Why was Gandhi killed?
Gandhi’s assassination was the ultimate act in a long life of sacrifice. Like a brave soldier, he knew all along that ultimately he had to die for his cause. Whichever way the battle would end, the soldier always dies in triumph: upholding his flag of victory. Gandhi sacrificed his life for his principle - with a vengeance. That was the only way he could demonstrate the absolute vindication of his unified principle of Truth and Ahimsa.
He was totally disenchanted with the Congress and its neo-colonial government of a partitioned India. Gandhi had been ready to offer power to Jinnah barely five months before, to avoid partition. But Congress wouldn’t listen. Like Jinnah, it wanted power – even over the dead body of the Mahatma. And so did Jinnah. Gandhi, after the power transfer, had become completely useless for Congress. It just couldn’t care less about his security. To precipitate the end, the new Indian government of Nehru and Patel stubbornly withheld the share of 55 crores to be paid to Pakistan according to the partition terms. They knew it would hurt Gandhi most bitterly. They knew he would resort to his last weapon – a fast, against their stubbornness. They knew Gandhi's fast in support of Muslim's would endanger his life at the hands of the Hindu extremists. But they remained nonchalant, unconcerned; negligent.
But Gandhi knew the time for his exit had come. He went on a fast against the government’s stubbornness. He knew this was only the last turn of the screw. For the militant Hindu groups it was their signal for the end of this crusader for Truth. And Gandhi’s insistence on truth and justice was anathema not only to the militants but also to his so called followers. Gandhi had chosen the path of martyrdom for upholding his principle of Truth and Ahimsa. He could see Destiny preparing the way for his martyrdom. And he was too happy to oblige. Yes, in a sense, it was not they that killed him : Gandhi opted for his own end, holding the flag of Truth and Ahimsa flying high in his hands! He had said that India could be partitioned over his dead body! He knew his tryst with destiny had arrived, and he was ready!
The following is a continuation of this tragic tribute in an excerpt from my newly-published biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad where I retell the story of that dark evening when I had heard this news of Gandhi’s assassination on a radio and rushed to tell my father about it…
New Delhi : January-end, 1948
The situation in Delhi was very tense. Even the top leaders in the Congress, including Patel, were unhappy with Gandhi’s alleged partiality towards Muslims, particularly after his last fast over the delay in the transfer of money to Pakistan. Serious differences over policy matters between Patel and Nehru had become Gandhi’s greatest worry. Accusations were being made that there were no proper security arrangements at the prayer meetings in spite of Patel being the Home Minister. A bomb incident had already taken place in one of Gandhi’s daily evening prayer meetings at Birla House, just ten days before his tragic assassination. In fact, on the very day of the assassination, till only a few hours before, Gandhi had been drafting the new constitution for the Congress in its new avatar as the Lok Sevak Sangh conceptualised as a purely non-political organization focused on the ongoing 'constructive programme'. But, perhaps, destiny was scripting another pitiless narrative for that evening and beyond in history. In keeping with the tragic irony, Prasad had left Delhi the same morning as he narrates the whole sequence of events.
"This matter [the Sevagram conference] had been under [Gandhiji’s] consideration for some time, and it had been decided that a conference of constructive workers should be called at Sevagram. A date had been fixed for it in the first week of February. Mahatmaji had decided to attend it and was anxious to go to Wardha for this purpose…. Early on the morning of January 30, 1948, I left for Wardha by plane. Before that, however,… I saw Gandhiji….He said that he would leave for Wardha in a day or two to attend the conference….I left Delhi in the hope that I would see Bapuji at Wardha within the next few days, and that the constructive programme, which was the very basis of the strength of the Congress, would receive a new impetus….I arrived at Wardha about half-past two in the afternoon. By that time, because of the cold and the exhaustion consequent on the journey, I had started a temperature. A doctor came to see me at about five o’clock in the evening. While I was talking to him, a boy came running and told us that Mahatmaji was dead….[The] announcement had come on radio."
As I reproduce these lines, I am struck by a personal flashback of that terrible radio announcement.I was just about ten years old. We lived in Chhapra (in Bihar) where my father was a college professor. It was around six in the evening. I was playing on the street with other boys. Across the street lived our landlord, the only person in the locality who owned a big radiogram in his drawing room. The news of Gandhiji’s murder came in a special announcement: some Hindu fanatic had just shot Mahatma Gandhi as he was proceeding to his prayer meeting in Birla House. The news stunned everyone. I immediately ran into my house to convey this terrifying news to my father. He looked paralysed by the news.
That night he recorded in his diary. 30 January, 1948: “Right at nightfall, heard that at New Delhi’s Birla Bhawan, a youth named Nathuram Vinayak Godse, around five in the evening, fired three shots at Mahatma Gandhi, killing him instantly. But God was merciful to Muslims. Had the killer been a Muslim, the entire Indian Muslim community would have been annihilated in a day. Even in his death Gandhiji protected the Muslims.Mother India became sonless today.”
Prasad recollects: “I could not sleep that night”. Though early next morning he was able to get a lift in a flight from Nagpur to Delhi with Gandhi’s son Ramdas and just made it to the last darshan and the funeral. The Sevagram Constructive Workers’ Conference was put off and met in March when it ‘decided to establish the Sarvodaya Samaj’....
[Edited extract from the original version of my biography of Dr Rajendra Prasad, Part VI, Ch 2] © Dr BSM Murty