Gandhiji: Untold tales
RANDOR GUY writes of an unsuccessful British plan to banish Gandhi.
THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY
Gandhiji at Presidency jail ... a thorn in the flesh of the British Raj.
MAHATMA GANDHI to be banished? Fanciful fiction? Sounds incredible? And yet not so! Indeed it remains one of the untold tales of Indian History of the 20th Century. Since Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned from South Africa, he began to climb the peaks of public adulation to be hailed as "Mahatma" and the "Father of the Nation". Along with others, he led the Indian Freedom Movement to its final fruition on August 15, 1947. Responding to his call, Indians irrespective of caste, creed or community rallied behind him. Thus he became a thorn in the flesh of the British Indian government. Using non-violence and "Fast unto death", he generated enormous public response, which scared the British.
The British Indian Government was on tenterhooks monitoring every political move of Gandhiji. This reached a peak in August 1942 when he launched the historic "Quit India" Movement leading to the arrest of all the top leaders of the Indian National Congress and also to violence resulting in destruction of public property. These destructive activities disturbed the powers not only at Delhi but also at London. So they began to think seriously of removing the main man from India, which they thought, would result in the collapse of the unrest in India.
The decision taken at the highest level at London and Delhi was to banish Mahatma Gandhi to a destination beyond the reach of the other leaders already in prison, and also the masses. Without Gandhi to inspire them, the British rulers thought that the masses would be leaderless.
Many options were seriously discussed and the top British Indian bureaucrats made many suggestions. The United States was mentioned only to be rejected because the then President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was highly sympathetic to the India's fight for freedom and was persuading the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill to reconcile himself to granting freedom to India. Latin American countries like Mexico, Brazil and Argentina were also considered but, much to their surprise, the British rulers learnt that he was well known in that part of the world and the sympathies of the common man lay with Mahatma Gandhi and India.
Some members of the British cabinet suggested Greece and then Barbados in the West Indies, then part of the British Empire. Barbados was not favourable because the West Indies had a sizeable Indian presence to which Gandhiji was already a cult figure.
Two other issues that stopped the British government from seriously going ahead was the problem of Hitler's War, and Mahatma Gandhi's frail health.
Finally, the British had no choice but to give up the idea of banishing Mahatma Gandhi. The entire operation was kept a close secret and only the publication of the papers of the Transfer of Power brought it all to light.
Another untold story lies in the plan of Lord Linlithgow, then Viceroy of India and his Executive Council at Delhi regarding the disposal of Mahatma Gandhi's body in case he died during one of his "fasts unto death". In early 1940s, during one such fast, his health began to deteriorate and the Viceroy was worried that he might die as a prisoner of His Majesty. One member of the Executive Council remarked that the death of Gandhi should be kept a secret for six months and then announced. The body could be taken away and buried or burnt in secret in some unmarked place.
Perhaps the unkindest cut came from an Indian member of the Viceroy's executive Council who seriously suggested that the Viceroy and his team should ignore Gandhi and allow him to die because, according to him, the country would be better off without Gandhiji! Interestingly, Gandhiji and his political tools of protest came in for sharp criticism by distinguished personalities like Sir C. Sankaran Nair, and G. S. Arundale of the Theosophical Society, Madras. In one article, Arundale (husband of Kalakshetra's founder Rukmini Devi) described Gandhi as "the evil genius"!
In the famous "Rajaji Defamation Case", a Justice Party bigwig and noted editor of Sunday Observer, Madras, P. Balasubramania Mudaliar actually charged Rajaji with conspiring with Gandhi to cause the violence of 1942. In his editorial he wrote, "Mr. Gandhi, the Fountain Source of Evil!" Rajaji took Mudaliar to court for defamation! Well, that's another story....
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