In the night between August 14 and 15 1947, while Jawaharlal Nehru was making his famous “While the whole world was sleeping…” speech, a 78-year-old frail old man with his entourage was walking along the alleys of what was then Calcutta and pleading with Muslims not to kill the Hindus. “Ill never forget that day. The old man was none other than Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, who led the freedom struggle against the mighty British empire through nonviolent means like Satyagraha and fasts. While the whole world was anxious to know the whereabouts of the man who tamed the British, his self-styled disciples let him down by agreeing to do what he had despised, the partition of India,” says Venkataram Kalyanam, the private secretary of Mahatma Gandhi.
“To me, peace between Hindus and Muslims is more important than the declaration of independence,”
It could be a strange coincidence that Kalyanam was born on 1922 August 15. He shares his birthday, with Indian Independence Day. But Kalyanam, who turns 95 this August 15 never celebrates his birthdays. “There is nothing to celebrate even today after what I have seen in Bengal and Calcutta,” said Kalyanam. He said the general impression is that Mahatma Gandhi was in Naokhali, a province deep inside Bengal on the day India gained independence. “It is not correct. Mahatma Gandhi and his entourage including me had left for Bengal immediately after the breaking out of riots in Calcutta on August 16, 1946, following the Direct Action Day call issued by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The majority Muslim community launched a pogrom by butchering the Hindus which even the Police or Army could not control. The then chief minister of Bengal Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (he was designated as Bengal Prime Minister) had given orders to cleanse Bengal of all Hindus.
The rioters went on a frenzy and killed all the Hindus whom they could lay their hands on. It was Mahatma Gandhi’s pleadings with them which brought the rioting under control,” he said. According to Kalyanam, more than 10,000 persons were butchered and the majority of them were Hindus. “Both Jinnah and Suhrawardy were Islamic fanatics and wanted the Hindus to be killed. They did nothing to stop the rioting. This part of the history will never be written, Had the victims been Muslims, our historians and liberals would have churned out thousands of books by this time,” said a visibly upset Kalyanam.
Gandhi was totally against the concept of dividing India into two nations.
By early January 1947, Gandhiji and his team had reached Calcutta. “Mahatma went on a padayatra all over Calcutta pleading with the Muslims not to kill their Hindu brethren while requesting the Hindus to be restraint in their reactions. He told the community leaders not to avenge the killings but love and help each other,” reminiscences Kalyanam.
He said though Jawaharlal Nehru had asked Gandhiji to return to New Delhi in time for the so called transfer of power, the latter had bluntly denied the invitation. “To me, peace between Hindus and Muslims is more important than the declaration of independence,” Gandhi who was staying at Beliaghata, a suburb 5 km away from Calcutta, told Nehru. Gandhi was totally against the concept of dividing India into two nations. “He was for a united India but Nehru and Jinnah had their own agenda,” said Kalyanam.
Gandhi was successful in restoring peace and normalcy in Bengal. Lord Mountbatten thanked him profusely for the bold act and described Gandhi as a one-man boundary force. “Even if we had sent the para-military forces or the Army, we would not have been able to bring the riots under control. But you were able to do that and I salute you for that achievement,” Mountbatten said in a letter he wrote to Gandhi.
Kalyanam is a treasure house of hitherto unpublished and unreleased information related to India’s freedom struggle. When asked why he was not writing a memoir about his days with the Mahatma, he said in his characteristic style that he is “too small a fry” to venture out for such a mission. “See, I am a small person. My predecessors were Pyarelal and Mahadeo Desai. It was only after their passing away that I was appointed as Mahatma’s private secretary. How can I do something which has not been done by Pyarelal and Desai? They were real Titans who even used to advise the Mahatma,” said Kalyanam.
The name of the person who married Indira was Feroz Ghandy. “How he became Gandhi is a mystery. Mahatma Gandhi had no role in the affair.
Having closely interacted with Jinnah and Suhrawardy, Kalyanam is of the view that both of them were Islamic fundamentalists and Hindu baiters. Kalyanam was the one who took down the Mahatma’s dictation asking for disbanding the Congress party. “Gandhiji had strong reasons for such a demand. The Congress was launched to agitate for Indian independence. It had no other missions. The party could mobilize the countrymen and draw the support of the whole country only because of the cause for which it was fighting. Once the country became free from the Colonial rule, the purpose of Congress too was over. What Gandhi asked the leaders was to disband the organization and set up a Lok Sevak Samithi towards working for the welfare of the whole countrymen,” said Kalyanam.
But the Congress leaders did not heed the suggestion or demand made by Gandhi. “What happened was that under the Congress rule corruption became rampant. I am happy that the government under Narendra Modi is doing well. Modi is proceeding in the right direction,” pointed out Kalyanam.
The current Gandhis are really Ghandys
Kalyanam who turns 95 on this Tuesday (August 15) is disappointed that the new generation does not know much about Mahatma Gandhi. “The Gandhis they know are Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi. Even the middle aged people are of the wrong impression that Mahatma Gandhi had adopted Indira Gandhi and hence the name,” he said. The name of the person who married Indira was Feroz Ghandy. “How he became Gandhi is a mystery. Mahatma Gandhi had no role in the affair. It could have been done by Feroz with some ulterior motives and see for yourself the damage it has done to the Mahatma’s name,” pointed out Kalyanam.
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