mahasabha at Mahim and Dr.Parchure and Surya Dev of Gwalior also attended that meeting.
In the middle of December 1947, Badge came to Savarkar to enquire after his health but he could not see him. But two or three days later he again came and had a 15-minute talk with Savarkar. Karkare, Apte and Godse also met him during that month twice or thrice.
Gajanan Vishnu Darnle, secretary of Savarkar was also examined on 4th March 1948 by the Bombay Police. He said that he had known N.D. Apte of the Agrani for the last four years. Apte started a rifle club at Ahmednagar and also was an Honorary Recruiting Officer during the war. Apte was a frequent visitor to Savarkar’s house and sometime came with Godse. Savarkar had lent Rs. 15,000 to Apte and Godse for the newspaper when security was demanded from the Agrani. That paper was stopped and the new paper called the Hindu Rashtra was started. Savarkar was one of its Directors and Apte and Godse were the Managing Agents. He knew V.R. Karkare who was a Hindu Mahasabha worker at Ahmednagar for about three years and occasionally visited Savarkar. Badge was also known to him for the last three years. He also used to visit Savarkar.
The statements of both these witnesses show that both Apte and Godse were frequent visitors of Savarkar at Bombay and at conferences and at every meeting they are shown to have been with Savarkar. In January 1948 they were travelling with him both from Delhi to Bombay and back. This evidence also shows that Karkare was also well-known to Savarkar and was also a frequent visitor. Badge also used to visit Savarkar. Dr. Parchure also visited him.”
Most importantly, the Kapur Commission had said that:
“All this shows that people who were subsequently involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi were all congregating sometime or the other at Savarkar Sadan and sometimes had long interviews with Savarkar. It is significant that Karkare and Madanlal visited Savarkar before they left for Delhi and Apte and Godse visited him both before the bomb was thrown and also before the murder was committed and on each occasion they had long interviews. It is specially to be noticed that Godse and Apte were with him at public meetings held at various places in the years 1946, 1947 and 1948.”
The amicus curiae observed that the commission had concluded that “All these facts taken together were destructive of any theory other than the conspiracy to murder by Savarkar and his group”.
The amicus curiae, however, said, “to be fair, Shri Vinayak Savarkar died in 1966 and had no opportunity to present his case before the Kapur Commission or, to cross examine the witnesses who had appeared before Kapur Commission.” Further, he noted that “since the late Vinayak D. Savarkar had been acquitted, at this stage, it would neither be advisable/ desirable nor possible to come to a definitive finding with respect to Vinayak D. Savarkar’s role in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.”