After Nathuram Godse was sentenced to death for the assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Godse’s family members had appealed before the privy council in London and had also sought mercy from the then governor-general.
This is among the lesser-known facts related to Godse’s trial for Gandhi’s murder, said lawyer Rajan Jayakar, who studied the original records of the trial while curating an exhibition to mark the Supreme Court of India’s golden jubilee in 2000.
“I had written to the then Chief Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court to send the papers to Delhi. The voluminous record arrived in seven-eight wooden boxes,” said Jayakar.
Now, 66 years after the assassination of Gandhi on January 30, 1948, Jayakar, a conservationist of legal heritage based in Mumbai, said there were a number of aspects of the trial that remain lesser known.
Godse had himself never sought clemency but members of his family had probably kept him in the dark about their subsequent appeals for mercy, said Jayakar. The P&H High Court had, on June 21, 1949, confirmed Godse’s death sentence in a 315-page judgment.
Jayakar explained, “The privy council was part of the British Parliament. While appeals from England were heard by the House of Lords, those from British colonies were heard by the judicial commission of the privy council.”
Jayakar said that on October 26, 1949, the privy council did not grant leave (permission to file the petition) to the families of the accused, including Godse, who had filed the SLP.
“They had refused to grant leave on the ground that even if they did admit the petition, it would not have been decided before January 26, 1950 when the Indian Supreme Court was to be born.” Once the Supreme Court of India came into existence, the jurisdiction to hear the SLP would lie with it.
The day the privy council turned down the petition of the families, the death warrants against Godse and Narayan Apte were issued and November 15, 1949 was set as the date for the execution.
The families of Godse and Apte filed a mercy petition with the then Governor-general C Gopalachari on November 5, 1949. But on November 7, 1949, he dismissed the petition, declining to interfere in the matter. Godse and Apte were hanged in the Ambala prison,” said Jayakar.
“Three accused, Gangadhar Dandawate, Gangadhar Jadhav and Suryadev Sharma were not traced and declared absconders. Till date nobody knows what happened to them,” said Jayakar.