Death of a freedom fighter normally evokes mixed emotions.
For a section of people – whose number is diminishing fast – it is a moment of nostalgia when idealism was in air and sacrificing oneself for the cause of emancipation of humanity was looked at with respect, whereas for a larger section which is being intoxicated with glories of our ancient past, there is a feeling of indifference to say the least.
Bhiku Daji Bhilare (Born on November 26, 1919) who died at the age of 98 years, rather proved to be an exception. Not only thousands of people from all walks of life and various political streams participated in his cremation, the mainstream media also reported about it. It may be mainly because of this member of the Rashtra Seva Dal in his youth, who was active in the “parallel government” movement in Satara district run by revolutionary Nana Patil and others, had mainly devoted himself to social-political service, after representing Jawali assembly constituency in the state legislature for 18 years.
Of course, not very many people know one of his brave acts – saving Gandhi’s life, at a very crucial juncture in the nation’s history when independence was approaching and Gandhi was to play an important role in the unfolding developments. It was the year 1944 when Gandhi was visiting Panchagani, a hill station near Pune (May 1944), where a young crowd of 15-20 young people came in a chartered bus. They had organised a daylong protest demonstration against him but refused to talk when Gandhi invited them when the said attack occurred.
Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi, in his book, ‘Let’s Kill Gandhi,’ has mentioned the incident. He tells us how during that prayer meeting, Nathuram Godse dressed in Nehru shirt, pajama and jacket, brandishing a dagger had rushed towards Gandhi.
“Godse was overpowered by Bhilare Guruji and Manishankar Purohit. Two youths accompanying Godse ran away,”..
..“(In) July 1944, after his release from Aga Khan Prison Camp in May 1944, Gandhi contracted malaria and was advised to rest by Physician.”
.. “He retired to Panchgani, a mountain resort near Poona (now Pune), where he stayed at Dilkhush Bunglow. A group of 18 and 20 men reached Panchgani and held a day-long protest against Gandhi.”
..“When Gandhi was informed about the demonstration, he contacted the leader of the group, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, for discussion. Nathuram rejected the invitation and continued the protest,”
The incident was rather engraved in BhilareGuruji’s memory- as he was affectionately called later – who had talked about it and written about it at many places :
“Everyone was allowed to attend Mahatma Gandhi’s prayer meetings in Panchgani. That day, his associates Usha Mehta, Pyarelal, ArunaAsaf Ali and others were present for the prayers. Godse rushed up to Gandhiji with a knife saying that he had some questions. I stopped him, twisted his hand and snatched the knife. But Gandhiji let him go.”
The transformation of BhilareGuruji in a ‘youth icon’ finds mention in the reminiscences of senior freedom fighters as well. N D Patil, a freedom fighter himself and who led the ‘Peasants and Workers Party’ – who himself is in his 90s, – told in an interview to a leading daily how
“The news of Guruji saving Gandhiji from Godse spread everywhere in Satara. I was 15 then. Many of us students went on our cycles to meet Guruji. He had become an icon for us. He lived a simple life throughout and followed Gandhian principles,” he said. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/man-who-saved-gandhi-in-1944-dies-at-98/articleshow/59673840.cms)
Perhaps it may be sign of fatigue or the changed political ambience in the country, while the media did provide details about Bhilare Guruji and his later life, it did not deem it necessary to elaborate further on the assassination attempt of the Mahatma undertaken by the Hindutva Supremacists.
Question remains why did Nathuram Godse and his gang of fanatics tried to attack Gandhi ?
“… our reports do confirm that, as a result of the activities of these two bodies, particularly the former (the RSS), an atmosphere was created in the country in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhiji’s assassination) became possible. There is no doubt in my mind that the extreme section of the Hindu Mahasabha was involved in this conspiracy. The activities of the RSS constituted a clear threat to the existence of the government and the state. Our reports show that those activities, despite the ban, have not died down. Indeed, as time has marched on, the RSS circles are becoming more defiant and are indulging in their subversive activities in an increasing measure.”
(Sardar Patel’s letter to Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, July 18, 1948):)
Very few people know the animosity of the Hindutva fanatics towards Gandhi which was evident in the four attempts on his life before NathuramGodse’s final attempt. (ChunibhaiVaidya, a leading Gandhian from Gujarat, talked about a total of six attempts. Apart from the details of various attempts mentioned below he talks about an attempt on his life in September 1946 too.)
In fact, the attack in Panchgani was not the first time that they had tried to kill him.
The first one had happened in Pune (June 25, 1934) when Mahatma Gandhi was going to the Corporation Auditorium to deliver a speech. Kasturba Gandhi, his wife, was also accompanying him. Incidentally the car in which the Gandhis were travelling developed some snag and was delayed whereas the other car which was in their motorcade reached the venue on time when a bomb was thrown at the car. The explosion caused injuries to some policemen and ordinary people.
On closer scrutiny one finds that the attack in Panchagani was the second attempt on Gandhi’s life.
The third attempt happened when Gandhi’s talks with Jinnah started in September 1944. When Gandhi was leaving for Mumbai from Sevagram Ashram, a group of fanatic Hindu youth led by NathuramGodse tried to stop him. Their contention was that Gandhi should not travel to Mumbai to hold talks with Jinnah. Nathuram was again found in possession of a dagger.
The fourth attempt on Gandhi’s life (January 20, 1948) involved roughly the same group, namely, MadanlalPahwa, Shankar Kistaiya, Digambar Badge, Vishnu Karkare, GopalGodse, NathuramGodse, and Narayan Apte. The plan was to attack Mahatma Gandhi and HuseynShaheedSuhrawardy. In this failed attempt MadanlalPahwa placed a cotton ball enclosing a bomb on the wall behind the podium in Birla Bhavan, where Gandhi was staying. The bomb went off without creating any panic, although MadanlalPahwa was caught. Other members of the group who were assigned to shoot Gandhi in the ensuing melee developed cold feet and did not act.
And the last one happened on January 30 at 5:17 pm when NathuramGodse approached him and shot him three times in his chest at point-blank range. All those involved in the crime were arrested and tried in a court which attracted a lot of media attention. NathuramGodse and Narayan Apte were sentenced to death by the courts and others were awarded life imprisonment. As far as Savarkar was concerned, he was acquitted and set free due to lack of evidence. It was worth noting that Jawaharlal Nehru as well as Gandhi’s two sons, who felt that the two men were merely pawns of the top Hindutvaleaders, demanded commutation of their death sentence as they sincerely felt that executing the assassins would in fact dishonour their father’s legacy who was a staunch opponent of death penalty. NathuramGodse as well as the other conspirator, Narayan Apte, were hanged at Ambala Jail on November 15, 1949.
”…Government have, however, noticed with regret that in practice members of the Rashtriya Swayam sewak Sangh have not adhered to their professed ideals.
“Undesirable and even dangerous activities have been carried on by the members of the Sangh. It has been found that in several parts of the country individual members of the Rashtriya Swayam sewak Sangh have indulged in acts of violence involving arson, robbery, dacoity and murder and have collected illicit arms and ammunitions. They have been found circulating leaflets, exhorting people to resort to terrorist methods, to collect firearms, to create disaffection against the government and suborn the police and military.”
(The government communique of February 4, 1948, announcing the ban on RSS after Gandhi’s assassination)
How did the killers of Gandhi tried [try] to rationalise their criminal act?
According to them, Gandhiji supported the idea of a separate state for Muslims; thus in a sense he was responsible for the creation of Pakistan. Secondly, the belligerence of Muslims was a result of Gandhiji’s policy of appeasement. Thirdly, in spite of the Pakistani aggression in Kashmir, Gandhiji fasted to compel the Government of India to release an amount of Rs 55 crores due to Pakistan.
Anyone familiar with that period of history can decipher that all these allegations are malicious and factually incorrect also. In fact, the idea of communal amity which Gandhi upheld all his life was a complete anathema to the exclusivist, Hindu supremacist world view of the members of the RSS, Hindu Mahasabha. And while the nation was a racial/religious construct in the imagination of the Hindutva forces, for Gandhi and the rest of the nationalists it was a territorial construct or a bounded territory comprising different communities, collectivities living there.
Looking at the fourteen-year-old history of unsuccessful attempts on Gandhi’s life – which stretched from 1934 to 1948 – it becomes clear that the conspiracy to eliminate Gandhiji was conceived much earlier than the ‘successful accomplishment’ thereof. The grounds advanced for such a heinous crime could be seen as clever rationalisation to hoodwink the gullible.
And Bhilareguruji was a living testimony to the fact that all the ‘rationalisations’ propagated by the Hindutva Supremacist about Gandhi’s assassination were humbug.
Glory to his memory.
Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010) Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India(2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative (NSI) Email : [email protected]