Nehru's Word: Musings on parting with Gandhi-ji’s ashes

"It is the duty of all of us to fight the poison of hatred and ill will that led to this tragedy"

The funeral procession for Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi on  31 January 1948. Gandhi had been shot dead by Nathuram Godse the day before (photo: National Herald archives)
The funeral procession for Mahatma Gandhi in New Delhi on 31 January 1948. Gandhi had been shot dead by Nathuram Godse the day before (photo: National Herald archives)

Jawaharlal Nehru

30 January 2024 marked 76 years since the man whom Jawaharlal Nehru called "the greatest Hindu" was assassinated. The man whose last words were "Hey Ram". A man who interpreted Ram Rajya as symbolising a just society, in which there is no discrimination.

It is pertinent to revisit the ideals of that man who shunned power like his revered Ram once did, at a time when Ram’s name is being (mis)used for preserving and acquiring political power.

The translated extracts below are taken from a speech delivered by Jawaharlal Nehru on 12 February 1948, to a gathering of more than a million people, who watched the immersion of Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes at the Sangam in Allahabad.

The last journey has ended. The final pilgrimage has been made.

For over 50 years, Mahatma Gandhi wandered all over our great country from the Himalayas and the North-West Frontier Provinces to the Brahmaputra in the North-East to Kanyakumari in the far South. He visited every corner of this country, not as a mere tourist but for the purpose of understanding and serving the Indian people.

Perhaps no other Indian in history has travelled so much, or got to know the common people so well, and served them so abundantly. And now his journey in this world is over, though we have still to continue for a while.

Many people are moved to grief, and this is proper and natural.

But why should we grieve? Do we grieve for him or for something else?

In his life, as in his death, there has been a radiance that will illumine our country for ages to come. Why then should we grieve for him? Let us grieve rather for ourselves, for our own weaknesses, for the ill will in our hearts, for our dissensions and for our conflicts.

Remember that it was to remove all these that Mahatma-ji gave his life. Remember that during the past few months, it was on this that he concentrated his vast energy and service. If we honour him, do we honour his name only or do we honour what he stood for, his advice and teachings, and more especially what he died for?

Let us, standing here on the banks of the Ganga, search our own hearts and ask ourselves the question: how far have we followed the path shown to us by Gandhi-ji and how far have we tried to live in peace and cooperation with others? If even now we follow the right path, it will be well with us and well with our country.

Our country gave birth to a mighty soul and he shone like a beacon not only for India but for the whole world.

And yet he was done to death by one of our own brothers and compatriots. How did this happen?

You might think that it was an act of madness, but that does not explain this tragedy. It could only occur because the seed for it was sown in the poison of hatred and enmity that spread throughout the country and affected so many of our people. Out of that seed grew this poisonous plant.

It is the duty of all of us to fight this poison of hatred and ill will.

If we have learnt anything from Gandhi-ji, we must bear no ill will or enmity towards any person. The individual is not our enemy. It is the poison within him that we fight and which we must put an end to.

We are weak and feeble, but Gandhi-ji’s strength passed to us also to some extent. In his reflected glory, we too gained in stature. The splendour and the strength were his, and the path he showed was also his. We stumbled often enough and fell down in our attempts to follow that path and serve our people as he wanted us to serve them.

Our pillar of strength is no more.

But why do we say that? His image is enshrined in the hearts of the million men and women who are present here today, and hundreds of millions of our countrymen who are not present here will also never forget him. Future generations of our people who have not seen him or heard him will also have that image in their hearts, because that image is now a part of India’s inheritance and history.

Thirty or forty years ago in India began what is called the 'Gandhi Age'. It has come to an end today.

And yet I am wrong, for it has not ended. Perhaps it has really begun now, although somewhat differently.

Thus far, we have been leaning on him for advice and support. From now onwards, we have to stand on our own feet and rely on ourselves. May his memory inspire us and his teachings light our path. Remember his ever-recurring message:

Root out fear from your hearts, and malice. Put an end to violence and internecine conflict. Keep your country free.
Mahatma Gandhi

He brought us to freedom and the world marvelled at the way he did it.

But at the very moment of gaining our freedom, we forgot the lesson of the Master.

A wave of frenzy and fanaticism overtook our people and we disgraced the fair name of India. Many of our youths were misled and they took to wrong paths. Are we to drive them away and crush them? They are our own people and we have to win them over and mould them and train them to right thought and action.
The communal poison, which has brought disaster upon us, will put an end to our freedom also if we are not vigilant and if we do not take action in time.
Jawaharlal Nehru

It was to awaken us to this impending danger that Gandhi-ji undertook his last fast two or three weeks ago. His self-crucifixion roused the nation’s conscience and we pledged before him to behave better. It was only then that he broke his fast.

Gandhi-ji used to observe silence for one day in every week. Now that voice is silenced for ever and there is unending silence.

And yet that voice resounds in our ears and in our hearts, and it will resound in the minds and hearts of our people and even beyond the borders of India, in the long ages to come. For that voice is the voice of truth, and though truth may occasionally be suppressed, it can never be put down.

Violence for him was the opposite of truth and therefore he preached to us against violence not only of the hand but of the mind and heart.

If we do not give up this internecine violence and have the utmost forbearance and friendliness for others, we are doomed as a nation.

The path of violence is perilous and freedom seldom exists for long where there is violence. Our talk of Swarajya and the people’s freedom is meaningless if we have internal violence and conflict.


Selected and edited by MRIDULA MUKHERJEE, former professor of history at JNU and former director of Nehru Memorial Museum & Library

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