AUTHOR’S NOTE TO THE FIRST EDITION
Throughout the period covered by this book – that is, from Lord Mountbatten’s arrival as the Viceroy right up till the end of the Red Fort trial – I was living in New Delhi, only one bungalow away from Birla House where Gandhi was murdered. I can thus claim to have known the Delhi of those days as a citizen, an insider, and I also happen to be equally familiar with Poona (the place where the conspiracy was spawned), both as a city and as a state of mind.
Of the six men who were finally adjudged to have been implicated in the murder conspiracy, two were hanged. The other four – the approver Badge and the three who got life sentences, Karkare, Gopal and Madanlal – talked to me freely and at length. My ability to speak Marathi well was an immense advantage because two of them, Karkare and Badge, were at home only in that language.
All four gave me much information that they had never revealed beforehand. Gopal Godse and his wife Sindhu filled me in on details which could not have been known outside the Godse and Apte families. Gopal also kindly loaned me his personal papers among which were eight large volumes of printed records of the Red Fort trial which had been prepared for the High Court appeal. These volumes had been actually used by Nathuram Godse, the man who killed Gandhi, and were scribbled all over with his notes and comments.
A LOOK BACK IN GRATITUDE
The Men Who Killed Gandhi first came out in 1978, which means that it is now thirty years old. Then again this edition of it is the eleventh of its kind published in English with six in translations in other languages. Not many books do so well.
I began modestly enough a whole decade earlier. In the late 1960’s I was well and truly launched as an author, a freelancer who made his living by the pen, and someone always on the lookout for stories to sell. At this time, the surviving members of the conspiracy to kill Mahatma Gandhi has served out their jail terms and were free to tell their stories. I thought I would find out from them why they had participated in the crime and what part they had played.
I could try to get my story published on the 20th Anniversary of the Mahatma’s death.
I was lucky and things went off as I had planned. One of the most prestigious magazines of the times, LIFE International, agreed to publish my story and commissioned a well-known photographer, Jehangir Gazdar to visit the homes of the men in it and take photographs. It came out in the magazine’s issue of February 1968. But by then I had realized that my story deserved a full book to itself. I broached the idea to my Agents in London and they agreed and found a publisher, Macmillan.
I was fully aware that what I was going to write was based on people’s memories of events that had taken place more than twenty years earlier. Then again, those who had themselves participated in the murder plot were only going to tell me what they thought worth revealing. But my real problem was the lack of precision in their knowledge. Some details, which I regarded as vital, were beyond their comprehension. For instance, after close and painstaking questioning, all I had been able to find out about the murder weapon, was that it was a magazine pistol and not a revolver.
None of them knew.
That was when, almost as an answer to an unsaid prayer, a friend in Delhi who knew of my predicament, Mr. Shankar Nayar of the Indian Police Service, sent me a copy of the Kapur Commission’s published report.
In the mid 1960’s, what with the revelations made by some of those involved in the crime, there were persistent allegations that several people in responsible positions in Mumbai had advance knowledge of the murder plot but had failed to report the information to the police. To determine the truth behind these allegations, the Government had appointed a one-man Commission headed by Justice K.L. Kapur. It was the report of the findings of this Commission that my friend had sent me.
Now I had a wide-ranging and penetrating report of the commission and all I had to do was to check out the authenticity of my own findings against those of Justice Kapur.
Sure I could still have written my book. But without the help of the Kapur Commission’s report I doubt if The Men Who Killed Gandhi would have turned out to be robust, or lived so long.
The book first came out when the country was in the grip of the ‘Emergency’, and books were subjected to a censorship of the utmost ruthlessness. This made it incumbent upon me to omit certain vital facts such as, for instance, Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar’s secret assurance to Mr. L.B. Bhopatkar, that his client, Mr. V.D. Savarkar had been implicated as a murder-suspect on the flimsiest grounds. Then again, certain other pertinent details such as the ‘doctering’ of a confession by a magistrate whose duty it was only to record what was said only came out in later years.
With these and other bits and pieces fitted into their right places I feel confident that this book is now the complete single account of the plot to murder Mahatma Gandhi.