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 Article

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 party’s 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 the people.

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 his opinion.

“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.

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