By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos: Mahatma Gandhi (centre) with Jawaharlal Nehru (left) and Sardar Valabhbhai Patel; Nathuram Godse moments before he killed Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi was having an intense conversation with Congress leader Sardar Valabhbhai Patel inside a room at Birla House, New Delhi. It was the evening of January 30, 1948. There were rumoured differences between Patel and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, which Gandhi wanted to resolve.
Gandhi suddenly looked up at a clock hanging on the wall. It was a few minutes past 5 p.m. Every evening, at 5 p.m., he held a multi-faith prayer meeting on the lawns of Birla House.
He told Sardar Patel, “I am late. I have to go.”
Patel nodded, as Gandhi stood up. He put his hands on his great-niece Manu Gandhi as well as Abha Chatterjee, a girl adopted by the Gandhis.
It was a cool evening. There were traces of fog in the air. A crowd had already gathered. Many wore the white caps of the Congress Party. There were the sounds of birds chirping in the nearby trees and the murmur of conversation as people awaited the Mahatma.
Gandhi walked down a narrow path, between flower pots, and arrived near the three steps that led to the prayer spot. Suddenly, a broad-shouldered man in a khaki shirt and trousers stood in front of Gandhi and impeded his path. He folded his hands, looked directly into Gandhi's eyes and said, “Namaste.”
Manu immediately said, "Bapu is already ten minutes late, please move.”
But Nathuram Godse pushed her to one side. Manu lost her balance. A rosary, a notebook and Gandhi's spittoon fell from her hand.
Godse took two steps back, pulled out a Beretta M 1934 semi-automatic pistol and fired three shots from point-blank range, at Gandhi's chest and stomach. The time: 5.17 p.m. Gandhi fell backwards and said, “Ram-Ram.”
Herbert Reiner Jr., a young vice-consul at the new American embassy in Delhi, who was present immediately grabbed Godse. Soon, he was taken away by the police.
In the meantime, Gandhi was carried back to his room. There was no doctor around. And no ambulance, too. He had lost blood profusely. Calls to a nearby hospital went unanswered. It was a matter of time before Gandhi was declared dead.
And Godse entered the Indian history books, as the man who snuffed out the life of the apostle of non-violence through an act of brutal violence.
A member of the Hindu Mahasabha, he was angry with Gandhi for his 'appeasement' of Muslims and for not doing enough to prevent the partition of India. (Godse was put on trial at the Punjab High Court at Shimla. On November 8, 1949, he was sentenced to death. Consequently, he was hanged at Ambala Jail on November 15, 1949).
Meanwhile, Gandhi's death was announced to the entire world by PM Nehru who simply said, “The light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere.” India went into mourning.
The next day, at 1.30 p.m., the funeral procession of Gandhi started from Birla House. A huge crowd was present along the route. Most were in tears. Many wailed. Some beat their chests in anger and despair. Several had shaved their heads. The procession winded through Janpath, the Income Tax Office and reached Rajghat at 4 pm. Though the route was short, the procession moved very slowly. At Rajghat, lakhs of people milled around. At 4.45 p.m., in the absence of Bapu's estranged eldest son Harilal, his two other sons, Ram Das and Devdas lit the pyre.
His body was reduced to ashes but thanks to his extraordinary contribution to the freedom struggle, Gandhi became one of the immortal sons of India, as well as the world.
(Published in the special Gandhi supplement, The New Indian Express, Kerala editions)