It was in February 2003 that Swatantryaveer Savarkar’s portrait was first put up in the Central Hall of Parliament. The NDA Government was in office at the time; Shri Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, and Shri Manohar Joshi was the Lok Sabha Speaker. Rashtrapati Dr. Abdul Kalam had come to unveil the portrait.
For the first time in Parliament’s history, the Congress Party boycotted the Rashtrapati’s function. Since then, on every birth Anniversary of Veer Savarkar which falls on May 28, when Members of Parliament come to the Central Hall to pay floral homage to this great freedom fighter, Congress Party MPs boycott the function. The Congress Party has never offered a public explanation for its behaviour. But the unstated reason is that he was one of the accused in the Gandhi Murder Case. The party disregards the fact that the Court which tried the accused in this case sentenced two to death, and others to differing terms of imprisonment, but found Veer Savarkar “Not guilty” and acquitted him.
Two decades after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, Manohar Malgonkar, a well known writer of fictional and non-fictional books decided to write a book based on this grim tragedy of Indian history. The book was to be based on his personal interviews with the accused who had come out of prison after serving their sentences as also the approver Badge who had been pardoned.
But even before the publication of this book Malgonkar provided his story to one of the most prestigious magazines of those days, LIFE International. This magazine’s February 1968 issue published Malgonkar’s account along with photographs taken of the homes of the persons mentioned in the write-up.
In 1977, that is nearly thirty years after Gandhiji’s assassination that shook the world, Macmillan, London, published Malgonkar’s extremely well researched book titled “The Men Who Killed Gandhi”. I had read it shortly thereafter.
Presently before me is the 13th Edition of the book, published by Roli Books, Delhi, bearing the same original title but with an additional description: “Illustrated with unpublished Documents and Photographs”. In this edition, the author Malgonkar says in his introduction:
“In the mid 1960’s what with the revelations made by some of those involved in the crime, there were persistent allegations that several people in responsible positions in Mumbai had advance knowledge of the murder plot but had failed to report the information to the police. To determine the truth behind these allegations, the Government had appointed a one-man Commission headed by Justice K.L. Kapur. It was the report of the findings of this Commission that my friend had sent me.
Now I had a wide-ranging and penetrating report of the commission and all I had to do was to check out the authenticity of my own findings against those of Justice Kapur.
Sure I could still have written my book. But without the help of the Kapur Commission’s report I doubt if The Men Who Killed Gandhi would have turned out to be so robust, or lived so long.
The book first came out when the country was in the grip of the ‘Emergency’, and books were subjected to a censorship of the utmost ruthlessness. This made it incumbent upon me to omit certain vital facts such as, for instance, Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s secret assurance to Mr. L.B. Bhopatkar, that his client, Mr V.D. Savarkar had been implicated as a murder-suspect on the flimsiest grounds. Then again, certain other pertinent details such as the ‘doctoring’ of a confession by a magistrate whose duty it was only to record what was said only came out in later years.
With these and other bits and pieces fitted into their right place I feel confident that this book is now the complete single account of the plot to murder Mahatma Gandhi.”
Anyone who reads this introduction would appreciate how important it is for the whole nation to know what Dr. Ambedkar revealed to Savarkar’s counsel Bhopatkar. I therefore am reproducing excerpts from this edition of the book in that regard.
“Why were the police so anxious to implicate Savarkar? Was it merely that, having failed in their proper function to arrest Nathuram before he killed Gandhi, they were making a bid to save face by raising the bogey of some sensational plot which involved a big leader who, providentially happened to be in bad odour with the government of the day?Or was that government itself, or some powerful group in it, using the police agency to destroy a rival political organization or at least to destroy a fiercely uncompromising opposition stalwart?
Or, again, was the whole thing a manifestation of some form of phobia peculiar to India, religious, racial, linguistic, or provincial, that made Savarkar a natural target for the venom of some section of society?
Whatever it was, Savarkar himself was so conscious of these currents, so convinced that the authorities were determined to take him to court as an accomplice of Nathuram, that when, five days after Gandhi’s murder, a police party entered his house he went forward to meet it and asked: ‘So you have come to arrest me for Gandhi’s murder?
Savarkar being made an accused in the Gandhi-murder trial may well have been an act of political vendetta. Of course, Badge, on his track record is a slippery character and not to be relied upon, but he was most insistent to me that he had been forced to tell lies, and that his pardon and future stipend by the police department in Bombay depended upon his backing the official version of the case and, in particular that, he never saw Savarkar talking to Apte, and never heard him telling them: ‘Yeshaswi houn ya.’
While in Delhi for the trial, Bhopatkar had been put up in the Hindu Mahasabha office. Bhopatkar had found it a little puzzling that while specific charges had been made against all the other accused, there was no specific charge against his client. He was pondering about his defence strategy when one morning he was told that he was wanted on the telephone, so he went up to the room in which the telephone was kept, picked up the receiver and identified himself. His caller was Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, who merely said: “Please meet me this evening at the sixth milestone on the Mathura road,” but before Bhopatkar could say anything more, put down the receiver.
That evening, when Bhopatkar had himself driven to the place indicated he found Ambedkar already waiting, He motioned to Bhopatkar to get into his car which he, Ambedkar himself, was driving. A few minutes later, he stopped the car and told Bhopatkar : There is no real charge against your client; quite worthless evidence has been concocted. Several members of the cabinet were strongly against it, but to no avail. Even Sardar Patel could not go against these orders. But, take it from me, there just is no case. You will win.” Who… Jawaharlal Nehru?… But why?”
Despite the Congress Party’s decision, I am happy that Smt. Meira Kumar, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, has during her tenure turned up some times to pay homage to the great revolutionary. One of my earlier blogs had urged the Congress Parliamentary Party to reconsider its attitude. Shri Shinde is today not only the Home Minister but also the Leader of the Lok Sabha. I wish the Hon’ble Speaker and Shri Shinde took a fresh initiative to correct a patent but serious lapse.
Before reading this book I did not know that when Savarkar was arrested by the police shortly after Gandhiji’s assassination on January 30, 1948, it was an arrest made under the Preventive Detention Act, “one of the most malignant pieces of legislation with which the British had armed themselves when they ruled India.”
The Bombay police first raided Savarkar’s residence near Shivaji Park, seized all his private papers, consisting of 143 files and as many as 10,000 letters.
Malgonkar comments : “There was no evidence at all. What was known (from those papers) was the affiliation of the conspirators to the Hindu Mahasabha and their personal veneration for Savarkar.
The author concludes:
“He was sixty-four years old, and had been ailing for a year or more. He was detained on 6 February 1948, and remained in prison for the whole of the year which the investigation and the trial took. He was adjudged ‘not guilty’ on 10 February 1949. The man who had undergone twenty-six years of imprisonment or detention under the British for his part in India’s struggle for freedom was thus slung back into jail for another year the moment that freedom came.”
12 September, 2013