Red Fort Trial
Chaos prevailed with the death of Gandhi. The reaction was this act was felt by the Hindu Mahasabha and the R.S.S. In his youth Godse was a R.S.S. worker and later was a prominent member of the Mahasabha. He was a well-known journalist in Maharashtra, editor of a Marathi daily Agrani – Leader later changed to Hindu Rashtra. He was a staunch Savarkarite and a trusted aide of S. S had always from London days tried to impress upon his lieutenants that killing any one for his honest differences of opinion is an act of cowardice. Mahasabha and R.S.S. activists were attacked, their houses burnt, tension prevailed, non-Brahmins saw in it an opportunity to get even with the Brahmins, havoc created by incited gangs esp in Kolhapur, Sangli and Miraj.
S’s house was attacked by a mob of 500 but thanks to the presence of two trusted aids Bal Savarkar and Bhaskar Shinde; the mob was hoodwinked till the police arrived. It was characteristic of S to keep quiet, cool and collected in dangerous times. His courage rose with difficulties. The police raided S’s house but could not find a thing. S said the news of the killing was shocking and he appealed to the people to maintain peace. From Feb 1 to 5 there was round up of Mahasabha workers. The R.S.S was outlawed and its leaders arrested. The total number arrested was 25,000 the highest ever in Indian history.
S was arrested on Feb 5 and taken to Arthur Road jail. In this volcano like situation, one man S V Deodhar, a local advocate took up S’s case. Without being charged of a specific offense, S was kept in custody. On 11/3/1948 he was placed under arrest by the Delhi Police for being one of the conspirators to murder Gandhi. Through Deodhar’s efforts S was able to meet his wife and son, execute a power of attorney in favor of his son.
S’s must be a rare case; a case of one of the greatest patriots under the sun wherein the property consfiscated by a foreign govt for his struggle for national freedom was not returned even after his country had become free. In my view, S like Gandhi and others was not a shrewd person. He was not a bania like Gandhi. None could beat his intelligence but I think he was not a manipulator, a person who would say one thing and do another.
Mob violence ebbed in April 1948. The trial was expected to start towards the end of May 1948. However, the nerve of the Mahasabha did not give away. History has witnessed that in a great crisis, Maharashtrian leadership keeps its nerve and mind, be it during the days of Rajaram and post-Panipat period. Through the efforts of the Hindu Sanghatanists in Bengal, Punjab and Madras and other provinces a Defence Fund was set up where farmers, villagers, students contributed to give it a nearly one lakh corpus.
The trial started on May 27, 1948. L B Bhopatkar, the President of the Hindu Mahasabha, then 70 yrs gave up a lucrative practice for months at the Pune bar so that he could defend Veer Savarkar. 12 persons were charge sheeted of which 3 had absconded. S looked pale and run down when produced in Court. It was declared on 14/6/1948 that the Special Court was empowered to tender parson to an accused. Accordingly Badge was pardoned and he turned approver.
After the examination and cross-examination of 149 prosecution witnesses, the statements of the accused were heard. Godse admitted to shooting Gandhi whom he held to be the father of Pakistan. Godse’s 92 page statement was banned by the Central govt. On Nov 20 S read out his 52-page statement in which he said that he had not committed any of the offenses for which he was being prosecuted. He detailed his personal and political life from 1908, his association with Gandhi, extracts from his public statements and outlined the object of the Hindu Mahasabha. He referred to the events of 1947. And S came to the point of vivisection of his motherland tears rolled down his cheeks. The newspapers reported the next morning “Every one in the court seemed to share the emotions that overwhelmed S. The whole court was in pin-drop silence”. S then defined his attitude towards the Central govt. During the 1942 movement various groups indulged in underground violence shouting Gandhi ki Jai. Even the then Brit govt did not put Gandhiji in the dock since the masses respected him and were doing those criminal acts, must therefore have consulted him.
In the end he said that not a word had been found to incriminate him in the 10,000 letters which the prosecution had seized from his house. In a judgement-dated 10/2/1949 the judge Atma Charan stated that S was not found guilty of offense.
But the Congress govt could not digest this! No sooner was the acquittal of S pronounced then he was served with a notice under an order from the Delhi Magistrate prohibiting him from leaving the Red Fort Area. Under another order of a few hours later S was externed, prohibited from entering the Delhi area for 3 months and escorted to his Shivaji park house in Mumbai under police protection. So much for Nehru’s ability to tolerate dissent.