Saturday, January 30, 2010



Precisely at six o’clock in the evening, on January 30, 1948, All India Radio announced: "Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi at twenty minutes past five this afternoon. His assassin was a Hindu."
The Mahatma was shot in the gardens of Birla Mandir, in the presence of about one thousand of his followers whom he was leading to make his daily evening devotions. Dressed, as always, in his khadi dhoti and leaning heavily on a stout walking stick, Mahatma Gandhi was only a few feet from the Mandir when the shots were fired. He crumbled instantly, putting his hands to his forehead in the Hindu gesture of forgiveness to his assassin. Three bullets penetrated his body, one in the upper right thigh, one in the abdomen, and one in the chest.

India was plunged into sorrow. All over India the news spread like wildfire. Minutes later, in Bombay rioting broke out. In Delhi, in the fast-gathering gloom of the night, the news set the people on the march. They walked slowly down the avenues and out of the squalid bazzars, converging on Birla House. Thereby the thousands they stood weeping silently, moaning and wailing.
Above the vast plains, the fields, the cluttered slums, writhing jungles, the air was crystal clear. The mantle of India’s night, the fine haze of the cow-dung fires burning in a hundred millions hearths, had disappeared. To mourn the Mahatma, those hearths were cold.

From the beautiful mansion to the wretched slums, the people wept. Calcutta’s great maidan was almost empty. Through its streets a barefoot sadhu, his face smeared with ashes walked crying: "The Mahatma is dead. When comes another such as he?"
There were grave fears, heightened by the savage outbreaks in Bombay, that without her saint to hold passions in check, all India might be whirled into strife.

In New Delhi, a heartbroken man found in the depths of his sorrow the words that he had despaired of finding. Jawaharlal Nehru’s eyes were filled with tears as he stepped before the microphone of the All India Radio. The words he was about to utter were spontaneous, but they glowed with unforgettable beauty.

"The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere", he said. (Perhaps, an unconscious imitation of Homer’s: "The sun has perished out of the heavens"). "The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light".
"In a thousand years", Nehru predicted, "that light will still 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."

The light whose disappearance Nehru mourned belonged to the rest of the world, too. Messages of condolence poured in from every corner of a shocked globe. Mahatma Gandhi’s first political rival, Field Marshal Smuts, sent a simple tribute: "A prince among us has passed". At Vatican, the Pope Pius XII paid tribute to the Mahatma as "an apostle of peace".

It was the irony of fate that one whose life was directed against violence should be snuffed out by the forces of violence. "It shows how dangerous it is to be good", was George Bernard Shaw’s reaction to the news of the assassination.
"Just an old man in loin cloth in distant India", commented Louis Fischer. "Yet, when he died, humanity wept"
In a moving editorial the New York Times wrote: "…the saint who will be remembered, not only on the plains and in the hills of India but all over the world. He strove for perfection as other men strive for power and professions. He pitied those to whom wrong was done: the East Indian labourers in South Africa, the untouchable ‘children of God’ of the lowest caste in India, but he schooled himself not to hate the wrongdoer…Now he belongs to the ages".

Appropriately in the vast outpourings of tributes, Indian newspapers themselves produced the most memorable testimonial of all. Several of them left their editorial pages blank ringed by a black border.

Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi on 30 January 1948 and he was tried and executed. But almost everyone, who holds authority now in India and speaks untruths is a co-assassin with Godse, though not tried and convicted. Everyone in power who misleads the country away from freedom – political, economic, cultural and social – for which Gandhiji stood all his life, is an uncovicted abettor of Godse. Every dishonest man, either in business or in government, is a co-assassin with Godse. Everyone who utilises power for personal or party advantage is a Godse.
Everyone who gives or receives a bribe is an unconvicted Godse. Every hypocrite in public life puts a knife into Gandhiji’s side. Father, forgive us.

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