Why Godse killed Gandhi?

Following is the fourth and concluding part of the article by Dr Madabhushi Sridhar, Central Information Commissioner, on the efforts, through RTI, to find out what exactly transpired in the case of assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

RTI on Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi- 4

Madabhshi Sridhar

Appellant Bansal sought through RTI request to know from Addl DCP, New Delhi, details of persons and organization responsible for assassination of Gandhi along with copy of statement of accused Nathuram Godse in court during trial, etc. He was asked to come to National Archives of India for inspection ensuring him facilities as per Public Records Act, 1993.

The statement of Nathuram Godse is already in public domain, in the form of books in many languages, also in digital media. Regarding who are the persons or organization involved in murder, the 11000+ page record on Mahatma Gandhi Murder Trial could be accessed either under RTI Act or under general rules of access to the National Archives of India, if the appellant desires. For more details the appellant can also access the comprehensive report of Jivanlal Kapur Commission of Inquiry into conspiracy to murder Mahatma Gandhi, which is available in library of Indian Law Institute and also on its website.

Whether the detailed statement of Nathuram Godse, adversely criticising Gandhi could be disclosed to the appellant? Or his RTI be denied because the statement of Nathuram Godse could cause Hindu-Muslim enmity?

Twenty year old information

This has to be examined in terms of Section 8(3) of RTI Act, 2005 which says: (3)

Subject to the provisions of clauses (a), (c) and (i) of sub‑section (1), any information relating to any occurrence, event or matter which has taken place, occurred or happened twenty years before the date on which any request is made under section 6 shall be provided to any person making a request under that section: Provided that where any question arises as to the date from which the said period of twenty years has to be computed, the decision of the Central Government shall be final, subject to the usual appeals provided for in this Act.  The 20 year old information is subject only to exceptions on the ground of sovereignty, security/public order etc, breach of privilege of Parliament, cabinet papers.  No other exception is applicable for this information. Except grounds under 8(1)(a) other grounds are irrelevant in this case. The statement of Nathuram Godse is part of court record which is in public domain, the case details were discussed in Parliament; several books were printed based on the 120 page statement of Nathuram Godse. On 6 December 1967, the Lt. Governor of Delhi issued a notification under Section 99-A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, prohibiting the book “Gandhi Hatya ani Mee” in Marathi by Gopal Godse alleging that it contains matter which promotes feelings of enmity and hatred between Hindus and Muslims in India and the publication of which is punishable under Section 153-A of the I.P.C. 1860.

Gopal Vinayak Godse vs The Union of India & Ors decided on 6 August 1969 (AIR 1971 Bom 56) three-Judge Bench consisting of Mody, V Desai, Chandrachud, JJ studied the English version of Marathi book “Murder of Gandhi and I” by Gopal Godse, accused in Gandhi Assassination case, and analysed it in 174 paragraphs.  The three judges bench analysed the strong views of Dr Savarkar and Nathuram Godse on the policies and practices of Gandhiji as a particular opinion of historical events of the age, which could be expressed without any restriction.  The Bench removed restrictions and set aside the order of forfeiture of the book, upholding the freedom of expression of killer of Gandhi.

The copy of the statement of Nathuram Godse can’t be denied on the ground of section 8(1)(a). He was not asking for the book containing passages supporting or glorifying the killers of Gandhi, which were also held to be part of the ‘freedom of speech and expression’ under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. The Right to Information is intrinsic in this fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as held by Supreme Court in several judgments, and thus the reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2) do apply to the right to information also. The restrictions under Section 8 of RTI Act, are more or less coached in the same theme and language of Article 19(2). Thus the Bombay High Court cleared the disclosure/circulation after considering several grounds of restrictions, which are akin to Section 8(1)(a). Moreover, the appellant is seeking only the statement of Nathuram Godse as given to the trial court in Mahatma Gandhi Assassination case, which cannot be denied.  One may disagree with Nathuram Godse and his co-accused, but we cannot refuse disclosure or circulation of his opinion. At the same time, neither Nathuram Godse nor the holder of his theme or opinion can go to the extent of killing a person, whose philosophy he cannot agree with. Three judges have explained this aspect:

  1. We must make it plain that we should not be taken as expressing our agreement with the views of the publisher or of the writer. The question before us is not whether the assessment made by the publisher or the writer of the historical situation is strictly correct. One might have an honest difference of opinion in regard to the views expressed by the publisher and the writer that Gandhiji’s policy of appeasing the Muslims led to the partition of the country. In fact, if it were open to us to express our own view of the situation, we should have said that no historian can overlook that Gandhiji saved the lives of hundreds and thousands of Hindus and Muslims. The two countries which at one time were part of one nation might have seen even greater miseries but for the saintly wisdom, courage and sacrifice of Gandhiji. That however is beside the point. The charge is that the book contains matter which promotes feelings of enmity and hatred between Hindus and Muslims in India and we have to examine whether the charge is proved.

French Enlightenment writer, philosopher, historian Francois Marie Arouet, popularly known as Voltaire, famous for his wit and his advocacy for freedom of speech, separation of church and state, and freedom of religion, says:  “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. Gandhiji’s life, character and image as champion of peace, Indian Independence and Hindu-Muslim unity cannot be tarnished either by his physical elimination or writing hundreds of pages of adverse analysis of his policies.  The Commission directed the NAI to provide copy of charge sheet and statement of Nathuram Godse at Rs 2 per page. (based on decision dated 16.2.2017 in CIC/SH/A/2015/900266-SA in Ashutosh Bansal v. PIO, National Archives of India)

(Concluded)

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