Godse was ‘yearning’ for Savarkar’s support in Gandhi murder trial court. But it never came

In 'Savarkar: A Contested Legacy, 1924-1966' historian-author Vikram Sampath explores both sides of the debate about Savarkar's role in Gandhi's assassination.

Veer Savarkar | Savarkar.org
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar | Savarkar.org

Parchure’s lawyer, P.L. Inamdar, notes in his  memoirs:

“During the whole trial, I never saw Savarkar turning his head towards even Nathuram, who used to sit by him, in fact next to him, much less speak with him. While the other accused freely talked to each other exchanging notes or banter, Savarkar sat there sphinx-like in silence, completely ignoring his co-accused in the dock, in an unerringly disciplined manner… he would look towards the Court, the witness in the witness box, the Counsels, even the spectators, but never towards the rest of the accused in the dock where he sat… he did not talk to me in Court during the whole of the trial, except once. He had, I thought, perhaps resolved to act in court, his defence against the charge of conspiracy with Nathuram or with any of the accused and, in fact, to perform his role demonstratively, even with respect to the counsels of the other accused!”

The charge sheet was read out to all of them and preliminary formalities completed before adjourning the case to 3 June. During this brief hearing. Nathuram complained, speaking in fluent English, about being treated as C-class prisoners and being denied even water for washing for several days.

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The actual trial began with the recording of evidence from 24 June 1948 and went on till 6 November. One hundred and forty-nine witnesses were examined (out of a listed 275) by the prosecution and their evidence ran into a whopping 720 pages. The prosecution brought on record 404 documentary and eighty material exhibits. Thereafter, all the accused were made to record their statements from 8 to 22 November. About 106 pages of recorded statements were filed and the written statements of all the accused, except Shankar, ran into 297 pages. The defence on their part brought in 119 documentary exhibits. The hearing of the defence arguments lasted from 1 to 30 December. This was the broad summary of the trial proceedings.

Even as the prosecution proceedings were under way, advocate Inamdar received a message through Bhopatkar in the second week of September that Savarkar wished to meet him. He had sought the court’s permission to allow Inamdar to his 12 feet by 12 feet cell in the barracks. Inamdar accordingly went to meet the man who was hitherto a deeply venerated figure for Hindu Sangathanists across India, but now confined to this misery in a tiny cell. Looking around the cell, Inamdar saw a small cot and bed, a small table and chair, a pitcher of water and a glass, and some articles of daily use. The table was strewn with a pile of books and a large file of papers. He was sitting prepared for Inamdar’s visit and all the relevant case-related papers had been laid out on the floor, on a durrie. In a low voice, Savarkar told him:

“Mr. Inamdar, I am glad to have you with me… I have very much liked your terse and correct expression. Your cross examination of witnesses is by far the best. Yes, all of you are working and doing your best. But you! I am really impressed by your work. I want your opinion and assistance. I hope you do not mind.”

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For the next three hours, Savarkar took him through the minutest case details, the corroborating evidence and exhibits and sought Inamdar’s approval and suggestions on what line of argument to make. Evidently and quite naturally, he was consumed by the worry of being drawn into the case and was restless about his acquittal. As Inamdar mentions:

“He repeatedly asked me if he would be acquitted and wanted me to assure him sincerely. What I noted was that he did not ask me a single question about the case against my clients, Dr. Parchure and Gopal Godse or about any of the other accused including Nathuram, nor any question about me personally.”

Savarkar seemed to be deeply mindful of his words and actions with the co-accused and did not want any more suspicion drawn on him than what had already led him to this situation. In fact, Inamdar notes that Savarkar’s complete lack of warmth and even recognition, ‘his calculated, demonstrative, non-association with him either in court or in the Red Fort jail’ deeply hurt Nathuram who ‘yearned for a touch of Tatyarao’s [Savarkar] hand, a word of sympathy, or at least a look of compassion in the secluded confines of the cells!’ But this was not to be! Nathuram simply did not exist in Savarkar’s scheme of things where an honourable release was the only paramount concern. Nathuram even referred to his ‘hurt feelings’ during Inamdar’s last meeting with him at the Simla High Court.

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This excerpt from ‘Savarkar: A Contested Legacy’ by Vikram Sampath has been published with permission from Penguin Random House.