” I imagine you believe that he was for the most part adored; in fact he was hated and he is still hated today. Hatred is still alive in India and he died of it. Those who were for mostly from those what is called the scheduled castes, those who belonged to the gutters with whom he had sided. Yet he did not ask anything of anyone; he simply went his own way….But the simple fact that he lived according to his own law—which was ascetic and demanding of himself was something people could not tolerate.” French writer Helene Cixous turns to Gandhi to compare his life with the ways of writing that “may hurt, may dissatisfy and give the feeling that something is taken away.”
Gandhi’s life, like the rigorous writings of Clarice Lispector, Jean Genet or MarinaTsvetaeva was a continuous exercise or struggle to live his life his own way, evolve a living principle which unsettled and embarrassed, again in Cixcou’s words ‘those Bible.’ Gandhi claimed to be a Sanatani Hindu and yet tried to live the life of a “Bhangi.” In fact, his first test of sacredness was the ability to clean night soil of others. Similarly, he befriended the British while fighting against their unjust rule in india reminding them that their stay in India was unethical by their own standards. He was a deeply religious man, refusing to separate politics from religion and yet imagined a nation which was not to be based on the principles of any faith or religion and chose the agnostic, if not irreligious, Nehru as his successor over his other close followers to lead independent India. For this decision his disciples started hating him secretly and still nurse this grudge against him.He declared that India would be partitioned over his dead body and yet after the creation of Pakistan, asked the government of India to honour its commitment by giving Pakistan its share of assets from the treasury of the undivided India.
This is the charge repeatedly bought against Gandhi, even today, that why did he not die for the ‘Akhandata’ of Bharat and why did he keep insisting that Pakistan be dealt with humanly. We are asked to understand and appreciate the decision to put him to death for his stubborn act of trying to help an enemy nation when it was at war with us. There is a widespread feeling that India would have achieved a much neater and cleaner self-identity as a nation, save for Gandhi’s insistence on equal status for Muslims and Christians living in a nation of Hindu majority. Gandhi is blamed for the confused Indian identity, or for making it ‘unclean’.
He had to die then. Just twelve days before his final moments, he had anyway returned from the verge of death. On 18 January, 1948 Gandhi broke the fast, which he had commenced on 13 January, as he could not bear to live in a Delhi where he could move around with ease but his friend Zakir Hussain or Shaheed Suharawardy were not safe. He could not allow his fellow Hindus to take over the properties of Muslims and drive them out, capture mosques and turn them in temples. Idols of Hindu Gods had been placed inside a mosque in Connaught Place and a Tricolor hoisted over it. Khadims of the Mazar of Khwaja Qutubuddin Chishti of Mehrauli had fled. Hatred was flowing on the streets of Delhi.
Gandhi knew that it was a ‘do or die’ moment for him. D.G.Tendulkar write in his masterly biography of Gandhi, “ “ We are steadily losing hold on Delhi,”Gandhi mentioned to a friend. “If it goes, India goes and with that goes the last hope of world peace.” He found that his appeal for peace and understanding had no takers. He felt that he had no other way but put himself on trial once more, this time to protest against the wrong done by his society.
Delhi was sheltering Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan who had lost everything and had suffered the worst kinds of atrocities.To ask them to vacate Muslim properties was an audacious demand. Muslims in Delhi had left their colonies and taken shelter in Purana Quila and Jama Masjid.
Gandhi said, before embarking on what was to be his last fast, “It will end when and if I am satisfied that there is a union of hearts of all communities brought about without any outside pressure but from an awakened sense of duty.” Gandhi was very clear about the nature and objective of his mission. He said that he was fasting on behalf of Muslims in India and Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. Gandhi said that he would rather die than be a helpless witness to the destruction of Hindusim, Sikhism and Islam. This destruction was certain if Pakistan ensured no equality of status and security to people professing various faiths and if India copied Pakistan.
The fast excited passions, which were contradictory. Slogans like Marta hai to Marne do ( Let him die) were heard. He was criticized for undertaking a pro-Muslim fast. Gandhi was unwavering. He patiently dealt with all objections to his fast and said that even if it begets nothing else the fast in itself a reward for him.But it also forced people to look inward and examine themselves.It took five days for representatives from all communities, from different localities of Delhi and the refugee camps to come together and agree on a declaration of communal harmony. It was examined again on 18 January and taken to Gandhi under the leadership of Rajendra Prasad. Gandhi accepted the declaration and broke his fast.
Was there all adoration for Gandhi? The fast did generate lot of good will but also hardened the hatred against Gandhi. A day before his killing a group of refugees came to see him and some of them abused him, holding him responsible for their woes and asked him to leave them to their miseries and retire to Himalayas. Gandhi enjoyed the suggestion but said that his Himalaya was always with him.
Is it surprising that there is no memory of this fast available to us though our school textbooks which shun the mention of his killing by a man, who was not mad at all? Why is it that schools take their young to Rajghat but seldom think of visiting Birla House, where he was killed? It was not surprising at all that when the University of Delhi decided to have a course on him as part of its foundation courses,it very carefully avoided everything which could be linked to his politics and did not even mention the fact of his killing. Is it because the killing of a Hindu by another purer, masculine Hindu embarrasses us? Why have Gandhians been only singing Bhajans on this day and never dare to touch the real issue, the act of killing of Gandhi? Why do not we want to face this moment? Is it because there is no national consensus on how to describe the death? Is it because we want to evade the ‘why’ part of it?
A very, very long time, after his killing, the act of ‘disemboweling’ of Gandhi continues. He is being emptied of everything, which had made him a difficult man.The ‘abominable’ part of him is being removed. We are trying to get rid of the Gandhi who keeps challenging us and want a Gandhi, who with his Bhajans would put us to sleep. But Gandhi was an eternal rebel. This rebellious Gandhi needs to be rescued from the officialisation of Gandhi. As a first step, we need visit the moment of his death and gather the courage to face the ‘Ghost of Gandhi’ who still wanders inside Birla House.