Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi
|Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi|
A memorial marks the spot in Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), New Delhi, where Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at 5:17.30 p.m. on 30 January 1948.
|Location||New Delhi, India|
|Date||30 January 1948 |
17:17 (Indian Standard Time)
|Target||Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi|
|Weapons||Beretta M 1934 Semi-automatic pistol|
|Perpetrator||Nathuram Vinayak Godse|
Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated on 30 January 1948 in the compound of Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), a large mansion in New Delhi. His assassin was Nathuram Godse, an advocate of Hindu nationalism, a member of the political party the Hindu Mahasabha, and a past member of the Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Godse considered Gandhi to have been too accommodating to Muslims during the Partition of India of the previous year.
Sometime after 5 PM, according to witnesses, Gandhi had reached the top of the steps leading to the raised lawn behind Birla House where he had been conducting multi-faith prayer meetings every evening. As Gandhi began to walk toward the dais, Godse stepped out from the crowd flanking Gandhi's path, and fired three bullets into Gandhi's chest and abdomen at point-blank range. Gandhi fell to the ground. He was carried back to his room in Birla House from which a representative emerged sometime later to announce his death.[A]
Godse was captured by members of the crowd and handed over to the police. The Gandhi murder trial opened in May 1948 in Delhi's historic Red Fort, with Godse the main defendant, and his collaborator Narayan Apte and six others as the co-defendants. The trial was rushed through, the haste sometimes attributed to the home minister Vallabhbhai Patel's desire "to avoid scrutiny for the failure to prevent the assassination." Godse and Apte were sentenced to death on 8 November 1949. They were hanged in the Ambala jail on 15 November 1949.
- 1 Preparations
- 2 Assassination
- 3 Motives
- 4 Trial and judgments
- 5 Aftermath
- 6 Previous attempt in 1934
- 7 Legacy
- 8 In media
- 9 See also
- 10 References
- 11 Works cited
- 12 Further reading
- 13 External links
In early September 1947, Gandhi had moved to Delhi to help stem the violent rioting there and in the neighboring province of East Punjab. The rioting had come in the wake of the partition of the British Indian empire, which had accompanied the creation of the new independent dominions of India and Pakistan, and involved large, chaotic transfers of population between them.[a]
Nathuram Vinayak Godse, and his assassination accomplices, were residents of the Deccan region. Godse had previously led a civil disobedience movement against Osman Ali Khan, the Muslim ruler of the princely Deccan region dominion of Hyderabad State in British India. Godse joined a protest march in 1938 in Hyderabad, where Hindus were being discriminated against, according to Fetherling. He was arrested for political crimes and served a prison sentence. Once he was out of prison, Godse continued his civil disobedience and worked as a journalist reporting the sufferings of Hindu refugees escaping from Pakistan, and during the various religious riots that erupted in the 1940s.
According to Arvind Sharma, the concrete plans to assassinate Gandhi were initiated by Godse and his accomplices in 1948, after India and Pakistan had already started a war over Kashmir. The government of India, led by Congress leaders, had withheld a payment to Pakistan in January 1948 because it did not want to finance Pakistan, which was at war with India at that time. Gandhi opposed the decision to freeze the payment, and went on a fast-unto-death on 13 January 1948 to pressure the Indian government to release the payment to Pakistan. The Indian government, yielding to Gandhi, reversed its decision. Godse and his colleagues interpreted this sequence of events to be a case of Mahatma Gandhi controlling power and hurting India.
On the day Gandhi went on hunger strike, Godse and his colleagues began planning how to assassinate Gandhi. Nathuram Vinayak Godse and Narayan Apte purchased a Beretta M1934. Along with purchasing the pistol, Godse and his accomplices shadowed Gandhi's movements.
20 January 1948
Gandhi had initially been staying at the scheduled caste Balmiki Temple, near Gole Market in the northern part of New Delhi, and holding his prayer meetings there. When the temple was requisitioned for sheltering refugees of the partition he moved to Birla House, a large mansion on what was then Albuquerque Road in south-central New Delhi, not far from the diplomatic enclave. Gandhi was living in two unpretentious rooms in the left wing of Birla House, and conducting prayer meetings on a raised lawn behind the mansion.
The first attempt to assassinate Gandhi at Birla House occurred on 20 January 1948. According to Stanley Wolpert, Nathuram Godse and his colleagues followed Gandhi to a park where he was speaking. One of them threw a grenade away from the crowd. The loud explosion scared the crowd, creating a chaotic stampede of people. Gandhi was left alone on the speakers' platform. The original assassination plan was to throw a second grenade, after the crowds had run away, at the isolated Gandhi. But the alleged accomplice Digambar Badge lost his courage, did not throw the second grenade and ran away with the crowd. All of the assassination plotters ran away, except Madanlal Pahwa who was a Punjabi refugee of the Partition of India. He was arrested. Pahwa was released in 1964.
30 January 1948
Manu Gandhi, called "Manuben" in Gujarati fashion, was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's great niece (more precisely, a first cousin twice removed). Abha Chatterjee (Abhaben Chatterjee) was a girl adopted by the Gandhis who would later marry Gandhi's nephew, Kanu Gandhi. They were walking with Gandhi when he was assassinated. According to Last Glimpses Of Bapu, a memoir by Manuben Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi (Bapu) started the day in Birla Bhawan by listening to a recitation of the Bhagavad Gita. He then worked on a Congress constitution he wanted to publish in the Harijan, had his bath and massage at 8 a.m., and reprimanded Manuben to take care of herself since her health was not what it should be for an 18-year-old. Gandhi, aged 78, was weighed after his bath and was 109.5 pounds (49.7 kg). He then ate lunch with Pyarelalji discussing Noakhali riots. After lunch, states Manuben, Gandhi napped. After waking up, he had a meeting with Sardar Dada. Two Kathiawar leaders wanted to meet him, and when Manuben informed Gandhi that they wanted to meet him, Gandhi replied, "Tell them that, if I remain alive, they can talk to me after the prayer on my walk".
According to Manuben's memoir the meeting between Sardar Dada and Gandhi went past the scheduled time and Gandhi was about ten minutes late to the prayer meeting. He began his walk to the prayer location by walking with Manuben to his right and Abha to his left, holding onto them as walking sticks. A stout young man in khaki dress, wrote Manuben, pushed his way through the crowd bent over and with his hands folded. Manuben thought that the man wanted to touch Gandhi's feet. She pushed the man aside saying, "Bapu is already ten minutes late, why do you embarrass him". Godse pushed her aside so forcibly that she lost her balance and the rosary, notebook, and Gandhi's spitoon she was carrying, fell out of her hands. She recalled that as she bent to the ground to pick up the items she heard four shots, resounding booms, and she saw smoke everywhere. Gandhi's hands were folded, with his lips saying, "Hei Ra...ma! Hei Ra...!". Abhaben, wrote Manuben, had also fallen down and she saw the assassinated Gandhi in Abhaben's lap.
The pistol shots had deafened her, wrote Manuben, the smoke was very thick, and the incident complete within 3 to 4 minutes. A crowd of people rushed towards them, according to Manuben. The watch she was carrying showed 5:17 p.m. and blood was everywhere on their white clothes. Manuben estimated that it took about ten minutes to carry Gandhi back into the house, and no doctor was available in the meanwhile. They only had a first aid box, but there was no medicine in it for treating Gandhi's wounds. According to Manuben,
the first bullet from the assassin's seven-bore automatic hit the belly 3.5 inches to the right of the middle and 2.5 inches above the navel; the second hit the belly 1 inch away from middle, and the third 4 inches away to the right".
Gandhi had suffered profuse blood loss. Everyone was crying loudly. In the house, Bhai Saheb had phoned the hospital many times, but was unable to reach any help. He then went to Willingdon Hospital in person, but came back disappointed. Manuben and others read Gita as Gandhi's body lay in the room. Col. Bhargava arrived, and he pronounced Gandhi dead.
According to some reports, while the attending crowd was still in shock, Gandhi's assassin Godse was seized by Herbert Reiner Jr, a 32-year-old, newly arrived vice-consul at the American embassy in Delhi. According to an obituary for Reiner published in May 2000 by The Los Angeles Times, Reiner's role was reported on the front pages of newspapers around the world,[B]
According to Stratton (1950), on January 30, 1948, Reiner had reached Birla House after work, arriving fifteen minutes before the scheduled start of the prayer meeting at 5 p.m., and finding himself in a relatively small crowd. Although there were some armed guards present, Reiner felt that the security measures were inadequate, especially in view of an attempted bomb explosion at the same location ten days before. By the time Gandhi and his small party reached the garden area a few minutes after five, the crowd had swelled to several hundred, which Reiner described as comprising "schoolboys, girls, sweepers, members of the armed services, businessmen, sadhus, holy men, and even vendors displaying pictures of 'Bapu'". At first, Reiner had been at some distance from the path leading to the dais, but he moved forward, explaining later, "An impulse to see more, and at a closer range, of this Indian leader impelled me to move away from the group in which I had been standing to the edge of the terrace steps".
As Gandhi was walking briskly up the steps leading to the lawn, an unidentified man in the crowd spoke up, somewhat insolently in Reiner's recollection, "Gandhiji, you are late". Gandhi slowed down his pace, turned toward the man, and gave him an annoyed look, passing directly in front of Reiner at that moment. But no sooner had Gandhi reached the top of the steps, than another man, a stocky Indian man, in his 30s, and dressed in khaki clothes, stepped out from the crowd and into Gandhi's path. He soon fired several shots up close, at once felling Gandhi. A BBC correspondent Robert Stimson described what happened next in a radio report filed that night: "For a few seconds no one could believe what had happened; every one seemed dazed and numb. And then a young American who had come for prayers rushed forward and seized the shoulders of the man in the khaki coat. That broke the spell. ... Half a dozen people stooped to lift Gandhi. Others hurled themselves upon the attacker. ... He was overpowered and taken away". Others, as well, described how the crowd seemed paralyzed until Reiner's action.[b]
Robert Trumbull of The New York Times, who was an eyewitness, described Reiner's action in a front-page story on January 31, 1948,
The assassin was seized by Tom Reiner of Lancaster, Mass., a vice consul attached to the American Embassy and a recent arrival in India. ... Mr. Reiner grasped the assailant by the shoulders and shoved him toward several police guards. Only then did the crowd begin to grasp what had happened and a forest of fists belabored the assassin ...
Reiner too had noticed a man in khaki step into the path leading to the dais, but his further view was occluded by a party of associates following Gandhi. He soon heard sounds, though, which in his words were "not loud, not ringing, and not unlike the reports of damp firecrackers ..." and which for a moment made him wonder if some sort of celebration was underway.[C] The details and the role of Reiner in seizing Godse vary by the source. According to Frank Allston, Reiner stated that
Godse stood nearly motionless with a small Beretta dangling in his right hand and to my knowledge made no attempt to escape or to take his own fire. ... Moving toward Godse I extended my right arm in an attempt to seize his gun but in doing so grasped his right shoulder in a manner that spun him into the hands of Royal Indian Air Force men, also spectators, who disarmed him. I then fastened a firm grasp on his neck and shoulders until other military and police took him into custody.[D]
According to Tunzelmann, Godse was seized and pummeled by Reiner. According to K. L. Gauba, Reiner was the "unsung hero" and had he not acted "Godse would probably have shot his way out". Reiner was standing in the front row, states Pramod Kapoor, and he seized and held Godse till the police arrived, but his name only appeared in some American newspapers. According to Bamzai and Damle, during the assassination trial, the government did not call to the stand American marine Herbert "Tom" Reiner who caught Godse or the nephew of then Congress minister Takthmal Jain of Madhya Bharat ministry (1948), as well as many others.
According to other reports, Godse surrendered voluntarily and asked for the police. Yet other reports state he was rushed by the crowd, beaten, arrested, and taken to jail. According to some eyewitnesses and court proceedings, Nathuram Godse was seized immediately by witnesses and an Indian Air Force officer dispossessed him of the pistol. The crowd beat him to a bloodied state. The police wrested him loose from the angry crowd, took him to jail. A FIR was filed by Nandlal Mehta at the Tughlak Road police station at Delhi.
The 31 January 1948 issue of The Guardian, a British newspaper, described Gandhi as walking from the "Birla House to the lawn where his evening prayer meetings were held". Gandhi was a bit late for the prayer, leaning on the shoulders of two grand-nieces. On his way, he was approached by a man [Godse] dressed in a khaki bush jacket and blue trousers. Godse greeted him with a Namaste, the customary Hindu salute. According to one version, stated The Guardian, Gandhi smiled back and spoke to Godse, then the assailant pulled out a pistol and fired three times, at point-blank range, into Gandhi's chest, stomach and groin. Gandhi died at 5:40pm, about half an hour after he was shot.
According to The Guardian report, which did not mention Herbert Reiner Jr, Godse "fired a fourth shot, apparently in an effort to kill himself, but a Royal Indian Air Force sergeant standing alongside jolted his arm and wrenched the pistol away. The sergeant wanted to shoot the man but was stopped by the police. An infuriated crowd fell upon the man and beat him with sticks, but he was apprehended by the police and taken to a police station." Godse was questioned by reporters, who in English replied that he was not sorry to have killed Gandhi and awaited his day in court to explain his reasons.
Vincent Sheean was another eyewitness and an American reporter who had covered World War II events. He went to India in 1947 and became a disciple of Gandhi. He was with the BBC reporter Bob Stimson in Birla House premises when Gandhi was assassinated. They stood next to each other by the corner of a wall. According to Sheean, Gandhi walked across the grass in their direction, leaning lightly "on two of the girls", and two or three others following them. Gandhi wrapped in a homespun shawl passed them by, states Sheean's eyewitness account, and climbed up four or five steps to the prayer ground. As usual, according to Sheean, "there was a clump of people, some of whom were standing and some of whom had gone on their knees or bent low before him. Bob and I turned to watch-we were perhaps ten feet away from the steps-but the clump of people cut off our view of the Mahatma now: he was so small".
Then, states Sheean, he heard "four, dull, dark explosions". Sheean asked Stimson, "what's that?" Stimson replied, "I don't know". It was a confusing place, people were weeping and many things happening, wrote Sheean. "A doctor was found, the police took charge; the body of the Mahatma was carried away; the crowd melted, perhaps urged to do so by the police; I saw none of this." Stimson filed a BBC report, then he and Sheean walked up and down the flower bed for a while. Sheean reported that he later met a "young American from the Embassy" who had never been to a prayer meeting before. Sheean did not take in anything the young American said about the scene, but a week later learned that "it was this young man who had captured the assassin, held him for the Indian police" and after turning the assassin over, it was this young American who searched the crowd for a doctor. He experienced a tribal pride, states Sheean, that even though he was paralyzed and helpless on the day of Gandhi's assassination, "one of his breed had been useful".
According to Ashis Nandy, before firing the shots Godse "bowed down to Gandhi to show his respect for the services the Mahatma had rendered the country; he made no attempt to run away and himself shouted for the police". According to Pramod Das, Godse after firing the shots raised his hand with the gun, surrendered and called for the police. According to George Fetherling, Godse did not try to flee, he "stood silently waiting to be arrested but was not approached at first because he was still armed; at last a member of the Indian air force grabbed him by the wrist, and Godse released his weapon". Police, states Fetherling, then "quickly surrounded Godse to prevent the crowd from lynching him". According to Matt Doeden and others, "Godse did not flee the scene, and he voluntarily surrendered himself to the police".
According to some accounts, Gandhi died on the spot. In other accounts, such as one prepared by an eyewitness journalist, Gandhi was carried back into the Birla House, into a bedroom, where he died about 30 minutes later as one of Gandhi's family members read verses from Hindu scriptures.
During the subsequent trial, and in various witness accounts and books written since, the motivation of Godse has been summarized, speculated about and debated. Godse did not deny killing Gandhi, and made a long statement explaining his motivations for the assassination. Some of these motivations were:
- Godse felt that the massacre and suffering caused during, and due to, the partition could have been avoided if Gandhi and the Indian government had acted to stop the killing of the minorities (Hindus and Sikhs) in West and East Pakistan. He stated Gandhi had not protested against these atrocities being suffered by hindus in Pakistan and had instead resorted to fasts. In his court deposition, Godse said, "I thought to myself and foresaw I shall be totally ruined, and the only thing I could expect from the people would be nothing but hatred ... if I were to kill Gandhiji. But at the same time I felt that the Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be proved practical, able to retaliate, and would be powerful with armed forces."
- Godse called Gandhi subjective, someone who pretended to have a monopoly on truth. He stated that Gandhi thought of himself as the final judge of what is true or false, right or wrong, and the suffering of Hindus did not matter to him. Godse claimed that his group of volunteers and he were social workers who had worked across religious and caste boundaries for years to help their fellow Indians, and he was upset with Gandhi's actions and willingness to ignore non-Muslim interests and make concessions to Muslims.
- Godse said that Gandhi exploited the feelings of tolerant Hindus with one-sided practices. Gandhi's recent prayer meetings in Hindu temples, said Godse, had started the practice of reading passages from the Quran, despite Hindus protesting this practice. However, according to Godse, Gandhi "dared not read the Gita in a mosque in the teeth of Muslim opposition" and "Gandhi knew what a terrible Muslim reaction would have been if he had done so". Godse alleged that Gandhi knew it is safe to trample on the tolerant Hindu. Godse wanted to show that a Hindu too can be intolerant.[note 1]
- Godse stated that Gandhi's fast to pressure the Indian government to release the final payment to Pakistan that it had previously frozen because of the war in Kashmir, and the Indian government's subsequent policy reversal, was proof that the Indian government reversed its decision to suit the feelings of Gandhi. India, said Godse, was not being run by the force of public opinion, but by Gandhi's whims. Godse added that he admired Gandhi for his lofty character, ceaseless work and asceticism, and Gandhi's formidable character meant that his influence outside of the due process would continue while he was alive. Gandhi had to be removed from the political stage, so that India can begin looking after its own interests as a nation, according to Godse.
- Godse stated he did not oppose Gandhian ahimsa teachings, but Gandhi's talk of religious tolerance and nonviolence had already caused India to cede Pakistan to Muslims, uprooted millions of people from their home, caused immense violent loss of life and broken families. He believed that if Gandhi was not checked he would bring destruction and more massacres to Hindus. In Godse's opinion, "the only answer to violent aggression was violent self-defense". Godse stated that "Gandhi had betrayed his Hindu religion and culture by supporting Muslims at the expense of Hindus" because his lectures of ahimsa (non-violence) were directed at and accepted by the Hindu community only. Godse said, "I sat brooding intensely on the atrocities perpetrated on Hinduism and its dark and deadly future if left to face Islam outside and Gandhi inside, and . . . I decided all of a sudden to take the extreme step against Gandhi". I did not hate Gandhi, I revered him because we both venerated much in Hindu religion, Hindu history and Hindu culture, we both were against superstitious aspects and the wrongs in Hinduism. Therefore I bowed before Gandhi when I met him, said Godse, then performed my moral duty and killed Gandhi.
Trial and judgments
The assassination was investigated, and many additional people were arrested, charged and tried in a lower court. The case and its appeal attracted considerable media attention, but Godse's statement in his defense to the court was banned immediately by the Indian government. Those convicted were either executed or served their complete sentences.
Investigation and arrests
Along with Nathuram Godse many other accomplices were arrested. They were all identified as prominent members of the Hindu Mahasabha – an organization active in opposing the Muslim ruler of the princely state of Hyderabad State in the Deccan region, before the Indian Army forcibly removed the Nizam in Operation Polo in September 1948.
The accused, their place of residence and occupational background were as follows:
- Nathuram Vinayak Godse (Pune, Maharashtra; editor, journalist)
- Narayan Apte (Pune, Maharashtra; formerly: British military service, teacher, newspaper manager)
- Digambar Badge (Ahmednagar, Maharashtra; weapons merchant)
- Shankar Kistayya (Pune, Maharashtra; rickshaw puller, domestic worker employed by Digambar Badge)
- Dattatraya Parchure (Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh; medical service, care giver)
- Vishnu Karkare (Ahmednagar, Maharashtra; orphan; odd jobs in hotels, musician in a traveling troupe, volunteer in relief efforts to religious riots (Noakhali), later restaurant owner)
- Madanlal Pahwa (Ahmednagar refugee camp, Maharashtra; former British Indian army soldier, unemployed, Punjabi refugee who had migrated to India from Pakistan during the Partition.)
- Gopal Godse (Pune, Maharashtra; brother of Nathuram Godse; storekeeper, merchant)
- Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (Mumbai, Maharashtra; author, lawyer, former president of Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha)
Trial and sentencing: Lower Court
The trial began on 27 May 1948 and ran for eight months before Justice Atma Charan passed his final order on 10 February 1949. The prosecution called 149 witnesses, the defense none. The court found all of the defendants except one guilty as charged. Eight men were convicted for the murder conspiracy, and others convicted for violation of the Explosive Substances Act. Savarkar was acquitted and set free due to lack of evidence. Nathuram Godse and Narayan Apte were sentenced to death by hanging and the remaining six (including Godse's brother, Gopal) were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Appeal: High Court
Of those found guilty, all except Godse appealed their conviction and sentence. Godse accepted his death sentence, but appealed the lower court ruling that found him guilty of conspiracy. Godse argued, in his limited appeal to the High Court, that there was no conspiracy, he alone was solely responsible for the assassination, witnesses saw only him kill Gandhi, that all co-accused were innocent and should be released. According to Markovitz, Godse's declarations and expressed motivations during the appeal have been analyzed in contrasting ways. For example, "while Robert Payne, in his detailed account of the trial, dwells on the irrational nature of his statement, Ashis Nandy underlines the deeply rational character of Godse's action, which, in his view, reflected the well-founded fears among upper-caste Hindus of Gandhi's message and its impact on Hindu society."
The appeal by the convicted men was heard from 2 May 1949, at Peterhoff, Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) which then housed the Punjab High Court. The High Court confirmed the findings and sentences of the lower court except in the cases of Dattatraya Parchure and Shankar Kistayya who were acquitted of all charges.
Godse and Apte were sentenced to death on 8 November 1949. Pleas for commutation were made by Gandhi's two sons, Manilal Gandhi and Ramdas Gandhi, but these pleas were turned down by India's prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel and the Governor-General Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. Godse and Apte was hanged in Ambala jail on 15 November 1949. According to the Almanac of World Crime, at the hanging Apte's neck broke and he died instantly, but "Godse died slowly by the rope"; instead of having his neck snap he choked "to death for fifteen minutes".
Censorship and judge's comments
The Government of India made the assassination trial public. It was widely followed until the day of Godse's statement. According to Awol Allo, the testimony of Nathuram Godse was "so persuasive" that the Indian government immediately banned it. Gopal Godse, a co-accused who was sentenced to life in prison, wrote a memoir which was published in 1967. It was immediately banned and circulating copies of it were seized by the Indian National Congress-led government because of fears that it promoted religious hatred between Hindus and Muslims in India. The complete Godse testimony and trial proceedings remained censored for nearly 30 years and were only published for the first time in 1977 after the Indian Congress Party lost power for the first time since Indian independence, and the new government lifted the censorship.
G.D. Khosla, one of the judges who heard the assassination proceedings, later wrote of the Godse statement and the reception of his reasons for assassinating Gandhi by the audience in the court:
The audience was visibly and audibly moved. There was a deep silence when he ceased speaking. (...) I have, however, no doubt that had the audience of that day been constituted into a jury and entrusted with the task of deciding Godse's appeal, they would have brought a verdict of "not guilty" by an overwhelming majority.
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After the assassination, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation by radio:
Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the father of the nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me, but for millions and millions in this country.
Gandhi's death was mourned around the world. Field Marshall Jan Smuts, former prime minister of South Africa, and once Gandhi's adversary, said,
"Gandhi was one of the great men of my time and my acquaintance with him over a period of more than 30 years has only deepened my high respect for him. A prince among men has passed away and we grieve with India in her irreparable loss."
The British prime minister Clement Attlee said in a radio address to the nation on the night of January 30, 1948:
Everyone will have learnt with profound horror of the brutal murder of Mr Gandhi and I know that I am expressing the views of the British people in offering to his fellow-countrymen our deep sympathy in the loss of their greatest citizen. Mahatma Gandhi, as he was known in India, was one of the outstanding figures in the world today, ... For a quarter of a century this one man has been the major factor in every consideration of the Indian problem.
Leo Amery, the British secretary of state during the war said,
"It can be said that no one contributed more to the particular way in which the charter of British rule in India has ended than Mahatma Gandhi himself. His death comes at the close of a great chapter in world history. In the mind of India, at least, he will always be identified with the opening of the new chapter which, however troubled at the outset, we should all hope, will develop in peace, concord and prosperity for India."
Lord Pethick-Lawrence, the British secretary of state in 1948 said:
What was the secret of his power over the hearts and minds of men and women? In my opinion it was the fact that he voluntarily stripped himself of every vestige of the privilege that he could have enjoyed on account of his birth, means, personality and intellectual pre-eminence and took on himself the status and infirmities of the ordinary man. When he was in South Africa as a young man and opposed the treatment of his fellow-countrymen in that land, he courted for himself the humiliation of the humblest Indian that he might in his own person face the punishment meted out for disobedience. When he called for non-cooperation with the British in India he himself disobeyed the law and insisted that he must be among the first to go to prison. ... He never claimed to be any other than an ordinary man. He acknowledged his liability to error and admitted that he had frequently-learnt by his mistakes. He was the universal brother, lover and friend of poor, weak, erring, suffering humanity."
Albert Einstein wrote:
He died as the victim of his own principles, the principle of non-violence. He died because in time of disorder and general irritation in his country, he refused armed protection for himself. It was his unshakable belief that the use of force is an evil in itself, that therefore it must be avoided by those who are striving for supreme justice to his belief. With his belief in his heart and mind, he has led a great nation on to its liberation. He has demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political manoeuvres and trickery but through the cogent example of a morally superior conduct of life. The admiration for Mahatma Gandhi in all countries of the world rests on that recognition.
The New York Times in its editorial wrote:
"It is Gandhi the saint who will be remembered, not only on the plains and in the hills of India, but all over the world. He strove for perfection as other men strive for power and possessions. He pitied those to whom wrong was done: the East Indian laborers in South Africa, the untouchable 'Children of God' of the lowest caste of India, but he schooled himself not to hate the wrongdoer. The power of his benignity grew stronger as his potential influence ebbed. He tried in the mood of the New Testament to love his enemies. Now he belongs to the ages."
Over two million people joined the five-mile long funeral procession that took over five hours to reach Raj Ghat from Birla House, where he had been assassinated. Gandhi was cremated in a funeral pyre.
In some cases the response to this death were less adulatory. The Dalit (untouchables) leader Ambedkar, who had long criticized Gandhi and Gandhi's ideas as primitive and wrong, had a response of relief after he heard the news of Gandhi's assassination. He remarked after a momentary silence, "My real enemy is gone; thank goodness the eclipse is over now".
Archibald Wavell, the viceroy and governor-general of British India for three years through February 1947, who had worked with Gandhi and Jinnah to find common ground, before and after accepting Indian independence in principle, remarked:
I was greeted with the news of Gandhi's assassination, an unexpected end for a very remarkable man. I never accepted him as having much of the saint in his composition but he was extremely astute politician. Whether he did more harm or good for India it would be hard to say, but Indians will have no doubt, and he certainly hastened the departure of the British, which was his life's aim. But he wrecked the plan of the Cabinet Mission which might possibly have secured a united India and saved the massacres. I do not believe that he really worked for an understanding with the Muslims, when his influence might have secured it. He was always the lawyer and the bania who would drive a hard bargain and then find some legal quibble to deprive his opponent of what he had seemed to gain. I always thought he [Gandhi] had more of malevolence than benevolence in him, but who am I to judge, and how can an Englishman estimate a Hindu? Our standards are poles apart, and by Hindu standards Gandhi may have been saint, by any standards he was a very remarkable man.
Riots erupted in Bombay (now Mumbai) on Gandhi's assassination, resulting in the deaths of more than 150 people. The Brahmin community in Maharashtra region bore the brunt of the riots with the looting and burning of Brahmin houses and businesses. The riots led to the internal migration of more than 5000 Brahmins from the villages to the cities and cut off that community from its rural roots.
Previous attempt in 1934
A prior, unsuccessful attempt, to assassinate Gandhi occurred on 25 June 1934 at Pune. Gandhi was in Pune along with his wife, Kasturba Gandhi, to deliver a speech at Corporation Auditorium. They were travelling in a motorcade of two cars. The car in which the couple was travelling was delayed and the first car reached the auditorium. Just when the first car arrived at the auditorium, a bomb was thrown, which exploded near the car. This caused grievous injury to the Chief Officer of the Pune Municipal Corporation, two policemen and seven others. Nevertheless, no account or records of the investigation nor arrests made can be found. Gandhi's secretary, Pyarelal Nayyar, believed that the attempt failed due to lack of planning and co-ordination.
Gandhi's assassination dramatically changed the political landscape. Nehru became his political heir. According to Markovits, while Gandhi was alive, Pakistan's declaration that it was a "Muslim state" had led Indian groups to demand that India be declared a "Hindu state". Nehru used Gandhi's martyrdom as a political weapon to silence all advocates of Hindu nationalism as well as his political challengers. He linked Gandhi's assassination to the politics of hatred and ill-will.
According to Guha, Nehru and his Congress colleagues called on Indians to honour Gandhi's memory and even more his ideals. Nehru used the assassination to consolidate the authority of the new Indian state. Gandhi's death helped marshal support for the new government and legitimize the Congress Party's control, leveraged by the massive outpouring of Hindu expressions of grief for a man who had inspired them for decades. The government suppressed the RSS, the Muslim National Guards, and the Khaksars, with some 200,000 arrests.
For years after the assassination, states Markovits, "Gandhi's shadow loomed large over the political life of the new Indian Republic". The government quelled any opposition to its economic and social policies, despite this being contrary to Gandhi's ideas, by reconstructing Gandhi's image and ideals.
Several books, plays and movies have been produced about the event.
- May It Please Your Honor was published in 1977, containing Nathuram Godse's statement to the court, after the Indian Congress party lost power for the first time since Indian independence, and the new government lifted the censorship imposed since 1948 after gaining power in national elections. The text was republished in 1993 as Why I Assassinated Mahatma Gandhi?.
- I, Nathuman Godse speaking is a play composed by Pradeep Dalvi based on the assassination trial. Locally produced as Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy, after seven sold-out shows it was banned in the State of Maharashtra in 1999 on directions from the then BJP led coalition government in Delhi.
- Gandhi vs. Gandhi is a Marathi play that has been translated into several languages. Its primary plot is the relationship between Gandhi and his estranged son but it also deals briefly with the assassination.
- Nine Hours to Rama is a 1963 British movie based on Stanley Wolpert's novel of the same name, which is a fictional account of the final nine hours leading up to Gandhi's assassination.
- Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth by James Douglass is a non-fiction book that seeks to understand not only the facts of the murder but its importance in the larger struggle between non-violence and violence.
- Hey Ram (2000) is a Tamil-Hindi bilingual film by Kamal Haasan about a fictitious plot to kill Gandhi by a man devastated by the partition riots and his change of heart even as the real-life plot succeeds.
- In the 1982 film Gandhi the actor Harsh Nayyar portrayed Godse at the beginning and the end of the film.
- Quote: "Mr. Gandhi was picked up by attendants and carried rapidly back to the unpretentious bedroom where he had passed most of his working and sleeping hours. As he was taken through the door Hindu onlookers who could see him began to wail and beat their breasts. Less than half an hour later a member of Mr. Gandhi's entourage came out of the room and said to those about the door: "Bapu (father) is finished." But it was not until Mr. Gandhi's death was announced by All India Radio, at 6 pm that the words spread widely."Trumbull (1948)
- Quote 1: "As he got to the top of the steps and approached the crowd, he took his arms from the shoulders of his friends and raised his hands in salutation. He was still smiling. A thick-set man, in his 30s I should say and dressed in khaki, was in the forefront of the crowd. He moved a step toward Mr. Gandhi, took out a revolver and fired several shots at almost point-blank range. It did not sound like a revolver but like a Chinese cracker a child might have let off. Mr. Gandhi fell. For a few seconds no one could believe what had happened; every one seemed dazed and numb, and then a young American who had come for prayers rushed forward and seized the shoulders of the man in the khaki coat. That broke the spell.". Quote 2: In Empirical Foundation of Psychology, the authors, N. H. Pronko and J. W. Bowles introduce Robert Stimson's BBC report about Reiner as a case study, and make the observation: "The preoccupation of the audience with Gandhi's attire and actions as he entered the garden, the disrupting stimulus of Gandhi being shot, the no-response period, the new stimulus in the form of the American, and the frenzied reaction of the crowd combine to trace the sequence in a typical emotional reaction. Quote 3: "Immediately, there was chaos. As Gandhi was cradled by his devotees and carried back to the house, the assassin was seized and pummeled by thirty-two-year-old diplomatic officer Herbert Reiner of Springdale, Connecticut. A doctor was found within minutes, but he was of no use. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was dead." Robert Trumbull of The New York Times, who was an eyewitness to the shooting, wrote in his front-page story the next day:"A crowd of about 500, according to witnesses, was stunned. There was no outcry or excitement for a second or two. Then the onlookers began to push the assassin more as if in bewilderment than in anger. The assassin was seized by Tom Reiner of Lancaster, Mass., a vice consul attached to the American Embassy and a recent arrival in India. He was attending Mr. Gandhi's prayer meeting out of curiosity, as most visitors to New Delhi do at least once. Mr. Reiner grasped the assailant by the shoulders and shoved him toward several police guards. Only then did the crowd begin to grasp what had happened and a forest of fists belabored the assassin as he was dragged toward the pergola where Mr. Gandhi was to have prayed. He left a trail of blood.". "Quote 4: ...the court had authority under Code 540 of the 1898 law to examine Kasar/Damle, which was not done. The government also did not call American Marine Herbert "Tom" Reiner who caught Godse, or the nephew of then Congress Minister Takthmal Jain of Madhya Bharat ministry (1948), who claimed to have heard four shots, or the person who sold the pistol to Godse at Gwalior." Quote 5: "The unsung hero of the day, however, who wishes to remain anonymous, is an official of the American Embassy at Delhi, who is the first to realize what has happened, and leaps forward and grips the assassin by the arm. If this young American had not done what he did, Nathuram Godse would probably have shot his way out for he still had four unspent bullets in his pistol". Quote 6: In the melee, no one had really noticed the man who had fired the fatal shots. One man who did was Herbert 'Tom' Reiner Jr, a diplomat who had just joined the US Foreign Service. ... He was standing in the front row when Godse brushed past him and fired the fatal shots. Reiner immediately seized Godse and held him till the police arrived. ... Most newspaper and wire reports on the assassination merely referred to 'an American diplomat' and Reiner's name only appeared in some American newspapers at the time."; Quote 7: ""Bob tells me that an American Embassy official was the unsung hero of the occasion. He was the first to realize what had happened and to leap forward and grip the assassin by the arms."
- Quote 1: "I withdrew somewhat relieved for I had been anticipating a misdirected blow or even a bullet from the angered mob to take vengeance on the culprit. It was some time before the bulk of the people realized what had happened to the side and behind them. Rumors ran rampant. One was to the effect that all shots had gone astray, another that Ava had shielded Gandhi and had herself received mortal wounds, and still another that the Mahatma while wounded was not seriously so. These were the reports that spread through the assemblage as the fatally injured Gandhi was quickly borne to his quarters. There was a reluctance to believe that the worst had really occurred, yet there was a tenseness in the air as groups related to one another their respective accounts of the assassination and made their guesses as to the communal background of the assailant. It was more than a half hour before any statement reached those outside and then it was only the terse statement in English by one of the ashram as he emerged through the porch door—"Gandhiji is finished'. The simple prayer ceremony which was to have been conducted that afternoon with its recitations from the Bhagavada Gita, the Koran, and Christian hymns never took place." Herbert Reiner Jr. in Stratton (1950). Quote 2: "Mr. Gandhi was picked up by attendants and carried rapidly back to the unpretentious bedroom where he had passed most of his working and sleeping hours. As he was taken through the door Hindu onlookers who could see him began to wail and beat their breasts. Less than half an hour later a member of Mr. Gandhi's entourage came out of the room and said to those about the door: "Bapu (father) is finished." But it was not until Mr. Gandhi's death was announced by All India Radio, at 6 P. M. that the words spread widely."Trumbull (1948)
- "Reiner recalled, "People were standing as though paralyzed. I moved around them, grasped his shoulder and spun him around, then took a firmer grip on his shoulders"
- In the 1940s, Gandhi pooled ideas with some Muslim leaders who sought religious harmony like him, and opposed the proposed partition of British India into India and Pakistan. For example, his close friend Badshah Khan suggested that they should work towards opening Hindu temples for Muslim prayers, and Islamic mosques for Hindu prayers, to bring the two religious groups closer.
- "Communal massacres sparked a chaotic two-way flight of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan and Muslims from India. In all an estimated 15 million people were displaced in what became the largest forced migration in the twentieth century".
- "The crowd was paralyzed as the two grandchildren lifted the frail Gandhi and carried him into his room in Birla House. Tom Reiner, the United States vice-consul, a newcomer to India, who had attended the prayer meeting, seized the assassin ..."
- Nash 1981, p. 69.
- Hansen 1999, p. 249.
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- Markovits 2004, p. 57.
- Mallot 2012, pp. 75–76.
- Assassination of Mr Gandhi Archived 22 November 2017 at the Wayback Machine, The Guardian (31 January 1949
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- Allston, Frank J. (1995), Ready for Sea: The Bicentennial History of the U.S. Navy Supply Corps, Naval Institute Press, pp. 341–342, ISBN 978-1-55750-033-5; Quote: "Reiner attempted to seize the man's gun hand, but hit his shoulder instead, spinning the culprit into the hands of members of the Royal Indian Air Force. When he ascertained the assassin could not escape, Reiner withdrew."
- Tunzelmann 2012, p. 320, Quote: "Immediately, there was chaos. As Gandhi was cradled by his devotees and carried back to the house, the assassin was seized and pummelled by thirty-two-year-old diplomatic officer Herbert Reiner of Springdale, Connecticut..
- Gauba 1969, p. Quote: "The unsung hero of the day, however, who wishes to remain anonymous, is an official of the American Embassy at Delhi, who is the first to realise what has happened, and leaps forward and grips the assassin by the arm. If this young American had not done what he did, Nathuram Godse would probably have shot his way out for he still had four unspent bullets in his pistol"..
- Kapoor 2014, p. Quote; "In the melee, no one had really noticed the man who had fired the fatal shots. One man who did was Herbert 'Tom' Reiner Jr, a diplomat who had just joined the US Foreign Service. ... He was standing in the front row when Godse brushed past him and fired the fatal shots. Reiner immediately seized Godse and held him till the police arrived. ... Most newspaper and wire reports on the assassination merely referred to 'an American diplomat' and Reiner's name only appeared in some American newspapers at the time.".
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[b] McLain, Karline (2007). "Who Shot the Mahatma? Representing Gandhian Politics in Indian Comic Books". South Asia Research. SAGE Publications. 27 (1): 57–77. doi:10.1177/026272800602700104. Quote: "Godse then calmly called for the police and turned himself in";
[c] Matt Doeden 2013, p. 5, Quote: "Godse did not flee the scene, and he voluntarily surrendered himself to the police";
[d] Pramod Kumar Das (2007). Famous Murder Trials: Covering More Than 75 Murder Cases in India. Universal Law. pp. 19–20. ISBN 978-81-7534-605-5.;
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- Obituary, May 21 (21 May 2000), "Herbert Reiner Jr., Diplomat, 83; Captured Gandhi's killer in 1948", The Boston Globe
- Obituary, May 26 (26 May 2000), "Herbert Reiner Jr.; Captured Gandhi's killer", Los Angeles Times, retrieved 27 January 2017
- Makarand R Paranjape (2015). The Death and Afterlife of Mahatma Gandhi. Random House. ISBN 978-81-8400-683-4.
- Pronko, N. H.; Bowles, J. W. (2013), Empirical Foundations Of Psychology, Taylor & Francis, p. 343, ISBN 978-1-136-32708-7
- Rajghatai, Chidanand (2013), US Diplomat Apprehended Gandhi's Assassin, Times of India
- Singer, Kurt D. (1953), The Men in the Trojan Horse, Beacon Press
- Talbot, Ian; Singh, Gurharpal (2009), The Partition of India, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-85661-4
- Vincent Sheean (1949), Lead Kindly Light: Gandhi and the Way to Peace, London: Cassel & Co. Ltd, ISBN 978-11788-35-427, OCLC 946610148
- Stimson, Robert, BBC (30 January 1948), "India: The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi (audio starts at 3:06, ends at 5:36)", Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News Roundup, retrieved 27 January 2017
- Stratton, Roy Olin (1950), SACO, the Rice Paddy Navy, C. S. Palmer Publishing Company
- Trumbull, Robert (31 January 1948), "Gandhi is killed by a Hindu; India shaken; World mourns; 15 die in rioting in Bombay", The New York Times
- Tunzelmann, Alex von (2012), Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, Simon and Schuster, p. 320, ISBN 978-1-4711-1476-2
Assassination-related literature and the variance in its coverage:
- Debs, Mira (2013). "Using cultural trauma: Gandhi's assassination, partition and secular nationalism in post-independence India". Nations and Nationalism. Wiley-Blackwell. 19 (4): 635–653. doi:10.1111/nana.12038.
- Elst, Koenraad (2016). The man who killed Mahatma Gandhi: Understanding the mind of a murderer. Lewiston, New York ; Lampeter, Wales : Edwin Mellen Press,  (In French: Elst, K., & Frumer, B. (2007). "Pourquoi j'ai tué Gandhi": Examen et critique de la défense de Nathuram Godse. Paris: Les Belles lettres.)
- Khalid Latif Gauba (1969). The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. Jaico Publishing.
- Claude Markovits (2004). The UnGandhian Gandhi: The Life and Afterlife of the Mahatma. Anthem Press. ISBN 978-1-84331-127-0.
- McLain, Karline (2007). "Who Shot the Mahatma? Representing Gandhian Politics in Indian Comic Books". South Asia Research. SAGE Publications. 27 (1): 57–77. doi:10.1177/026272800602700104.
Funeral, post funeral-rites and memorialization after Gandhi's assassination:
- Khan, Yasmin (2011). "Performing Peace: Gandhi's assassination as a critical moment in the consolidation of the Nehruvian state". Modern Asian Studies. Cambridge University Press. 45 (1): 57–80. doi:10.1017/s0026749x10000223.