At the stroke of midnight on 14 August 1947, India’s who’s who were celebrating, and Jawaharlal Nehru’s name is inextricably attached to the Freedom At Midnight speech. But a few leaders were conspicuously missing from the Delhi celebrations. Others were not even alive to see the fruition of their struggles for freedom and were sorely missed.
Skipping Delhi’s jamboree
M.K. Gandhi, widely regarded as the ‘Father of the Nation’ after Subhash Chandra Bose first addressed him with the title in a radio broadcast in 1944, was in Calcutta on the day India became independent. The ‘One Man Boundry Force’, as Viceroy Lord Mountbatten called Gandhi, had invested himself completely in dousing the communal fire in the city. Former president of the Indian National Congress, Acharya Kripalani, a Gandhi associate from the days of the Champaran movement in Bihar (1917), was also in Calcutta, missing the celebrations in Delhi.
Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as ‘Frontier Gandhi’, was completely detached from the celebration as his North-West Frontier Province became part of Pakistan. When the decision of Partition was accepted by the Congress, he complained with deep sorrow that you have thrown us to wolves. (Khudai Khidmatgar, the Gujarati translation of Abdul Ghaffar Khan’s autobiography, p.191)
Another prominent figure who stayed away from the celebrations was Madeleine Slade. Born into a British family of aristocrats, she came to India and became a close aide of Gandhi, adopting a new name Miraben. She was working in the hills near Hrishikesh but had decided not to go to the plains until the celebrations were over. (Ek Sadhikani Jeevanyatra, the Gujarati translation of Miraben’s autobiography, p.265)
Not alive to see the dream
Among the patriots who was not alive to see India celebrate independence was ‘Netaji’ Subhash Chandra Bose. Gandhi was a lonely man in Bose’s Kolkata. He had lost Kasturba, his life partner for 62 years, in 1944 while serving his prison term at Aga Khan jail in Pune. Mahadev Desai, who was Gandhi’s indispensable secretary, had passed away in the same prison in August 1942.
When Gandhi was released in 1944 on medical grounds, he had two of his closest associates cremated in the same British prison. One more associate of Gandhi, his ‘fifth son’ Jamnalal Bajaj, could not live to see India independent either.
A Raibahadur of the British empire, Bajaj joined Gandhi’s cause and was instrumental in bringing him to Wardha in Maharashtra, which was to eventually become Gandhi’s base. It was on Bajaj’s insistence that Gandhi started an ashram at Sewagram near Wardha. Bajaj passed away in 1942 at the age of 53.
By the time Gandhi joined the freedom movement, the renowned troika of Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal were already active. But they died in the 1930s. So had the champions of liberal politics like Gopal Krishna Gokhale, C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru, and Vithalbhai Patel. Some of them — like Pal — were detached from the movement and were forgotten even before their death.
Madam Bhikaiji Cama, the revolutionary freedom fighter whohad hoisted the Indian flag at Stuttgart in Germany, died before she could witness the unfurling of the Indian tricolour at the Red Fort. During the final years before her death in 1936, Cama had stayed away from the freedom movement. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of the Banaras Hindu University, and the current BJP favourite, departed in 1946 when negotiations for independence were still on.
Others who passed away in the 1930s include: progressive Muslim leaders like M.A. Ansari, who had held the post of Congress president, and Abbas Tyabji from the celebrated Tyabji family, who started his career as a judge in Baroda — only to abandon it and join the independence movement.
Then there was one of the oldest associates of Gandhi from his days in South Africa, C.F. Andrews. A missionary, a teacher of philosophy at Delhi’s St. Stephen’s, Gandhi would address Andrews as Charlie in their correspondence and signed himself as Mohan. When C. F. Andrews, popularly known as ‘Dinbandhu’ (brother of the poor) died in 1940, India’s independence was not even on the horizon.
Poetry of Independence
Two of the greatest poets of the 20th century could not live to see India gain independence. Muhammed Iqbal, who penned ‘Saare Jahan Se Achha’ and later became a votary of Pakistan, died in 1938, before he could see his dream of Pakistan become a reality.
Rabindranath Tagore represented the other end of the segment of Gandhi’s association with celebrated poets, notwithstanding his uncharitable views on nationalism and some of Gandhi’s actions. He departed in 1941, much before his ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was adopted as the independent India’s national anthem.
Famous Gujarati poet Zaverchand Meghani, appreciated by both Gandhi and Tagore, passed away just months before the Independence Day, in March 1947. A littérateur with seminal contribution in Gujarati, his poetry ‘Chhelo Katoro Zer No Aa Pee Jajo Bapu’ (Please consume this last shot of poison, O Bapu) depicted Gandhi’s agony perfectly when he headed for second Round Table Conference in 1931.
One could also say that all these dignitaries were spared witnessing the violence when their dreams of an independent India became a reality in 1947.
The author is a senior columnist and writer based in Ahmedabad. Views are personal.