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Gandhi’s assassination – Frontline


THE main witness against V.D. Savarkar in the Gandhi assassination case was the approver Digamber Badge. Two other witnesses corroborated his version on his visits to Savarkar’s house. Judge Atma Charan found Badge to be a truthful witness. So did the Punjab High Court on appeal. On most points, his version was corroborated “by independent evidence”. But no corroboration was produced in court on his evidence that Nathuram Godse and his accomplice Narayan Apte visited Savarkar at his house on January 14 and 17, 1948. On each occasion Badge was asked to stay outside. On the second occasion, he heard Savarkar’s encouraging words to Godse and Apte: “Yashavi houn ya” (succeed and come). The two corroborating witnesses said no more than that the three had got down before the house, but it had two other residents besides. Since the law requires independent corroboration of an approver’s testimony, Savarkar was acquitted though Section 133 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, which says that “a conviction is not illegal merely because it proceeds upon the uncorroborated testimony of an accomplice”.

A year or two after Savarkar’s death, his bodyguard, Apte Ramchandra Kasar, and his secretary Gajanan Vishnu Damle filled the loopholes before the Kapur Commission on the murder. The commission noted: “The statement of both these witnesses show that both Apte and Godse were frequent visitors of Savarkar at Bombay and at Conferences and at every meeting they are shown to have been with Savarkar…. This evidence also shows that Karkare was also well known to Savarkar and was also a frequent visitor. Badge used to visit Savarkar. Dr Parchure also visited him. All this shows that people who were subsequently involved in the murder of Mahatma Gandhi were all congregating some time or the other at Savarkar Sadan (at Dadar in Bombay) and sometimes had long interviews with Savarkar. It is significant that Karkare and Madanlal visited Savarkar before they left for Delhi and Apte and Godse visited him both before the bomb was thrown and also before the murder was committed and on each occasion they had long interviews. It is specially to be noticed that Godse and Apte were with him at public meetings held at various places in the years 1946, 1947 and 1948.” Had the two testified in court, Savarkar would have been convicted. There was absolutely no ambiguity surrounding Godse’s and Apte’s visits to Savarkar on January 14 and 17, 1948. Kasar, Savarkar’s bodyguard, told the Kapur Commission that they had visited him on or about January 23 or 24, after the bomb incident. Damle, Savarkar’s secretary, deposed that Godse and Apte saw Savarkar “in the middle of January and sat with him [Savarkar] in his garden”.

In his Crime Report No.1, Jamshed Nagarvala, Bombay’s Deputy Commissioner of Police, stated that “Savarkar was at the back of the conspiracy” and that “he was feigning illness.” Nagarvala’s letter of January 31, 1948, the day after the assassination, mentioned that Savarkar, Godse and Apte met for 40 minutes “on the eve of their departure to Delhi.” This he did on the strength of what Kasar and Damle had disclosed to him. “These two had access to the house of Savarkar without any restriction.” In short, Godse and Apte met Savarkar again, in the absence of Badge, and in addition to their meetings on January 14 and 17. Why they were not produced as witnesses in court is a mystery.

Vallabhbhai Patel had written to Nehru on February 27, 1948: “I have kept myself almost in daily touch with the progress of the investigation regarding Bapu’s assassination case.” His conclusion was: “It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through.” A damning corroboration came from P.L. Inamdar, a member of the Hindu Mahasabha, whose able advocacy secured the release of a conspirator, Dr D. S. Parchure. He impressed all, including C.K. Daphtary, Judge Atma Charan and Savarkar.

 

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