The Apostle of Peace is shot dead
The events, which happened on the last day of Gandhiji's life (Friday, 30th
January, 1948) from sunrise onwards:
Barrister, servant of society, relentless toiler for the freedom of his
people, non-violent crusader for amity and peace, and pillar of the Indian
National Congress, Gandhiji had been working on a draft revised Constitution
for the party almost ceaselessly. The work left the frail man of 107 pounds
(with indomitable will and energy of a Titan) severely exhausted. On the
January 29, 1948 he had told his associates, I am very tired. Yet
I must finish this task.
He dictated, wrote carefully and precisely, and corrected meticulously
his ideas on what the Congress should do. The major points he made for
the partys programme in the post-Independence phase were as follows:
The Congress as a propaganda vehicle and parliamentary machine has outlived
its use. India has to attain social, economic, and moral independence
in terms of its seven hundred thousand villages. The Congress must keep
out of unhealthy competition with political parties and communal bodies.
The AICC therefore resolves to disband the existing Congress organisation
and to make it flower into a Lok Sevak Sangh with rules, and power to
alter them as occasion may demand.
Bapu advocated the formation of village panchayats of five adult members
in each village. Two contiguous panchayats were to form a working party
with a leader elected from among them. One hundred panchayats were to
elect fifty first-grade leaders from among themselves. Such groups of
panchayats would be formed to cover the whole of India. Every worker for
the development of the nation was to wear khadi made from self-spun yarn
or from yarn certified by the All India Spinners Association, and should
be a teetotaler.
If a Hindu, he or she would have abjured untouchability, and be a believer
in inter-communal unity and equal respect and regard for all religions,
with equality of opportunity and status for everyone, irrespective of
race, or creed, or sex. Constructive workers of the Lok Sevak Sangh had
to keep in constant touch with villagers, and train more and more workers
from out of their numbers.
The workers would organise the villages to become self- sufficient and
self-supporting through agriculture and handicrafts. They would instruct
villagers in protecting their health through good sanitation practices.
The education of villagers would be carried out on the principles of Nai
Talim. Villagers would be encouraged invariably to register themselves
as voters. The Lok Sevak Sangh would incorporate within itself the Spinners
Association, the Village Industries Association, the Hindustani Talimi
Sangh, the Harijan Sevak Sangh, and the Go-seva Sangh. For its finances,
the Sangh would raise donations with special stress laid on collection
of the poor man's pice (the equivalent of paisa in those days).
At a quarter past nine that Thursday, just before he retired to bed,
Bapu told Manu Gandhi, his fiercely loyal grand-daughter and almost constant
attendant, that he was not entirely at peace. However, the cavalcade of
life with its manifold scenes of actions still fascinated the man of 79.
The Mahatma recited to Manu a couplet in Urdu which said: Spring in the
garden of the world lasts but for a few days, Gaze upon the beautiful
show for a short while.
Friday, January the 30th, began on the calendar from the midnight hour.
Gandhiji''s working schedule had him out of bed a just over three hours
later. He completed his ablutions, composed his troubled mind, and said
his morning prayer. There were the many letters to be dictated as usual.
Manu took dictation. To Anand Hingorani and Gangibehn, Secretary Bisen
wrote on the Mahatma's behalf, ``Bapu is going to Sewagram but only for
ten days. So Bapu says there is no need for Gangibehn to come. Yes, when
he goes there for a long stay, she may come. After his dictation duties,
Bapu took a brief nap.
Then he had his naturopathy massage. As he completed it, he asked Pyarelal
if the corrections he had made in the draft of the new Constitution for
the Congress had been completed. He directed the Secretary to prepare
a note on the food crisis that was threatening Madras Province. Corrected
by Bapu, this said inter alia The Food Ministry is feeling nervous. But
I maintain that a Province like Madras that is blessed by Nature with
coconut and palm, groundnut and banana in such plenty, not to mention
roots and tubers of various kinds, need not starve, if only the people
know how to husband their resources in food. (These remarks were to be
published in the Harijan issue of February 15 posthumously.)
Gandhiji discussed with Pyarelal, who had come from Noakhali, the situation
there. The latter believed that the solution was for the minorities to
come out of East Pakistan in an orderly evacuation. Bapu demurred. He
felt that the Hindus and others had to stay put, adopting the principle
of Do or Die, which he himself had been following to restore Delhi and
the north of India to sanity. Bapu said, May be in the end only a few
will be left. But there is no other way of evolving strength out of weakness.
Are not ranks of people decimated in wars with weapons too? How then can
it be otherwise under conditions of non- violence? What you (the Indian
peace workers in Noakhali) are doing is the right way. You have shed the
fear of death, and established yourself in the hearts and affections of
Gandhiji had his bath soon after the sun had risen enough to be visible
over the lower rooftops. It was a cold day. The bath seemed to restore
some of his vigour after his sustained exertions on the new draft Congress
constitution. The clock struck half-past nine. Bapu did his daily stint
of writing and reading words in the Bengali language. Then it was time
for him to take his frugal morning meal, raw and cooked vegetables, oranges,
some goat's milk and a drink made of ginger and lemon juice. Pyarelal
now brought to him the draft, and again Bapu made some corrections. Later
he handed over the corrected sheets to Acharya Jugal Kishore.
The sun was dropping from the meridian by the time the morning's work was
attended to. Bapu treated himself to a short nap, something which he had
not been able to take for many days on end.
Up again shortly afterwards, he gave time to visitors. Gandhiji received
and reassured a group of anxious Muslims that they would be safe when
he went briefly on tour from Delhi, and that he would be back soon from
Sewagram anyway. To a deputation of Sindhi refugees he confessed the wrenching
sorrow he felt over their plight and referred to a refugee's advice to
him to retire to the Himalayas. Recalling that angry remark, Bapu broke
into a chuckle, and said that he was not after ease in a Himalayan fastness
away from the people. To a friend, he remarked, Let me rather try to set
things right as far as possible, while I am still alive.
Four o'clock in the evening. The sun had grown pale, and the skies were
already gathering that destined evening's pall of premature gloom. Sardar
Patel came with his daughter Manibehn to call on the Mahatma. Gandhiji
listened to his views, and then gave his own considered advice. The Mahatma
felt that the disagreements between Nehru and Patel would cost India dear.
He said that, though earlier he had thought of the solution of one or
the other of them withdrawing from the Cabinet, he had subsequently revised
The presence of both of you at the helm is indispensable,
he told the Sardar, and promised that he would touch on this important
topic in this post-prayer speech later in the evening. If necessary, he
added that he would even postpone his visit to Sewagram till the disunity
between the two leaders in the Cabinet was satisfactorily scotched. Gandhiji''s
talks with Sardar Patel had delayed him for the evening prayer meeting,
which was scheduled to begin at 5 o'clock sharp. A gathering of over a
thousand persons waited there, among them one who would enter the pages
of history with a dark and blood deed within minutes. Gandhiji told the
Sardar, Now I must tear myself away!
Leaning on the shoulders of Abha and Manu, Bapu walked towards the dais
from where he would listen the devotionals and then deliver his speech.
To make for quicker access to the platform, he cut across a stretch of
the meticulously manicured lawns of Birla House. The crowd parted to make
way for him and his attendants. Abha remarked lightly to Gandhiji that
his watch dangling from the waist was bound to feel neglected as he would
not look at it. Bantering in his turn, the Mahatma said, Why should
I, since you two are my time-keepers? As he ascended the rise to
approach the dais, he told the two girls, It is your fault that
I am ten minutes late. It is the duty of nurses to carry on their work
even if God Himself should be present there. If it is time to give medicine
to a patient, and a nurse feels hesitant to do so, the poor patient will
die. So it is with the medicine of prayer. It irks me if I am late for
prayers by even a minute.
The last conversational remarks had been made. The very last steps Bapu
would take were now being taken. Past the steps he was now coming towards
the dais. Gandhiji took his arms from the shoulders of Abha and Manu to
fold his hands and acknowledge with his benign smile, eyes shining from
behind his wire-framed glasses, the namaskars many offered to him.
Just then a man elbowed his way out of the congregation into the lane.
He looked as if he wished to prostrate himself in the customary obeisance
of the devout. But since they were late, Manu tried to stop him and caught
hold of his hand. He pushed her away so that she fell and, planting himself
about two feet in front of Gandhi, fired three shots from a small automatic
pistol. As the first bullet struck, Gandhi's foot, which was in motion,
descended to the ground, but he remained standing. The second bullet struck;
blood began to stain Gandhi's white clothes. His face turned ashen pale.
His hands, which had been in the touch-palm position, descended slowly,
and one arm remained momentarily on Abha's neck.
Gandhi murmured. "Hey, Ram (Oh, God)". A third shot rang out.
The limp body settled to the ground. His spectacles dropped to the earth.
The leather sandals slipped from his feet.
Abha and Manu lifted Gandhi's head, and tender hands raised him from the
ground and carried him into his room in Birla House. The eyes were half
closed and he seemed to show signs of life. Sardar Patel, who had just
left the Mahatma, was back at Gandhi's side; he felt the pulse and thought
he detected a faint beat. Someone searched frantically in a medicine chest
for adrenaline but found none.
An alert spectator fetched Dr. D. P. Bhargava. He arrives ten minutes
after the shooting. "Nothing on earth could have saved him,"
Dr. Bhargava reports. "He had been dead for ten minutes."
An epoch had ended. That was the last day of a great life.
By a remarkable coincidence the final namaskar and the deed of deliverance
from earth offered to the Mahatma came from the hands of a 'Ram'. Nathuram
Godse was his name.