Trigger against the father of a nation

Why was Mahatma Gandhi, who propagated ahimsa, assassinated?

by Harbhajan Singh

Why was Mahatma Gandhi, who propagated ahimsa, responsible for India attaining Independence, and revered by most Indians and the world, assassinated?

Punjab and Bengal, two Muslim-majority provinces with sizeable Hindu and Sikh population, were bifurcated on the eve of our Independence. Punjab had 44%-47% non-Muslim minorities. The pre- and post-Independence violence was so vicious that it amounted to ‘ethnic cleansing’. According to Sir Evan Jenkins, the last British Governor of Punjab, some 5,000 fatalities had taken place till August 4, 1947, in the state. From August 15 to December 31, 1947, those figures shot up between 5 lakh and 8 lakh.

As per a study by Ishtiaq Ahmed, titled, The Punjab Bloodied, Partitioned and Cleansed, in March 1947, Muslims started large-scale violence, mainly against Sikhs, but also against Hindus, in the Muslim-majority districts of northern Punjab (Jhelum, Rawalpindi, etc). Yet at the end of that year, more Muslims had been killed in East Punjab than Hindus and Sikhs together in West Punjab.

I was 15 years old, living in Lahore, when the Partition took place. My father, a gazetted officer in undivided Punjab, opted to stay on in Pakistan as our lands were in the area likely to be awarded to Pakistan. He was posted to Mianwali towards the end of July 1947. When he realised that living in Pakistan Punjab would be unwise, based on atrocities being committed on Hindus and Sikhs, he changed his mind. When horror stories of inhuman atrocities came to be known, these were retaliated in kind in East Punjab. People on both sides went berserk. Thousands of Hindus and Sikhs became refugees, lost everything and reached Delhi. Communal riots started there too.

Gandhi could not bear these happenings and went on a fast. He made speeches during his daily prayer meetings against the riots and killings. However, he seemed more critical of Hindus, especially Sikhs, than Muslims. Even as a child, I clearly remember this aspect. This created resentment among a section of the non-Muslim population.

My father was in the civil supplies department and posted at Ferozepur. He had to ensure that adequate foodgrains were made available to refugee camps in which Hindus and Sikhs had taken shelter, and Muslims awaiting evacuation to Pakistan were accommodated. He was provided a duly requisitioned bus of the Malwa Bus Service. (This service used to run buses to Lahore from Ferozepur and nearby towns every day before Partition.)

On January 30, 1948, he took me along while visiting Muktsar. As we alighted from the bus, his assistant posted there told him that ‘Mahatmaji had been killed’.

Our first thought was that hopefully, the assassin was not a Sikh. We were relieved to know that he was not.

While many studies have been undertaken and books written on Gandhi’s assassination — and the RSS blamed — the fact mentioned above may have been the final trigger.

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