September 30, 2022

Gandhi Murder Case- 3: The day of 20th January When accused first tried to assassinate Gandhi

For better understanding, read this article- Gandhi Murder Case-2: When accused planned their first attempt to kill Gandhi on 20th January

The lawmatics Series- Gandhi Murder Case- Part -3

When Godse shot dead Gandhi, it was not his first and clean attempt. Godse with his companions hatched a conspiracy to kill Gandhi but their first attempt was failed, however, they succeeded in their second attempt. They first tried to assassinate Gandhi on 20th January.

On the morning of the 20th Apte, Karkare, Badge and Shankar paid a visit of reconnaissance to Birla House. Birla House was approached from what was then known as Albuquerque Road. Beyond the main house were situated the servants’ quarters. There was a verandah at the back of the quarters, and in front of the verandah a large platform had been constructed. It was here that the prayer meetings of Mahatma Gandhi were held. Mahatma Gandhi himself sat on a wooden divan under the verandah root while the members of the audience disposed themselves on the platform. The wall behind Gandhiji’s divan contained a trellis-work window which provided ventilation to the room beyond. The back gate of the house opened on to a service lane, and most of the regular visitors came to the prayer meetings by this gate.

The conspirators’ entered the house by the back door and inspected from outside the room with the trellis-work window. A one-eyed man was sitting in front of the door of this room, and they did not think it wise to seek entry into it at that moment and thus draw attention to themselves, but they walked round through the verandah and, finding no one within sight, Apte measured the openings of the trellis-work with a piece of string. He came to the conclusion that it was possible to fire through these openings which were wide enough to allow even the passage of a hand-grenade of the size they had brought with them.

It was decided that Godse and Apte would direct operations by giving pre-arranged signals at appropriate moments. Badge, armed with a revolver and a handgrenade, would enter the servants’ quarters behind Mahatma Gandhi’s seat by pretending that he intended to take a photograph of the prayer meeting through the trellised window. Pahwa would explode a gun-cotton slab near the back gate, in order to distract the attention of the gathering at the prayer meeting and to create a stampede.

In the ensuing confusion, Badge was to shoot at Gandhiji with his revolver from behind and follow up by throwing his hand-grenade at him. From the front his servant, Shankar, was to duplicate his master’s performance by similarly firing a revolver and throwing a handgrenade. Gopal Godse, Pahwa and Karkare were then to throw a hand-grenade each and everyone was to escape as best he could.

The revolvers brought by Badge and Gopal Godse had not been tested to see if they fired accurately. Badge’s revolver was an old one which he had sold to one of his customers and had borrowed it back from him for the occasion, and Gopal’s revolver had lain unused with him for several years. So after the reconnoitering at Birla House, Apte, Badge, Gopal and Shankar went into the forest behind the Mahasabha office to try out the weapons. It was seen that the chamber of Gopal’s revolver was defective and did not work. A shot fired from Badge’s revolver fell very short of the target. Apte declared that this revolver, too, was useless. Gopal undertook to repair the weapons, and Shankar was sent to fetch a bottle of oil and a penknife from his bag in the Mahasabha office. While Gopal was engaged in repairing the revolvers a Forest Guard was seen approaching. The weapons were quickly hidden, and Pahwa spoke to the guard in Punjabi to allay any possible suspicion on his part. When the guard passed on to continue his round, the repairs were completed, but there was no further trial firing.

A final meeting at Marina Hotel took place in the early afternoon, Nathuram lay on his bed, complaining of a severe headache, and the others sat round him while the details of their plan were discussed and the weapons and explosives were distributed. The Primers and fuse wires in the slabs and hand-grenades were fixed, and Nathuram admonished them to perform their parts with diligence and care.

‘It is your last chance,’ he said, ‘you must not fail: Fictitious names were assigned to everyone, which were to be used should need to address each other in public arise. They changed their clothes and Karkare even painted a false moustache, darkened his eyebrows and placed a red mark on his forehead to give him the appearance of a devout Brahmin.

The crowd at the prayer meeting was bigger than usual, as this was Mahatma Gandhi’s first public appearance after the 12th when he had undertaken his fast. A failure of the electric installation put the loud-speakers out of use, and Gandhiji’s feeble voice could be heard only by a few who sat near him. But his discourse was repeated to the audience by Dr. Sushila Nayyar, a prominent congress worker and a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhiji referred to the Peace Pledge taken by the residents of Delhi, and said Delhi had done a great thing and he hoped that the signatories had taken their pledge with Truth, represented by God, as their witness. If Delhi acted truthfully, the effects of its action would be felt all over the world. He was sorry, however, that the Hindu Mahasabha had repudiated the pledge through one of its officials. Enmity towards the Muslim meant enmity towards India.

He went on to speak of a suggestion that he should pay a visit to Pakistan to stop the acts of violence against non- Muslims. Suddenly there was a loud report as if something had exploded. A moment’s restlessness was observed on the periphery of the audience, and some persons were seen moving away, but Gandhiji asked everyone to remain seated and continued with his discourse. After he had concluded it, Dr. Sushila Nayyar repeated the substance of the speech to the audience from her notes. A large portion of the audience near Gandhiji’s seat did not know what had caused the loud report and where exactly the explosion had taken place. Gandhiji himself thought that it was some form of military practice and, therefore, nothing to worry about.

It was only when the prayer meeting was dispersing that those who had been sitting near Gandhiji’s divan learnt that a Punjabi youth had exploded a gun-cotton slab near the back gate of Birla House. No one was injured, and the misguided youth had been immediately apprehended and handed over to the police. A hand-grenade, complete in every respect, was recovered from his coat pocket. Some people said that the young man’s name was Madam Lai Pahwa, and that he was a disgruntled refugee who was merely making an exhibition of his bad temper. Pahwa was taken away by the police for interrogation, and the scandalised visitors went home talking about the outrage in subdued voices. The well-laid plan of the conspirators had completely failed.

All seven of them had arrived at Birla House and disposed themselves according to the decision taken by them. But at the last moment, Badge’s courage failed him. He found two persons standing in front of the door which provided access to the room behind Gandhiji’s divan. One of these men was the one-eyed man they had seen in the morning. A one-eyed man is proverbially ill-omened, and Badge suddenly realised that if he fired his revolver and threw his hand-grenade through the trellis- work window, he would be irretrievably trapped inside the room and escape would be impossible. He told Godse that he would, on no account, enter the room.

A hurried consultation took place, and after a public attempt to persuade Badge to adhere to the original design, his refusal was perforce accepted. Pahwa was told to detonate the slab of gun-cotton, and when the explosion took place the others waited for a general stampede which was to provide them with the opportunity for completing their task. Strangely enough, there was no stampede, no panic and no confusion. A few persons moved away. Pahwa was caught and handed over to the police, and the prayer meeting went on almost as if nothing had happened.

The calculations of the conspirators were completely upset, and they scampered away in a state of near panic. Badge and Shankar hired the first tonga they met on the road, and after taking their baggage from Hindu Mahasabha Bhavan caught the night train for Poona. Nathuram Godse and Apte went to Kanpur where they stayed for one day, and then went on to Bombay where they arrived on the 23rd. Karkare and Gopal Godse spent the night of the 20th at another hotel and registered under assumed names, Gopal professing to be G. M. Shastri and Karkare, Rajgopalan. On the 21st they took the train back to Poona.

Pahwa’s arrest and the failure of their plan disheartened the conspirators but did not deflect them from their purpose. During the week that followed they had hurried consultations. They had to strike at once, because they feared that Pahwa would not be able to maintain his silence when subjected to police interrogation, and it would not be long before they were traced and taken into custody. Nathuram announced his intention to assume the entire responsibility for the project and perform the deed single-handed. It was, he argued, the best and indeed the only way to bring their plan to a successful conclusion and lead them to the fruition of their desires.

Reference

As mentioned in the book ‘The Murder of Mahatma’ by G.D.Khosla (Formerly Chief Justice of Punjab, who heard the appeal of Nathuram Godse & others and gave his most historic verdict in the case of assassination), First Published: 1965