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13. Bapu's Remarkable Achievement
We were at Calcutta with Bapu at the time of the attainment of freedom after years of slavery.
The Hindus of Noakhali feared an outburst of disturbances on the 15th August 1947, and hence Bapu went to Calcutta from Kashmir to reach Noakhali on that day.
At the time he reached Calcutta, there was an outburst of communal violence there and so Shri Prafulla Ghosh, the then Prime Minister of Bengal, asked him to stop there for two days. He agreed to do so. Though the outrage took a turn for the worse in Calcutta he decided to adhere to his original programme to go to Noakhali; and we packed up accordingly. But just then Shri Shaheed Suhravardy came to see him and said, "You please proceed to Noakhali after you have quelled the riots in Calcutta. Nobody but you can quench the fire that is aflame here." Bapu replied, "I cannot do anything single-handed. I am prepared to be your secretary; but as I have promised to go to Noakhali. I ought to proceed. However, I am prepared to stay here and quell the riots, provided you take up the responsibility for Noakhali. But tor bringing peace here you shall have to stay with me all along and live like a fakir."
After thinking for a while Shri Suhrawardy said, "All right, I shall send a man to Noakhali and try my best." Bapu said, "Trying your best won't suffice. You give me your answer after mature consideration; because, just as, I have said that I shall go on a fast unto death if anything happened in Bihar, so also I shall be justified in taking the same course for Noakhali if further disturbances lake place there."
These talks were held on the 13th August. How cleverly Bapu can find a way out! He put all the responsibility for the outrage at Noakhali and for future peace on the people there and so Shaheed Saheb was baffled for a while. For him it was not a difficult task; for responsible Muslims of Noakhali, who had charges brought against them, had been acquitted, and were used to obeying Shaheed Saheb. Bapu had indeed a wonderful method of getting work done by the guilty person himself, by putting all the responsibility for future good behaviour on him. Thus he would venture to hand over all that he had to a servant who daily stole and in this manner appeal to the best in him, and awaken his sense of honour and responsibility.
The next day Shaheed Saheb came with his group. Ail of them promised, "We will see that there is perfect peace in Noakhali and we will be on the guard to prevent future trouble. But you please stay here." Thus Bapu accomplished his work in Noakhali without stirring out of Calcutta. Mus­lims went to Noakhali and offered every kind of help to Hindus in order to allay their fear Suhrawardy Saheb agreed to stay with Bapu day and night. They both agreed not to have any interviews without the presence of the other and to issue joint statements only. On the 14th afternoon we went to stay in Haidari Mansion, Beliaghata, where Muslims dared not go.
The building was very dirty and we had not experienced such inconveniences as we did here, even in the Noakhali tour. There was only one room and numerous people came for darshan. Bapu could not get even a moment's peace. Some young men were angry with him on the day we went to stay there. They said, "You are an enemy of the Hindus. You have come here only because a few Muslims have been killed the last three or four days. Where were you up till now?" Bapu smiled in reply and calmed them down by saying. "You are all youths. But to me you are like children. Even my youngest son Devadas is older than everyone of you. Why can't you realize that I, a Hindu by birth, a Hindu by action, can never be an enemy of the Hindus? Who was it but I that went to Noakhali? I was going there today too. I want help from you. I can't do anything single-handed. It is in your hands to be either protectors or destroyers. If you destroy trie I do not mind. I am old. I don't wish to live long. I have served enough. I have come here merely to explain and calm you down if I can. I am a servant of both Hindus and Muslims. To me all religions are the same. Now see, have I not arranged for permanent peace in Noakhali, even from here?" He then told them how Shaheed Saheb had joined him in this work.
Could it have been a premonition when he said, "It is in your hands to be either protectors or destroyers?" For in the end it was the Hindus who turned out to be his destroyers!
Those young men were pacified and they themselves then began to spread Bapu's message of peace. And in Calcutta,
which was till then the scene of mutual slaughter between Hindus and Muslims, people of both the communities came together in a lorry to Bapu, with sky-rending shouts of Hindu Muslim Bhai Hain (Hindus and Muslims are brothers), Hindu Muslim Ek Ho (Let Hindus and Muslims unite), at 11-30 p.m. i.e. just half an hour before the clock ushered in the day of freedom. This noisy atmosphere of warm fraternization continued for the whole night. Bapu could not get a wink of sleep, as not only men but also women and children of both communities came together to him as if for darshan of the father of their freedom, and as if begging forgiveness for their misdeeds and vowing not to behave so in the future. So at any rate it appeared. Every city celebrated this great day with blazing lights, processions, etc. but Bapu's way of celebrating it by creating permanent Unity within half an hour, surpassed them all. And ever since there has not been any serious untoward incident in Noakhali. Bapu's workers are there now as they were then.
Bapu had asked us to fast that day but I objected and said, "Bapu, shouldn't you give us sweets today?" To that he replied, "You know that I ask you to fast on occasions like marriage, birth or death and especially so on auspicious occasions. Besides, from today we shoulder a great burden of responsibilities. Just as when we fast on ekadashi (a holy day) our minds are drawn more towards devotion, so also we shall become more conscious of our responsibilities by observing a fast on this day. Moreover, the spinning wheel is the weapon of freedom and we can hardly afford to forget it. The observance of silence is equally important, for through it we pray to the Almighty to keep us always awake to our responsibilities. All this is necessary to save us from pomp, luxury and pride when we get power. From today we should become more and more humble."
Bapu's face was serene. Within half an hour he had brought about an unimaginable change in the whole atmosphere and yet there was not even an iota of pride in him. On the contrary he said, "What can any man do single- handed? Why do you congratulate me alone? This achievement is due to the co-operation of all of you."
Bapu and the rest of us observed the day by spinning and a fast. He addressed all the local Ministers who had come to him for his blessings, "You see, from today onwards you wear a crown of thorns. Even after getting power you should remain as simple as you are today. Take care that pride does not possess you; for power is a great allurement. Don't go in for pomp and luxury. Do not be tempted by the glamour of authority. Set an example to the public by your simplicity, humility, non-violence and tolerance. Villages have to be uplifted. The down-trodden have to be raised. Never give up truth. Now starts your real test. During the British days, in a sense, there was no test for you; but from today a series of tests begins. May God give you complete success in them!"
The 15th August, 1947 was a Friday and it was on a Friday that he died as a victim to a Hindu's fury. It is our fault that he is no more with us to advise us! Let us remember his wise words and pray to God to give us strength to follow them, as a means of repentance for that crime of murder committed by us on him.