Mahatma! chanted the crowd as the frail old man came forward, leaning on a stick, his matchstick-thin arms supported by followers on both sides. They bowed their heads reverentially as the great leader of India began to make his way slowly towards the centre of the garden for his daily prayer meeting.
Suddenly a frenzied-looking man broke through the crowd, levelled a revolver and fired three shots at point-blank range. Mahatma Gandhi, the man more responsible than anyone else for breaking British rule in India, slumped forward, blood pouring from wounds in his chest and stomach. That day, January 30th, 1948, was to be writ large and forever in the turbulent history of the sub-continent.
It happened in mid-afternoon in the grounds of Birla House, New Delhi, where Gandhi was living temporarily. His lifes work should have been over India had achieved independence the previous year but already strife leading to bloodshed was breaking out between Hindus and Moslems, and the Mahatma saw it as his new task to quench the flames of civil war that threatened to engulf India.
He had dedicated all his life to peace. In the case of British rule this was peaceful protest, engineered through sit-downs on railways lines, non-compliance with the British authorities, and in Gandhis personal case, by waves of hunger strikes that reduced him to a frail shadow of a man, leaving the British raj in a state of perpetual perplexity.
Now all this was ended. The assassin, Nathuram Godse, 39, a violent anti-Moslem newspaper editor, was seized by the horrified crowd and nearly lynched before police rescued him.
As the effect of his shots continued to reverberate around the world, Godse was brought before the East Punjab High Court and sentenced to death. Sentenced with him too was Narayan Apte, 38, who was present at the murder scene and was believed to be the leader of a political group that rejected a secular state and saw Islam as the enemy of India.
They were both hanged on Tuesday, November 15th, 1949, after the Privy Council in England rejected their appeals. By all accounts the executions were botched because the drop was too short and they were both effectively strangled.