'Was Gandhi a Mahatma’? This is a question that has been studied in detail.
But was Bapu the father of the Muslims in partitioned India? We haven't discussed this much despite the fact that Bapu gave up his life for the community that was looking orphaned following the blunder called partition.
We are celebrating the 65th Republic day today. And it is a great time to reflect upon the past to see how Mahatma Gandhi enriched the nation with his own blood.
Without him, we wouldn’t have got our strength to overthrow the British and without him around, the nation wouldn’t have got the secular and democratic set up that we now treasure so much. And above all the minorities in the country wouldn’t have enjoyed the freedom they do now in the country.
The communal flare up the nation witnessed before and after the partition on 15th August 1947 was unprecedented. There was hatred in the air. Stench from this hatred was more widespread than the stench of burning and looting that was rampant throughout the nation, especially in northern part of the country.
The riots before the partition in Noakhali, Bengal, Bihar, Garhmukteshwar and Meerut had prepared an atmosphere conducive to more violence and hatred as the Partition neared. And when the partition was actually announced and India and Pakistan became two different entities with different people at the helm, the violence was let lose almost everywhere from Baluchistan and Western Punjab to Eastern Punjab, Haryana and in the heart of the capital, Delhi.
Many Muslims now believe that the community was safe in Delhi and surrounding areas due to the fact that some top Congress leaders including Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmad Qidwai and nationalist Muslim leaders like Syed Husain Ahmad Madani stayed back. But to be true it will be utter nonsense to believe that it were these leaders who patronized and saved the community in the midst of the frenzy and savagery that ran amok across the region. Neither Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a former Congress president nor nationalist Muslims like Syed Husain Ahmad Madani were able to give solace to the community or come to its rescue at this time of need and calamity.
There was only one person who could have changed the course of the event and brought sanity. And to be true it was neither Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru or for that matter Sardar Vallabhai Patel who could stand firmly and save the fellow countrymen from killing and looting.
It was none other than Mahatma Gandhi the man who had won people’s deepest love and respect after selfless services for the nation. This man had never sought anything for himself or his kin, but had given whatever he had to the humanity, to the nation and above all had won the nation its freedom after every possible sacrifice.
When Gandhiji came to Delhi in the beginning of October, most of the Muslims in the capital had taken shelter in several huge ‘refugee’ camps. Only in the Walled City or Shahjahanabad, where they felt safe, did they live in their houses. At least two camps housed around one lakh people each and the life there couldn’t be described in words. If there could be hell on earth, it was that hell - except security, there was nothing.
But when the messiah arrived and started a fast for bringing safety to Delhi, things began getting back to normal. Killings and looting stopped and the dargahs that were destroyed were rebuilt by those people who had destroyed them.
There was demand that Delhi Muslims’ properties be taken over by the Custodian of Evacuee Property in Delhi as they were living in ‘refugee’ camps.
In his book Memory’s Gay Chariot: An Autobiographical Narrative, GD Khosla a, Lahore High Court judge who was appointed Custodian of Evacuee Property in Delhi, documents how Gandhiji stood his ground and didn’t allow the Muslims properties to be distributed among refugees coming from Pakistan.
Khosla writes that he went to Gandhiji and said, “Muslims in the Old Fort camp have no wish to stay in this country. They told me, when I visited them that they would like to go to Pakistan as soon as possible. Our own people are without houses or shelter. It breaks my heart to see them suffering like this, exposed to the elements. Tell me, Bapuji, what should I do?’
Had Gandhiji given his consent by just a single nod, things would have been different. But Mahatma told Khosla, “When I go there, they do not say they want to go to Pakistan…they are also our people. You should bring them back and protect them’.
This is not the only thing. His open anti-communal rhetoric against communal forces that were fanning the fire of hatred had infuriated them so much that they tried several times to assassinate him, finally succeeding on 30 January 1948 to take the noble soul of Bapuji. This was the saddest day in the history of the independent India.
Though communal forces took his life, the community he protected like its true father failed to fully appreciate his contribution in surviving the partition and its aftermath. Many still give credit to Maulana Azad, Dr Zakir Hussain, Rafi Ahmad Qidwai and other Muslim stalwarts of the time who were staunchly opposed to the partition being their saviours. But that is not true. The man who was their real benefactor and saviour was Bapu.
Not just that he protected the Muslims in his life, his assassination and martyrdom for the nation brought the warring Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs together. He was a uniting force in his life and a uniting force after his martyrdom.
The nation, and Muslims more than anyone else, must be thankful for a selfless soul like Bapu for the secular and democratic power that Indian nation has evolved into.
Syed Ubaidur Rahman is a New Delhi based writer and commentator. He has written several books on Muslims and Islam in India including Understanding Muslim Leadership in India. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org