It was November 12, 1947, when Mahatma Gandhi was coming to All India Radio studios for the first time. He was to make an address live over radio to more than two lakh refugees from Pakistan gathered at a camp in Kurukeshtra, 177 kms Northwest of Delhi. A special address for Gandhi was organised by AIR from its studios where an ambience of a prayer meeting was created. A report on this event published in the issue of' 'The Indian Listener' of February 22, 1948, after Gandhi's death, reads, “A special studio was fitted with the 'takhposh' (low wooden settee) which was daily used by him for his prayer meeting addresses at Birla House.” Appropriately, the prayer meeting atmosphere was created in the studio. MK Gandhi arrived at 3.30 pm in the Broadcasting House accompanied by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur. On reaching the studios Gandhi said about radio, “It is a wondrous thing. In it I see Shakti; the miraculous power of God.”
He spoke for 20 minutes in which he appealed to the refugees to face their suffering “with as much fortitude and patience” as they could summon. He said, “Today is Diwali day but there can be no lighting of chirags for you or for anyone. Our Diwali will be best celebrated by service of you and you will celebrate it by living in your camp as brothers and looking upon everyone as your own. If you will do that you will come through victorious.”
That was Mahatma Gandhi’s first and last visit to AIR or Broadcasting House.
At the Kurukshetra Refugee Camp, a day before, an announcement was made that Gandhi would be going there. Among lakhs of refugees in Kurukeshtra was a nine year old boy Jagdish. Jagdish Batra, now a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, recalls that everyone was eager to meet Gandhi and tell him about the sufferings they had undergone. But soon there was another announcement. This time that he would not be going due to certain unavoidable reasons and would instead be addressing them through AIR. Everybody was disappointed, so was Jagdish, who like many children his age looked forward to meeting Gandhi. Mr. Batra says that a big Murphy radio was kept on a table and a loud speaker was placed in front of it so that everybody could hear what Gandhi had to say. A photograph of Mahatma Gandhi was also kept on a chair.
Although Gandhi visited AIR only once, All India Radio played the recordings of his post prayer speeches at Birla House from the third week of September, 1947 till 29 January 29, 1948, a day before he was assassinated. KD Madan, a young Programme Officer was assigned the task of recording the Mahatma's post-prayer speech every evening. AIR would then broadcast the speech at prime time – 8.30 pm -- on its national network ahead of the national news which followed at 9 pm.
Mr Madan says that in those days voice recording was a tedious process and was done on unwieldy presto discs 16 to 18 inches in diameter. Birla House (now known as Gandhi Smriti) about 3 to 4 miles away from the Broadcasting House situated at Parliament Street which housed the studios of AIR. The speech would, in the first instance, be carried by telephone lines to the studios of AIR, and recorded in the control room for subsequent broadcast.
Like every other evening, on the fateful evening of January 30, 1948 too, Mr. Madan was there. Recalling the day he says, “I was preoccupied alternately checking the recording equipment one moment and turning my gaze the next moment towards the garden path leading from the main house to the lawn along which Gandhiji was slowly approaching. I recall his coming up the two steps from the garden-path onto the raised lawn with his two hands resting on the shoulders of his grand-nieces Abha and Manu, one clad in a khadi sari and the other in a khadi salwar kameez. The next instant, I again turned to check the microphone for the last time. I had not completed the check when a gunshot rent the air. I first thought someone had burst a firecracker or, maybe, thrown a crude bomb, like the one someone had thrown 10 days earlier from behind the rear wall. But barely seconds later another shot rent the air and I sensed what had happened. Shoving aside the equipment, I ran towards the direction of Gandhiji. At that instant, I saw a man dressed in khaki pull the trigger for the third time from barely a few feet. In a moment Gandhiji fell pulling down Manu and Abha with him as he slumped. Both were sobbing. The weapon in the assailant’s hand was emitting a thin streak of smoke."
It was legendary broadcaster of All India Radio, Melville De Mellow who gave a moving description of Gandhiji’s funeral in a marathon live commentary articulating the nation's grief and homage to the Father of the Nation.
On November 12, 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gandhi’s first and only live broadcast on All India Radio in 1947, a special commemoration was held at Broadcasting House. Three years later in 2000, November 12 was declared as the Jan Prasaran Diwas (Public Service Broadcasting Day) to commemorate Gandhi’s first and only live broadcast on All India Radio in 1947. Suhas Borker, Convener, Jan Prasar, who conceptualized the Jan Prasaran Diwas says Gandhi’s life and work symbolise all the elements of public service broadcasting and therefore it is most appropriate to commemorate his first and only live broadcast on AIR, as Jan Prasaran Diwas.
The AIR Archives Library preserves a separate collection of Mahatma Gandhi’s speeches including his first and the last prayer speeches recorded on May 11, 1947 at Sodepur Ashram, Kolkata and January 29 at Birla House, Delhi. The only broadcast by Gandhi from AIR Delhi on November 12 is also preserved. There are 147 speeches of Gandhi available in the AIR Archives.