Gandhi Is Assassinated

Mahatma Gandhi, gunned down by Hindu activist Nathuram Godse, was the victim of an assassin and his coconspirators who believed that Gandhi had betrayed the Hindu cause in India by promoting reconciliation between Muslims and Hindus. The assassination underscored the unstable state of Indian politics in the months before and after independence.

Summary of Event

Mahatma Gandhi, spiritual and political leader for an independent India, was born on October 2, 1869, in Porbandar, India. His work in South Africa in the early twentieth century used mass nonviolent civil disobedience Civil disobedience , called satyagraha, to create social and political change for the benefit of the poor and powerless. He later applied this philosophy to the political situation in India, where he was a leader in India’s quest for independence Anticolonial movements;India
Nationalism;India from the British. During India’s final days as a colony, Gandhi served as a voice of reason, repeatedly intervening in an attempt to halt the horrific violence that erupted between Hindus and Muslims before and during the partitioning of India and Pakistan. [kw]Gandhi Is Assassinated (Jan. 30, 1948)
Assassinations and attempts;Mahatma Gandhi[Gandhi]
Assassinations and attempts;Mahatma Gandhi[Gandhi]
[g]South Asia;Jan. 30, 1948: Gandhi Is Assassinated[02360]
[g]India;Jan. 30, 1948: Gandhi Is Assassinated[02360]
[c]Terrorism;Jan. 30, 1948: Gandhi Is Assassinated[02360]
[c]Independence movements;Jan. 30, 1948: Gandhi Is Assassinated[02360]
[c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Jan. 30, 1948: Gandhi Is Assassinated[02360]
Gandhi, Mahatma
Godse, Nathuram
Apte, Narayan

Caught in the crux of these conflicts, Gandhi’s life was under constant threat, as he diligently tried to be fair to both groups. However, his opposition to partition angered many Muslims. At the same time, many Hindus believed that he favored Muslims. In early 1948, Gandhi believed his death was close at hand. His foresight became a tragic reality on January 30.

On the day of his assassination, Gandhi was late for his prayer service. He despised being late for his daily prayer ritual, which was to start at 5:00 p.m. He was already ten minutes late, because he had failed to wear his watch and, distracted by two visitors, time had slipped by too quickly. He exited Birla House, located in Delhi, India, where he had been staying in a guest room on the first floor. He was somewhat weakened, since he had completed his last fast only twelve days before. This, combined with being seventy-eight years old, had slowed him on his trek to prayer. Thus, he walked with the assistance of two young women, whom he humorously referred to as his walking sticks. The women were his grandnieces Manu and Abha, and he joked with them on the way to the prayer service.

The distance to prayer was about two blocks, but because he was running late, he had taken a more direct short cut. About a hundred feet short of his destination, Gandhi was confronted by Nathuram Godse, whose hands were pressed together in what first appeared to be the traditional namasté greeting used in India. However, carefully concealed in his hands was a small, black Beretta pistol. Gandhi pressed his hands together in response to what he thought was the traditional greeting. Godse then exposed the weapon and fired three shots into Gandhi’s chest. Before falling to the ground Gandhi reportedly uttered the following last words: “Hey Rama,” which means “Oh God.” Chaos ensued in the prayer area, and Gandhi died a few minutes after being shot.

Only ten days before, on January 20, another assassination attempt on Gandhi had failed. A Hindu Mahasabha group of at least eight persons planned to kill Gandhi with a bomb explosion. The group included Godse, Madanlal Pahwa, Narayan Apte, Vishnu Karkare, Digambar Badge, Gopal Godse, Vinayak Savarkar, and Shankar Kishtaiyya. The bombing occurred around prayer time on January 20, but the plan to kill Gandhi failed. The bomb had been planted on a wall at Birla House and went off about seventy feet from where Gandhi was speaking, leaving Gandhi, who steadfastly continued on with his speech, unharmed. The original plan of the group was to use the bomb as a diversion and then shoot Gandhi during the chaos of the explosion. However, the plot was a total failure and no shots were fired.

The group of eight or more who wanted to kill Gandhi were Hindu extremists who believed that Gandhi favored Muslims over Hindus. Although Gandhi was painstakingly evenhanded in his approach to the two religions, the extremists were angered because Gandhi’s most recent fast was devoted to having the new Indian government release funds to the Muslims, funds that were rightfully theirs. After the failed assassination attempt, the group planned their second attempt. The second attempt would be more difficult, though, because security was tightened for Gandhi after the January 20 attempt.

The second assassination attempt on Gandhi was successful. At the trial, Godse expressed absolutely no remorse, saying “I shot Gandhiji. I showered him with bullets. I have no regrets. I believe it was the right thing to do. . . . On his many fasts he always attached all sorts of pro-Muslim conditions.” This statement echoed the feelings that many Hindu Mahasabha members held, as thousands celebrated on hearing about Gandhi’s death.

The front page of the Hindustan Standard on January 31 declared “Gandhiji has been killed. . . . This second crucifixion in the history of the world has been enacted on a Friday—The same day Jesus was done to death, one thousand, nine hundred and fifteen years ago. Father, forgive us!” Later that same day, more than one million people turned out in stunned silence to honor Gandhi. His body was carried through the crowd for cremation. The funeral pyre at the Raj Ghat (king’s court) memorial in New Delhi was watched not only by the Indian populace but also by the British and others worldwide, as the British governor-general of independent India, Louis Mountbatten Mountbatten, Louis (first Earl Mountbatten of Burma) , sat cross-legged on the ground in respect to the fallen Gandhi. The world also mourned as Gandhi’s ashes were gathered and later released into waters around the country.

The trial of the eight accused and charged, held at the Red Fort in Delhi, began June 22. Godse and Apte were found guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, which occurred on November 15, 1949, at Ambala jail in Haryana, India. One member of the group, Savarkar, was found not guilty. The other five members of the group were all given life sentences.


The assassination Mahatma Gandhi was a manifestation of the great division existing between Hindus and Muslims in British India as independence neared. Gandhi was a voice for nonviolence and reason in a time of violence and unreasonableness. The partition of British India and the creation of the independent states of India and Pakistan in 1947 was marked by the migration of up to seventeen million people who moved for religious reasons into either India or Pakistan. Up to one million people tragically died in this partitioning process.

Gandhi opposed partition. He used his influence to try keep the Muslim and Hindu populations together in the state of India. Muslim leader Muhammad Ali Jinnah strongly opposed the idea of one state. His vision for a separate Pakistan was carried forward until his dream was realized in August, 1947. After this, Gandhi continued to advocate for fairness for Pakistan and India. The fast that preceded his death by twelve days was conducted to promote fairness for Pakistan.

Pakistan had been claiming that millions of rupees were owed it because of the financial settlement that had accompanied partition. India believed that Pakistan would use the funds to conduct raids on India and so refused to comply with Pakistan’s request. Gandhi started his fast on January 13 to protest the Indian government’s decision to withhold the money, and he continued until India relented on January 18. Godse and other Hindus were incensed with Gandhi’s choice to fast in support of Pakistan, which was mainly a Muslim state. This would be one of many conflicts to follow between India and Pakistan, conflicts that have special resonance given that both countries are nuclear powers. Assassinations and attempts;Mahatma Gandhi[Gandhi]

Further Reading

  • Chadha, Yogesh. Gandhi: A Life. New York: Wiley, 1997. A critical examination of Gandhi that also looks at his flaws. Provides a well-documented account of the assassination and the killers.
  • Dalton, Dennis. Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. Details the development of Gandhi’s thinking and philosophy, including satyagraha and swaraj. Applies Gandhi’s thought to the ideas of contemporary thinkers such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Easwaran, Eknath. Gandhi, the Man: The Story of His Transformation. Tomalas, Calif.: Nilgiri Press, 1997. Provides a history of the development of Gandhi’s thinking and actions.
  • Khosla, G. D. The Murder of the Mahatma and Other Cases from a Judge’s Note-Book. London: Chatto & Windus, 1963. Khosla, the appeals court judge for the defendants convicted of assassinating Gandhi, writes about the cases.
  • Varshney, Ashutosh. Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life: Hindus and Muslims in India. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. A thorough review of the history of ethnic conflict between Hindus and Muslims in India, with a focus on conflict in a civil society.
  • Wolpert, Stanley. Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Explores a wider context for understanding how Gandhi approached partition and the India and Pakistan conflict.

India Gains Independence from the United Kingdom

India and Pakistan Clash over Kashmir

Indian Government Bans Discrimination Against Untouchables

Indian Parliament Approves Women’s Rights Legislation

Tamils Protest Discrimination in Ceylon

Gandhi Serves as India’s First Female Prime Minister