Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Here today, Gandhi tomorrow
Mohands (Mahatma) Gandhi died on this day in 1948.
"By the holy waters of the Yamuna, near New Delhi, almost a million people waited in the sun for the funeral procession to reach the cremation grounds. White predominated - the white of women's cotton saris and of men's clothes, caps and bulbous turbans. At Rajghat, a few hundred feet from the river, a fresh pyre had been built of stone, brick, and earth. It was eight feet square and about two feet high. Long, thin sandalwood logs sprinkled with incense were stacked on it. Mahatma Gandhi's body lay on the pyre with his head to the north. In that position Buddha met his end. At 4:45 p.m., Ramdas, the third son of the Mahatma, set fire to the funeral pyre. The logs burst into flames. The vast assemblage groaned. Women wailed; men wept. The wood crackled and seethed and the flames united into a single fire. Now there was silence. Gandhi's body was being reduced to ashes and cinders. A nation's father was dead.
"On Friday 30 January 1948, Gandhi woke up at his usual hour, 3:30 a.m. After the morning prayer he put the final touches to the new constitution for Congress which he had been unable to finish the previous night. The rest of the morning was spent answering letters. Someone mentioned the fact that despite his poor health he was working incessently. 'Tomorrow', he explained, 'I may not be here'.
"He was aware of the strengthening of the police guard around the Birla House, but notwithstanding Home Minister Patel's earnest request, Gandhi would not permit those who attended the prayer meetings: 'If I have to die I should like to die at the prayer meeting. You are wrong in believing that you can protect me from harm. God is my protector.'
"Gandhi had been busy since the early morning. It was now nearly four o' clock in the afternoon, and soon there would be a meeting with Patel. Gandhi had earlier been drawn into the ideological differences and rivalry between Patel and Nehru, and had expressed the view that one of the two should withdraw from the cabinet. He had since come to the conclusion that both were indispensable, pointing out that the government would be seriously weakened if it lost either.
"Patel arrived with his daughter, Manibehn, and was promptly ushered into the room where Gandhi sat at his spinning wheel. The conversation with Patel was long and absorbing one. Gandhi stressed that any breach between the two senior party colleagues would be disastrous. He would seek out Nehru after the evening prayer and discuss the whole matter with him as well. Earlier in the day someone had shown him a clipping from the London Times, an article suggesting that the conflict between Nehru and Patel was irreconcilable. He was determined to put an end to the disunity between them, even if it meant delaying his journey to Sevagram.
"While the conversation continued he took his evening meal. It was now past 5 p.m., but Gandhi did not notice that he was late for the prayer meeting. Abhabehn, the young wife of Kanu Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma's cousin, held up a watch, but neither Gandhi nor Patel paid any attention. After sometime Patel's daughter reminded them that it was ten minutes past five and that Gandhi had been late for his prayer meeting , whereupon the two men rose. It had been decided that Gandhi, Patel and Nehru would together discuss the matter the following day.
"Patel and his daughter immediately left the Birla House while Gandhi, a little vexed at being unpunctual, made his way to the prayer meeting. Leaning lightly on the two girls, Manu and Abha, his 'walking sticks', he took a short cut accross the grass, walking briskly to make up for the lost time and then mounted the six low steps upto the level of the prayer ground. As he took a few paces in the direction of the wooden platform on which he sat during services, the crowd opened to enable him to pass through, bowing to his feet as he went by. Gandhi took his arms off the girls' shoulders and for a moment stood there smiling, touching his palms in the traditional greeting-blessing.
"Just then a stocky young man in a khaki bush jacket jostled through the crowd, and when he was directly in front of Gandhi, he fired three shots into the Mahatma at point blank range. The Mahatma's hands folded in friendly greeting, descended slowly. 'He Ram (Oh God Rama),' he murmured, and sighed softly as the frail body slumped to the ground.
"The assassin was held by the Police. He was Nathuram Godse, an editor of a Marathi newspaper, Hindu Rashtra and an active and fanatic member of the Hindu Mahasabha. Gandhi was carried indoors, but he was already unconscious. Within a few moments a doctor pronounced him dead. Patel, who lived not far from Birla House, had hardly reached home when he rushed back. A few minutes later Nehru arrived. Soon one of Gandhi's disciples appeared at the door of Birla House to speak to the anxiously waiting crowd: 'Bapuji is finished.' A moan went up from the crowd. An epic in the saga of Indian and world history had ended. The world had lost yet another of its great sons to the hands of religion. A nation's destiny was dead. The world's tutor was dead."