SATARA: Bhiku Daji Bhilare, who had once saved Mahatma Gandhi from a knife attack by his assassin Nathuram Godse at Panchgani in July 1944, passed away due to old age here on Wednesday, a close aide said. He was 98.
Bhilare is survived by two sons, said state Congress Vice President Ratnakar Mahajan, who has been a close family friend since many years.
Renowned in political circles as 'Bhilare Guruji', Bhilare breathed his last at home in native village of Bhilar, sandwiched between the twin hill stations of Mahabaleshwar and Panchgani.
His funeral was held late on Wednesday in Bhilar in the presence of a large number of Congress leaders, freedom fighters and legislators.
"Always engaged in social and public services, he was twice elected as a legislator from Mahabaleshwar constituency and was a very active figure fighting for rights and benefits of freedom fighters. Though active almost till his last breath, for the past few years, he rarely stepped out of his village," Mahajan told IANS.
Revered in the Congress and political circles, Bhilare, as a 25-year-old sub-district president of the Rashtra Seva Dal, one of the frontal groups of the Congress, prevented one of the six assassination attempts on the Mahatma made by Godse.
"Gandhiji used to visit Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani during the summer months. On one such trip in July 1944 after he was released from the Aga Khan Palace prison in Pune (following his arrest during the Quit India movement), he went to Panchgani to recuperate," Mahajan recalled.
One evening during a prayer meeting near a school, Godse, along with two other associates, rushed towards Gandhi with a knife, but Bhilare saw them, blocked their way, and after a brief struggle, succeeded in disarming Godse and one of his associates, Narayan Apte, with the help of M.S. Purohit, a proprietor of a local lodge, Mahajan said.
Years later after India secured Independence on August 15, 1947, Godse succeeded in assassinating the Father of the Nation on January 30, 1948, in Delhi, gunning him down at Birla House.
Top Congress leaders, including party Vice President Rahul Gandhi condoled the death of Bhilare.
"A staunch Gandhian and a freedom fighter, Bhilare Guruji was a selfless custodian of the values we hold dear. Very sad to learn of his passing," Gandhi said in a tweet.
Nationalist Congress Party leader Jitendra Awhad recalled the services of Bhilare Guruji, describing him as the man "who bashed Nathuram Godse when he attacked Mahatma Gandhi in Maharashtra".
Several Congress state units across India have also expressed grief at Bhilare's demise.