30th January, 1948.
Lord Rama merges the Mahatma
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,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.
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 themselves. 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 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 practises. The
education of villagers would be carried out on the principles of Nai
Talim. Villagers would be encouraged invariably to register themselves
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Now with a namaskar
that was like a Judas kiss, there came a thick-set man clad in a bush-shirt,
with hands folded. He approached Gandhiji frontally.
As the man bowed,
Manu tried to dissuade him from touching Bapu''s feet as she thought
he was trying to do. The strong man pushed her away brusquely, impatiently,
he wanted a clear line of fire for the Beretta pistol he had drawn
from a trouser pocket.
Now there ring
out three shots in quick succession. Even from a child they cannot
miss their mark from that almost point-blank range. Two bullets enter
one after another the right side of the chest of the frail man on
his last walk. The third goes into the right side of the Mahatma''s
abdomen. Bapu''s uplifted foot falters as the first bullet strikes.
As the second and the third hit, he sinks gently to the floor, breathing
out his last two words, holy in thankfulness or supplication, Hey
Ram!. His voice will speak no more.
sunset on the sky witnesses the green smooth lawn around the crumpled
victim staining red from the his precious life-blood. Within minutes
Bapu will be dead.
An epoch has 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.
by Louis Fisher
4:30p.m., Abha brought in the last meal he was ever to eat; it consisted
of goat''s milk, cooked vegetables, oranges, and a concoction of ginger,
sour lemons, and strained butter with the juice of aloe. Sitting on
the floor of his room in the rear of Birla House in New Delhi, Gandhi
ate, and talked with Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Deputy Prime Minister
of the new government of independent India. Maniben, Patel''s daughter
and secretary, was also present. The conversation was important. There
had been rumors of differences between Patel and Prime Minister Jawaharal
Nehru. This problem like so many others, had been dropped in Mahatma''s
alone with Gandhi and the Patels, hesitated to interrupt. But she
knew Gandhi''s attachment to punctuality. Finally, therefore she picked
up the Mathama''s nickel-plated watch and showed it to him. "I
must tear myself away," Gandhi remarked, and so saying he rose,
went to the adjoining bathroom, and then started toward the prayer
ground in the large park to the left of the house. Abha, the young
wife of Kanu Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma''s cousin, and Manu, the
granddaughter of another cousin, accompanied him; he leaned his forearms
on their shoulders. "My walking sticks," he called them.
the daily two-minute promenade through the long, redstone colonnade
that led to the prayer ground, Gandhi relaxed and joked. Now, he mentioned
the carrot juice Abha had given him that morning.
you are serving me cattle fare," he said and laughed.
used to call it horse fare, " Abha replied. Ba was Gandhi''s deceased
it grand of me," Gandhi bantered, "to relish what no one
(father)," said Abha, "your watch must be feeling very neglected.
You would not look at it today."
should I, since you are my timekeepers?" Gandhi retorted.
you don''t look at the timekeepers." Manu noted. Gandhi laughed
this time he was walking on the grass near the prayer ground. A congregation
of about five hundred had assembled for the regular evening devotions.
"I am late by ten minutes, " Gandhi mused aloud. "
I hate being late. I should have been here at the stroke of five."
quickly cleared the five low steps up to the level of the prayer ground.
It was only a few yards now to the wooden platform on which he sat
during services. Most of the people rose; many edged forward; some
helped to clear a lane for him; those who were nearest bowed low to
his feet. Gandhi removed his arms from the shoulders of Abha and Manu
and touched his palms together in the traditional Hindu greeting.
then a man elbowed his way out of the congregation into the lane.
He looked as if he wished to prostrate himeself 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.
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.
murmured. "Hey, Rama (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.
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.
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."