Independence and all that followed
I went to the DAV School just a month before Independence. We in Gwalior were not much sensitized about Independence and so when it was upon us there was not much of enthusiasm about it either among friends or even at my new school. My father was, however, excited about the occasion. He was a nationalist from his boyhood days during the first decade of the 20th Century when probably every boy or a young man in Bengal, particularly Calcutta, was swept into the bandwagon of freedom movement spearheaded by the “Swadeshi Movement”.
For the Independence Day my father went out to buy red cloth to be wrapped around the steel pipes that supported the tin shed on the front verandah. He also bought multi-coloured paper for making buntings. His stock of framed photos of national leaders came in handy for giving the whole effort the air of the struggle for freedom. The table lamps of brass that we had were used to good effect during the dark hours of the night. While the two older brothers were not overly concerned father managed everything with the help of us three younger siblings. Whosoever passed by had appreciation for the way the verandah was decked up, more so for the spirit behind it. They had obviously noticed that none except father had gone out of the way to celebrate Independence from the British regime spending money from his modest resources for ‘merely’ the idea of freedom from foreign rule. And come to think of it, it was basically a middle class locality of educated people and yet the I Day came and went by without any impact on them. What was perhaps very strange was that our next door neighbour whose father soon was to be anointed Congress president allowed the event to pass by without so much as a faint recognition.
Momentous incidents soon followed. When Gandhi came back from Bengal in September 1947 Delhi was reeling under communal violence. While Hindus and Sikhs were agitated for the way their friends and families were being massacred in Pakistan the Muslims of Delhi lived in constant threats of being killed so much so that even Dr. Zakeer Hussain, later to become president, escaped a bid on his life with the help of a Sikh and a Hindu friend. As the passions were so much aroused even Gandhi’s tempering influence did not have any impact. That is when in January 1948 Gandhi decided to go on a fast unto death. In the mean time in October 1947 Pakistan muddied the waters by supporting aggression by North Western tribal people to wrest Kashmir away from India in a move that sought to preempt the Maharaja’s decision to merge his state with India.
What followed soon was more devastating. On 30th January 1948 Gandhi was shot dead by Nathu Ram Godse for his pro-Muslim stance. I still remember the banner headlines of Amrita Bazaar Patrika that said “Gandhi Crucified by Fanatics”. As he opened the newspaper I saw tears in my father’s eyes. He had seen Gandhi from very close quarters when he escorted the former to East Bengal (now Bangladesh) in a boat about a hundred years ago. The entire country was in shock.
Even we adolescents felt our hair stand on end as Mahatma Gandhi’s remains were taken round the city with a life-sized cutout of his photograph. The truck carrying it had a handful of singers who sang “Vaishnav Janto” right through over the public address system. For us it was an eerie feeling. Perhaps it was only human to be moved by the occasion.
Soon something happened for which the subjects of Gwalior were not quite prepared. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was touring the nation in his bid to knit the princely states in one single tapestry that was India of his dreams and, perhaps, of many. During his ramblings through the nation he arrived in Gwalior in mid 1948 to persuade the Maharaja to sign the agreement to merge Gwalior State with the Indian Union. Soon after signing the document Sardar Patel along with Maharaja and Maharani came out on the streets in an open horse-drawn carriage with minimal security. This happened to be the first time when Maharani breached her veil and came out in the midst of public. Almost the whole town was out on the streets. The policemen had a tough time in keeping the euphoric crowds at bay.
In June 1948 a new Part B state Madhya Bharat came into being with the Maharaja of Gwalior as its Rajpramukh or Governor. It was a short and tame story that ended the few hundred years old medieval monarchical rule of the Scindias over Gwalior. There was some discomfort as the new state comprised, inter alia, Gwalior and Holkar states, the Governor’s position was taken away by Gwalior. As it is, there was no love lost between Holkar and Gwalior. The new arrangements only accentuated it a bit more.