Gandhi’s final fast (January 13-18, 1948): On the 70th anniversary to mark this historic protest, The Wire recalls the politics and ideals Gandhi represented and sacrificed his life for.
Below is the full text Mahatma Gandhi’s discourse at the prayer meeting on January 13, 1948, the first day of his final fast. It has been taken from The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.
Brothers and sisters,
Today I may not finish my speech in 15 minutes as usual, as I have much to say.
Today I have come to the prayer meeting because for the first 24 hours after beginning a fast the body does not feel it or should not feel it. I began eating at half past nine this morning. People kept coming and talking to me. I finished eating a little before 11. So I have been able to come to the meeting and this is not surprising. Today I can walk about and sit up and I have also done some work. From tomorrow there will be some change. Rather than coming here and not speaking, I might as well sit in my room and think. If I have to utter the name of God, I can do it there. I therefore feel that I shall not be coming to the prayer meeting from tomorrow. But if you do wish to join in the prayer you may come if you feel like it. The girls will come and sing the prayer. At least one of them will come. I have told you my programme in case you should feel disappointed at my not coming.
I had written down yesterday’s speech and it has been published in the newspapers. Now that I have started my fast many people cannot understand what I am doing, who are the offenders-Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims. How long will the fast last? I say I do not blame anyone. Who am I to accuse others? I have said that we have all sinned. That does not mean that anyone particular man has sinned. Hindus, in trying to drive out the Muslims, are not following Hinduism. And today it is both Hindus and Sikhs who are trying to do so. But I do not accuse all the Hindus and Sikhs because not all of them are doing it. People should understand this. If they do not, my purpose will not be realised and the fast too will not be terminated. If I do not survive the fast, no one is to be blamed. If I am proved unworthy, God will take me away. People ask me if my fast is intended for the cause of the Muslims. I admit that that is so. Why? Because Muslims here today have lost everything in the world. Formerly they could depend on the Government. There was also the Muslim League. Today the Muslim League is no longer there. The League got the country partitioned and even after the partition there are large numbers of Muslims here. I have always held that those who have been left behind in India should be given all help. It is only humanity.
Mine is a fast of self-purification. Everyone should purify himself. If not, the situation cannot be saved. If everyone is to purify himself, Muslims will also purify themselves. Everyone should cleanse his heart. No one should find fault with the Muslims whatever they may do. If I confess before someone that I have done wrong, then it is a kind of atonement.
I do not say this in order to appease the Muslims or anyone else. I want to appease myself which means that I want to appease God. I do not want to be a sinner against God. Muslims also must become pure and live peacefully in India. What happened was that for election purposes Hindus and Sikhs recognised the Muslim League. I shall not go into that history. Then followed the partition. But before partition became a fact the hearts had already become divided. Muslims were also at fault here, though we cannot say that they alone were at fault. Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, all are to blame. Now all of them have to become friends again. Let them look to God, not to Satan. Among the Muslims too there are many who worship Satan. Among the Hindus and the Sikhs many worship not Nanak and other Gurus, but Satan. In the name of religion we have become irreligious.
Since I have undertaken the fast in the cause of the Muslims, a great responsibility has come to devolve on them. They must understand that if they are to live with the Hindus as brothers they must be loyal to the Indian Union, not to Pakistan. I shall not ask them whether they are loyal or not. I shall judge them by their conduct.
Then the name of the Sardar is being mentioned. The Muslims say that I am good, but the Sardar is not and he must be removed. They say that Jawaharlal too is good. They say if I join the Government it will be a good thing. They object only to the Sardar. I must tell the Muslims that their argument serves no purpose, because the Government is the whole Cabinet, neither the Sardar nor Jawahar by himself. They are your servants. You can remove them. Yes, Muslims alone cannot remove them. But at least they can bring to the Sardar’s notice any mistakes which in their opinion he commits. It will not do merely to criticise him by quoting some statement or other he might have made. You must say what he has done. You must tell me. I meet him often and I shall bring it to his notice. Jawaharlal can dismiss him and if he does not, there must be some reason. He praises the Sardar. Then the Government is responsible for whatever the Sardar does. You too are responsible for he is your representative. That is how things go in a democracy. Therefore I shall say that the Muslims must become brave and fearless. They should also become God-fearing. They must think that for them there is no League, no Congress, no Gandhi, no Jawaharlal but only God, that they are here in the name of God. Let them not take offence at whatever Hindus and Sikhs may do. I am with them. I want to live and die with them. If I cannot keep you united, my life is worthless. The Muslims thus carry a great responsibility. They must not forget this.
The Sardar is blunt of speech. What he says sometimes sounds bitter. The fault is in his tongue. I can testify that his heart is not like his tongue. He has said in Lucknow and in Calcutta that all Muslims should live here and can live here. He also told me that he could not trust those Muslims who till the other day followed the League and considered themselves enemies of Hindus and Sikhs and who could not have changed overnight and suddenly become friends. If the League is still there who will they obey, Pakistan or our government? The League’s persistence in its old attitude makes him suspect it, and rightly so. He says that he no longer has faith in the bona fides of the League Muslims and he cannot trust them. Let them prove that they can be trusted. Then I have the right to tell the Hindus and Sikhs what they should do. The song these girls sang was composed by Gurudev. We sang it during our tours in Noakhali. A man walking alone calls to others to come and join him. But if no one comes and it is dark, the Poet says, the man should walk alone because God is already with him. I asked the girls especially to sing this song which is in Bengali. Otherwise they would have sung only Hindustani songs. The Hindus and Sikhs should cultivate this attitude if they are true to their religions. They should not generate an atmosphere in which the Muslims should be compelled to flee to Pakistan. Hindus and Sikhs should become brave and show that even if all the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan were to be killed there would be no retaliation in India. I do not want to live to see our people copy Pakistan. If I am to live I shall ask every Hindu and every Sikh not to touch a single Muslim. It is cowardice to kill Muslims and we must become brave and not cowards.
I shall terminate the fast only when peace has returned to Delhi. If peace is restored to Delhi it will have effect not only on the whole of India but also on Pakistan and when that happens, a Muslim can walk around in the city all by himself. I shall then terminate the fast. Delhi is the capital of India. It has always been the capital of India. So long as things do not return to normal in Delhi, they will not be normal either in India or in Pakistan. Today I cannot bring Suhrawardy here because I fear someone may insult him. Today he cannot walk about in the streets of Delhi. If he did he would be assaulted. What I want is that he should be able to move about here even in the dark. It is true that he made efforts in Calcutta only when Muslims became involved. Still, he could have made the situation worse, if he had wanted, but he did not want to make things worse. He made the Muslims evacuate the places they had forcibly occupied and said that he being the Premier could do so. Although the places occupied by the Muslims belonged to Hindus and Sikhs he did his duty. Even if it takes a whole month to have real peace established in Delhi it does not matter. People should not do anything merely to have me terminate the fast.
So my wish is that Hindus, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Muslims who are in India should continue to live in India and India should become a country where everyone’s life and property are safe. Only then will India progress.