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August 23, 2007 / lazybug

Where was Gandhi on Independence Day?

Surprisingly, this question never occurred to me till today when I read this article. Now I know why in all those images and TV footage of August 15, 1947 at Delhi the old man was no where to be seen. He was in Calcutta reconciling the differences between the warring Hindus and Muslims of East Bengal in his own inimitable way. The article is by Horace Alexander, who happened to be with him on that day when the great man pulled-off another miracle.

A deserted Muslim house was found for the two men in a section of the city called Belighat. On the afternoon of 13th August, I was driven there by an Indian friend, but when we arrived we were met by a crowd of shouting young Hindu men. When we tried to pacify them by explaining that I was a friend of Gandhi, they shouted: “Gandhi go back.” Finally, some of the men came into the house and began to talk with Gandhi. The details of such a talk can be imagined. The young Hindus had been preparing for this day, when they might have a purely Hindu India and when the Muslims would go to Pakistan. An eager young Hindu Congressman had assured me a few days before that he thought it likely that there would be heavy slaughter of Muslims and Hindus immediately after freedom. But Gandhi hoped for something better. He told the young men that this was no way to start India on her life of independence. They should see that India was a land of tolerance and generosity. He sent them home to think it all over.


Towards the end of the prayer time, some of the young Hindu men realised that Suhrawardy was not present, and assumed, rightly, that he was in the house. So they came shouting for his blood. The prayers ended, and Gandhi went to the windows, threw open the shutters and began talking in a low voice to the young men outside. He upbraided them for showing hostility to Suhrawardy. Whatever they thought of his past, he had now agreed to join the effort to bring peace. Then he brought Suhrawardy forward, and stood with one hand over his shoulder. The critical moment came when a young man shouted at Suhrawardy:

“Do you accept the blame for the great Calcutta killing of last year?” [In August 1946, Calcutta had erupted into communal rioting that left at least 4,000 dead, mainly Hindus.]

“Yes,” replied Suhrawardy.” I do accept that responsibility. I am ashamed of it.”

“That,” said Gandhi to me a few minutes later, “was the critical moment. There is nothing more effective than public confession for clearing the atmosphere. In that moment he won them over.”

And even after all this, India was partitioned…

Link via Indiauncut



Leave a Comment
  1. Chittaranjan / Aug 24 2007 8:21 am

    I read at school that Gandhiji was asleep when the Independence declaration was being read at 14th August midnight…

  2. vinay / Aug 24 2007 9:40 am

    Huh! We would have had wasim akram and Imran Khan.

  3. Chittaranjan / Aug 24 2007 1:30 pm

    err…and Mushy (not the spinner :P) and Ul-Haq (not the batsman :P) also

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