Remembering Mahatma Gandhi’s final fast: Examine your own conscience and purify your own self

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Remembering Mahatma Gandhi’s final fast: Examine your own conscience and purify your own self

Gandhi’s final fast (January 13-18, 1948): On the 70th anniversary to mark this historic protest. Let us recall the politics and ideals Gandhi represented and sacrificed his life for.

Below is the full text of Mahatma Gandhi’s discourse at the prayer meeting on January 15, 1948, the third day of his final fast. It has been taken from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.

Brothers and sisters,

This is a new experience for me. I have never so far had occasion to convey my word thus to the people. I cannot go to the prayer ground and my voice from here cannot reach you. Even so, I thought that if you could hear my voice you would feel reassured. I have already dictated what I have to say. I do not know how long this state will continue.

My request to you is that none of you should think what another is doing, but each of you should examine your own self and purify yourself to the extent you can. I am convinced that if people in large numbers purify themselves it will do them a lot of good and it will also do me good. India then will benefit and maybe I shall be able to give up my fast sooner. Let no one be concerned about me. Let everyone be concerned for himself. You must give thought to the progress of the country and the welfare of the people. In the end, all men have to die. He who is born cannot escape death. Why then should we fear death or grieve over it? It is my belief that death is a friend to whom we should be grateful, for it frees us from the manifold ills which are our lot.

Newspapermen sent me a message two hours after my prayer speech of last evening, asking to see me as they had some doubts to be cleared. After a heavy day’s work, I felt disinclined out of exhaustion to see them for discussion. I, therefore, told Pyarelal to inform them to excuse me and further tell them that they should put down the questions in writing and send them to me next morning. They have done so.

Q. You have undertaken the fast when there was no disturbance of any kind in any part of the Indian Dominion.

A. What was it if it was not a disturbing disturbance for a crowd to make an organized and a determined attempt to take forcible possession of Muslim houses? The disturbance was such that the military had to reluctantly resort to tear-gas and even to a little shooting if only in the air, before the crowd dispersed.

It would have been foolish for me to wait till the last Muslim had been turned out of Delhi by subtle undemonstrative methods, which I would describe as killing by inches.

Q. You have stated that you could not give any reply to the Muslims who came to you with their tale of fear and insecurity and who have complained that Sardar Patel, who is in charge of the Home Affairs, is anti-Muslim. You have also stated that Sardar Patel is no longer a “yes-man” as he used to be.

A. These factors create the impression that the fast is more intended to bring about a change of heart in the Sardar and thereby amounts to a condemnation of the policy of the Home Ministry. It would be helpful if you can clear the position.

As to this, I feel that my reply was precise, not admitting to more interpretations than one. The suggested interpretation never crossed my mind. If I had known that my statement could bear any such interpretation, I would have dispelled the doubt in anticipation. Many Muslim friends had complained of the Sardar’s so-called anti-Muslim attitude. I had, with a degree of suppressed pain, listened to them without giving any explanation. The fast freed me from the self-imposed restraint and I was able to assure the critics that they were wrong in isolating him from Pandit Nehru and me, whom they gratuitously raise to the sky. This isolation did them no good.

The Sardar has a bluntness of speech which sometimes unintentionally hurts, though his heart is expansive enough to accommodate all. Thus my statement was meant deliberately to free a lifelong and faithful comrade from any unworthy reproach.

Lest my hearers should run away with the idea that my compliment carried the meaning that I could treat the Sardar as my “yes-man”, as he was affectionately described, I balanced the compliment by adding the proviso that he was too masterful to be anybody’s “yes-man”.

When he was my “yes-man”, he permitted himself to be so named, because whatever I said instinctively appealed to him. Great as he was in his own field and a very able administrator, he was humble enough to begin his political education under me because, as he explained to me, he could not take to the politics in vogue at the time I began my public career in India. When power descended on him, he saw that he could no longer successfully apply the method of nonviolence which he used to wield with signal success.

I have made the discovery that what I and the people with me had termed non-violence was not the genuine article but a weak copy known as passive resistance. Naturally, passive resistance can avail nothing to a ruler. Imagine a weak ruler being able to represent any people. He would only degrade his masters who, for the time being, had placed themselves under his trust. I know that the Sardar could never betray or degrade his trust.

I wonder if, with knowledge of this background to my statement, anybody would dare call my fast a condemnation of the policy of the Home Ministry. If there is any such person, I can only tell him that he would degrade and hurt himself, never the Sardar or me. Have I not before now said emphatically that no outside power can really degrade a man? Only he can degrade himself.

Though I know that this sentence is irrelevant here, it is such a truth that it bears repetition on all occasions. My fast, as I have stated in plain language, is undoubtedly on behalf of the Muslim minority in the Union and, therefore, it is necessarily against the Hindus and Sikhs of the Union and the Muslims of Pakistan. It is also on behalf of the minorities in Pakistan as in the case of the Muslim minority in the Union. This is a clumsy compression of the idea I have already explained. I cannot expect the fast taken by a very imperfect and weak mortal, as I truly confess I am, to have the potency to make its proteges proof against all danger. The fast is a process of self-purification for all. It would be wrong to make any insinuation against the purity of the step.

Q. Your fast has been undertaken on the eve of the meeting of the United Nations Security Council and so soon after the Karachi riot and Gujrat massacre. What publicity the latter incidents received in the foreign Press is not known, but undoubtedly your fast has overshadowed all other incidents and Pakistan representatives would not be worth their past reputation if they do not seize the opportunity to declare that the Mahatma has undertaken the fast to bring sanity among his Hindu followers, who have been making the life of the Muslims in India impossible. Truth takes a long time to reach the four corners of the globe. But in the meantime, your fast may have the unfortunate effect of prejudicing our cause in the eyes of the United Nations.

A. This question does not demand or need any elaborate answer. From all I have known of the powers and peoples outside India, I make bold to say that the fast has created only a healthy impression. Outsiders who are able to take an impartial and unbiased view of what is happening in India cannot distort the purpose of the fast, which is meant to bring sanity to all those who inhabit both the Union and Pakistan. It is impossible to save the Muslims in the Union if the Muslim majority in Pakistan do not behave as decent men and women. Happily for the cause, the Muslims of Pakistan, as Mridulabehn’s inquiry of yesterday made clear, have become wide awake to a sense of their duty. The United Nations know that my fast aids them to come to a right decision and to give the right guidance to the two newly-made Dominions.

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