Gandhiji carried the burden of humanity on his shoulders and trod the earth
New Delhi, Jan 30 : It is an irony but true that the 20th century's most famous apostle of non-violence himself met a violent end and India lost the living light of the ideals of love and tolerance for which Mahatma Gandhi strove and died.
Perhaps the Mahatma had a hunch about his death. A couple of weeks before his assassination on January 30, 1948, Gandhi had said: "Death for me would be a glorious deliverance rather than that I should be a helpless witness of the destruction of India, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam, and explained that his dream was for the Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Muslims of all India to live together in amity. If I am to die by the bullet of a madman, I must do so smiling. There must be no anger within me. God must be in my heart and on my lips."
After the assassination, then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the nation by radio: "Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father of the Nation, is no more. Perhaps I am wrong to say that; nevertheless, we will not see him again, as we have seen him for these many years, we will not run to him for advice or seek solace from him, and that is a terrible blow, not only for me but for millions and millions in this country."
More than two million people joined the five-mile-long funeral procession that took over five hours to reach Raj Ghat from Birla House in Delhi where he had been assassinated.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel resigned from his office of Home Minister and only after much persuasion from Nehru, he remain in the office. In this letter to Nehru on February 3, 1948, Patel took the responsibility, as the Home Minister, of failure in Gandhi's security and reiterated his resignation.
Interestingly, Patel, the first Indian Deputy Prime Minister, took his objection about Nehru's way of work as the Prime Minister to Gandhiji who asked him to promise that he would never resign from his post. The day Mahatma died, Patel made a promise he never broke.
Describing him as the liberator of the Hindu community, Indian Constituent Assembly President Rajendra Prasad said: "Can we ever dream that Gandhiji was bringing harm to the Hindus or to their religion? Was it ever possible that this liberator of the Hindu community and emancipator of the low and downtrodden could even think of doing so? But men with narrow minds and limited vision who do not understand the core of Hindu dharma thought it otherwise and the present calamity is a direct result of such an outlook."
In a radio address to the nation on the night of January 30, 1948, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee said: "Mahatma Gandhi, as he was known in India, was one of the outstanding figures in the world today. For a quarter of a century, this one man has been the major factor in every consideration of the Indian problem."
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Governor-General and founder of Pakistan, said: "I am shocked to learn of the dastardliest attack on the life of Gandhi, resulting in his death. Whatever our political differences, he was one of the greatest men produced by the Hindu community, and a leader who commanded their universal confidence and respect. The loss of dominion of India is irreparable, and it will be very difficult to fill the vacuum created by the passing way of such a great man at this moment."
Rabindranath Tagore fondly echoed his sentiments: "Mahatma Gandhi came and stood at the door of India's destitute millions, clad as one of themselves, speaking to them in their own language...who else has so unreservedly accepted the vast masses of the Indian people as his flesh and blood...Truth awakened truth."
"He was the only ray of light to help us through these darkest days," said Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan.
"Gandhiji died as the victim of his own principles, the principle of non-violence. With his belief in his heart and mind, he led a great nation on to its liberation. He has demonstrated that a powerful human following can be assembled not only through the cunning game of the usual political maneuvers and trickery but through the cogent example of morally superior conduct of life. The admiration for Mahatma Gandhi in all countries of the world rests on that recognition," observed Albert Einstein.
In its editorial, The New York Times wrote: "It is Gandhi the saint who will be remembered, not only in the plains and the hills of India, but all over the world. He strove for perfection as other men strive for power and possessions. He pitied those to whom wrong was done: the East Indian laborers in South Africa, the untouchable 'Children of God' of the lowest caste of India, but he schooled himself not to hate the wrongdoer. The power of his benignity grew stronger as his potential influence ebbed. He tried in the mood of the New Testament to love his enemies. Now he belongs to the ages."
Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad said Mahatma Gandhi has carried on his frail shoulders a great deal of the burden of humanity, and now it was for people to stand together and share it.
"If millions of Indians could divide that burden and carry it successfully, it would be nothing short of a miracle."
When someone asked George Bernard Shaw about his impressions of Gandhi, the Irish playwright quipped: "You might well ask for someone's impression of the Himalayas."
On his 74th death anniversary, tributes across the globe continue to pour in as his light still burns on for all humanity.
(The writer is a Master in History from the University of Delhi and his views expressed are from the pages of History.)