‘The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere.’
(Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, in a broadcast on the death of Gandhi, 70 years ago.)
The assassination of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known to many as Mahatma – “great soul” – on 30 January 1948, brought thousands to the streets of New Delhi in silent mourning. He had been shot at point blank range by a young Hindu, Nathuram Godse, who held Gandhi responsible for the partition of his country. Gandhi had in fact been a passionate supporter of a united India, and believed it would be a serious error for the British to partition the country. The mourners included Mountbatten, then Governor General, and his wife Edwina, both of whom subsequently attended Gandhi’s funeral.
This photo, from Mountbatten’s papers, dates from his first meeting with Gandhi, prior to Partition, on 31st March 1947. As newly appointed Viceroy, Mountbatten embarked on a series of interviews with Indian leaders, details of which were recorded as soon as they were completed. According to his biographer, Mountbatten was “fascinated and delighted” by Gandhi’s personality – and they met again on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd April at Viceroy’s House:
Mountbatten’s papers include conference papers, minutes of meetings and records of the interviews which took place over the following months, as well as his official correspondence as Viceroy.
On 2 June 1947, Lord Mountbatten’s plan for Partition was presented to the Indian leaders. Immediately afterwards, he had a meeting with Gandhi and, apprehensive of the disruption that his opposition might cause, was enormously relieved that he chose not to break his day of silence. To the Viceroy’s amazement, Gandhi wrote on the back of some envelopes:
“I am sorry I can’t speak. When I took the decision about the Monday silence I did reserve two exceptions, i.e. about speaking to high functionaries on urgent matters or attending upon sick people. But I know you don’t want me to break my silence.”
Independent India and Pakistan came into being on 14/15 August 1947.
The assassination of Gandhi in January 1948 tested the character of the new India. ‘The father of the Indian nation’, he had not invented the nationalist movement, but he had shaped it into a force that was wholly different from any other anti-colonial struggle faced by the British. As his biographer notes, he remains “an international symbol and inspiration… a towering figure of the twentieth century.”