Segaon: Symbol of Services
The village of Segaon near Wardha in which he settled down was to become Sevagram, the village of service. His simple mud hut was a landmark; it drew the lofty no less than the lowly, seeking guidance, a formula for peace among individuals, societies, nations; His benign presence was a benediction.
Temples of Learning and of Love
In October 1936, Gandhiji went to Banaras, but on a different sort of pilgrimage. He met Madan Mohan Malaviya, founder of the Hindu University, a temple of learning. But Gandhiji inaugurated there the Bharat Mata Mandir, the temple of love. Symbolic of his faith in the future, he planted a mango tree.
India is a Village
To Gandhiji the real India was rural India. The event of the year 1936 was the Faizpur Congress in village settings, starting, the mode for the future. Nandlal Bose of Shantiniketan toiled to protect rural culture. Seeing it, deeply impressed, Gandhiji wrote "The heart, having got a little, hankers for all".
The Great Proclamation
1937 opened with Gandhiji's going on another pilgrimage, this time to the South. The Temple Proclamation of Travancore had thrown open the Ananda Padmanabha temple to Harijans. Gandhiji hailed it as an "act of God". At Kanyakumari, where "three waters meet and furnish a sight of unequalled in the world", he performed ablutions.
Congress in Power
Congress came into power in seven provinces, rejected Federation, demanded a constituent assembly. Through "Harijan" Gandhiji spoke for the new era. In October 1937, he enunciated his concept of a new education. Staying with Subhash Bose in Calcutta at A.I.C.C. time, Gandhiji strove for the release of political prisoners.
Rest and Recreation
Poor health compelled Gandhiji to seek rest, relaxation at the Juhu beach. But, back in Sevagram in January 1938, politics pursued him; Congress ministries in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar had resigned. The issue came up at the Haripura Congress. With his usual solicitude, Gandhiji inspected a rural crafts show.
On Many Fronts
At Haripura, President Subhash Bose prayed that Gandhiji may be spared for keeping the Independence struggle above bitterness, hatred, for humanity's sake. Gandhiji arduously worked for political prisoners of the frontier where Badshah Khan had wrought the miracle of converting warlike Pathans into non-violent Khudai Khidmatgar.
The Frontier Tours
In the Frontier Province, Gandhiji saw, at prayer meetings and others, perfect discipline, orderliness, the virtue of silence. It renewed his faith in non-violence, of which he repeatedly spoke to the Khudai Khidmatgars. He saw Badshah Khan's handiwork every where, paid him tribute as a "man of God". The two came closer.
The Fiery Ordeal
1939 saw Gandhiji face a fiery ordeal; the ruler of Rajkot had committed a breach of his promise of constitutional reforms to the people. After fruitless negotiation, Gandhiji resorted to fasting, breaking it only when, aware of country-wide emotion, the Viceroy intervened, to ask the Chief Justice of India to adjudicate.
Within and Without
Before the Tripuri Congress, Gandhiji was busy in Delhi discussing with Working Committee members and Jawaharlal Nehru, his trusted guide, in international problems. The Egyptian Wafd delegation to the Congress called on Gandhiji, assured him of fraternal sympathy and good wishes in the freedom struggle.
"Tripuri a Preparation, Rajkot a Skirmish"
Congress met at Tripuri in March 1939 without Gandhiji who was convalescing after the fast. In April he had a series of interviews with the Viceroy over the State problem. The Rajkot award was issued on April 4; the Viceroy wrote, assured Gandhiji of its full implementation. But Gandhiji saw trouble ahead.
Crucial Time Ahead
Gandhiji perceived in the Rajkot Award the taint of coercion and renounced it. Rajkot had robbed him of youth. His addressing a Women Graduates' Convocation at Bombay was the calm before the storm. In august 1939, seeing the gathering war clouds, the Working Committee declared its opposition to imperialist war.
Compassion for all living things was Gandhiji's characteristic, whether it was a new-born calf or leprosy-stricken-Parchure Shastri at Sevagram. He founded the one, tended the other. Keenly aware of the need to adopt a rational, common sense approach to leprosy, he even interested himself in studying the causes.
Kamala Nehru Hospital
Gandhiji had considered multiplication of hospitals as an evil symptom of modern civilization. But the diseases had to be helped. And so, he gladly laid the foundation stone of a hospital at Allahabad in memory of Kamala, Nehru's beloved wife.
A Sacred Pledge
1940: Independence Day: Gandhiji explained the significance and clarified role of students. In February, after fruitless talks with Viceroy, Gandhiji saw widening gulf between Britain and Nationalist – India, during a visit to Shantiniketan, he pledged support to Tagore's truly international creation, the Vishva Bharati, "the vessel carrying the cargo of his life's best treasure".
At Ramgarh Congress, Gandhiji spoke of every Congress Committee as a Satyagraha-Committee. Britain suffered grave reverses in the war. As a test of her good faith, Gandhiji demanded freedom to preach against war and participation in it. In October, with Gandhiji's blessings, Vinoba initiated the Satyagraha followed, after his arrest, by Jawaharlal Nehru. Soon thousands were in jail.
In December-1940, Gandhiji published a small, 25 page booklet "Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place", in the achievement of non-violent independence, a dynamic document and covering every important aspect of the country's social and economical life. The Working Committee, Meeting at Bardoli, absolved him from leadership, leaving him free for constructive and anti-war work.
The Voice of Conscience
Suspended when organising and conducting the Civil Disobedience movement, the Harijan group of weeklies resumed publication: Gandhiji used them as forum for the discussion of the problems thrown up by the war: week after week appeared articles on subjects like: "Price Control", "Plea for Calmness", "Desirability of Exodus", "Scorched Earth", etc.
In March 1942 Cripps came to India with an offer repeating the promise of a constitution making body after the war till then demanding effective execution of the war against the threat of mounting disaster in Asia, consequent of Japan's entry into the arena. Gandhiji described the offer as a postdated cheque; appealed to the British to withdraw from every Asiatic and African possession, at least from India. In other words: "Quit India".
Gandhiji appealed to Chiang-Ki Shek, President Roosevelt to see the truth behind his "Quit India" call to the British. In the first week of August, he groomed the historic "Quit India" resolution at the BOMBAY A.I.C.C. "The freedom of India must be the symbol of and prelude to the freedom of all other Asiatic Nations…" Patel, Azad, Nehru lent eloquent support to the plea. Government's reply to Gandhiji's call of "Do or Die" was to unleash brutal violence, arrest leaders, rank and file.
Country in Revolt
India, deprived of her leads, whisked away to an unknown destination, replied to the organised violence of the British bureaucracy by denying cooperation be they acts of sabotage of railways, communication… The people believed sanction for this lay in some instruction linked up wrongly with Gandhiji: the Government replied with a heavy hand…
"Do or Die"
At the historic "Quit India" A.I.C.C. Session in Bombay, on August 8 1942, Gandhiji asked the country to be ready to "Do or Die". Government unleashed repression, arrested Gandhiji and other leaders at dawn, whisked them away to an unknown destination. A few days later Mahadev Desai, Gandhiji's Secretary, dearer than a son, died at Aga Khan Palace.
Kasturba Passes Away
Aga Khan Palace was to be more than a prison, a Place of Pilgrimage. For here passed away Kasturba on Mahashivratri day, February 22 1944. She had been the image of the noblest among Indian womanhood: simple, self denying, loyal: Gandhiji mourned the loss of a life long companion who had shared his battles, been unto him like a shadow.
Release from Ordeal
Jail life this time had been an agony. Bearing the cross, Gandhiji sought through a series of letters to vindicate himself against the charges of the bureaucracy which held him responsible for disturbances in the country. He accused it of hasty and leonine violence, went through the ordeal of a 21-day fast. Released, he recouped his shattered health at Juhu, hallowed by his prayer meetings.
Gandhiji met his colleagues during the Working Committee meeting in June 1945, which supported Congress participation in the Simla Conference: but the conference broke down. He toured Bengal, visited Shantiniketan to lay the foundation of the Deenabandhu Memorial Hospital. Andrews on his death bed, had told Gandhiji, "Mohan, I see Swaraj coming".
During his tour of South India, Gandhiji's preoccupation was with the Rasthrabhasha: Hindustani; he presided over the Convocation of Hindi Prachar Sabha, he explained at a Worker's Conference the place of spinning in relieving-tress. Visiting the Meenakshi temple, he explained the implication of removal of untouchability.
Transfer of Power
The Country had passed through the crisis of the Bengal famine. The Labour Government in Britain sent a mission to India to discuss transfer of Power. Talks and conferences were held, but the problem remained unsolved. At last the Cabinet Mission announced its own plan, set a date for transfer of Power. The Congress accepted Interim Government, the Muslim League kept out.
Mission of Peace
The Muslim League declared "direct action", in Calcutta ran rivers of blood due to communal strife. Noakhali caught the virus. From Calcutta, after the miracle of his fast had restored peace there, Gandhiji went to Noakhali to restore harmony, to wipe the tear from every eye. He went from village to village on his mission of peace.
The lonely pilgrim of peace at Noakhali was passing through his finest hour, when he rose to his full stature as a humanist, above all politics and creeds. His doctrine of Ahimsa was being put to its severest test; he even confessed his own failure in applying it and his groping for light. Nehru, who came to him in this hour of agony, could not change Gandhiji's determination to "do or die" in Noakhali.
Dark Clouds Ahead
After the epic tour of Noakhali, the call came from Bihar: The mission too was the same: restoring of peace to the land of Janaka and Tulsidas. With Badshah Khan Gandhiji toured troubled Bihar, bringing new hope and courage to the refugees, visiting ravaged homes and persuading the fleeing folk to return, pledging his own life for their safety. Portents came from Delhi of danger ahead.
The Message of Asia
Gandhiji met the Mountbattens for the first time in March 1947. The Asian Relations Conference provided him with an opportunity to remind representatives of Asia about her message of the Atom Bomb. Asia, the cradle of religions, had, through her great teachers, showed the path of wisdom.
Brotherhood of man
Asian delegations called on Gandhiji during this time for a message of hope: Tibetans, Arabs, Jews, Indonesians, Vietnamese, Burmese tendered him their respect. All got the same counsel: the message of Buddha. Fraternization and not strife; non-violence and not violence, thus the sage spoke while he spun.
In August 1947, the fateful month, the call again came to Gandhiji to visit Noakhali on the eve of Independence. But Gandhiji tarried at Calcutta to "pour water over raging fires". He held talks with Suhrawardy and others for bringing peace to a tormented city. On the midnight of 14th, India awoke to "Life and freedom", as Nehru said when taking the pledge.
Gandhiji strove hard to bring relief to the uprooted and homeless refugees wherever they were massed in camps; visiting them and talking to them about their grievances; at Kurukshetra, Hardwar, Purana Quila. For the first time, in November 1947 he was persuaded to broadcast to the refugees from All India Radio Station in Delhi.
The National tricolour at last flew on the historic Red Fort as Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose had once planned. But the country had been deprived and left a legacy of hatred, bitterness and feuds resulting from partition, which were soon to flare up in another form. Besides, the refugee problem, involving millions of people on the move, overshadowed all other problems.
Gandhiji had visited Jammu and Kashmir in August 1947. Communal harmony prevailed there and Gandhiji believed that it would be a lesson to the whole of India. But soon that fair land was to suffer fire and rapine, invaded by raiders from across the border, inspired, instigated and led by Pakistan. Kashmir had acceded to India and the latter was bound to defend it.
Fasting for communal peace
Communal frenzy enveloped the capital of India too and for some time complete lawlessness prevailed. Gandhiji saw that he had no choice but to resort to the last weapon in the armoury of Satyagraha. He under-took a fast until communal amity was restored. It stirred the conscience of all communities, and the leaders met and signed the pledge for communal peace.
Touched to the quick by Gandhiji's ordeal, India gave the 55 crore cheque to Pakistan which it had withheld. This and Gandhiji's solicitude for the Muslim minority, part of his broad humanity, roused fanatical Hindu hatred. At an evening prayer, on January 20, a bomb exploded, damaging a wall. The would be assassin was arrested, but released at Gandhiji's insistence. Gandhiji would have no security measures around and on the prayer ground.
The Final Act
January 30 1948: the evening temple bell and the mezzin's voice call the faithful to prayer. Bapu wended his way to the prayer ground. A man steped forward, pretending to offer obeisance. Gandhiji saluted him. Three shots rang out. Bapu fell, still smiling, with the words "Hey Ram" on his lips. They took him into the house. The light that had led India for decades was extinguished, Nehru broadcasted. A gloom darker than darkness descended on the world.
The World Mourns
They kept the last vigil over the mortal remains of a man who had shed the fear of death and defied all vigilance to protect him. Tired of fraternal strife, where brother killed brother he had invited death as a long lost friend. It had come, making of him a martyr, the like of whom the world sees once in ages. The United Nations lowered its flag.
The Last Journey
They carried him through a million-strong crowd of weeping men, women and children. To all of them he was Bapu, father, in an almost personal way. He had so long dominated the country's landscape and life that he was part of it, and it was impossible to think of them without his uplifting, elevating benevolent presence. To the world at large India was always the land of Gandhi.
"Bapu Amar Hogaye"
He was laid on a pyre of sandalwood and roses. But little did he need their fragrance whose own aroma would persist till the end of time as the world's gentlest, kindliest leader of men whose sanction was only love. High and low, royalty and commoner grieved as the flames consumed the earthly tabernacle of great soul. And none more disconsolate and orphaned than his political heir, Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Holy Ashes
They gathered the ashes and filled urns with them and carried them in procession. Thousands filed past showering flowers on the ashes of one who, in life, had wanted none of them, refusing all adoration and honours. He claimed to be no more than the least among them, made of the same flesh and blood. Yet he had a spark of divinity that distinguished him from all the rest.
To the Sangam
The urns were transported over thousands of miles covering the land, as in life he had done in countless journeys to his people, his tireless feet worn out in the pilgrimage of their service. And wherever the flower bedecked train halted, once again the multitudes teemed in as they had done before, shouting "Mahatma Gandhi Ki Jai".
Consignment to Holy Waters
And at Prayag, the confluence to Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati, the Triveni, Jawaharlal Nehru and Devdas Gandhi consigned to the holy waters the ashes which rendered them holier still. And so the ancient tradition of the last Teerthan Sanskar, speeding the soul to Moksha, was completed for a man who saw and sought no Moksha except in the salvation of people.
The World's Homage
And at Rajghat men and women of all nations came to pay their silent homage to a man who was no royalty, whose universal mind went out across narrow barriers of race and country, who belonged to no single nation though they in India called him the Father of the Nation, who stood for all mankind and all that was noble in the human spirit. And they planted the saplings of plants and trees from all climes. "Let the winds of all cultures blow around me", he had said.
And over the simple earthen mound where his body had rested on its last bed and where the ashes had mingled with the elements of the earth, the men whom he had led to freedom in the unique bloodless way, paid homage to the Master; scattering flowers. Chanting the hymns of all religions to him whose highest religion was the love of man.
He had believed not in palaces and mansions; he had lived among the hovels of the lowliest and the lost. He had wanted no statues, no memorials built to him. He little needed homage and hallelujahs. And yet they built around the little earth of his cremation, a Mausoleum.