Nathuram Vinayak Godse (19 May 1910 – 15 November 1949) was a right-wing advocate of Hindu nationalism who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhion 30 January 1948. He shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range. Godse was a member of the right-wing, Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS); he believed that Gandhi favoured the political demands of India’s Muslims during the partition of India.

He plotted the assassination with Narayan Apte and six others. After a trial that lasted more than a year, Godse was sentenced to death on 8 November 1949. Although pleas for commutation were made by Gandhi’s two sons, Manilal Gandhi and Ramdas Gandhi, they were turned down by India’s prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel, and the Governor-General C. Rajagopalachari. Godse was hanged at Ambala Central Jail on 15 November 1949.

Early life

Nathuram Vinayakrao Godse  was born into a Maharashtrian Chitpavan Brahmin family. His father, Vinayak Vamanrao Godse, was a postal employee; his mother was Lakshmi (née Godavari). At birth, he was named Ramachandra. Nathuram was given his name because of an unfortunate incident. Before he was born, his parents had three sons and a daughter, with all three boys dying in their infancy. Fearing a curse that targeted male children, young Ramachandra was brought up as a girl for the first few years of his life, including having his nose pierced and being made to wear a nose-ring (nath in Marathi). It was then that he earned the nickname “Nathuram” (literally “Ram with a nose-ring”). After his younger brother was born, they switched to treating him as a boy.

Godse attended the local school at Baramati through the fifth standard, after which he was sent to live with an aunt in Pune so that he could study at an English-language school. During his school days, he highly respected Gandhi.

Political career and beliefs

Group photo of people accused in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi.

 Standing (L to R): Shankar Kistaiya, Gopal Godse, Madan Lal Pahwa, Digambar Ramchandra Badge. Seated (L to R): Narayan Apte, Vinayak D. Savarkar, Nathuram Godse, Vishnu Karkare

Godse dropped out of high school and became an activist with Hindu nationalist organizations Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organisation) and Hindu Mahasabha, although the exact dates of his membership are uncertain.

Godse started a Marathi language newspaper for the Hindu Mahasabha called Agrani, which some years later was renamed Hindu Rashtra. Godse rejected Gandhi’s philosophy, believing Gandhi repeatedly sabotaged the interests of Hindus by using the “fasting unto death” tactic on many issues. In Godse’s view, Gandhi was giving in to interests that seemed to him anti-national.

RSS membership

Godse joined RSS in Sangli (Maharashtra) in 1932 as a boudhik karyawah (ground worker), and simultaneously remained a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, both right wing organizations. He often wrote articles in newspapers to publicise his thoughts. During this time, Godse and M. S. Golwalkar, later RSS chief, often worked together, and they translated Babarao Savarkar’s book “Rashtra Mimansa” into English. They had a falling out when Golwalkar took the entire credit for this translation.In the early 1940s, Godse formed his own organization, “Hindu Rashtra Dal”on the Vijayadashami day of 1942, though he continued to remain a member of the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha.

In 1946, Godse claimed to have left the RSS and Hindu Mahasabha over the issue of the partition of India. His relations with many members of the RSS soured, and he felt that the RSS was softening in its stance.

Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi

Godse approached Gandhi on 30 January 1948 during the evening prayer at 17:17. When Godse bowed, one of the girls flanking and supporting Gandhi, said to Godse, “Brother, Bapu (“Father”, a nickname for Gandhi) is already late” and tried to put him off, but he pushed her aside and shot Gandhi in the chest three times at point-blank range with a Beretta M1934semi-automatic pistol. Herbert Reiner Jr., a young vice-consul at the new American embassy in Delhi, was the first to rush forward and grasp Godse by the shoulders, spinning him into the arms of some military personnel, who disarmed him. Reiner then held Godse by the neck and shoulders until he was taken away by the military and police. Gandhi was taken back to his room in Birla House, where he died soon thereafter.

Trial and execution

Godse was put on trial at the Punjab High Court, at Peterhoff, Shimla. On 8 November 1949, he was sentenced to death. Although pleas for commutation were made by Gandhi’s two sons, Manilal Gandhi and Ramdas Gandhi, they were turned down by India’s prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel and the Governor-General Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, and Godse was hanged at Ambala Jail on 15 November 1949.

Ideological and Political Criticism of Gandhi

In his court trial speech Godse provides a detailed critique of Gandhian politics. The speech was banned but later became available in a book titled May it Please Your Honour co-written by Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse.

Aftermath

Millions of Indians mourned Gandhi’s assassination; the Hindu Mahasabha was vilified and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was temporarily banned. However, investigators could find no evidence that the RSS bureaucracy had formally sponsored or even knew of Godse’s plot. The ban on the RSS was lifted in 1949.

To this day RSS denies any connection with Godse and disputes the claim that he was a member. Godse’s brother Gopal Godse claimed that all the Godse brothers were members of the RSS at the time of the assassination. The nephew of Godse, Satyaki Savarkar, confirmed Godse resigned from his position in Hindu Mahasabha in 1946, and while he was very critical of RSS and discontinued ties with RSS, there is no official procedure to be excluded from RSS.

Brahmins in Maharashtra became targets of violence after the assasination, mostly by elements from the Maratha, Jain and Lingayat communities.

Attempts at rehabilitation

In 2014, following the Bharatiya Janata Party’s rise to power, the Hindu Mahasabha began attempts to rehabilitate Godse and portray him as a patriot. It requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to install the bust of Godse. It created a documentary film Desh Bhakt Nathuram Godse (Patriot Nathuram Godse) for release on the death anniversary of Gandhi on 30 January 2015.There were attempts to build a temple for Godse and to celebrate 30 January as a Shaurya Diwas (“Bravery Day”).A civil suit was filed in Pune Court asking for a ban on the documentary film.

In May 2019, in the lead up to the final phase of Indian elections, BJP’s candidate from Bhopal, Pragya Thakur, called Godse a “patriot”. Facing intense backlash, she apologized later.

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