- Bengal and Bihar had suffered severely from the communal strife during the months before the Independence Day.
- The eastern part of Bengal was to be separated from India to become East Pakistan.
- Gandhi had promised the Noakhali Hindus that on the day when freedom and partition came, he would be with the frightened Hindus, who would find themselves living in the Muslim State of Pakistan.
New Delhi: It was after toiling for years that India won its independence from the British Raj and Mahatma Gandhi was a key figure in leading the freedom struggle. The moment when the nation emerged independent was a long-anticipated one. Naturally, when the day arrived, it brought merriment that comes with freedom.
But where was Mahatma Gandhi when the nation broke into a cheer on attaining freedom? Ask Horace Alexander, who was closely associated with the Mahatma, and he would say Gandhi was not the one to take a leading part in the celebrations.
“For what Gandhi did on that day was one of the most extraordinary happenings in his entire life,” Alexander, who authored ‘Gandhi Through Western Eyes’ had said.
On August 15, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi was in Calcutta to bring peace to that great city and to the whole of Bengal, where for over a year, Muslims and Hindus had been thirsty for each other’s blood.
A few weeks before the Independence Day, Gandhi had expected to be in Bihar until a few days before the 15th and then head to Bengal.
Why would the Mahatma spend August 15 in Bihar and Bengal and not in Delhi?
The answer is that these were the two areas that had suffered severely from the communal strife during the months before the D-Day. Part of Bengal was to be separated from India to become East Pakistan.
“In late 1946, in the Noakhali district of East Bengal, Muslims attacked their Hindu neighbours and burnt their houses. Gandhi immediately went there and did his utmost to bring the two communities together again. He tried especially to put courage into the hearts of the Hindus, so that they should return to their villages. But almost immediately after this, in the neighbouring state of Bihar, a large minority of Muslims was even more brutally attacked by their Hindu neighbours. After spending weeks, walking on foot from village to village in the Noakhali district, Gandhi went to Bihar, and did all that he could to give courage to the Muslims and a change of heart to the Hindus. But he had promised the Noakhali Hindus that on this fateful day, when freedom and partition came, he would be with the frightened Hindus, who would find themselves living in the Muslim State of Pakistan,” Alexander wrote.
On the 14th, however, leading Muslims from Calcutta visited Gandhi as he reached the Sodepur ashram and pleaded before him to not go to East Bengal but stay in Calcutta. If there would be peace in Bengal, there would be peace through all Bengal – East and West.
However, Gandhi had pledged to stay by the Hindus of East Bengal on the day of the separation unless the Muslims bosses in East Bengal assured to protect the Hindus. Fortunately, the concerned men did fulfil the promise and Gandhi could stay in Calcutta.
But where and how?
Gandhi had met a Muslim man named Shaheed Suhrawardy, who had just been the chief minister of undivided Bengal and had described the Mahatma as “that old fraud”, to make an attempt to bring peace to Calcutta.
On the evening of 13th, some men realised that Suhrawardy was not at the regular evening prayers at Gandhi’s and came shouting for his blood.
The prayers ended and Gandhi returned to his desk for writing some letters after closing the shutters. But the noises continued. So Gandhi threw open the shutters and began speaking in a low voice. Silence pursued.
Gandhi brought Suhrawardy forward when a young man shouted at him, “Do you accept the blame for the great Calcutta killing of last year?” “Yes,” replied Suhrawardy. “I do accept that responsibility. I am ashamed of it.”
In that one moment Suhrawardy won them over, Gandhi said. “There is nothing more effective than public confession for clearing the atmosphere.”
On the 15th, Gandhi was only concerned that the people of India should put first things first and not turn the day into a mere jollification. Those who were with him would join him in prayers and fasting.
“At every decisive moment in the national life, the appropriate thing was to turn first to God, in thanksgiving that he had brought the country this far on the road, and to pray for the courage and wisdom to continue in the paths of justice and right action.
Fasting was also appropriate, as a reminder that the ‘semi-starved millions’ in the villages could not celebrate by eating more food on that day, however much they might wish to. So, fasting was a reminder that the primary purpose of freedom from foreign rule was to over-come the country’s vast poverty,” Alexander wrote.
Gandhi wanted to remember the poor and the hungry on the first day of our freedom.
The prayers on Independence Day began at 3 am instead of the customary 4 am. Young girls sang songs to the dawn of freedom composed by Rabindranath Tagore.
It was the “miracle of Calcutta” after a year of darkness when the sun was shining again in its full glory. With joy, it was Calcutta on the 15th of August, 1947.
“All Bengal celebrated in peace. Harmony prevailed. Lord Mountbatten, who had joined in the celebrations in Delhi, when he heard of it, spoke of the effective one-man boundary on the importance of Suharwardy’s contribution, and called it the ‘two-men boundary force’.
Not a single incident of violence was reported that day or the next few days. But Gandhi being the Mahatma that he was, insisted it was anything but a miracle.
The views expressed by the author are personal and do not in any way represent those of Times Network.