Nathuram Godse

John Florens | Sep 11, 2022

Table of Content


Nathuram Vinayak Godse (May 19, 1910 in Baramati, Maharashtra - November 15, 1949, Ambala), was a Hindu nationalist, author of the assassination of the Indian independence leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Political commitment

Godse belongs to a family of poor brahmins, of chitpavan caste, fiercely traditionalist. His father was a postal worker. He did not succeed in his studies and was forced to do manual labor. Both Nathuram Godse and his brothers were raised within the ideological matrix of Hindu nationalism that is the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Their social and cultural milieu advocated violent action rather than ahimsa, social conservatism rather than progressive or egalitarian tendencies, rejection and domination of Muslims rather than peaceful coexistence. In fact, Gandhi's influence in Maharashtra, where Nathuram Godse came from, was weaker than in the rest of India, in favour of more radical approaches to resistance against the British occupiers. For these Hindus, violence was a sacred duty to restore the order of Dharma, especially against the British occupier.

Nathuram Godse first joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), of which he was one of the preachers, i.e. a member of one of its local factions. In 1929, he met Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, a Chitpavan Brahmin from Maharashtra like him. He is the originator and promoter of the concept of Hindutva (Hinduism). For Savarkar, the Indian nation and the Hindu community are one and the minorities must fade away. Hindu pride, mocked by the Mughal and then British invasions, must be restored. He was heavily involved in a secret society with a terrorist vocation, India House, which earned him a sentence of imprisonment, then placement under house arrest. Nathuram Godse, fascinated by this man, seems to have served as his private secretary until 1931. When Savarkar served his sentence, he became president of the Hindu nationalist party, the Hindu Mahasabha, in which Godse became one of the local leaders in Pune.

In 1941, his meeting with Narayan Apte, another Hindu Mahasabha activist, a Chitpavan Brahmin like him, was decisive. When the daily Agrani (Forerunner) was founded, partly financed by V. K. Savarkar, Godse became its editor-in-chief and Apte its managing editor. This publication gave them a space to publicly express their refusal of any concession granted to Muslims, and of any attack on Indian unity around the Hindu community.

After the score

Following the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Hindus and Muslims clashed violently. India was torn apart by a situation of near civil war, which caused between 200,000 and 1 million deaths. For Hindu nationalist circles, partition was unacceptable. Godse and Apte drew up a project, which was never implemented, to eliminate the members of the Pakistani Constituent Assembly.

Gandhi tried to reconcile the communities and bring peace. On September 1, 1947, in Calcutta, new riots broke out. The Mahatma was staying in the Muslim quarter, which exasperated the Hindu extremists. They threaten him and ask him to leave the district. Gandhi answers that he will eat only when the violence will have stopped. This hunger strike will be crowned with success.

Again, on January 13, 1948, in Delhi, this time, Gandhi begins an unlimited fast "to protect the life, property and religion of Muslims. Gandhi feared that a civil war would break out in the new independent India between Muslims and Hindus. He also claimed the payment by India of a debt to Pakistan resulting from the agreement on the partition of the country. Once again, he won his case with the leaders of the religious communities. The leaders of Delhi signed a peace plan, and India undertook to pay the 550 million rupees owed by the Central Bank of India to Pakistan. On January 18, in the presence of the Pakistani ambassador, the fast was broken.

For the Hindu nationalists, this fast is the act of too much: Gandhi is a traitor. They do not accept, in particular, that he ended up approving the partition, whereas he had said he would refuse it until death. They do not support either the attitude of appeasement of Gandhi towards the Muslims, in particular in the context of the inter-religious conflicts and violence which tear India. In their eyes, he was responsible for the weakening of India. They consider his influence on the Indian power dangerous, preventing India from becoming a great power because of the concessions he imposes on Pakistan and the Muslim community.

Three shots

From the beginning of his fast in January 1948, Gandhi became a target for Narayan Apte, the real brain behind the attack, and his entourage. Several assassination projects were prepared by Hindu fanatics. A first attempt was carried out on January 20, 1948 by Gopal Godse, brother of Nathuram, and three accomplices. Each of them had to throw a grenade in Gandhi's direction during his public prayer. But, badly prepared, the attempt failed, the only grenade finally thrown exploding 50 m from the Mahatma. A member of the commando, Madanlal Pahwa, is arrested. Nathuram Godse then decides that he must act from now on alone, and by means of a firearm, for more effectiveness.

On January 30, 1948, Gandhi left Birla House, in New Delhi, where he was lodged by a rich Indian industrialist, Ghanshyam Das Birla, a regular patron of the Indian spiritual leader. He held a daily prayer session in the gardens. Surrounded by a crowd of 500 people crowding around him, the Mahatma walked with difficulty, leaning on his cousin Abha and his grand-cousin Manou.

It is 5:17 pm. The crowd cheers Gandhi, with cries of "Bapu! At the moment of the ritual greeting to the crowd present, Godse comes forward, prostrating himself before him. One of the girls supporting Gandhi tried to rebuke him, saying, "Brother, Bapu is already late! Godse stood up, drew a pistol and fired three shots at point-blank range. According to many sources, Gandhi collapsed, saying, "Hey Rām" (Oh God) - though this is disputed by his assassins, who say it was a rewriting of history to help give Gandhi saintly status. He died shortly thereafter in his private apartments.

Herbert Reiner Jr. (en), a young American diplomat posted in New Delhi and witnessing the scene, seems to be the first to react. While the crowd was stunned, he rushed to Nathuram Godse, grabbed him by the shoulders and handed him over to the Indian police who rushed to the scene. The assassin later explained that he had not tried to flee because of "his ardent desire to express his motives in court. The question of the responsibility of the authorities in Gandhi's death has gradually imposed itself in the Indian national debate. In one of his testimonies, Herbert Reiner Jr. said that the security around Gandhi's prayer was inadequate when an attack had taken place, in the same place and under the same circumstances, ten days earlier.

It was Nehru, the country's prime minister, who announced the news of the Mahatma's death on the radio. "The light has gone from our lives, darkness is everywhere, and I am not sure what to tell you and how to tell you. Our beloved leader, Bapu, as we called him, the father of the Nation, is no more."

Trial and posterity

During the trial, which lasted more than a year, Nathuram Godse fully vindicated his act. He proclaimed: "I have no guilt, no regret, because I believe that Gandhi is not the father of my nation. He gave birth to Pakistan. He is the father of Pakistan". While assuming his gesture, he did not express less respect towards his victim for his fight against the occupier.

Godse and his accomplice Narayan Apte were tried and sentenced to death. Gandhi's two sons, Manilal Gandhi and Ramdas Gandhi, asked for a transformation of the sentence into a prison sentence, a request that was rejected by the Indian authorities. He was executed by hanging on November 15, 1949 in his prison of Ambal Central Jail. His brother was sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Nehru organized a severe repression of Hindu nationalist circles, and dissolved the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) - which was later recreated. Emotions ran high throughout India, and many Chitpavan Brahmins in Maharashtra were attacked by the crowd, a sign that the assassination was well perceived as the result of a certain social milieu and a particular political conception, and not the work of an isolated lunatic.

Gopal Godse continued, until his death in 2005, to claim the legitimacy of this crime and to assume the gesture and the reasons for it, notably through numerous books. The testimony of Nathuram Godse at his trial is also published in book form.

The Hindu political movement Shiv Sena also continues to support the assassination.


  1. Nathuram Godse
  2. Nathuram Godse
  3., « Mgr Felix Machado : « Nous devons comprendre d’où vient la colère des hindous » », sur La Croix, 18 octobre 2018 (consulté le 27 novembre 2018).
  4. (en) Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindutva (Who is a Hindu ?), New Delhi, Bharati Sahitya Sadan, 1923.
  5. a et b « Rediff On The NeT: The Rediff Interview/ Gopal Godse in an exclusive interview on life after Gandhi's assassination », 24 février 1999 (consulté le 28 juillet 2017)
  6. (en) R. Gandhi, Patel: A Life, p. 472
  7. ^ Howlett, Charles F. (2015) [2006], "Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand", in Ryan, James Gilbert; Schlup, Leonard C. (eds.), Historical Dictionary of the 1940s, London and New York: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-7656-0440-8, retrieved 30 January 2022, Because of Gandhi's sensitivity to India's Muslim minority, he was blamed for the partition. In January 1948, in New Delhi, he was assassinated by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, a militant Hindu nationalist.
  8. ^ Jeffrey, Robin (1990). India, Rebellion to Republic: Selected Writings, 1857–1990, Sterling Publishers. p. 105.
  9. ^ And the Mahatma said...,
  10. ^ The Times (edizione di Londra), 16 novembre 1949, p. 3
  11. a b c d e «El misterio que rodea al asesino de Mahatma Gandhi». BBC News. 30 de enero de 2022.
  12. «Gandhi: la historia de Manu, la adolescente en cuyos brazos murió el histórico líder indio». BBC News. 2 de octubre de 2019.
  13. The Times (London), pg. 3. 16 de noviembre de 1949.

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