From Lal Qila Nehru was telling that we are Free, Where was Mahatma Gandhi on 15 August, 1947?

On 15 August Gandhi marked the day with a 24 hour fast, prayer, and spinning yarn.
On 15 August Gandhi marked the day with a 24 hour fast, prayer, and spinning yarn.

“In concrete terms, the independence should be political, economic and moral.”

–Gandhi (Harijan, May 5, 1946)

When the flag was raised on a free India on August 15, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi was not a part of the celebrations and he did not want to be. In many ways, the “victory” to him was hollow. Partition was taking place, India and Pakistan were being divided along a somewhat arbitrary border by an English general who had little knowledge of the culture, and tensions were rising between Hindus and Muslims. The BBC and other news agencies came to him for a statement, and he kindly, but flat out refused to say a word about it.

What did he do on this day? He worked. He spent the day fasting and spinning. Instead of celebrating ‘Independence Day’ he celebrated ‘Mahadev Desai Day’ for it so happened that his secretary of 25 years, Mahadev Desai, had shed his body on the 15th of August, 1942 while imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace.

Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi

In honour of Desai, one of his most faithful friends and colleagues, the morning prayer ceremony included a full recitation of the Bhagavad Gita. And remember, it is the Gita that reminds us that we must be detached from the fruits of our actions, for we otherwise become entangled in the results and are unable to adequately address the challenges that lie ahead. Not to mention, such triumphalism has the power to humiliate others and create more tensions.

Gandhi was not easy to please because he was not satisfied with superficial changes. For him, nonviolence has to go beyond any elections–it must be fully integrated, as he said, “economically, politically and morally,” which will, if we look at it squarely, take lifetimes–or generations (depending on your worldview!). It was a cause of no small sorrow to him that so many were pacified at mere political independence when there was more work to be done.

He looked at the road and challenges ahead straight on and kept right on working, but escalating the work to match the escalating tensions that were ready to explode. He had not lost his faith in nonviolence; any faith he had had in politics alone to solve essential problems was lost a long time ago.

Gandhi refused to participate in any festivities – along with his protege Abdul Ghaffar Khan, he was the last person to fight Partition till the very end. “I cannot rejoice on August 15. I do not want to deceive you. But at the same time, I shall not ask you not to rejoice. Unfortunately, the kind of freedom we have got today contains also the seeds of future conflict between India and Pakistan. How can we, therefore, light the lamps?” Gandhi had said in July.

On 9 August, Gandhi arrived in Calcutta (as Kolkata was known then) with plans to move to Naokhali (now in Bangladesh) – a district torn by communal massacre and violence. In Calcutta, leading figures urged Gandhi not to continue to East Bengal. They felt if Gandhi could bring peace to Calcutta, peace would be restored in all of Bengal.
Gandhi then decided to stay at Hyderi Manzil, close to a Muslim dominated slum called Miabagan. There, he received hundreds of visitors and held prayer meetings. There were constant protests of “Gandhi go back” outside, as some felt Gandhi unduly sympathised with Muslims.

He spent the day fasting and spinning. Instead of celebrating ‘Independence Day’
He spent the day fasting and spinning. Instead of celebrating ‘Independence Day’

From 13 August onwards, Gandhi began efforts to personally pacify people from either community and urge them to end the violence. On many occasions, angry mobs refused to bow down, but Gandhi continued his efforts. Within days, the result was visible for everyone to see. Lord Mountbatten, noting this, wrote “In Punjab, we have 55 thousand soldiers and large-scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal, our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting.”

On 15 August Gandhi marked the day with a 24 hour fast, prayer, and spinning yarn. “My way of celebrating great events, such as today’s, is to thank God for it and, therefore, to pray,” he wrote to his Quaker friend Agatha Harrison. When C Rajagopalachari visited and congratulated Gandhi for restoring peace in the city, Gandhi said he will not be satisfied “until Hindus and Muslims felt safe in one another’s company and returned to their own homes to live as before.”

Gandhi had further planned to travel to Delhi, then move on to Punjab, and eventually to Lahore, and thus bit by bit bring peace to the entire country. Sadly, what eventually ended the violence was the shock and horror of Bapu’s murder.


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