Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: Part Four Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: Part Four

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
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The Fatal Fast

The violence that had started after Independence soon engulfed the whole country, spreading as far as Calcutta, and it was here that the Mahatma decided to go. But there were some who were not pleased with what was happening and blamed Gandhi for it. They also blamed him for the partition of the country, and it was the fanatics who decided that the Mahatma had given away too much to the Muslims.

Many Muslims had by now called for peace and one of them, Mr Suhrawardy, who had initially urged violence, now called for peace, as did others. One night in August as Gandhi slept in a Muslim house, he was woken up by angry noises as Mr Suhrawardy and several followers could be heard trying to pacify violent intruders. But soon the sounds of windows being smashed were heard, as well as fists smashing doors down. As the Mahatma got up and opened his bedroom door, he came face to face with the rioters. One rioter swung his lathi (a long heavy stick which is used as a weapon) at him but missed, while another threw a brick and also missed. Moments later the police arrived and urged the father of the nation to get back into his room, while they dispersed the rioters. The Mahatma decided to go on a fast till death — a fatal fast unless the rioting came to a complete stop everywhere. He had done this many times before, and now he felt that it was his only weapon to stop the violence that was taking place all over the country.

Slowly as the news of the fast broke, the riots that were taking place subsided, and in many places came to a halt. The Mahatma broke his fast when Mr Suhrawardy handed him a glass of lime juice when he felt that peace had been achieved, but his health was deteriorating and his kidneys were slowly beginning to malfunction. He decided to go to the Indian capital New Delhi where the riots were still continuing, and here, again, he decided to go on another fatal fast.

In the meantime, a group of Pathans from the Northwest frontier, in what is now West Pakistan, invaded the Princely state of Kashmir. A few days later, after the accession of the state of India took place, Indian troops were dispatched to the area and the matter was soon taken to the United Nations. Gandhi, however, approved the decision to send the troops but regretted that the matter was taken to the UN by the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and instead he called for direct negotiations.

No matter where the father of the nation went, his presence began to halt the violence, and in the capital, the mass slaughter that was taking place soon came to a halt, and cities like New Delhi were once again experiencing peace. But there were differences between Sardar Vallabhai Patel, now the deputy Prime Minister, and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, which did worry the Mahatma, and he informed the now Governor General of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten about it. In reply to this Mountbatten replied that he would do whatever he could to resolve the differences between them.

First Assassination Attempt on the Mahatma

Sometime in early January 1948, as the violence came to an end and people prayed for the dying 'Mahatma' as his health kept on deteriorating, Gandhi broke his fast but continued to attend his daily evening prayers at 5.00pm. On 20 January, as he sat on the prayer platform in front of millions of people who had arrived to listen to him, explosions could be heard in the grounds. Hindu fanatic Gopal Godse, brother of Nathuram Godse, and an accomplice threw a hand-made bomb at the Mahatma from a nearby wall. A man nearby fell on top of the father of the nation to protect him and within a matter of minutes, Gopal Godse escaped. The plan to assassinate had failed. This led to the deputy Prime Minister offering to have bodyguards surround the Mahatma, but this was refused. When being informed about people being searched as they entered the prayer meetings, Gandhi agreed to policemen being in the grounds but did not allow for anyone to be searched.

Friday 30 January, 1948

Gandhi had decided that he would travel to Pakistan and talk to the masses there about peace. In the early hours of Friday, 30 January, 1948, he called the deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabhai Patel and informed him of his intentions, as well as asking him to inform the Prime Minister that he wanted everything that was owed to Pakistan from the partition to be paid. This was what the two men were discussing when he noticed that he was late for his daily prayer meeting in the grounds of Birla House. But here, the assassin Nathuram Godse, his brother Gopal and another accomplice, Narayan Apte, were waiting for him. At 5.17pm, the assassin's bullets struck the old man, who was still weak from his fast.

The moment the news reached the Governor General, he quickly enquired who was involved but was informed that no-one knew, but that the police had arrested the assassin. That evening, Mountbatten went over to Birla House and viewed the Mahatma's body lying in state, covered in flowers and loin cloth and a white shawl. Nearby, but on opposite sites, sat Nehru and Vallabhai Patel. Both had been crying and their eyes were completely red. After paying his respects, as verses from the Hindu religious book the Bhagvad Gita and other Hindu scriptures were read, Mountbatten informed Patel and Nehru about Gandhi's concern about their differences, and that it was his last wish to see that this was sorted. He also informed the Indian Prime Minister that he would have to inform the nation about the assassination. Later Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the people on the radio:

The light has gone out of our lives and there's darkness everywhere and I do not know what to tell you and how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu, as we call him, the father of our nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that. Nevertheless, we will not see him as we have seen him these many years. We will not run to him for advice and seek solace from him and that is a terrible blow, not only to me but to millions and millions in this country. And it is difficult to soften the blow by any advice that I or anyone else can give you. A madman has put an end to his life; for I can only call him mad who did it. The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illuminated this country for these many years will illuminate this country for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented the living truth, and the eternal man was with us with his eternal truth reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom. All this has happened. There is so much to do. There was so much for him to do. We could never think that he was unnecessary or that he had done his task. But now, particularly when we are faced with so many difficulties, his not being with us is a blow most terrible to bear.

The next day, the body of the father of the nation was placed on a specially-made superstructure, which was raised so that everyone could see it. It was slowly pulled out of Birla House at 11.45am by members of the armed forces. The cortege, two miles long, contained members of the new Indian Government as well as the Governor General Lord Mountbatten, the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his deputy, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, the Minister of Education and a freedom fighter, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, and all those who were the Mahatma's followers. One person who was present in the crowd but was not recognised by the millions who were there was Harilal Gandhi, the Mahatma's eldest son, with whom he always had a conflict of some sort.

As the cortege passed them, people could be heard crying out aloud 'Mahatma Gandhi ki Jai' (long live Gandhiji) and some cried out 'Mahatma Gandhi Amar hogaye' (Mahatma Gandhi has become immortal). After five hours the cortege reached Rajghat, where the Mahatma's body was placed on a two foot high funeral pyre made out of stone, bricks and earth. Long, thin, sandalwood logs were placed upon it. As the body was placed on the pyre, the head was placed in the northerly direction and the feet in a southerly direction. (It is believed by many that the Buddha passed away in this position.) Moments later, Ramdas Gandhi, the Mahatma's second son, walked around the pyre and lit it. Seconds later, the body of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma, was engulfed in flames as the thick black smoke began to climb towards the sky. Sensing that the members of the public would be moving forward, the Governor General ordered a military cordon around the pyre and he was soon proven correct as this was broken, but no-one moved further.

That night there was an eerie silence everywhere as the streets in every single city, town and village were empty as the funeral pyre crackled away in the darkness of the night. In the capital only sounds of a dog howling could be heard, while the streets of Bombay, which would normally be crowded with people, were completely empty and the only sound that could be heard was of winds. In the eastern Indian city of Calcutta, a Hindu religious man, his face covered in ash, walked through the empty streets, crying out: 'Mahatma Gandhi is dead! When comes another such as he?'

Meanwhile tributes began to arrive in their thousands. One was from the US Secretary of State, General George C Marshal who wrote: 'Mohandas Gandhi was a spokesman for the conscience of all mankind.' An American senator, Arthur Vandenburg, wrote: 'Gandhi made humility and simple truth more powerful than empires.' The famous scientist Albert Einstein said: 'Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this Earth.'

The other tributes that came in were from many, including the Soviet foreign minister, Andrei Gramyko and Philip Noel-Baker, the British representative at the United Nations. The United Nations flag was lowered at half mast and inside the Security Council a minute's silence was observed. Elsewhere, many people, including children, wept as they heard the news and some were totally dismayed and shocked.

The Final Journey

In Hindu religion it is customary to have one's ashes scattered in the holy rivers of India and what better than the most famous of them all, the Ganges. Most of Gandhi's ashes were immersed in the Ganges in the Indian city of Allahabad. However, some were kept by people.

In January 2008, the last urn containing Gandhi's ashes was finally handed over to Nilamben Parikh, Gandhi's great-granddaughter and granddaughter of Harilal Gandhi. She scattered the ashes in the Arabian Sea, at Mumbai.

A few months after Gandhi's assassination, his eldest son Harilal, who had converted to Islam and then back to Hindu, being penniless, passed away in a municipal hospital in Bombay from a drinking-related illness. His ashes were scattered in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Bombay.

Other Fates

  • The assassin Nathuram Godse and his accomplice Narayan Apte, along with others who were involved in the plot, were found guilty and hanged.

  • Gopal Godse, the assassin's brother, was released from prison after spending 16 years incarcerated. He never regretted what his brother and the others did. He died in the western Indian state of Maharashtra during November 2005.

  • Mohamed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, passed away 11 September, 1948, after suffering from tuberculosis and lung cancer.

  • Sardar Vallabhai Patel passed away on 15 December, 1950, after suffering a massive heart attack.

  • Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru passed away in 1964.

  • Lord Mountbatten, the Governor General and the Earl of Burma, after leaving India in 1948, went to become the First Sea Lord, a position that was held by his father, Prince Louis of Battenberg, 40 years earlier. He was assassinated in 1979 by the IRA, who had planted a radio-controlled bomb on his boat, Shadow V, which was in the small harbour at Mullaghmore, County Sligo, Ireland.

A Film and An Apology

In 1982, Actor and Director Sir Richard Attenborough released his movie, Gandhi, which was based on the Mahatma's life and starred Ben Kingsley in the lead role. It received a total of seven Academy Awards  (Oscars). And 105 years after he was barred from practising in Natal, South Africa, the South African Law Society posthumously apologised to Gandhi in the Johannesburg newspaper, The Star.

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