Interview of a Gandhi Assassin
“His Principle of Peace Was Bogus”
Gopal Godse, co-conspirator in Gandhi’s assassination and brother of the assassin, looks back in anger and without regret
Sixty-one years ago, on Jan. 30, 1948, Mohandas Gandhi was shot dead by Nathuram Godse, a Hindu extremist. Godse believed that the Mahatma, or great soul, was responsible for the 1947 partition of India and the creation of Pakistan. Godse and his friend Narayan Apte were hanged. His brother Gopal and two others were sentenced to life imprisonment for their part in the conspiracy. Gopal Godse remained in jail for 18 years and now, at 80, lives with his wife in a small apartment in Pune. He is still proud of his role in the murder. Although Godse is largely ignored in India and rarely talks to journalists, he agreed to speak with TIME Delhi correspondent Meenakshi Ganguly.
TIME: What happened in January 1948?
Godse: On Jan. 20, Madanlal Pahwa exploded a bomb at Gandhi’s prayer meeting in Delhi. It was 50 m away from Gandhi. [The other conspirators] all ran away from the place. Madanlal was caught there. Then there was a tension in our minds that we had to finish the task before the police caught us. Then Nathuram [Gopal’s brother] took it on himself to do the thing. We only wanted destiny to help us — meaning we should not be caught on the spot before he acted.
TIME: Why did you want to kill Gandhi?
Godse: Gandhi was a hypocrite. Even after the massacre of the Hindus by the Muslims, he was happy. The more the massacres of the Hindus, the taller his flag of secularism.
TIME: Did you ever see Gandhi?
TIME: Did you attend his meetings?
TIME: Can you explain how he created his mass following?
Godse: The credit goes to him for maneuvering the media. He captured the press. That was essential. How Gandhi walked, when he smiled, how he waved — all these minor details that the people did not require were imposed upon them to create an atmosphere around Gandhi. And the more ignorant the masses, the more popular was Gandhi. So they always tried to keep the masses ignorant.
TIME: But surely it takes more than good publicity to create a Gandhi?
Godse: There is another thing. Generally in the Indian masses, people are attracted toward saintism. Gandhi was shrewd to use his saintdom for politics. After his death the government used him. The government knew that he was an enemy of Hindus, but they wanted to show that he was a staunch Hindu. So the first act they did was to put “Hey Ram” into Gandhi’s dead mouth.
TIME: You mean that he did not say “Hey Ram” as he died?
Godse: No, he did not say it. You see, it was an automatic pistol. It had a magazine for nine bullets but there were actually seven at that time. And once you pull the trigger, within a second, all the seven bullets had passed. When these bullets pass through crucial points like the heart, consciousness is finished. You have no strength.
When Nathuram saw Gandhi was coming, he took out the pistol and folded his hands with the pistol inside it. There was one girl very close to Gandhi. He feared that he would hurt the girl. So he went forward and with his left hand pushed her aside and shot. It happened within one second. You see, there was a film and some Kingsley fellow had acted as Gandhi. Someone asked me whether Gandhi said, “Hey Ram.” I said Kingsley did say it. But Gandhi did not. Because that was not a drama
TIME: Many people think Gandhi deserved to be nominated TIME’s Person of the Century. [He was one of two runners-up, after Albert Einstein.]
Godse: I name him the most cruel person for Hindus in India. The most cruel person! That is how I term him.
TIME: Is that why Gandhi had to die?
Godse: Yes. For months he was advising Hindus that they must never be angry with the Muslims. What sort of ahimsa (non-violence) is this? His principle of peace was bogus. In any free country, a person like him would be shot dead officially because he was encouraging the Muslims to kill Hindus.
TIME: But his philosophy was of turning the other cheek. He felt one person had to stop the cycle of violence…
Godse: The world does not work that way.
TIME: Is there anything that you admire about Gandhi?
Godse: Firstly, the mass awakening that Gandhi did. In our school days Gandhi was our idol. Secondly, he removed the fear of prison. He said it is different to go into prison for a theft and different to go in for satyagraha (civil disobedience). As youngsters, we had our enthusiasm, but we needed some channel. We took Gandhi to be our channel. We don’t repent for that.
TIME: Did you not admire his principles of non-violence?
Godse: Non-violence is not a principle at all. He did not follow it. In politics you cannot follow non-violence. You cannot follow honesty. Every moment, you have to give a lie. Every moment you have to take a bullet in hand and kill someone. Why was he proved to be a hypocrite? Because he was in politics with his so-called principles. Is his non-violence followed anywhere? Not in the least. Nowhere.
TIME: What was the most difficult thing about killing Gandhi?
Godse: The greatest hurdle before us was not that of giving up our lives or going to the gallows. It was that we would be condemned both by the government and by the public. Because the public had been kept in the dark about what harm Gandhi had done to the nation. How he had fooled them!
TIME: Did the people condemn you?
Godse: Yes. People in general did. Because they had been kept ignorant.
Here is one more Interview of Gopal Godse with Rediff
“Gandhi used to systematically fool people. So we killed him”
The lights go off as you reach the dilapidated building in Santa Cruz, in Bombay’s western suburbs. With great difficulty you navigate the stairs and knock on a first-floor door.
“What do you want,” asks the lady who opened the door.
You tell her you have come to meet Gopal Godse.
“Yes, I’m here,” a voice comes from a corner of the dark room. The lady brings a lighted candle and you see the 76-year-old man who underwent 18 years imprisonment for conspiring in Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination.
“I’m sorry the lights are off,” Nathuram Godse’s brother says, “You know, this is India and even after 50 years of Independence we have not improved.
“Since Independence our people are accustomed to forget history. Today no one is bothered about the Partition. And no one wants to reunite India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
“Gandhi systematically fooled the people by saying, ‘I’ll accept the Partition of the country over my dead body.’ But still he partitioned India. So we killed him…”
Godse, in an exclusive interview with Rediff
Do you ever regret Mahatma Gandhi’s killing?
No, never. Gandhi used to claim the Partition would be over his dead body. So after Partition when he didn’t die, we killed him. Usually an assassination of a leader is either for personal benefit or to acquire power. We killed Gandhi because he was harmful to India. And it was a selfless act. No one paid us a single penny for it. Our love for the motherland made us do it. We are not ashamed of it. Gandhi should have been honest to admit that his life was a failure.
You see, right from Pakistan and Bangladesh every Muslim is a converted Hindu. Gandhi’s appeasement attitude (towards the Muslims) went far too much. That was why we killed him. Two hundred and fifty thousand Hindus were killed in Noakhali in October 1946. Hindu women were forced to remove theirsindhoor and do Muslim rituals. And Gandhi said, ‘Hindus must bow their heads if Muslims want to kill them. We should follow the principle of ahimsa (non-violence).’ How can any sensible person tolerate this? Our action was not for a handful of people — it was for all the refugees who came from Pakistan.
So, till this day, I have never regreted being one of the conspirators in Gandhi’s assassination. In fact, many of Nathuram’s friends told me after my release, ‘Nathuram ni gadhav pana kela, tyani majha chance ghalavla‘ (Nathuram did you an injustice. He made you miss your chance to kill Gandhi).
Did your family undergo any social pressure after the assassination?
Yes, very much. No one used to be ready to marry girls from my family. So we decided that the first thing we should put across to the bridegroom was that we are related to Nathuram Godse. It is only now that people appreciate our honesty. Now they are ready for marriage (into my family).
If the Muslim League could influence the Muslims in 1947, why was it that the Hindu Mahasabha could not influence Hindus?
(That was) because I don’t have any leadership quality. My talent is to write. And I have convinced my readers with my writing.
Unfortunately, the so-called secular Hindu leaders from the Congress have been ruling the masses since 1885. And they have ruled the country for another 50 years. It is only now that Hindus have become conscious (about the Congress). They have thrown the party out from Maharashtra and all over India.
You cannot gauge a nation in merely five decades. It took 500 years for the Christians to drive away Muslims from Europe. Muslims ruled right up to Spain and Portugal. I don’t know how many years it will take for Hindus to rule the entire Bharat.
It may be a decade, or it may be a century.
Did you ever contest elections?
Yes, I contested from Ranchi in Bihar. People asked me why I was contesting there. I said my slogan is ‘Ab ke bar Ranchi se agli bar Karachi se‘. (This election I will contest from Ranchi and the next from Karachi). I was able to secure only 7,000 votes because I did not have any mass support.
Can Muslims and Hindus ever live together in peace?
Yes, if the Muslims give up their blind faith. It is written in the Koran that idol worship is not permitted. If Muslims don’t want Hindus to pray to their gods, how can they live together with them (the Hindus)? They want to convert Hindus to Islam not realising that their ancestors were Hindus. They must give up this attitude. Then only the two can live together.
And who created Pakistan? It wasn’t the Arabs but the Muslims of Bharat. Who was Jinnah? His grandfather was a Hindu. Benazir Bhutto is also a Hindu Rajput.
Every Muslim nation keeps away from modern science. And when they do that they are left far behind the rest of the world. When the telephone was invented, Muslim countries were not using it. They said it is not mentioned in the Koran, that it was un-Islamic!
Of the 140 million Muslims in India, how many would you say want to convert Hindus to Islam?
The number is not important. What’s important is that it is written in their religion. They have already shown that by creating Pakistan. No secular Hindu can go for Haj. Why is it so that only Muslims are allowed there? Is it because only Muslims are secular?
Who wants to expand Islam in India? Can you name them?
No. You have to understand one thing. Individually a Muslim may be good to the Hindus. But when in a group, he will be out of the national mainstream.
“According to Nathuram the Sindhu was the only river which was pure as Gandhi’s ashes were not immersed there”
What is the national mainstream?
I can give you an example: There was some inauguration of a dam in Kerala. A Muslim minister was asked to light the lamp. He refused, saying his religion does not permit him to do that! That’s hypocrisy. Whenever you find benefits you keep your Islam away. And when you are asked to light a lamp you say it’s against your religion! That’s why I say Muslims in a mob are not in the mainstream.
Veer Savarkar once said, “If a Vithal is worshipped by a Harijan and you say that he is polluted, then he is no Vithal at all.”
How can there be a mainstream in India when there are so many castes? A Maharashtrian has a different caste and culture from that of his counterpart in West Bengal.
Britishers created this caste system. Even in Maharashtra they wanted to create a split between the brahmins and the others. Laloo Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav are from the same caste. But still they quarrel. Why? Because they are hungry for power. What has tied them and every Indian together is the common culture. That is what we call Hindutva. For example, a marriage between a Mahar in Maharashtra and a brahmin in West Bengal. They come from the same mantras. That is what we call culture and Hindutva.
The most essential thing is why we are together. Because of language? No. Because of our common culture. And that is why from north to south people are going to attend the Amarnath Yatra. Once you forget your culture, the mere existence of the geographical boundary which is termed India will be of no use.
What were your experiences in jail?
When we took the step, we were sure of the consequences. We took it because we loved our nation. Bhagat Singh did not want to liberate his ancestral land. He wanted to liberate Lahore, Pune and the entire nation. So he sacrificed his life. Revolution is integrated with its leader. A man who sacrifices his life is not bothered about petty things. We knew Gandhi’s leadership was not good for the nation. Someone had to jump in the fire. So we did it.
Veer Savarkar was made to do the work which bullocks did in an oil mill. And he did it. Why? Because he was dedicated to the nation. All revolutionaries have to make personal sacrifice. Luckily for us, all the jailers knew we were simple men. They knew our cause. So they never troubled us. And I never violated the prison rules. I studied about life imprisonment and wrote about it.
Can you tell me about your last meeting with Nathuram Godse?
I met him on November 13, 1948 in Ambala jail. It was the day before his execution and there were 20 others with me. Both he and Narayan Apte were jolly.
Nathuram told us that his ashes must not be immersed in any river in India — it must be scattered only in the Sindhu in Pakistan. His explanation was that Gandhi’s ashes have been immersed in all the rivers of the world — even in the Nile, Volga and Thames. But the Pakistan government refused to immerse his ashes in the Sindhu, saying they didn’t want to pollute it with the ashes of a kafir. According to Nathuram the Sindhu was the only river which was pure as Gandhi’s ashes were not immersed there.
How do you see India’s future?
(Laughs) You make me the prime minister and half the problem of this country will be solved. But I think we will improve only if our leaders adopt a selfless attitude. Take for example the education policy. We must set up a target: in 15 years we will educate so many people. And only those people who can read and write will be allowed to vote. In such an eventuality, politicians will get busy educating the masses in order to get votes.
Another problem is the large number of candidates. And many of them are uneducated. We must make some norms to prevent this. Only then we will improve. To date, nobody has any thought of the nation. Otherwise you would never have heard of recovering more than Rs 30 million from a politician’s flat. They don’t have any integration with the nation. They are only integrated with their family and sons-in-law.
What is your opinion about secularism in India?
All these 50 years we practised a mockery of secularism. The magistrate has to ask about the religion of a person before giving a judgment. If a man is a Hindu he gets one kind of justice and if he is a Muslim he gets another. Can you call this secularism? This is what is happening in our country. Even in the Property Act you have different rules for Muslims.
What about poverty in India?
Poverty has increased because resources have not increased. On one side you want to increase the life of a person. On the other, you don’t want to increase the resources. If you have noticed, during the advertisement of family planning on television you never see a Muslim woman saying ‘Hum do Hamare do‘ (We are two, ours two). And these secularists say that family planning is applicable to all of us! I don’t understand why former prime minister Narasimha Rao says ‘If there is a Common Civil Code riots will start all over the country’.
Which do you prefer — the BJP or Shiv Sena?
The Shiv Sena. The BJP is more hesitant to stand by Hinduism. The Shiv Sena supports the killing of Gandhi. People accept them as a Hindu party. When I was honoured, the BJP kept away from it. In Maharashtra the Sena has more respect than the BJP.