Circumstances Surrounding Mahatma Gandhi’s Assassination
Mahatma Gandhi, often referred to as the Father of the Nation in India, was the figurehead of the Indian Nationalist Movement against British rule. Employing non-violent civil disobedience, he led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
Tensions and religious divisions in India
The roots of Gandhi’s assassination lay in deep-seated communal tensions and religious divides, exacerbated by the trauma of the Partition of India in 1947. The partition led to significant violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Gandhi advocated for unity and inter-religious harmony and was often critical of the newly-formed Indian government for its treatment of Muslims. This stance, however, made him a target among Hindu extremists who believed that Gandhi was appeasing Muslims at the expense of Hindus.
The Assassin Nathuram Godse and his motive
Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist and former member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), was the man behind the murder. Disenchanted with Gandhi’s pacifism and his approach towards British India’s Muslims and their political aspirations, Godse and his collaborators plotted to assassinate Gandhi.
On January 30, 1948, as Gandhi was on his way to a prayer meeting at Birla House in New Delhi, Godse approached him.
Bowing as if to touch his feet, Godse suddenly stood and shot Gandhi three times at point-blank range with a Beretta semi-automatic pistol.
The Indian leader reportedly uttered, “Hey Ram” (Oh, God) before collapsing and dying shortly afterward.
READ MORE: Last Words of Famous Figures in History
Gandhi’s assassination was a major shock to India and the world. Riots broke out in various parts of India, and many establishments owned by Brahmins (Godse was a Brahmin) were targeted in Maharashtra.
Godse and his conspirators were swiftly arrested. During his trial, Godse argued that he felt it was his responsibility to the nation to kill Gandhi, whom he accused of consistently appeasing Muslims and harming the nation. Godse was found guilty and sentenced to death. On November 15, 1949, he was hanged.
Reactions from around the world
Gandhi’s death was mourned worldwide, and he became an enduring symbol of nonviolent resistance.
His assassination marked a pivotal moment in Indian history. Despite his death, the ideals he championed lived on, influencing civil rights movements around the world and making non-violence a tool of resistance. Gandhi’s birthday, October 2nd, is commemorated as the International Day of Non-Violence.
However, debates around Gandhi’s beliefs, especially in the context of contemporary religious tensions in India, remain contentious. Nonetheless, Gandhi’s philosophy of peace, non-violence, and harmony continues to inspire millions worldwide.
Questions & Answers
It’s worth noting that the tragic events surrounding Gandhi’s death stand in stark contrast to the philosophy of non-violence and peace he championed throughout his life.
What was Nathuram Godse’s motivations?
Godse blamed Gandhi for the division and the subsequent bloodshed after the Partition of India in 1947. Godse viewed Gandhi’s methods as weak and believed that they would lead to the continuous undermining of Hindu power.
The radical Hindu nationalist was particularly displeased with Gandhi’s accommodating approach to Muslims during the partition of India.
How many times was Gandhi shot?
As Gandhi was preparing to address a gathering of 500 people during his routine evening prayer meeting, Godse approached him. When he bowed in respect, Godse shot him three times at point-blank range in the chest.
What was the cremation ceremony of Mahatma Gandhi like?
On 31 January 1948, a day after his assassination, Mahatma Gandhi’s body was cremated at Rajghat, a memorial site in New Delhi. This event was attended by many prominent figures of the time.
Jawaharlal Nehru, who was a close confidante of Gandhi and the first Prime Minister of India, was present.
Louis Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of British India, and his wife Edwina also attended, symbolizing the deep respect and admiration they held for Gandhi.
Maulana Azad, a senior leader of the Indian National Congress and a staunch advocate for Hindu-Muslim unity, was there as well.
Other notable attendees included Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, a prominent leader and the first Health Minister of India, and Sarojini Naidu, a renowned poet and freedom fighter often referred to as the “Nightingale of India.”
In keeping with Hindu tradition, the funeral pyre was lit by Gandhi’s youngest son, Devdas Gandhi, signifying the passing on of responsibilities and duties from one generation to the next.
The cremation was a solemn occasion, marking the end of an era and the loss of a leader who had guided India to independence.
What impact did Gandhi’s assassination have on Indian politics?
Gandhi’s assassination deepened the schism between various Hindu nationalist groups and the Indian National Congress, which had led the independence movement.
Facts about Godse and his trial
- It was revealed that Nathuram Godse made two unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi in 1944. It was on his third attempt in 1948 that he succeeded.
- Godse believed that Gandhi excessively favored the political aspirations of British India’s Muslims during the tumultuous partition in 1947.
- After shooting Gandhi during a prayer meeting, Godse was prevented from fleeing or causing further harm by Herbert Reiner Jr., an official from the new American embassy in Delhi who happened to be present.
- Godse wasn’t acting alone; he had conspired with Narayan Apte and six others.
- Following a year-long trial, Godse was sentenced to death on 8 November 1949.
- Even though Gandhi’s sons, Manilal and Ramdas, appealed for mercy on Godse’s behalf, key Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel, and Governor-General Chakravarti Rajagopalachari, upheld the sentence.
- Godse was executed in the Ambala Central Jail on 15 November 1949.