Bhiku Daji Bhilare, who was claimed to have saved Mahatma Gandhi from being killed by Nathuram Godse in 1944, passed away today after a brief illness. The 98-year-old Gandhian, popularly known as ‘Bhilare Guruji’, was cremated at his village, Bhilar, in Mahabaleshwar Teshil in western Maharashtra’s Satara district, family sources said.
Bhilare, born on November 28, 1919, is survived by three sons. While there is no documented history about Bhilare having foiled Godse’s earlier attack, the great grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, Tushar Gandhi, in his new book has dwelt on how fundamentalists had planned and made many attempts on the life of the Father of the Nation before he was finally killed.
According to him, there were four attempts on the Mahatma’s life, before Godse killed him in 1948. The attack at Panchgani in 1944, where Bhilare Guruji overpowered Nathuram, was the second of these attempts, he has claimed in the book. “(In) July 1944, after his release from the Aga Khan Palace Prison Camp in May 1944, Gandhi contracted malaria and was advised rest by his physician. He retired to Panchgani, a mountain resort near Poona (now Pune), where he stayed at Dilkhush Bungalow. “A group of 18 or 20 men reached Panchgani by a chartered bus from Poona and held a day-long protest against Gandhi. When Gandhi was told about this, he contacted the leader of the group, Nathuram Vinayak Godse, for a discussion. Nathuram rejected the invitation and continued with his demonstration,” the book says.
“During a prayer meeting that evening, Nathuram Godse, dressed in a Nehru shirt, pajama and jacket, rushed towards Gandhi. He was brandishing a dagger in his hand and shouting anti-Gandhi slogans. Godse was overpowered by Manishankar Purohit, the proprietor of the Surti lodge of Poona, and D Bhilare Guruji of Satara, who later became a Congress legislator from Mahabaleshwar. The other youth accompanying Godse ran away,” it said. In 2008, at an event in Mumbai, Bhilare was lauded for having had the presence of mind and the daring to twist the knife out of Nathuram Godse’s hand as he rushed to kill Gandhiji in a frenzy.
In 1944, Bhilare was the taluka pramukh of the Rashtra Seva Dal. “It was a wet July evening in Panchgani in 1944,” Bhilare Guruji had recalled at the event. “All of us had assembled in the Batha High School hall for the evening prayers when suddenly a door opposite me opened and in rushed Nathuram Godse. He was wielding a knife and muttering incoherently.” Bhilare blocked his path and twisted the knife out of his hand.
“My colleagues in the Seva Dal were also quick to react, and threw him out of the premises,” he had recalled. Bhilare had also claimed that Gopal Godse and Narayan Apte, who were implicated in the Mahatma’s assassination, were present at the spot. The Panchgani incident has been documented in the memoirs of Gandhiji’s close associate, said Pyarelal, a functionary of Mani Bhawan in Mumbai from where Mahatma Gandhi initiated satyagraha and propagated the cause of swadeshi.