January 30 1948, between 5.17 PM and 5.59 PM:
“Who did it?” the question that will be asked by millions of Indians, is what Mountbatten asked when he trotted back to Government building from a horseback ride. Mountbatten was rushed in a car to Birla House. As the crowd was pushing to see what had happened, a man, with anger in his face, screamed hysterically “It was a Moslem who did it.”
A sudden silence froze the crowd. Mountbatten turned to the man ” You fool.” he shouted as loudly as he could, “don’t you know it was a Hindu who did it.”
Seconds later, as they were walking he told Campbell-Johnson he really did not know the identity of the killer,”But if it were really a Moslem, India is going to have one of the most ghastly massacres the world has ever seen.”
The director of All India radio made an extraordinary decision and ordered the stations to continue their normal programming. While the programs continued, the headquarters of police and army command in India communicated via emergency telephone circuits and mobilized their forces in short notice through out India.
January 30 1948, 6.00 PM
At precisely 6.00 PM, an announcement was made in Radio, every word of which has been studied.
“Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi at twenty minutes past five this afternoon. His assassin was a Hindu.”
Mountbatten navigated through the mourning chamber towards Nehru and Patel. He brought them closer and put his arm around each man and told what Gandhi told him earlier that day, “They listen to you more than they do to me. Do your best to bring them together.” “That was his dying wish” Mountbatten told them. Visibly moved by the words, the two grieving leaders fell into an embrace.
With Nehru and Patel’s buy in, Mountbatten started focusing on funeral arrangements, which no one had thought about. He was certain, with India’s size and population, there was only one organization that can manage the crowd- the Military. Mountbatten turned to Nehru and said “You know, you must make an address to the nation. The people will be looking for you to lead now.”
“I can’t” Nehru gasped, “I am too upset. I am not prepared, I don’t know what to say.”
“Don’t worry, God will tell you what to say.” Mountbatten replied.
India responded spontaneously and intuitively. The whole country observed hartal to mourn for Gandhi’s death. In some parts of India,in villages near Delhi, people started walking at night, to reach Delhi in the morning. Hundreds of thousands of people dressed in Gandhi’s white khadi shirt and trousers, started peacefully to wait in line to have a glimpse of their leader.
On the other side of Delhi, a heartbroken man, Nehru with his eyes filled with tears stepped before microphone of All India Radio. As it was on independence day , the words that he was about to utter were spontaneous, but they glowed in unforgettable beauty.
“The light..has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere. Our beloved leader, Bapu, as well called him, the father of the nation is no more. The light has gone out I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was not ordinary light.” In thousand years he predicted ” that light will be seen …the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate present; it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”
With this post I conclude this series on Gandhi’s Assassination. The same thoughts that prompted me to write a history blog, still persists. Indians through out the world need to appreciate their history better, like we see our friends in US and Canada do. History continues to be relegated to optional status in schools, except for occasional commercial movies we hardly hear anything about history in the media. Yes, of course we celebrate Independence day and Republic Day but more needs to be done. We need to fund and encourage history enactments so children grouping up will learn about the struggles that our fore fathers went through. If people appreciate history better, may be the ills in our political class and society today will begin to vanish.
I thank people who have talked to me in Costco and Kohls and other public places about this blog. I one day hope to start another history blog, and I am not sure which time period I’d want to research and write about.
until next time…