How Savarkar Escaped Conviction For Gandhi’s Assassination

Final immersion ceremony of the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi at Allahabad on February 12, 1948. Credit: Photo Division, GOI

Pavan Kulkarni

Five months after India’s independence, on January 14, 1948, three members of the Hindu Mahasabha – Nathuram Godse, Narayan Apte and Digambar Badge, an arms dealer regularly selling weapons to the Mahasabha – arrived at Savarkar Sadan in Bombay. Apte and Godse were among the very few who “had the right to move immediately past that room up a flight of stairs to the personal quarters of the dictator of the Hindu Rashtra Dal,” according to Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s book, Freedom at Midnight, written based on information acquired from in-depth interviews and extensive research of official documents including police records.

Badge, who did not have such unrestricted access to Savarkar, was told to wait outside. Apte took from him the bag containing gun-cotton slabs, hand grenades, fuse wires and detonators, and went inside with Godse. When the duo returned to Badge after 5-10 minutes, Apte was still carrying with him the bag of weapons, which he asked Madanlal Pahwa – an angry Punjabi refugee who had come from Pakistan after partition – and his seth, Mahasabha member Vishnu Karkare, to carry with them to Delhi.

Both Pahwa and Karkare had already visited Savarkar before Godse and Apte arrived at Savarkar Sadan with the weapons that day. According to Collins and Lapierre:

“Godse, Apte and Badge were not the first of their little group to penetrate the headquarters of Veer Savarkar that January day. Earlier, Karkare had ushered Madanlal into the master’s presence. Karkare had described the young Punjabi as ‘a very daring worker’. Savarkar’s response was to bestow one of his glacial smiles on Madanlal. Then he had caressed his bare forearm as a man might stroke a kitten’s back. ‘Keep up the good work,’ he had urged.”

Badge – who had known Savarkar since 1944-45 and Godse since 1940-41 – was asked by Apte the day after their visit to Savarkar Sadan if he would be willing to join them to Delhi. “Apte told me that Tatyarao (Savarkar) had decided that Gandhiji, Jawarhar Lal Nehru and [Huseyn Shaheed] Suhrawardy should be ‘finished’ and had entrusted that work to them,” said Badge – a co-conspirator in Gandhi’s murder who secured a pardon in exchange for turning into an approver and divulging the details of the conspiracy before the court.

After sorting out some household affairs in Poona, Badge returned to Bombay on January 17 to join them on their mission to Delhi. “Godse suggested that we should go to take one last ‘darshan’ of Tatyarao (Savarkar),” Badge testified. On entering the compound of Savarkar Sadan, Apte asked Bagde to wait in the room on the ground floor and went upstairs with Godse. When the two returned downstairs, they were followed by Savarkar who wished the duo“Yashasvi houn ya (Be successful and come)”.

As the they left Savarkar Sadan, Apte told Badge in the taxi, according to his testimony:

Tatyaravani ase bhavisya kale ahe ki Gandhijichi sambhar varse bharali – ata apale kam nishchita hamar yat kahi sanhya nahi [Tatyarao (Savarkar) has predicted that Gandhi’s 100 years are over, there is no doubt the work will be successful].”…

The Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi: Inquiry Commission Report (1969)

The Supreme Court, Gandhi and the RSS