New Delhi, 30 January 1948
Three bullets stop Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi as he walks to a public prayer on the lawns of Birla House, New Delhi. His philosopher-grandson Ramchandra Gandhi, then aged eleven, is to put it differently several years later. 'Gandhi stopped three bullets on their deathly trajectory of hate.'
What is the truth? Was Gandhi's work stilled by his assassin or was it sublimated? Was he, from that moment onwards, to morph into a plaster saint or was be to have even greater meaning?
Sevagram, March 1948
Six Weeks no more after the assassination a few men and women gather at Sevagram to search their hollowed hearts and bewildered minds for answers. This is the 'Gandhi family' in its political and constructive aspects. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, wearied by work and care, but with a mind as transparent as it is earnest, has come from the capital. So too has a more self-assured Maulana Azad, education minister. Congress President Rajendra Prasad chairs the deliberations at which a sardonic Acharya Kripalani, a dissenting J.C. Kumarappa, a fresh-minded Jayaprakash Narayan, and an altogether sparkling Vinoba Bhava speak their thoughts with candour, self-criticism, and a refreshing objectivity that does not exempt even their martyred mentor.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would have been central to the proceedings; the illness which was shortly to take his life keeps him from participating. The newly installed governors of states have either not been invited or have not been able to attend. C. Rajagopalchari (West Bengal) and Sarojini Naidu (UP) would have had something unusual to say. Also unfortunate is the absence of some thinkers from the larger Gandhi fold, such as Acharya Narendra Dev, Rammanohar Lohia, and Nirmal Kumar Bose.
Nevertheless the group is stellar. But in a moonless night.
Those gathered are aware that the conference they are attending is the Mahatma's own creation, conceptualized by him and planned right up to the identification of the date. It was supposed to have met on 2 February 1948, attended by Gandhi himself. Rajendra Prasad has recorded: it had been decided that a conference of constructive workers should be called at Sevagram. A date had been fixed for it in the first week of February (1948). Mahatmaji had decided to attend it and was anxious to go to Wardha for the purpose.
The conference, put off to March 1948, meets without the Mahatma. This is that postponed conference. Central to its discussion are the questions: Bapu is gone; what are we to do now?', 'Whom do we go to for the guidance we used to turn for to Bapu?' 'Who is to run the constructive organizations set up by Gandhi, and what are they to do?'
Close to these haunting self-questionings is the realization that fear, fatalistic resignation and inertia are unbecoming is Gandhi's legatees and have to be kept firmly out. A new energy is needed and has to be found generated. To describe the new atmosphere or the ambience for a new energy, Nehru uses the virtually untranslatable Urdu word Fiza more than once. Ideologically charged Gandhians present, like Kumarappa, want this new energy to be suffused with ahimsa and rooted in the village. For them the Congress and the government in Delhi have become one entity and as such are extraneous to their calling.
Bereft but have, Pyarelal reminds the conference of his master's 'Last Will and Testament' in which he had proposed disbanding the Congress and founding a Lok Seva Sangh in its read. The Congress has not acted on the proposal. Should this conference revive the idea and found that organization?
The political and non-political heirs-each one redoubtable in his or her own sphere-discuss the options. Vinoba suggests the formation of a fraternity (the English word 'brotherhood' is used in this predominantly Hindi discussion) of persons who regard themselves as followers of Gandhi. Some think this loose organization will not serve the purpose of guiding those who seek guidance.
The conversation grows from thought to counter-thought, argument to counter-argument. It is decided that a Sarvodaya Samaj be formed. And with some mutations of the idea, the 'Akhil Bharat Sarva Seva Sangh' is born.
The discussions are taken down verbatim, reproduced under the supervision of Dada Dharmadhikari, and circulated to the Sangh's limited circle. And in the form they remain for over five decades.
Armaram Saraogi of the Sarva Seva Sangh (the words 'Akhil Bharat' having been dropped in 1965) brings the record in Hindi, of the 1948 discussions to me to read as 'a most interesting document with great relevance to ur generation'. I go through it, fascinated. He encourages me in my thought that the text can be edited and reprinted in dialogic form, with an English translation.
The product of that exercise, this volume, is dedicated to all those who believe that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's mission on earth cannot be stopped by those three bullets. It needs to go on, be the night moonless and the stars beclouded awhile.
Back of the Book
As India become free on 15th August 1947, and Jawaharlal Nehru became the first prime minister of the country, the larger 'Gandhi family' comprising the political and non-political associates of the Mahatma, needed to think through their future equations. Was a dividing line to be drawn between those who had entered public office and those who continued to do 'constructive work'?
The Mahatma had planned a discussion on this and, in his meticulous manner identified the venue and date for the meeting, which he intended to attend in Sevagram on 2 February 1948.
30 January 1948 intervened
But thanks primarily to Rajendra Prasad and Vinoba Bhave, the proposed conference did take place, after a slight deferment, in March 1948. Without the Mahatma, the meeting acquired a new theme: 'Gandhi is Gone. Who will guide us Now?'
The record of discussions at the conference were typed out for limited circulation amongst the participants. The deliberations were largely in Hindustani, with the subject of India's future lingua franca itself being one of the subjects of discussion.
The record of that conference, unknown to the world until now, forms a fascinating document. Nehru sparkles in it, Vinoba glows, Kumarappa and Kripalani speak out trenchantly. The Gandhian legacy, and how to further it is discussed threadbare from numerous perspectives. Industrialization, militarization, communalism, and the plight of refugees from Pakistan are among the subject discussed.
Published here for the first time sixty years on, the discussions of that conference remain amazingly pertinent, stimulating, and challenging today. This book is indispensable for anyone interested in Gandhi, his legacy, and the history of modern India.
From the Jacket
GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI served in the Indian Administrative Service for twenty-three years, in four diplomatic missions of the Government of India for ten years, and in President K.R. Narayanan's secretariat for two and a half years. He is currently Governor, West Bengal
RUPERT SNELL taught for over three decades at the Hindi Department, School of Oriental and African Studies, London. He is currently at the University of Texas, Austin, working in his chosen fields of language-teaching and medieval literature.
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