Jan. 2, 2023

The Partition of India – Part 6: The Spent Bullet

The Partition of India – Part 6: The Spent Bullet

As a plot to assassinate Mohandas Gandhi unfolds, the Mahatma goes to existential lengths to reconcile India’s Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities. Meanwhile, a shadow war erupts between India and Pakistan over the picturesque kingdom of Kashmir, threatening the future of both nations. Jawaharlal Nehru bids farewell to friends, a lover, and the innocence of the nation he must now lead. A dying Muhammed Ali Jinnah reflects on his choices.

As a plot to assassinate Mohandas Gandhi unfolds, the Mahatma goes to existential lengths to reconcile India’s Hindu, Sikh and Muslim communities. Meanwhile, a shadow war erupts between India and Pakistan over the picturesque kingdom of Kashmir, threatening the future of both nations. Jawaharlal Nehru bids farewell to friends, a lover, and the innocence of the nation he must now lead. A dying Muhammed Ali Jinnah reflects on his choices. 



Akbar, M.J. Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan. 2011.

Tharoor, Shashi. Nehru: The Invention of India. 2003.

Tharoor, Shashi. Inglorious Empire: What The British Did To India. 2017.

Khan, Yasmin. The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan. 2007.

Guha, Ramachandra. Gandhi: The Years That Changed The World. 2018.

Collins, Larry; Lapierre, Dominique. Freedom at Midnight. 1975. 

Sarila, Narendra Singh. The Shadow of the Great Game. 2005.

Charles Rivers Editors. The Punjab. 2018.

Charles Rivers Editors. British India. 2017.

Puri, Kavita. Partition Voices: Untold British Stories. 2019.

Malhotra, Aanchal. Remnants of Partition: 21 Objects From A Continent Divided. 2017.

Von Tunzelmann, Alex. Indian Summer. 2007.

Zakaria, Anam. The Footprints of Partition. 2015.

Ahmed Akbar. Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity. 1997.

Urvashi, Butalia. The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India. 1998.

White-Spunner, Barney. Partition. 2017.

Lawrence, James. Raj: The Making and Unmaking of British India. 1997.

Hamdani, Yasser Latif. Jinnah: A Life. 2020.

Fischer, Louis. Gandhi. 1950. 

Kidwai, Anis. In Freedom’s Shade. 2011. 


“India: A People Partitioned” Broadcast on the BBC World Service, 1997. Compiled and presented by Andrew Whitehead, producer Zina Rohan


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---- ---INTRO -- ---- -----


Hello and welcome to Conflicted, the history podcast where we talk about the struggles that shaped us, the tough questions that they pose, and why we should care about any of it.


Conflicted is a member of the Evergreen Podcast Network; and as always, I’m your host, Zach Cornwell.


You are listening to the sixth and final installment of a limited series on the Partition of India.


Well guys, this is it.


It’s been a long arduous road, but by God, we did it. We finally reached the conclusion of this absolute leviathan of a topic. So, if you’re still here, I want to extend a very sincere “thank you”.  

Not only for your patience between episodes, but for your enthusiasm for the show.


This particular series has prompted a flood of wonderful messages from listeners all over the world, and I gotta tell ya, that’s really the fuel that keeps this train chugging along. So once again, thank you for your kindness and your continued support.


Today’s episode is on the longer side, so I’ll keep the preamble to a minimum.


In the last episode, “A Crisis Made Flesh” we took a slight narrative detour to explore the ways that Partition violence fell especially hard on women. And although we did briefly check in with characters like Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, we didn’t get to spend much time with the rest of our cast.


Well, in this episode, we are returning to our core narrative, and the whole gang is here: Muhammed Ali Jinnah, The Mountbattens, Jawaharlal Nehru, and of course, Gandhi.


There are many, many different ways to approach the subject of Partition, but for me, the human drama is what really makes the topic tick; and today we will continue to explore the ways in which these complex, multi-faceted people shaped the future of a subcontinent, for better or worse.


But that’s enough introduction; let’s jump right in and land this bird.


Welcome to The Partition of India – Part 6: The Spent Bullet


---- BEGIN ----


It’s December of 1947.


We’re in Karachi, the capital of Pakistan.


And for a 43-year-old photographer named Margaret Bourke-White, it is a very important day. Because Margaret is in Karachi to take the picture of one of the most elusive, reclusive and misunderstood leaders in the world. She is here to take the picture of the Quaid-e-Azam. The leader of Pakistan. Muhammed Ali Jinnah.


This was no ordinary assignment, but then, Margaret Bourke-White was no ordinary photographer.


Over the past two decades, Margaret’s camera lens had captured some of the most iconic and enduring images of the 20th century. As LIFE Magazine’s first female staff photographer, she had traveled all over the world in a never-ending quest for the perfect shot.


A quick flip through her resume would’ve looked like a ‘greatest hits’ reel of pivotal historical events. She’d captured the desolation of the Great Depression – ramshackle barns and barefoot kids in the American west. She’d documented Russian peasants during Stalin’s disastrous Five-Year-Plan. She’d traveled to China, to Italy, to Romania and Egypt. Pyramids one month, skyscrapers the next. From war zones, to construction zones, bread lines to the front lines, Margaret never said “no” to a gig. 


No matter the danger, Margaret would be there, fresh off the plane with a lop-sided grin and a tangle of dirty-blonde hair. As one journalist wrote in 2013: “The woman who had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean, strafed by the Luftwaffe, stranded on an Arctic Island, bombarded in Moscow and pulled out of the Chesapeake when her chopper crashed was known to Life Magazine staff as “Maggie the indestructible”.


The only thing that had come close to breaking Maggie the Indestructible, was what she found when she visited the Nazi concentration camps with Allied troops in 1945. That spring, she  shuffled through the gates of the infamous Buchenwald death camp, where the Third Reich had systematically murdered 50,000 prisoners. There, she saw stacks of emaciated bodies, piled up in heaps like firewood. That experience left its mark on Margaret, as she later remembered:


“Using a camera was almost a relief. It interposed a slight barrier between myself and the horrors in front of me.”


Margaret had assumed that she would never see anything that rivaled the slaughter and cruelty of the concentration camps. Nothing that came even remotely close. And then, she traveled to India in the fall of 1947.


By December of 1947, Margaret had been in the Punjab for several weeks, documenting the mass migration sparked by Partition. As she later remembered:


Week after week I followed the convoys until my cameras became clogged with grit, my clothes felt like emery boards and my hair was thick and gray with dust.


She knew she was watching history unfold, but it still rocked her to her core. Even after all she had seen during World War 2 – entire cities leveled, entire families wiped out - Partition affected her deeply:


There were heartbreaking subjects to photograph. Babies were born along the way; people died along the way. Thousands perished. I saw children pulling at the hands of their mother, unable to understand that those arms would never carry them again. There were scenes straight out of the Old Testament. The hoofs of countless cattle raised such a column of dust that a pillar of a cloud trailed the convoy by day. In the evening, when the refugees camped by the tens of thousands along the roadside, the light of the campfires rose into the dust-filled air until it seemed that a pillar of fire hung over them at night.


She reflected later:


I have always thought that if I could turn back the pages of history and photograph one man, my choice would be Moses. While I traveled with the migration, my respect for Moses grew, for I glimpsed the colossal problems he had to solve. But these people had no Moses.”


The Muslim refugees heading for Pakistan may have not had a Moses, but they did believe that they had a savior. A leader, a visionary, who had carved out a home for them after decades of hard, thankless work. The Quaid-e-Azam; Muhammed Ali Jinnah.


And in late 1947, Margaret traveled to the “relative comfort” of the Pakistani capital, Karachi. There she was determined to pull back the curtain on the man who had created the world’s first Islamic republic, apparently through the sheer force of his own personality.


And it should be said, that when it came to the subject of Jinnah, Margaret was not an impassive observer. By 1947, her opinions on Muhammed Ali Jinnah had already calcified into a kind of fascinated contempt. A year-and-a-half earlier, in 1946, she had been in Calcutta to cover the aftermath of the infamous Direct Action Day - in which Muslims and Hindus had massacred each other in reciprocal spasms of urban warfare. If you recall, we talked about it back in Part 2.


He camera lens had captured the pointless misery that religious hatred could unleash, and like many, Margaret placed the blame for it at Jinnah’s doorstep. As she reflected:


“Jinnah, though non-religious himself, raised religious differences to the heights of fanaticism. He inflamed the masses with his fiery words, goading them to frenzy. Under it all, he was a spear of ice.”


But her contempt could not suppress her curiosity, and in December of 1947, Margaret found herself at Jinnah’s literal doorstep, to take his picture for LIFE Magazine.


Gaining access to the Quaid-E-Azam had not been easy. The first time she’d shown up at Jinnah’s palatial estate in Karachi asking to take his picture, she’d basically had the door slammed in her face. But Maggie the Indestructible was also Maggie the Undeterrable, so she pulled the right strings and buttered the right bread to melt the bureaucratic glaciers barring entry to Jinnah’s mansion. And when the big picture day arrived, she tied up her dirty-blonde hair, brought her camera, a few dozen flashbulbs, and stepped into Jinnah’s house.


Before Jinnah entered the room where the portrait was to be taken, his handlers made it very clear to her that there was a very specific condition to this photoshoot:


There was one curious stipulation. I was not to move near to him for a close-up. And when I saw his face, I knew why. The change was terrifying.


The 71-year-old leader of Pakistan was a shadow of his former self. The man who had, in Margaret’s words, “carved out a new nation single-handed” could barely keep his hands from trembling has he gripped the chair he was sitting in.


“A shocking transformation had taken place in Jinnah” Margaret observed, “His Olympian assurance had withered within weeks of his acquiring his Promised Land. He had developed a paralyzing inability to make even the smallest decision. Along with his dismaying withdrawal into himself, Jinnah was not seeing even his Ministers.”


As she snapped the portrait that would grace the cover of LIFE Magazine in January of the following year, Margaret did some amateur psychoanalysis of Jinnah. This man, who less than a year ago had been a force of nature, a typhoon of political will, seemed to have shriveled into a weak breeze. In Margaret’s estimation, the death and displacement that the creation of Pakistan had caused, weighed heavily on Jinnah’s cold conscience:


I did a lot of thinking about the tortured look I had seen in Jinnah’s face. I believe it was an indication that in the final months of his life, he was adding up his own balance sheet. Analytical and brilliant, he knew what he had done. Like Dr. Faustus, he had made a bargain from which he could never be free. During the heat of the struggle, he was willing to call on all the devilish forces of superstition, and now the bloody victory had turned stale in his mouth.


Whether Jinnah felt any pangs of guilt in the aftermath of Partition, well – that’s hard to say for sure. What Margaret learned later, but did not know at the time, was that Jinnah was dying. It was the most closely guarded state secret in Pakistan, but Jinnah was rotting away from the inside; not from guilt, but from tuberculosis.


Recent X-rays of Jinnah’s chest revealed dark circles the size of “ping-pong balls”, according to one historian. While flames spread across South Asia, the disease spread through Jinnah’s lungs with equal rapidity. During the fight for Pakistan’s existence, in the long sparring matches with Dickie Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru, Jinnah had been able to keep the illness at bay. Push it down, ignore it, fight through it, but everyone has their breaking point; as Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre write:


“For a while, the intensity of Jinnah's will had seemed to impose a kind of remission on the disease's progress. Now that the realization of his long dream had eased his spirit, the disease had once again begun its advance.”



Jinnah, his doctors told him, had about six months to live; if that. To make matters worse, the health of the young nation he had worked so hard to create was also in a precarious condition. Pakistan, to put it bluntly, was in absolute shambles. As Collins and Lapierre describe:


In Karachi, the desks and chairs hadn't arrived. Government employees had to squat on the sidewalks in front of their offices, pecking out on their typewriters the first official texts of the largest Moslem nation in the world. Inside, their seniors governed their new nation sitting on crates and boxes. The economy was in a turmoil. Pakistan had warehouses bulging with hide, jute and cotton and no tanneries, factories or mills to process it. She produced a quarter of the sub continent's tobacco but did not have a match factory in which to produce matches to light her smokers' cigarettes. The banking system was paralyzed because the banks' Hindu managers and clerks had fled to India.


When the Pakistani government wrote a check to the British Overseas Airways Corporation to pay for planes meant to carry refugees, it bounced. “Insufficient funds”, they said.


Pakistan was beleaguered and bereft, a wobbly Jenga tower on the verge of collapse. But still, the fact that it had been created at all spoke to the relentless political skill of the Quaid-E-Azam. He had, as the writer Declan Walsh put it, “dragged his creation to its feet”, even though now, at the twilight of his life, he could barely stand upright.


Many people in India, and the international community, despised Jinnah for what his ambition had unleashed. But the scale of the accomplishment was undeniable. As historian Stanley Wolpert put it: ‘Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah did all three.’


Margaret Bourke-White went home to America with some of the most famous photographs of the Partition crisis in her camera reel. The next month, January of 1948, her portrait of Jinnah was on the cover of LIFE magazine. And yet somehow, Margaret’s picture did not manage to capture Jinnah’s frailty. He appeared as he always did in pictures, according to Declan Walsh, “inscrutable and rake-thin, sinking into an armchair with his legs neatly folded, giving away nothing.”


No one knew how much longer Jinnah had to live. Would it be weeks, months, a year? It was impossible to tell. A final fate as opaque and unknowable as the man himself. But the bigger mystery was: how did Jinnah feel about the consequences of his actions? What was going through his head? As Pakistan stumbled to its feet, did he feel pride or satisfaction, regret, remorse, or relief? Maybe all of it - all at the same time.


But there was at least one clue to Jinnah’s feelings about the Partition violence and his role in it.  


One September morning, Jinnah’s sister Fatima noticed that her brother was dabbing tears from red-ringed eyes after reading the reports of what was happening in the Punjab. As Declan Walsh writes: “He was painfully aware of the dark forces his historic victory had unleashed.” He was, Walsh continues, “a man who has gambled at the table of history, won big – and now wonders whether he won more than he bargained for.”


A few days after his picture ran on the cover of LIFE magazine, Jinnah dragged himself out of bed to visit refugee camp in Karachi. Afterwards, he remarked to an aide: ‘They used to call me Quaid-e-Azam {the Great Leader}, but now they call me Qatil-e-Azam [The Great Killer].’


Jinnah, racked with a hacking cough and losing ground to his disease with every passing day, did not have the strength to fight those dark forces consuming the subcontinent. He had run out of time. But an old rival of Jinnah’s - a former colleague turned political nemesis - was at this very moment, stepping up to quell the hatred in his own unique way.


In January of 1948, Mohandas Gandhi was also facing death - but he was doing it by choice.




In the closing months of 1947, Mohandas Gandhi was, for lack of a better word, washed up. A relic. A has-been. A tired old man who had lived beyond his usefulness. Like a boxer who’s lost his rhythm or a golfer whose lost his swing, the Mahatma’s best years seemed to be behind him.


At least that’s what Gandhi himself believed.


When Dickie Mountbatten had arrived back in March of 1947, Gandhi had harbored bright hopes for what the last Viceroy might be able to achieve. Maybe, alongside idealists like Nehru, the three of them might be able to keep India together – keep it united.


But as the talks dragged on, and Jinnah dug his heels in, it began to dawn on Gandhi that his great dream – his lifelong project of a free united India… had been dead for a very long time. The polarization ran too deep, the hatred burned too hot, and Muhammed Ali Jinnah was just too smart. Partition was happening; there was no stopping it. And it broke the Mahatma’s heart.


When historians write about Gandhi on the eve of Indian independence, what should have been one of the happiest moments of his life, they use words like “forlorn”, “dejected”, and “depressed”


32 years of work, Gandhi told a crowd of followers, had come to “an inglorious end”. Where millions of people saw a great triumph, the collapse of the Raj and India’s reclamation of its destiny, Gandhi saw only failure. India should’ve been one nation, one people, one heart – and yet India had been vivisected. Carved up like a corpse and bifurcated into antagonistic tribes. To Gandhi, Pakistan was not a country, but the very embodiment of his botched life’s work. 


Gandhi had once famously hoped, through spartan nutrition and saintly discipline, to live for 125 years, so that he could continue to his work, “wiping every tear, from every eye” as Jawaharlal Nehru had put it. But that dream was dead for Gandhi now. He did not want to live in a world where Hindus hated Muslims and Muslims hated Sikhs and Sikhs hated everyone.


As he said at the time: “In the India that is shaping today there is no room for me. I have given up the hope of living 125 years. I may last a year or two.”


As early as 1946, he had been reckoning with his growing irrelevance and inability to change the hearts of minds of people who seemed more and more intent on killing each other. As he told the journalist Louis Fischer: “I have not convinced India. There is violence all around us. I am a spent bullet.”


On the eve of Indian independence, he told a crowd: 'From tomorrow, we shall be delivered from the bondage of British rule. But from midnight today, 'India will be partitioned too. Tomorrow will be a day of rejoicing, but it will be a day of sorrow as well.'


When Jawaharlal Nehru stood in front of Congress and gave that speech, when he spoke about a tryst with destiny, redeeming the pledges they had made, and the soul of a nation finding utterance….his mentor Gandhi was not in the room. He was not even in the city. He was a thousand miles away in Calcutta, fast asleep.


And when Gandhi woke up the next day, the dawn of independence only brought all the terror and violence that he feared it would unleash. This was no victory. As Shashi Tharoor writes:


He saw no cause for celebration. Instead of the cheers of rejoicing, he heard the cries of the women ripped open in the internecine frenzy; instead of the slogans of freedom, he heard the shouts of the crazed assaulters firing their weapons at helpless refugees, and the silence of trains arriving full of corpses massacred on their journey; instead of the dawn of Jawaharlal’s promise, he saw only the long dark night of horror that was breaking his country in two.


There was certainly part of Mohandas Gandhi, that wanted to curl up and die with his dream. To stop trying so hard, stop fighting so much, stop working for an idea that no one seemed to believe in or care much about anymore. After all, he was 77 years old. For decades he had been campaigning for religious harmony and non-violence and yet India only seemed to be getting more and more violent. Even his old pupils like Jawaharlal Nehru seemed to treat him like a grandparent who’d stayed up past his bedtime.  


As historians Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre wrote: “His teachings rejected by many of his old followers, his doctrines contested by so many of his countrymen, he seemed a piece of driftwood cast up by a passing tide.”


Maybe “Bapu” was just a useless old man. Dead weight. Ideological debris. A spent bullet.


And yet Gandhi did not curl up and die. Instead, he decided to throw himself into the darkest crevices of the Partition violence. To seek out the places where the hate burned the hottest. As Alex Von Tunzelmann writes: “Despite intense personal disaffection and marginalization by his colleagues, the Mahatma would rally for a final, spectacular swan song.”


At that time, aside from the Punjab, one of the places that burned the hottest was the city of Calcutta.


Calcutta had seen its fair share of violence in recent years. The three-day orgy of murder that had become known as the Great Calcutta Killings had solidified the city’s infamy. It was a big city, a poor city, and a dirty city. Three million people living in what one historian called: “the densest concentration of human beings on the face of the earth.”


When Gandhi arrived just days before Independence, he was greeted not with flowers or cheers, but bricks and jeers. Nevertheless, he told the hostile crowd:


'I have come here, to serve Hindus and Moslems alike. I am going to place myself under your protection. You are welcome to turn against me if you wish. 'I have nearly reached the end of life's journey. I have not much further to go. But if you again go mad, I will not be a living witness to it.'


Initially, Gandhi’s arrival calmed tensions in the city. In the last two weeks of August, when other areas of India seemed to be eating themselves alive, Calcutta was a bubble of relative tranquility. Newsreels around the world deemed it “the peace of Calcutta”; Dickie Mountbatten joked that Gandhi was his “one-man boundary force”, keeping order where thousands of soldiers had failed.


But it wasn’t long before the peace was broken, and Calcutta relapsed into the old cancerous communalism. The Mahatma had hoped that his presence alone would be enough to heal the rifts between Hindus and Muslims in Calcutta. He was wrong.


Hindu paramilitaries of the RSS launched attacks on Muslim slums, and when Gandhi went to the site to see the dead bodies, pureed by grenades and covered in flies, he realized that he would have to do something drastic.


Something that would keep the peace, once and for all.


And so, Gandhi decided to deploy the sharpest and most effective weapon in his ideological arsenal. An extreme tactic that he had not used in years. If the people of Calcutta would not stop killing each other, Gandhi would make himself their next casualty. He would launch an all-out assault on their very conscience.


On September 2nd, Gandhi announced that until sanity returned to Calcutta, he would embark on a fast unto death. He would starve himself, as an act of protest against the violence, until every knife, every gun, every grenade was cast down and the warring communities vowed to keep the peace. Or until he died. Whichever came first. As the Mahatma told a stunned crowd: “Either there will be peace in Calcutta, or I will be dead.”


Fasts were an old tactic in Gandhi’s bag of tricks; you might even say they were a professional trademark, as Collins and Lapierre write:


Sixteen times, for great or minor reasons, he had publicly refused to take nourishment. Twice his fasts had covered twenty-one days, carrying him to life's outer frontiers. Whether they'd been in South Africa for racial justice, or in India for Hindu-Moslem unity, to end the scourge of Untouchability or to hasten Britain's departure, Gandhi's fasts had moved hundreds of millions of people around the globe. They were as much a part of his public image as his bamboo stave, his dhoti and his bald head.”


And although, they write, Gandhi was “the world’s greatest theoretician on their use”, hunger strikes had a rich history in the subcontinent; it was a “device as old as India”.


The ancient prayer of the rishis, Hinduism's earliest sages — 'If you do that, it is I who will die' — had never ceased to inspire a people usually deprived of any other means of coercion. In the India of 1947, peasants continued to fast on the doorsteps of money-lenders, beseeching by their suffering a suspension of their debts. Creditors too could fast to force their debtors to meet their obligations. Gandhi's genius had been to give a national dimension to what had been an individual tactic.


Collins and Lapierre go on:


A fast, Gandhi believed, could be undertaken only under certain conditions. It was useless to fast against an enemy on whose love and affection the faster had no claim. It would have been absurd and against his theories for a Jewish inmate of Buchenwald to employ a fast against his S.S. captors or for a prisoner in a Siberian gulag to fast against his Stalinist guards. Had a Hitler or Stalin ruled India instead of the British, the fast, Gandhi acknowledged, would have been an ineffectual weapon.


As Gandhi himself said: “I fasted, to reform those who loved me. You cannot fast against a tyrant,” for the tyrant is incapable of love, therefore inaccessible to a weapon of love like fasting.”


Above all, fasting was a time-sensitive tactic. It provided a dramatic sense of urgency. ‘Meet my demands, or my death will be on your hands’. And everyone knew, when Gandhi went on a fast, it was not a bluff. He would kill himself, slowly, painfully for his beliefs.


Even Muhammed Ali Jinnah had expressed a grudging respect for Gandhi’s hunger strikes over the years. It was an ordeal that required intense discipline and caused terrible, life-threatening agony. As the Quaid-e-Azam once told a skeptical colleague:


It is not a joke. It is not everybody who can go on starving himself. Try it for a little while and you will see. The man who goes on a hunger strike has a soul. He is moved by the soul and he believes in the justice of his cause.”


But above all, a successful fast was ultimately a high-stakes exercise in PR. “To be effective”, Collins and Lapierre write, “a political fast had to be accompanied by publicity. It was a weapon to be used rarely and only after careful thought because, if repeated too often, it could become an object of ridicule. […] A fast forced on an adversary a sense of urgency that compelled him to face an issue, Gandhi resorted to it whenever he found himself confronted by an insurmountable obstacle.”


And no obstacle seemed more insurmountable than the rampant Partition violence.


And so, on September 2nd, Gandhi began his fast unto death in Calcutta. He would not eat a single scrap of food until peace had returned to the city.


Within a day, his body began to break down. Gandhi was no spring chicken. He was about to turn 78, and the sudden stress of a hunger strike immediately put his vital organs into a code red. Without nourishment, Gandhi’s health fell off a cliff. With a matter of days the Mahatma could barely stand or even speak.


His age (77, about to turn 78), combined with the stress, had taken its toll, and without nourishment, the Mahatma could barely stand, or even speak. His doctor reported that his heart was already beginning to miss one in every four beats.




But Gandhi’s instincts about his countrymen were correct. Calcutta answered the Mahatma’s challenge. As Collins and Lapierre write:


As life seemed to ebb from Mohandas Gandhi's spent frame, a wave of fraternity and love swept a city determined to save its savior. Mixed processions of Hindus and Moslems invaded the slums where the worst rioting had taken place to restore order and calm. The most dramatic proof that a change of heart had really taken hold of Calcutta came at noon when a group of twenty-seven goondas appeared at the door of Hydari House [where Gandhi was staying]. Heads hung, their voices vibrant with contrition, they admitted their crimes, asked Gandhi's forgiveness, and begged him to end his fast. That evening the band of thugs responsible for the savage murders on Beliaghata Road that had so sickened Gandhi appeared. After confessing their crime, their spokesman told Gandhi: 'I and nay men are ready to submit willingly to any punishment you choose if you will end your fast.' At his words, they opened the folds of their dhotis. A shower of knives, daggers, pistols and tiger claws, some still darkened by the blood of their victims, tumbled to the floor under the astonished gaze of Gandhi and his disciples. As they clattered to rest beside his pallet, Gandhi murmured: 'My only punishment is to ask you to go into the neighborhoods of the Moslems you've victimized and pledge yourself to their protection.'


Within 72 hours of beginning his fast, peace had returned to Calcutta. Hindu, Sikh and Muslim leaders in the city presented Gandhi with a joint, written promise to: “Never allow communal strife in the city again and shall strive unto death to prevent it.”. And at 9:15PM on September 4th, Gandhi took a few sips of orange juice, bringing his fast to an end.


It was a remarkable accomplishment. From San Francisco to Seoul, the world heard about the little old man in the loincloth, who’d been willing to die to restore order to one of the world’s most violent cities. As one colleague observed:


'Gandhi has achieved many things, but there has been nothing, not even independence, which is so truly wonderful as his victory over evil in Calcutta.'


And just like that, Gandhi’s name was on everyone’s lips again. It was like the old days – the Salt March reborn. And 1800 miles away in Delhi, Dickie Mountbatten marveled at the Mahatma’s effect on Calcutta:


“In the Punjab we have 55,000 soldiers and large-scale rioting on our hands. In Bengal, our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting.”


With Calcutta calmed, the Mahatma announced that he would go to where he was needed next: To the capital, to Delhi. After he’d worked his magic there, he would go to Punjab, to the hateful heart of the Partition violence itself. And after that, he would travel to Pakistan, to mend fractures and change minds in Jinnah’s new nation. He was on a war path of peace.


But not everyone was so impressed with the Mahatma’s achievement in Calcutta.


For hardcore, far-right Hindu nationalists, Gandhi’s compassion toward Muslims in Calcutta was a profound betrayal. The Mahatma, they sneered, had been soft and sentimental toward the followers of Islam for years, even as their leader Jinnah had ripped Mother India in two. Did Gandhi have no pride in his own religion? Did he have no special affinity for his own people? Gandhi, they believed, would lead India and its leaders down a shameful path of acquiescence to Pakistan and the Muslims in it.  


Gandhi may have been a 78-year-old man who weighed about 100 pounds soaking wet, but he was the most dangerous person in India. He had to be stopped. And so, a plan began to take shape.


A plan to silence this old man, once and for all.


--- MUSIC BREAK ----




It’s November 20th, 1947.


We’re in the city of London, 4,000 miles away from Partition and India and Pakistan and all the killing sweeping across the subcontinent.


That day in London, the unfortunate fate of Britain’s former colony was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind. Because today was a happy day; The wedding of the century was taking place. Elizabeth, the daughter of His Majesty of the King and heir to the throne, was getting hitched.


Two thousand guests crowded into the hallowed halls of Westminster Abby for the royal nuptials, and 200 million more listened in on radios around the world. The guest list, naturally, was absolutely stacked; it included five kings, five queens, and a smattering of princelings from all over Europe.


Standing in the pews, near the front, as the organ groaned and the choir crooned, was Lord Dickie Mountbatten, alongside his wife Edwina. The former Viceroy and Vicereine had taken a break from their duties in India and flown in for the wedding a week before.


Aside from being a royal affair, this wedding had a special significance for Dickie. In some ways, you could say that Mountbatten had been the architect of the match itself. The groom, the handsome young sailor that Elizabeth was marrying, was named Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.


And Philip was Dickie’s nephew.


Mountbatten had helped kindle the spark between the two lovebirds early on, and in many ways he was the mastermind of their entire courtship. As Alex von Tunzelmann writes: “He introduced the couple, engineered meetings between them and went to great lengths in grooming Philip to become a consort.”


It wasn’t long before the two were engaged, and Mountbatten had succeeded in one of his long-standing pet projects: weaving his own bloodline into the ruling British monarchy, as Von Tunzelman continues: “In one of the most daring bloodless coups ever attempted, he would install the House of Mountbatten on the British throne.”


Indeed, Dickie was so close to the groom, that he’d been invited to the 12-man bachelor party the night before, where, according to one historian, they had “drank sherry, champagne, port and beer, and afterward cheerfully assaulted some photographers, ripping their cameras off them and throwing flashbulbs so that they exploded with loud bangs against the wall.”


But as the future Queen Elizabeth II swept into the Abbey in her flowing white dress and glittering tiara, as the 91 singers in the choir stretched their voices up to Heaven, Dickie’s thoughts were pulling him in another direction, out of the pews, away from church, beyond London, and across the sea….to India.


When India became free, Dickie Mountbatten was relieved of his duties as the last Viceroy of India. With the Raj dissolved, there was nothing to be Viceroy of. But his job in the subcontinent was far from over. As a gesture of goodwill, both towards the former colony and his friend Jawaharlal Nehru, he had offered to stay on in a position called the Governor-General to help aid in the transition. Nehru, always glad to have Mountbatten’s help, agreed.


Like everyone else in Delhi, Mountbatten had been astonished and horrified by the violence triggered by Partition. If he felt any remorse or guilt about his own role in the catastrophe, he kept it hidden beneath a drapery of royal stoicism. Sure, he’d rushed the transfer of power. Sure, he’d failed to anticipate the Sikh reprisals. Sure, he’d inadequately mobilized the British Army to maintain order in the Punjab….but no one could have expected this. Right?


August and September and October had been very bad. Trains pulling into stations filled with dead bodies. Columns of refugees so long that reconnaissance pilots could fly for 15 minutes and not see the end of it. Not to mention the unspeakable communal hatred fueling it all. One British officer reported the scene on the road from Lahore to Amritsar:


'Every yard of the way, there was a body, some butchered, some dead of cholera. The vultures had become so bloated by their feasts they could no longer fly, and the wild dogs so demanding in their taste they ate only the livers of the corpses littering the road.'


But eventually, the violence began to fizzle and burn out. Maybe passions were cooling; or maybe there was just no one left to kill, or rob, or rape. According to Collins and Lapierre:


Gradually, a semblance of order began to emerge from the chaos. Discipline in both armies improved, effective tactics for protecting trains and refugee columns were devised. The Emergency Committee, which Nehru would call 'the best lesson in administration a new government ever had', began to get its grip on the Punjab. The millions of refugees staggered on, but the violence which had provoked their flight began to diminish. Its waning was signaled in one laconic line in an intelligence report submitted to the Emergency Committee. 'The practice of throwing Moslems from train windows,' it noted, 'is on the decline.'


But the work was far from over. When Dickie and Edwina flew back to Delhi from London in late November of ‘47, the subcontinent was in the grip of a deadly and diplomatically explosive situation. 


The Punjab may have been calmed, Calcutta may have been tamed, and Delhi was somehow still standing, but now a new crisis was unfolding in South Asia. It had barely been four months since Partition, and already the young nations of Pakistan and India were on the brink of a full-scale war.


On many issues, Pakistan and India were in agreement. The atrocities in the Punjab were terrible and needed to be stopped – on this, they agreed. The women who had been raped and abducted needed to be found and recovered – on this, they agreed. But there was at least one thing on which they emphatically did *not* agree.




And that was something called Kashmir. That’s K-A-S-H-M-I-R.


Most people know Kashmir as a Led Zeppelin song, of course– but in real life / but for the purpose of our sotry, Kashmir is a territory located in the far north of the Indian subcontinent, in the snowy shadows of the Himalayan mountains. And it is not hyperbole or exaggeration to say it is one of the most beautiful places on the face of the earth. A quick google images search will back that up, but here’s writer Alex Von Tunzelmann describing the scenery for good measure:


“KASHMIR IS OFTEN CALLED THE LOVELIEST OF THE subcontinent’s landscapes. Iced Himalayan peaks soar up from lush green valleys; dark forests sweep around the shores of glassy lakes.”


If you need a quick mental image, some people have called Kashmir the “Switzerland of Asia”.


But unlike that politically neutral and peace-loving country, Kashmir was destined for a much more controversial fate, becoming a flashpoint of international intrigue, diplomatic strife, and eventually – all-out war. In the months following independence, the twin nations of India and Pakistan came to blows over this beautiful little slice of paradise.


Now we’re not going to spend TOO much time on the intricacies of the Kashmir conflict, because honestly if we go down that rabbit hole, we’ll never crawl out of it. One day, I’d actually like to do an entire mini-series exclusively on all the drama surrounding Kashmir over the past several decades, but for now, we’ll just focus the broad strokes. Because the truth is, you can’t talk about Partition without addressing Kashmir. Because it sets into motion a chain of events that will claim the life of one of our main characters.


So – what is the deal with Kashmir? Why would India and Pakistan want to fight over it anyway, lovely as it may be?


Well, part of the issue was location, location, location. Kashmir is wedged up near the top of India and Pakistan, right up there in the western Himalayas. It shares a border with both Pakistan and India, so it wasn’t geographically obvious which nation the province should belong to. But you might be asking: ‘Well, why wouldn’t they just partition it? Why didn’t they call up old Cyril Radcliffe to draw a line down the middle and cut the baby in half, just like he had one with the Punjab and Bengal?


Well, Kashmir was a special case. It wasn’t really a territory at all. It was a self-governing kingdom; something called a “princely state”.


Ya see, way back when the British East India Company was wheeling, dealing and stealing all over India, one of the ways they took control over certain areas was to cut deals with local rulers – princes, maharajas, sultans, and so forth. Yes, the British spilled as much ink as they did blood in India.

By the time the Raj took over for the East India Company in 1858, about 55% of India was under the direct administrative control of the British Crown. But the other 45% of the subcontinent was a random patchwork of about 565 small kingdoms, little pockets of territory that agreed to pay tribute to the British in exchange for their own relative autonomy. The Raj ran a protection racket essentially, and these rulers were happy to keep a tight grip on their royal scepters in exchange for an annual visit from the King’s tax man.


Well, when Independence finally happened in 1947, these “princely states” had to decide which nation they were gonna join. India or Pakistan. In most cases, simple geography decided for them. A princely state deep in Indian territory could never join Pakistan, and vice versa; it just wasn’t logistically practical. Population was a factor as well; whichever religious community had the larger majority – Muslim or Hindu – usually determined which nation the area would join.


But there were some edge cases where it wasn’t entirely clear which way the province would go. And one of those edge cases was Kashmir.


For years, most people had assumed that Kashmir would go to Pakistan. For separatists like Muhammed Ali Jinnah, It was all but a foregone conclusion. Black and white, done-deal, obvious; “Kashmir was the K in Pakistan,” Alex Von Tunzelmann writes, “Its population was predominantly Muslim. Its lines of trade and communication ran into Pakistan. Around one quarter of Kashmir’s total revenue came from timber, which was floated down the Jhelum and Chenab rivers and collected in towns in Pakistan.”




We’ve got a majority Muslim province, with deep cultural, demographic, and economic ties to Pakistan. It should probably go to Pakistan, right? Seems like a no-brainer. Well, the issue was complicated by the fact that the ruler of Kashmir, the self-styled Maharaja, was a Hindu. A guy named Hari Singh; not that you need to remember that or anything – it’s not on the test.


And this Maharaja, the ruler of Kashmir…wasn’t sure which country he wanted to join.


In some ways, you kinda start to feel for this guy. He really had no good options. He either could join Pakistan, and almost certainly be deposed by Muslim power brokers. Or he could join India, and risk rebellion from his enraged Muslim subjects. And of course, neither Indian nor Pakistan was willing to tolerate Kashmir as an independent state, susceptible as it would be to foreign money and Cold War entanglements. So, the Maharaja did what most people in an impossible position do…he waited for something to change.


Well in October of 1947, something did change. But it was not the gust of good luck the Maharaja had hoped for.


During September, the Maharaja’s army had used the chaos of Partition to do a little housecleaning in Kashmiri countryside. And by housecleaning, I mean some light genocide. To paraphrase one historian, the Maharaja’s troops had engaged in a campaign of sustained harassment, arson, and physical violence against Kashmiri Muslims.


Why did he do this? Well, the Maharaja was worried about Pakistan stirring up discontent among his subjects, so his goal was to push them out and create a buffer zone between his kingdom and Pakistan. But as so often happens when paranoid rulers use violent force to protect their interests, it blew up in his face.


Well, the plan backfired spectacularly. As Alex von Tunzelmann writes:


In driving out the Muslims on his borders, the maharaja had driven them straight into the arms of the most fearsome Islamic fighting force on earth. “This is a dangerous game for the Maharaja to play,” noted E.B. Duke (A British administrator), “and is likely to lead to large scale disturbances in Kashmir and incursion by neighboring Muslim tribesmen.” He was right. The Pashtuns (that’s a specific Muslim ethnic group), who had for months been hearing tales of Sikh and Hindu outrages against their Muslim brothers and sisters in the Punjab, were already gearing up for what they did best: making war.


Tribesmen from the Northwest Frontier, the very same kind of mujahideen who would bleed the Soviet Army dry in Afghanistan a few decades later, started pouring into Kashmir. Naturally, the Maharaja panicked, and turned to India for help.


India’s Prime Minister, our old friend Jawaharlal Nehru, was more than happy to oblige in exchange for a pledge that Kashmir would join India’s confederation.


Nehru, as we have seen throughout this series, was an intensely emotional guy. He was good-hearted, humble, courageous and honorable…but he was prone to sentimentality and blind idealism. And he just so happened to have an intense connection to Kashmir, a soft spot that cloud his judgement on the issue.


For Nehru, Kashmir was home. That’s where his family was originally from. During the 1920s and 30s, when the struggle for Independence was at its most rigorous, he would often go to Kashmir after long prison sentences to relax and decompress. So the idea that his ancestral home might be lost to Pakistan had always been a source of pain and anxiety for him. As he admitted to Edwina Mountbatten:


“Kashmir affects me in a peculiar way. It is a kind of mild intoxication—like music sometimes or the company of a beloved person.”


But Nehru’s strong feelings about Kashmir were not just about preserving a primo vacation spot or an ancestral home. To him, Kashmir was a symbol. A proof-of-concept for the pluralistic society he was trying to build in India. The kind of society that cynics like Muhammed Ali Jinnah said could never exist. Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs living side by side in relative peace. Nehru wanted this to work – needed this to work. As Hajari Nisid writes:


“Kashmir became the stage for a morality play. At stake was a particular idea of India. If the people of a predominantly Muslim kingdom chose willingly to join a predominantly Hindu nation, Jawaharlal would disprove not just Jinnah’s hateful ideology—a “poisonous plant,” Nehru had called it in his 28 October letter to his sister—but also the suspicion that India’s Muslims were disloyal.”


And so, Nehru’s feelings about Kashmir became, as Nisid continues, “an undeniable obsession”.

From his unique vantage point in the capital of Delhi, Dickie Mountbatten noticed that his friend turned into a completely different person whenever the subject of Kashmir came up. As Collins and Lapierre write:


The Governor-General (Mountbatten) was to discover another Nehru on the Kashmir issue. The cool, detached intelligence Mountbatten so admired disappeared, to be replaced by an instinctive, emotional response fueled by passions even the Kashmiri Brahmin (meaning Nehru) could not control. 'As Calais was written upon the heart of your Queen Mary,' Nehru would cry out to him one day to explain his attitude, 'so Kashmir is written upon mine.'


So, when Pashtun raiders streamed into Kashmir, killing and looting and burning, Nehru was eager to help the Maharaja repel the invasion, whatever the diplomatic risks.   


This is where it gets extremely complicated, and frankly a little confusing from a political standpoint; lots of back-and-forth, lots hemming and hawing, letters and cables and phone calls, but essentially what happens is both India and Pakistan move troops into Kashmir. India is sending helicopters, and trucks, and soldiers into the province, while Pakistan is tacitly supporting the tribal insurgents.


As 1947 came to a close, and the Kashmir crisis deepened, there were many opportunities to stop the skirmishing, but cooler heads did not prevail. All the enmity and baggage that had been building up for years between Nehru and Jinnah pulled the two nations deeper and deeper into an intractable diplomatic deadlock. There was no foundation of trust to build on. As Von Tunzelmann writes:


The Kashmir situation was profoundly worsened by the deep and personal loathing between Nehru and Jinnah. Both men suspected the worst possible motives in each other. Nehru became convinced that Jinnah had organized and directed the Pashtun tribesmen to invade Kashmir. According to British officials on the scene, Jinnah was innocent, though they conceded that the Pakistani government had passively supported the invasion by keeping local supply routes open. But the fact was that Jinnah could not have stopped the tribesmen, even had he wanted to.”


Jinnah, of course, thought Nehru was trying to steal Kashmir with all the tact of a common thief, to annex a majority Muslim population against their will into a country in which they would be second-class citizens. Both men were wrong about each other, of course – but it didn’t matter


Nehru and Jinnah, who thought themselves so much wiser and intellectually sophisticated than the common people trading tit-for-tat atrocities in the villages of Punjab, fell into the exact same pattern of distrust, reprisal, action and reaction over the Kashmir issue. According to Hajari Nisid:


The very same men who led their peoples to independence—India’s dashing first leader, Nehru, and his irascible Pakistani counterpart, Jinnah—would play a central role in creating the rift between their nations. And it must be said, they did so for the worst reasons: inexperience and ineptness, vanity, intellectual arrogance, unspoken prejudice, and plain, petty dislike of one another.”


As it happened, neither man would live to see the resolution of the shadow war they had abided and perpetuated; The Kashmir conflict would drag on and on, for years and years. Over the decades, multiple wars would be fought over the province. To this day, the territory remains contested. As von Tunzelmann writes:


“The Kashmir crisis continues to pose one of the most serious threats to international stability that the world has ever seen. Within the space of three months, one of the most enchanting places on earth was transformed into the eastern front of a slow-burning but devastating war.”


But in the immediate term, in late 1947, the Kashmir conflict triggered a very particular consequence. One that would have deadly ramifications for our cast. And it involved one of the most mundane, and yet meaningful things in the world.


It involved money.


When the last Viceroy, Dickie Mountbatten, closed the book on the British Raj and handed control of the subcontinent back to its people, the new nations of Pakistan and India inherited all the existing infrastructure, all the bureaucratic machinery that kept the world turning in India. The police, the railways, the courts, the banking system – everything that a nation needs to get out of bed in the morning.


But because the subcontinent was now two nations instead of one, all those resources had to be split proportionally. And a big part of that inheritance included the Raj’s treasury and sterling balances - The money. A century earlier, that bank account it would’ve been a bloated gold mine, but the rigors of World War 2 had shriveled it down to a shadow of its former glory.


Still, the new governments needed that money. Especially, Pakistan, who was basically building everything from scratch. That money was going to be its starter cash; a down payment on the future of its people.


That October, Pakistan was due to receive 550 million rupees, or about $2 billion in today’s dollars.


But when the Kashmir crisis was heating up, India had not yet transferred Pakistan’s rightful share of the funds. They just hadn’t cut the check yet. And unfortunately for Jinnah and Pakistan, the new war provided a convenient rationale for withholding those critical funds. ‘Why’, some in India’s government asked, ‘should we give Pakistan money it will use to kill Indian soldiers? Jinnah will just use it to buy more bullets, more bombs, more trucks.’


And so, with Nehru’s complicity, India refused to pay the money it owed Pakistan until the Kashmir problem was resolved.


It was a decision that shocked even Mountbatten, who had no love for Pakistan or Jinnah. The former Viceroy said that it was a “dishonorable” act. He believed, according to historians Collins and Lapierre, that “the decision had no moral basis. The money belonged to Pakistan, and refusing to pay it was almost an act of international embezzlement. His arguments, however, had failed to move Nehru.”


So, India tore up the check; meanwhile, Meanwhile, Pakistan was running on fumes. And under the crushing burden of resettling millions of refugees from India, their reserves would not last long. Unless something changed, and changed fast, Jinnah’s paradise seemed destined to die in the crib.


But there was one person, who would not stand for any for it.


Who would demand, in spectacular fashion, that India’s government -  and Nehru -  honor their word, and pay the money it owed to Pakistan, Kashmir conflict be damned.


Just months after the miracle in Calcutta, Mohandas Gandhi was preparing for one final fast. A hunger strike to compel the Indian government, and Nehru -  his protégé, his friend, his surrogate son - to do the right thing. The Mahatma might have been ruminating on the words of a long-dead Chinese philosopher who said: “To know what is right and not to do it is cowardice.”


There was one more lesson left to teach. The Mahatma was making his last stand.


---- MUSIC BREAK ----


It’s January 28th, 1948.


We’re in the passenger car of a train, rattling north towards the capital of Delhi.


In the closing months of 1947, trains and rail stations had been the site of some of the worst atrocities in living memory. The haunting images of ghost trains pulling into stations carrying nothing but corpses would become the defining image of Partition for decades to come.


But this train was not like those trains.


This was the Evening Express, and as it rumbled through the dusk towards the capital, the passengers on board were completely safe. The atmosphere in the cabin was quiet and contented and calm. You might even say it was downright pleasant. The passengers chatted or laughed, bickered or brayed, all the mundane tranquility that one can hope for in public transportation.


But there was one passenger on the train who did not talk at all.


Sitting in a cheap seat, staring straight ahead, was a 37-year-old man named Nathuram Godse. That’s G-O-D-S-E, Godse.


At a glance, there was nothing remarkable about Godse. He was quiet, and plain-looking, with close-cropped hair and dark, heavy-lidded eyes. He looked a little bit like a school teacher, or a librarian. But his unassuming appearance was a façade.


Godse wasn’t traveling to Delhi as a tourist or a relief worker or a refugee. This was not business trip or a family visit. He was traveling to the capital with a very specific purpose in mind. And the proof of that purpose was wrapped inside a paper bag that he kept clutched under his arm like a life preserver.


Inside the bag was a black Beretta automatic pistol, along with 20 rounds of ammunition. And in two days, he was going to use it to kill the most beloved man in India. He was going to kill Mohandas Gandhi.


Nathuram Godse was not an experienced killer. He’d never killed anyone before in his life. In fact, on his own admission, he couldn’t even stand the sight of blood. By day, he was the editor of a tiny newspaper near Bombay. He was a pencil-pusher, a two-bit journalist; certainly not anyone’s first choice for the role of an assassin.


At first glance, it would’ve seemed strange that Godse would want to kill the Mahatma. On a surface level, he had more in common with the Mohandas Gandhi than not. Like Gandhi, Godse was a devout Hindu. Like Gandhi, he was an ascetic who lived a simple life defined by austere self-discipline. Like Gandhi, he had taken a vow of celibacy. The only indulgence Godse allowed himself was the occasional cup of hot coffee.


In his early 20s, Godse had actually been a devoted follower of Gandhi; He’d participated in the Mahatma’s civil disobedience movement, marched in the streets, advocated non-violence. For his efforts, he’d gotten arrested and briefly thrown in a British cell. On paper, Godse was exactly the kind of person who would idolize Gandhi.


Why, then, would he want to kill him?


Well, Godse and Gandhi agreed on many things – clean living, devotion to God, non-violent protest, and the evils of recreational sex - but there was one issue on which their opinions sharply diverged: Muslims.


Godse despised Muslims.


Gandhi, as we know very well by now, believed that India could be a home for all religions. That Hindus and Muslims could and should live together in tranquility and balance and brotherhood. But Godse did not agree with this – not one bit. He believed that India should be a true Hindustan, or land of the Hindus. Muslims had no place in their society, they were a treacherous fifth column, lying in wait to sabotage India from within. For the safety of all true Hindus, Muslims needed to be removed, exiled, and if necessary, purged.


Nathuram Godse was not alone in his beliefs. He was part of a hardcore, far-right Hindu nationalist movement that had been lurking on the peripheries Indian society for years. And like an unseen tick, this movement fed and grew fat on the communal tension and religious hatred. With each passing year, the ranks of this movement swelled with angry young men, looking for purpose, meaning, and an outlet for their frustrations.


By 1947, Hindu nationalist paramilitary clubs like the RSS were powerful forces in their own right. One member boasted that:


“The RSS had so many branches throughout the length and breadth of India that it would take twenty to twenty-five years to visit all of them.”


For groups like the RSS, Muslims were the enemy. But perhaps the even greater enemies in their eyes, were the Hindus who helped them. Traitors to their religion and race who sought to aid and protect Muslims who stayed in India. The Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru was a particularly egregious example. Some reports claimed that during the worst weeks of Partition, he had driven around Delhi, personally fighting the mobs and trying to save Muslim lives. To the RSS’ disgust, Nehru had even given the Muslims shelter in this own home.


So that fall, the RSS decided to send the Prime Minister a message, as Collins and Lapierre write:


RSS bands kidnapped a Moslem woman shrouded in her burqa, soaked her in petrol and set her ablaze at the gate of Nehru's York Road residence as a protest against their Prime Minister's efforts to protect India's Moslems.”


Nehru was bad enough, but the person who really made Nathuram Godse’s blood boil, was Mohandas Gandhi himself.


For years, the Mahatma had been standing up for Muslims in India, advocating for their protection, and preaching peace. This made him a traitor. Godse liked to cloak his naked bigotry in the self-righteous guise of nationalism, and the more he reflected on Gandhi’s political positions, the angrier he got. As Godse told a fired-up crowd of fellow Hindu nationalists in November of 1947:


'Gandhi said India would be divided over his dead body. India is divided, but Gandhi lives. Gandhi's non-violence has left the Hindus defenseless before their enemies. Now, while Hindu refugees are starving, Gandhi defends their Moslem oppressors. Hindu women are throwing themselves into wells to save themselves from being raped, and Gandhi tells them 'victory is in the victim'. One of those victims could be my mother! 'The motherland has been vivisected, 'the vultures are tearing her flesh, the chastity of Hindu women is being violated on the open streets while the Congress eunuchs watch this rape committed. How long, oh, how long can one bear this?'


In Godse’s eyes, Gandhi had sinned against his own people, had betrayed the promise of a free, united India. The September fast in Calcutta, the so-called “miracle”, had been particularly insulting. Fasting for the protection of Muslims, blackmailing his own followers to adopt a tolerant stance towards a group that didn’t even belong in this country…it was nothing short of a stab in the back.


But the last straw for Nathuram Godse came on January 13th of 1948, when Gandhi announced to the world that he was undertaking a new fast -  a new hunger strike.


In the garden at his temporary residence in Delhi - the very same house that the social worker Anis Kidwai had visited, looking for answers – Gandhi straightened his bony frame in front of a crowd of admirers and journalists and announced that he had begun his most important fast yet. Just like the one in Calcutta, this would be a fast unto death. Either he would get what he wanted, or he would die trying.


When Godse heard about it over the radio, he bristled.


This new fast, it seemed, was once again in service of protecting Muslims, promoting religious unity, and stopping the communal violence. Nothing new there. But there was one particular condition of Gandhi’s demands that especially enraged Godse.


The Mahatma was insisting that the Indian government deliver every single one of the 550 million rupees it owed to Pakistan; the payment it had reneged on in the shadow of the ongoing war over Kashmir.


Unbelievable, thought Godse. Indian soldiers were dying in Kashmir, killed by weapons paid for and supplied by Pakistan, and Gandhi wanted to give them a sudden windfall of blood money? Collins and Lapierre describe Godse’s perspective:


“It was political blackmail. The man for whom he had once gone to jail and whom he now loathed with such intensity was trying to coerce India's government into surrendering to the Moslem rapists and murderers.”


It was unacceptable, unconscionable. This was the last straw. Something had to be done. And Nathuram Godse decided that he would be the one to do it. And so, Godse gathered a group of like-minded conspirators to him – seven men in all. And together, they concocted a plan to silence the traitorous Mahatma. Godse told them in no uncertain terms:


“We must kill Gandhi.”


Nathuram Godse may not have been in Delhi to witness the Mahatma make his January 13th announcement, but someone else was - someone we’ve already met. As Gandhi began his fast and addressed the crowd, the American photographer Margaret Bourke-White was listening just a few feet away.


Margaret, if you recall, was the photographer who had taken the photo of Muhammed Ali Jinnah a few weeks earlier for LIFE Magazine. When that issue hit the shelves, Margaret was in India, spending time with the other iconic leader in subcontinental politics, Gandhi himself. She listened intently as Gandhi told the crowd why he was fasting unto death:


'Delhi is on trial now. What I demand is that no amount of slaughter in India or Pakistan should deflect the people of Delhi from the path of duty. Should all the Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan be killed, 'the life of even a puny Moslem child in this country must be protected'. All communities, all Indians, should become again 'true Indians, by replacing bestiality with humanity. If they cannot do so, my living in this world is futile.”


“How long will I fast?” asked Gandhi. “Until I am satisfied that people of all religions in India mix like brothers and move without fear; otherwise, my fast can never end.”


“He would fast not just for the peace of Delhi,” Collins and Lapierre write, “but for the honor of India. He would set as a condition for ending it India's respecting to the letter her international agreements by paying Pakistan her rupees. It was an honest and courageous decision. It would also prove to be a fatal one.”


As Margaret Bourke-White listened to him speak, she thought to herself: “'This is really it. He has a religious position of his own to defend, his belief in the brotherhood of men.”


She admitted in her autobiography that, at the time, she was a bit puzzled by the underlying theory behind Gandhi’s fast, so she approached Jawaharlal Nehru and asked for some insight:


“It is difficult for a Westerner to understand the significance of a fast. I called on Pandit Nehru, who I was sure could help me understand. “Voluntary suffering,” said Nehru, “has great effect on the Indian mind. Gandhi is a kind of sentinel who stands apart. The fast does two things: it introduces a sense of urgency to the problem, and forces people to think out of the rut—to think afresh.” -


Margaret couldn’t help but admire Gandhi’s stubborn bravery, but she and many others were intensely concerned for his health. The Calcutta fast just a few months earlier had severely weakened Gandhi’s body, specifically his kidneys. The emotional stress of Partition had pushed his blood pressure to dangerously high levels. It was unclear whether his frail body would be able to withstand a fast for even one day, much less a week, or two weeks.


Gandhi’s last meal consisted of flatbread, an apple, and some goat’s milk. From here on out, his only sustenance would be room temperature water.


24 hours after his fast had begun, Gandhi’s doctor had him step on the scale for a daily weigh-in, and the number only confirmed the fears that so many harbored. As Collins and Lapierre write:


The first twenty-four hours of the fast had cost Gandhi two precious pounds. His weight that morning was 109 pounds. There was little fat to spare on his slender frame, and [Sushila knew that], before long, what little Gandhi had to burn would be gone. For Gandhi, as for anyone on a fast, the critical moment would come then, when he had consumed those reserves of fat and his system began to devour its protein. That began a process which, if not stopped, would be fatal.


As the fast progressed, and Day One became Day Two, Gandhi’s condition began to rapidly decline. Many people close to him begged him to stop. His youngest son, Davedas, stressed the futility of the whole ordeal. He didn’t have to do this, if he died what good would that do? “What you can achieve while living, you cannot achieve by dying,'


But Gandhi was ironclad in his determination. As the first 48 hours wracked his body with agonizing cramps and hunger pangs, he prayed: "O God, keep me firm during the fast lest I should hastily break it in the temptation to live."


Shortly after his fast had begun, Gandhi received a pair of visitors at the house in Delhi. Two friendly faces he had not seen for some time. It was Dickie and Edwina Mountbatten, here to show their support for the Mahatma, but also just to see him, to check on their friend. Even through the pain, curled up in the fetal position, Gandhi managed to crack a joke. Dickie Mountbatten had never visited him in this residence before, Gandhi had always gone to him for meetings, so the Mahatma quipped: “It takes a fast to bring you to me!”


When the Mountbattens left the house later that day, Edwina was crying. Dickie tried to comfort her, saying: “Don't be sad. He's doing what he wants to do.”


That day, Gandhi received another visitor. As Collins and Lapierre write: “His most devoted disciple, Jawaharlal Nehru, abandoned his Prime Minister's office to sit by his pallet. The spectacle of the old man's decline was too much for the leader who'd been his favorite son over the long years of their crusade together. Unable to bear it, Nehru turned his face to a corner and wept.”


The Mountbattens and Nehru may have been profoundly affected by the Mahatma’s condition, but Gandhi’s fast unto death was having much less of an impact on the people it was designed to reach: The Indian people. Many residents of Delhi, especially militant Hindus in the mold of Nathuram Godse, were angry at Gandhi because of his unwavering support for Muslims. Emotions were still running very hot from the recent atrocities in the Punjab, and in Delhi, and religious harmony was the last thing anyone wanted to think about.


For two days, Gandhi had been fasting, and yet there had not been any real public outcry for him to stop. It started to dawn on him, that this was not going to be like Calcutta. Maybe his power to change hearts and minds had finally run out. The old man was just a spent bullet after all.


Outside the house in Delhi, crowds began to gather. From his garden, Gandhi could hear them chanting the same three words over and over again. When Nehru arrived to visit his mentor, he heard what the crowds were shouting. They were chanting “Let Gandhi die”, over and over. Nehru, never one to shy away from a mob he disagreed with, leapt at the demonstrators, and shouted “How dare you say that? Come and kill me first”. The crowd scattered, but they later returned after the Prime Minister had left.


When Nehru returned to his office that day, January 15th, 1948 – he knew what he had to do. Gandhi was right. India had to pay Pakistan the money it owed. The 550 million rupees that were Pakistan’s rightful share of the Raj’s sterling balances.


As much as Nehru hated what was happening in Kashmir, as angry as he was at the idea of acquiescing to a serpent like Muhammed Ali Jinnah…he knew that Gandhi was speaking truth to power. It was dishonorable to withhold the money. And on top of all that, he just couldn’t bear to see his mentor in so much pain.


So, Nehru granted his approval for the transfer of funds.


And with the stroke of that pen, Gandhi had achieved the principal objective of his fast. As one historian put it: “The pain and hunger to which he was submitting his body had saved Mohammed Ali Jinnah's state from bankruptcy.”


Dickie Mountbatten put it a slightly less elegant way, commenting that Gandhi  “got them absolutely by the short hairs; they had to give up.”


Nehru and many others hoped that by satisfying this demand, Gandhi would stop his fast, but they were wrong. The Mahatma was not done. The payment to Pakistan was just one issue on a long list of demands from Gandhi. The others, unfortunately, were a bit more abstract. He wanted 'a reunion of hearts of all the communities in Delhi'. 'Nothing must be done in haste”, he said, I will not break my fast until the stoniest heart has melted.'


And so, the fast continued. And Gandhi’s body continued to fall apart. As Collins and Lapierre write:


Analyzing his urine, Dr Sushila Nayar found in it the dreaded presence of acetone and acetic acid. The fatal process had begun. Gandhi's reserves of carbohydrates were gone. His body was starting to gnaw at its own entrails, to consume its life-sustaining protein. Barely forty-eight hours after he'd launched his fast, the exhausted 78-year-old was already gliding into the medical danger zone.”


One American writer who visited Gandhi during his fast was transfixed by the discipline and determination of this tiny little man in the face of so much pain. He wrote home to his wife:


“Somehow we never think of a Gandhi fast as a terrible physical experience. We think of it as a political maneuver, a strike, a gesture. But here it was in human terms, a process. Here was a 78 year old man deliberately killing himself in the most difficult and excruciating way.”


But on the third day, something began to happen in Delhi. The power of Gandhi’s fast, the depth of his determination, and the very real possibility that he would die – began to melt all those stubborn, stony hearts. Millions of people seemed to wake up all at once. They did not want Gandhi to die, not like this.


“From every neighborhood, every bazaar, every mahalla, the chanting crowds now rushed forth,” Collins and Lapierre write, “Shops and stores closed in acknowledgement of Gandhi's agony. Hindus, Sikhs and Moslems formed 'Peace Brigades', marching through the capital with linked arms, thrusting at passers-by petitions begging Gandhi to give up his fast. Convoys of trucks rolled through the city jammed with clapping, cheering youths crying 'Gandhiji's life is more precious than ours.' Schools and universities closed. Most moving of all, 200 women and children, widowed and orphaned by the slaughters of the Punjab, paraded to Birla House [that’s the house Gandhi was staying at] declaring that they were going to renounce their miserable refugees' rations to join a fast of sympathy with Gandhi. It was an extraordinary, overwhelming outburst of emotion, but it left the man on his cot in Birla House quite unmoved.”


Panicked, performative marches were not enough. He required more from the people of Delhi. He required pledges from political leaders, signatures, proof that they would keep the peace.


By now, Gandhi was down to 107 pounds. His blood pressure was 184. His breath reeked of acid, a symptom of his kidney’s inability to process the water in his body. Visitors to his cot in the garden described him as looking like a shriveled embryo, a stillborn baby. Some people close to him just couldn’t take it anymore, and suggested slipping him some nourishment. As one historian wrote:


“Gandhi swung between bursts of lucidity and a comatose state. Someone suggested adding a few teaspoons of orange juice to his water. Alert, he opened his eyes and proclaimed that would be a sacrilege which would oblige him to fast for 21 days.”


The only way to save Gandhi’s life, was to give him what he wanted. And so, the leaders of the various factions in Delhi - Muslims and Sikhs, Nationalists and Socialists, rich and refugee -  came together to show the Mahatma that they could look past their differences, their petty grudges. They had to show him that they could forgive each other for everything that had happened. Or at least try.


On the morning of January 18th, 1948, Gandhi had been fasting for more than 120 straight hours. At any moment, his doctors feared that he might slip into an irreversible coma. He was slipping in and out of consciousness, but that morning, something stirred Gandhi’s mind. It was the sensation of a damp cloth, pressed against his forehead. When he opened his eyes, he saw that he was surrounded by people. All the leaders of the various factions were there, in his room, at his bedside. As Collins and Lapierre write:


Seeing the gathering around him, a faint smile creased his face. He had accomplished a miracle of which only he was capable. The men standing by his bedside were divided by rivers of blood and antagonisms centuries old. There were Sikhs in the blue turbans of the militant Akali sect next to 499 Moslems in fezzes and flowing robes; Congressmen in dhotis; Parsees and Christians in London-made lounge suits; Hindu Untouchables from the Bhangi Sweepers' Colony; orange-robed sadhus; the leaders of the extremists of the Hindu Mahasabha; and even the seldom-seen representative of that brotherhood of zealots, the RSSS, standing tranquilly alongside the High Commissioner of Pakistan.”


This gathering of conflicting ideologies and creeds said, that they were united in a unanimous desire for the Mahatma to break his fast. This, Gandhi thought, was what he had been hoping for. A display of fraternity, a sundering of hatred, a swallowing of pride.


His voice was barely capable of a whisper, so he rasped his response to a woman at his side. She wrote his words down, and then read them aloud.


'Nothing could be more foolish than to think India must be for Hindus alone and Pakistan for Moslems alone. It is difficult to reform the whole of India and Pakistan, but if we set our hearts on something, it must become a reality. 'If, after listening to all this, you still want me to give up my fast, I shall do so. But if India does not change for the better, what you say is a mere farce. There will be nothing left for me but to die.'


An unbearable, interminable silence pervaded the house as she scrawled the last words onto the paper. And then, Collins and Lapierre write, a shriek of the purest joy burst from her lips as she read those words to the gathering.


'I will break my fast. God's will be done,'


The house in Delhi erupted in a wave of happiness and relief, a wave that rippled out into the garden, through the grounds, and into the streets. The crowds that had been chanting “Let Gandhi Die” days earlier had been replaced by throngs of people praying for Gandhi’s survival. And now they were hugging and kissing, cheering and crying, jumping up and down with the raw emotion of a victory over death.


Margaret Bourke-White, the photographer from Life Magazine, was there to document the moment:


“It was a moving experience to be there and see the people laughing and crying for joy. Gandhi lay smiling on his mattress on the floor, clutching some peace telegrams in his long, bony hands. I jumped up to a high desk and got my camera into action. Gandhi’s daughter-in-law rushed in with a tall glass of fruit juice, and he kissed her. Then Pandit Nehru, who was sitting by his side, made a little ceremony of holding Gandhi’s glass of orange juice for him.


That glass of orange juice was Gandhi’s first bit of nourishment in five days. When the excitement had died down, and everyone gathered had cleared the room to let the Mahatma rest, Nehru stayed behind. As Collins and Lapierre write:


When the others had gone, he bent to place his lips close to the Mahatma's ear and whispered to him a secret he had shared with no one, not even his own daughter. Since the day before, he too had been fasting in a symbolic gesture of sympathy with his spiritual father.”


A few hours later, Gandhi’s followers found him at a loom wheel, spinning cloth. “Bread obtained without labor is stolen bread, He said, I have now started to take food, therefore I must labor.'


Over the course of the next several days, Gandhi’s strength began to return. With peace restored to Delhi and divided hearts placed on a mending course, the Mahatma’s thoughts were already turning west, to a new challenge. Once he had recovered his full powers of movement, he would set out, on foot, on a journey to Pakistan. In the words of one historian:


He would walk to Jinnah's new nation across the sore and bleeding Punjab, along the roads of the exodus on which so many of his fellows had suffered and died.


As Gandhi continued to give his daily prayer meetings, many felt that this was a new beginning, a turning point. After all the suffering and atrocity and violence of Partition, maybe there was a way to heal the fractured soul of the subcontinent.


But scattered throughout the crowd, like bits of broken glass concealed in soft sand, a small group of anonymous conspirators were watching and waiting. They had other plans for the victorious Mahatma. From the back of the crowd, Nathuram Godse surveyed his target with patient, heavy-lidded eyes.


Mohandas Gandhi, would never leave India, or this house, ever again.


---- MUSIC BREAK. ----


It’s January 30th, 1948.


Two weeks after the successful conclusion of Gandhi’s fast.  


As Dickie Mountbatten drove around the capital in his car that afternoon, Delhi seemed to be a city transformed. Some semblance of stability and order had returned to a metropolis that, just a few months earlier, had been a labyrinth of displacement and death.


So much had changed since the fall of 1947, since the blackest days of the Partition fallout. When his friend Jawaharlal was charging into the streets to face down mobs. When his wife Edwina was flouting her own safety to visit besieged hospitals. It felt like a thousand years ago.  


But things were getting better. Hopeful, even.


There was much work to be done, of course. Even the cheeriest optimists could not deny the wobbly footing on which India was resting. The refugee camps were still hotbeds of despair, thousands of abducted women were still missing, Kashmir was still a warzone, and relations with Pakistan were still in the gutter…but things were getting better. Little by little, street by street.


Mountbatten thought back to when he had first arrived in India, ten months earlier. When he was trotted off the plane in his pressed and sparkling uniform, dripping with medals from the British Empire. But now, that empire didn’t really exist anymore. The British Raj, what one historian called “that grand and guilty edifice”, was dead and gone. And Mountbatten had helped bury it.


There had been mistakes along the way, of course. Big ones. Dickie was at least self-aware enough to realize that. He had failed to anticipate what Partition would unleash. In an effort to cut bait and get Britain out, he’d rushed the process and millions had paid the price. But was any of that really his fault?, he self-soothed. No one saw this coming – not Gandhi, not Jinnah, not Nehru, no one. No one could’ve imagined the migration of 12 million people. It was like something ripped from the pages of the Old Testament.


This was not his fault. …Right?


Dickie always did have a talent for self-soothing, and whatever misgivings he had about his role in the Partition disaster, those feelings would be tabled for another day. To sleep at night, he had to believe that he had fulfilled his duty, that he had accomplished the task Clement Attlee and entrusted him with. India belonged to the Indians now. The path forward was theirs and theirs alone to chart.  


As his car turned into the grounds of the government house, and the vehicle rolled to a stop, Mountbatten may have allowed himself the smallest flicker of hope for the future. With his task complete and India more-or-less stabilized, he and Edwina would be going home soon, back to England. As much affection as he had for India and its people, it was time to turn the page.


But as Dickie was walking up the steps to the Government House, he was ambushed by an aide-de-camp. Just looking at the man’s expression, Mountbatten could tell something was very, very wrong. This aide had an urgent piece of news to report, and when he opened his mouth, Dickie’s stomach fell through the floor.


Mohandas Gandhi, the aide said, was dead. Shot three times in the chest at point blank range on the way to an evening prayer meeting.


Mountbatten’s first words were “Who did it?”


“We don’t know, sir.” The aide answered.


Minutes later, Mountbatten was in a car, speeding towards Gandhi’s house in Delhi. By the time he arrived at the residence, according to Collins & Lapierre:


“an enormous crowd had already engulfed its grounds. As they pushed their way through the throng to Gandhi's quarters, a man, his face contorted with frenzy and hysteria, shrieked, 'It was a Moslem who did it.' A sudden silence froze the crowd. Mountbatten turned to the man. 'You fool,' he shouted as loudly as he could, 'don't you know it was a Hindu?' Seconds later, as they passed into the house, [his aide] Campbell Johnson turned to him. 'How can you possibly know it's a Hindu?' he asked. 'I don't,' answered Mountbatten, 'but if it really was a Moslem, India is going to live one of the most ghastly massacres the world has ever seen.'


Others were converging on the house too. The photographer Margaret Bourke-White had interviewed Gandhi just hours earlier that afternoon. When she’d left him, he’d been alive and well. She was just a few blocks away when she saw people rushing back in the direction of Gandhi’s house:


“News travels with lightning swiftness in India, and in a few minutes, I was back at Birla House. Thousands of people were already pressing toward the scene of the tragedy. The crush was so great, I could hardly reach the door, but the guards recognized me and helped me through.


When Mountbatten arrived, he learned what had happened.


Just after five o’clock that afternoon, Gandhi had been walking through the garden of his house to speak at a prayer meeting. A large crowd had shown up to attend the meeting, and as Gandhi made his way towards the raised platform that he typically spoke from, a young man stepped out from that crowd. He was dressed in a khaki shirt, with close-cropped hair, and a plain face.


Nathuram Godse had arrived at the moment of truth.


Godse stood in front of Gandhi and pressed his palms together in a traditional greeting. “Namaste, Gandhiji” he said. When one of Gandhi’s attendants went to gently remove him from the Mahatma’s path, Godse shoved her aside, and revealed what was concealed between his palms. A Black beretta.


Godse leveled the pistol at Gandhi and squeezed the trigger three times.


Three bullets went into Gandhi’s body, and two words came out. “He Ram”, he gasped, “Oh god.” With that, the Mahatma collapsed into the grass. He was killed instantly. His heart had stopped before the screaming started. The next few minutes were chaos, but when the dust had settled, Nathuram Godse was in police custody, wearing a layer of cuts and bruises he had received from the shocked crowd.


Later that evening, Dickie Mountbatten pushed through the hysterical crowd surrounding the house, making his way into the interior rooms. There, he found members of the Indian government in a shellshocked malaise, a fugue state of grief. One of the first faces he saw belonged Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was as pale as a ghost, his eyes were red, and his cheeks were wet with tears. It was the face of a person inconsolable with grief.


Gandhi’s body had been placed on a straw pallet. Looking down at the corpse, Mountbatten thought the Mahatma looked like a dead sparrow, or a small child. After comforting Nehru, Mountbatten turned to him and said: “You must make an address to the nation. The people are looking to you.”


“I can’t,“ Nehru said, “I’m too upset. I am not prepared. I don’t know what to say.”


'Don't worry, Mountbatten replied, “God will tell you what to say.'


Nehru wasn’t much of a believer in God, but he found the words anyway. As Alex von Tunzelmann writes:


“Nehru went outside and climbed up the gates to address the people. Three times during his speech he broke down in tears. When he climbed down, he was visibly shaking. His words were not recorded, but, soon afterward, he went on All-India Radio to give another such speech to the nation. “The light has gone out from our lives and there is darkness everywhere,” he began, his voice quavering. “And I do not know what to tell you and how to say it.” But he did know how to say it; and he said it beautifully. “The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many, many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later that light will still be seen in this country, and the world will see it, and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate present; it represented the living, eternal truths reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”


Gandhi’s passing triggered a frenzied murmuration of eulogies and tributes. From Venezuela to the Vatican, hot takes to cold analysis, everyone weighed in on the passing of the 109-pound moral giant. 


“The entire world mourns with India,” declared Harry Truman from the White House lawn. In Rome, Pope Pious VII told his flock that Gandhi had been 'an apostle of peace and a friend of Christianity'. Most leaders in London, including the King and even Winston Churchill, conveyed their condolences as well. Although at least some British people were glad that the impish activist was dead and gone; As the English writer Noel Coward sneered in his diary: “Gandhi has been assassinated. In my humble opinion, a bloody good thing but far too late.”


Back in India, some urged the mourning public to dry their eyes and take some pride in Gandhi’s passing. As one politician put it: “What is all the sniveling about? Would you rather he had died of decrepit old age or indigestion? This was the only death great enough for him.”


But the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw may have put it best, when he said that Gandhi’s assassination “shows how dangerous it is to be good.”


The morning after the Mahatma’s death, Nehru and other members of the Indian government led a funeral procession carrying his body through the city of Delhi. For five hours, the procession crawled along a winding route toward a funeral pyre on the banks of the Janmu river. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the funeral procession. The photographer Margarte Bourke-White said she thought it had to be “the largest crowd ever to gather on the face of the earth.”


And in that vast and varied multitude, you could see the proof and power of Gandhi’s unifying message. As Collins and Lapierre write:


Ministers and coolies, Maharajas, Untouchable sweepers, governors, veiled Moslem women, representatives of every caste, class, creed, race and colour in India, united by their common burden of grief, followed the procession in a fittingly unstructured flow of humanity. The cortege's five-mile route to the Jumna was already littered with a carpet of rose petals and marigolds. Every foot along its way was dense with people in trees,-hanging from windows, lining the rooftops, perched on the top of lamp-posts, clinging to telephone poles, ensconced in the arms of statues.


When the procession arrived at the river Janmu, Gandhi’s body was carefully placed in a funeral pyre, according to his wishes. And with the kiss of a torch, the pyre sprung to life, as one historian beautifully described:


The flames, finding the volatile fuel of the ghee, suddenly exploded over the funeral pyre. A furious geyser of sparks boiled into the sky as the crackling, wreath of flame enveloped the pyramid of sandalwood logs. The still brown figure at Its heart disappeared for ever behind an orange curtain of fire. The cold winter wind sweeping down the Jumna whipped the flames higher, pulling the dense, oily smoke from the pyre. As that black pillar mounted a sky incarnadined by the rays of the setting sun, a mournful cry rising from a million chests shook the plains of the Jumna: 'Mahatma Gandhi amar ho gaye — Mahatma Gandhi has become immortal.'


The Mahatma’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, had succeeded in his plot, but failed in his purpose. All the murder had accomplished, at least in the short term, was to unite people in grief, and in doing so remind them of what Gandhi had stood for. According to Von Tunzelmann:


“India calmed, and the harassment of the Muslim population of Delhi ceased. Refugees were rehoused in the Punjab. Stalls and shops reopened in Connaught Place. Unwittingly, with his act of hatred, Nathuram Godse had brought Hindus and Muslims together.”


A spent bullet, Gandhi was not. As for the assassin Godse, his story came to an end in the loop of hangman’s noose. He was tried, convicted and executed by the Indian government just a few months later.


Gandhi was gone; but he would not be the last “goodbye” in 1948.


In the months after Gandhi’s death, life went on in India. The world kept turning. India and Pakistan and Partition receded from the newspapers of the world, supplanted by new flashpoints, new problems. The Cold War was starting to heat up, sabers were rattling from Berlin to Korea.


The world, it seemed, was moving on.


And it was with painful awareness that Edwina Mountbatten realized it was time for her to move on too. For the past ten months, India had been her life. Her work had been exhausting, difficult, and emotionally-draining, but she believed in what she was doing. She had purpose.


In her time here, she had seen both the best and worst of humanity. Unfathomable cruelty and selfless acts of kindness. She’d seen it all and done it all. She’d lifted cocktail glasses into the air, entertaining Indian politicians. She’d lifted corpses into trucks, when high-caste Hindus wouldn’t touch the bodies. India had left its mark on her, and she on it.


Some of it she had anticipated. No one ever said this going to be an easy assignment. But she never could have expected what she found with Jawaharlal Nehru. An intense, enduring, and unbreakable connection. Because of the necessary political proximity between Nehru, the Prime Minister, and Dickie, the Governor General, Nehru and Edwina were around each other all the time. Before long they were inseparable. As Von Tunzelmann writes:


Their relationship had worked because it allowed both Jawahar and Edwina their own private space; but suddenly being together around the clock did not seem so undesirable after all. The intensity of their feelings both exhilarated and frightened them.


Edwina should not have been surprised when, that June, just weeks before she and Dickie were set to return home to England for good, she received a letter from Nehru. In it, he asked her to do something; something that practically, politically, and personally impossible. He asked, Von Tunzelman writes,


“whether she might stay to continue that work. It was an astonishing suggestion. Edwina could not have left her husband to live in India and carry on a close relationship with the prime minister without triggering the greatest scandal since the abdication of her friend Edward VIII. It might have been greater still. No one would have started a war over the king marrying Wallis Simpson, but Edwina’s relationship with Jawahar had potentially devastating political implications. Mountbatten’s viceroyalty was widely thought to have favored India over Pakistan, […] If it emerged now that his wife was romantically involved with Jawaharlal Nehru, with whom she had been extensively photographed since March 1947, it would have opened every decision Mountbatten had made to scrutiny.”


“The security of three nations—Britain, India and Pakistan—rested on this one love affair being kept quiet.”


In her book Alex Von Tunzelmann continues:


“Edwina replied that they had both agreed that they had to face reality and remember their pact to put duty before desire. It was not possible for them to be together. “How wise and right you are,” Jawahar wrote back, “but wisdom brings little satisfaction. A feeling of acute malaise is creeping over me, and horror seizes me when I look at a picture in my mind of your shaking thousands of hands on the night of the 20th and saying your final goodbye.” But, he concluded, “Dickie and you cannot bypass your fate, just as I cannot bypass mine.”


True love or not, the Mountbattens were leaving India. There would be plenty of excuses to come back, occasionally, but Nehru would never enjoy the omnipresent proximity to the woman who made him feel like the best version of himself. As he wrote to Edwina earlier that year: “Life is a dreary business, and when a bright patch comes it rather takes one’s breath away.”


On June 20th, 1948, on the eve of the Dickie and Edwina’s final departure for England, the Mountbattens threw a farewell banquet in Delhi. One last hurrah. The crushing reality left Nehru in a somber mood; Von Tunzelmann writes that


“Photographs from the evening show Jawahar’s eyes downcast, his expression in-suppressibly sad. After dinner, he gave a speech in honor of Edwina. It was virtually an open declaration of love. The gods or some good fairy gave you beauty and high intelligence, and grace and charm and vitality—great gifts—and she who possesses them is a great lady wherever she goes. But unto those who have, even more shall be given: and they gave you something that was even rarer than those gifts—the human touch, the love of humanity, the urge to serve those who suffer and who are in distress. And this amazing mixture of qualities results in a radiant personality and in the healer’s touch. Wherever you have gone you have brought solace, and you have brought hope and encouragement. Is it surprising, therefore, that the people of India should love you and look up to you as one of themselves and should grieve that you are going? Hundreds of thousands have seen you personally in various camps and other places and in hospitals, and hundreds of thousands will be sorrowful at the news that you have gone. At these words, Edwina burst into tears. Jawahar, too, was inconsolable, and was too upset to listen to Edwina’s eventual speech of thanks.


The next morning, Nehru accompanied the Mountbattens to the airfield. The former Viceroy and Vicereine waved goodbye to the assembled crowd, as a brass band played “God Save The King.” Nehru shook hands with Dickie in a final farewell. His gaze shifted to Edwina, and his head collapsed into a simple bow, then he gently kissed her hand.


And like their very first greeting, played in reverse, the Mountbattens went up the steps, boarded the airplane, and vanished into the sky. Jawaharlal Nehru listened as the roaring propellers softened into silence, and the plane’s silhouette faded into the Delhi haze.


700 miles away, in Pakistan’s capital of Karachi, someone else was fading too.


By the summer of 1948, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, the Quaid-e-Azam, was suffering from advanced tuberculosis. His doctors were not hopeful about his condition, but when the medical scans returned signs of advanced lung cancer, Jinnah’s fate appeared truly sealed.


By August 14th, 1948, the one-year anniversary of Pakistan’s independence, Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s lanky frame had shriveled down to an alarming 80 pounds. It made the late Gandhi’s 109 pound physique seem robust by comparison. Jinnah could not work, could not walk, could barely breathe.  And as the life ebbed out of him, he began to reflect on his life with the cold and existential clarity that one can only attain in the shadow of death’s door.


He admitted to his sister Fatima that he had lost the will to live entirely. His story was over. But the Quaid-e-Azam relayed his most startling confession to her personal physician, a Dr Ilahi Bahksh. Jinnah told him that Pakistan was “the biggest blunder of his life”. Not only that, all he wanted to do was go and make peace with his old enemy, Jawaharlal Nehru: “If now I get an opportunity I will go to Delhi and tell Jawaharlal to forget about the follies of the past and become friends again.”


Whether these deathbed confessions were the true feelings of an intelligent, self-aware man at the end of his life, or the frightened emotional spasms of a man facing down death….that, we will never know.


For all his bluster about the innate differences between Hindus and Muslims, for all his eloquent incisions into the very concept of religious harmony, for all his talk of a glorious haven for India’s Muslims – Jinnah seemed profoundly conflicted about the creation of Pakistan in the last year of his life. In one of his first speeches to the nation, back in August of ’47, Jinnah seemed to hedge or even walk back his divisive rhetoric, saying that Pakistan would absolutely not be a theocracy, but a pluralistic state:


You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State ... The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some states in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State.


It did not track with any of the rhetoric he had been weaving for the past decade. This was the same man who said that the only thing Hindus and Muslims had in common was their slavery to the British.


By the end of his life, he was questioning whether he had done the right thing at all. So much death, so much suffering, so much pain that could never go back in the bottle. A bell that could never be unrung. It was that reckless hate that had taken the life of Gandhi, a man whom he disagreed with profoundly, but respected immensely. Muhammed Ali Jinnah was not convinced that his life’s work had been worth the cost.


September 11th is a very important date in Pakistan. But not for the reason you may think.


The 11th of September, 1948 was the day the Quaid-e-Azam died. He passed away in his home in Karachi. Some of his last words, according to his sister Fatima, were a delirious tangle of nouns, nouns like “refugees”, “Kashmir”, and “Pakistan”. But his last word, the very last word he gasped out, according to Fatima, was “Allah”. God.


It was virtually identical to the last words of his old rival, Mohandas Gandhi. The two men had sparred over religion for decades. One argued that Hindus and Muslims could never live together. The other argued that the world was worthless if they could not. And within just a few months of each other, the fathers of both nations, passed into immortality. Leaving very different, and very complicated legacies behind.


When it came to light that Jinnah had died of tuberculosis, an illness that he had been secretly battling for months, Dickie Mountbatten was furious. He told a pair of historians later:


'Not only was I not aware, but nobody was aware. Nobody had a clue […] If I had known all this at the time, the course of history would have been different. I would have delayed the granting of independence for several months. There would have been no Pakistan.”




Jawaharlal Nehru, meanwhile, was left behind to lead his infant nation into an uncertain and hard-fought future. Like all heads of state, his tenure was uneven and subject to criticism. Principled stands were counter-balanced with shameful compromises. The man who had once penned a secret editorial in which he criticized himself under a pseudonym, now had the destiny of the world’s 2nd largest nation cradled in his fingers. “We want no Caesars”, he had written back in 1937. For all his mistakes and shortcomings, for all his contradictions and failures, Jawaharlal Nehru could at least look himself in the mirror and most definitely not see a “Caesar” staring back at him.


Jawaharlal Nehru would lead India’s government for the next 17 years, and the entire time, he kept in close contact with Edwina.


Edwina and Jawahar, describes Von Tunzelmann, wrote every day at first. Inevitably, this tailed off to once a week and finally once a fortnight, but the letters remained intimate until the end. Jawahar sent Edwina presents from wherever he was in the world: sugar from the United States (when it was rationed in Britain), cigarettes from Egypt, pressed ferns from Sikkim, a book of photographs of erotic sculptures from the Temple of the Sun in Orissa. “I must say they took my breath away for an instant,” he wrote. “There was no sense of shame or of hiding anything.” Edwina replied that she had found the sculptures fascinating. “I am not interested in sex as sex,” she wrote. “There must be so much more to it, beauty of spirit and form and in its conception. But I think you and I are in the minority! Yet another treasured bond.” Whenever possible, they spent time with each other. Edwina went to India every year, a fact that did not escape criticism.


Time went on, seasons passed, the Cold War heated up and Kashmir cooled down, little islands of peace in a prolonged conflict. 


Twelve years after Partition, on February 21st, 1960, Edwina was in Borneo on an inspection tour for the St John Ambulance Brigade. It was a routine trip, similar to the globe-trotting excursions she’d been making her whole life. That evening, Edwina went to her room complaining of a headache and fatigue. When her secretary knocked on her door the next morning, there was no reply. The secretary entered the room to find, as von Tunzelmann writes,


“the Countess Mountbatten of Burma lying on the bed. Her body was already cold. She had suffered heart failure a few hours before. Still one of the world’s richest women, she had had no splendid possessions with her; only a pile of old letters on the bedside table. She must have been reading them when she died, for a few, having fluttered from her hands, were strewn across her bed. They were all from Jawaharlal Nehru.”


She was 58 years old.


Edwina had always had a phobia about being buried after she died. For such a free spirit, it didn’t feel right to be entombed in a sterile mausoleum in the corner of some dreary English graveyard. She’d always told Dickie that she wanted to be buried at sea.


And so a few days later, Dickie sailed a British warship called the HMS Wakeful into the English channel, and interred Edwina’s coffin into the waves. Escorting the ship was an Indian frigate called the Trishul, which Jawaharlal Nehru had sent all the way from India. It was the last, symbolic act of cooperation between two men in honor of a woman whom they had both loved deeply, each in their own way.


The deep grief, the long years, and the pressure of leading a nation began to catch up with Nehru, and on the 27th of May, 1964, his heart gave out. He was 74, just a few years shy of the age Mohandas Gandhi had been when the assassin’s bullet took his life.


And so, Dickie Mountbatten was all that remained. The Last Viceroy was the last man standing. All the others were gone. Gandhi, Jinnah, Edwina, and Nehru – all the witnesses to that chaotic, lovely, horrific, exhilarating, unforgettable ten months that had changed the course of South Asian history forever.


Mountbatten never did fully atone for his role, contested as it may be, in the botched response to the Partition violence. For the cameras and the journalists, he remained the dapper and indefatigable champion of empire, a faithful servant to the Crown, and by this time, cheerful uncle to the new British monarch, Elizbeth the II.


Dickie never did pay any true price for his handling of Partition, political or personal. Ironically, it was a communal struggle much closer to home that claimed the life of the Last Viceroy. In August of 1979, almost thirty years after he’d relinquished the title of Viceroy, Lord Louis Mountbatten was assassinated by the Irish Republican Army, the IRA, when they snuck a bomb onto his fishing boat.


Mountbatten’s legacy is a complicated one. The blame for what happened during Partition usually falls squarely on either his doorstep, or Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s. For some, Mountbatten was a distillation of everything that was wrong with the British Raj, as Shashi Tharoor writes:


If Britain’s greatest accomplishment was the creation of a single political unit called India, fulfilling the aspirations of visionary emperors from Ashoka to Akbar, then its greatest failure must be the shambles of that original Brexit—cutting and running from the land they had claimed to rule for its betterment, leaving behind a million dead, thirteen million displaced, billions of rupees of property destroyed, and the flames of communal hatred blazing hotly across the ravaged land. No greater indictment of the failures of British rule in India can be found than the tragic manner of its ending. -


Mountbatten’s shortcomings are obvious, but it doesn’t absolve the Indian leaders themselves from what happened. Jinnah’s religious populism, Nehru’s hot-headed intransigence, Gandhi’s rigid activism – all of these things played a role. But to try and pin blame on a single person is a bit of a fool’s errand - at least in my view.


In the immediate aftermath of Partition, most people in India and Pakistan, just wanted to forget – to move on. They did not want to examine the complicated milieu of factors and counter-factors that had produced the catastrophe. They did not want to read think-pieces, pontificating about how things had gone so wrong. They did not want to stare in the mirror, endlessly analyzing their own scars and amputations. Freedom had come at a price, yes. But now was the time to live, to make the most of the national autonomy that so many had suffered and died for. As one refugee candidly put:


‘I was an idealist back then, I think we all had to be in order to survive. After everything we had witnessed in those days, one had to remain positive somehow. As the weeks went by, the smell and feel and memory of the people on the train gradually faded into forgetfulness. I never thought about it—or maybe I just couldn’t, there was no time to.


Another said: “How much can you afford to think of a life you have left behind? There was no point in thinking about it.”



Partition left both countries with political scar tissue. Rather than developing any kind of kinship with each other, India and Pakistan’s relationship ossified into a bone-deep sense distrust and paranoia. And it has been a fundamentally adversarial dynamic ever since. “Like a distorted fairground mirror,” Yasmin Khan writes,” India and Pakistan became warped, frightening, oppositional images of one another.


Children born after Partition grew up in a world where the animosity between India and Pakistan was an immutable truth, a law of nature, something that just…was. The sky is blue. The grass is green. Water is wet. Those people…are evil.


The generation that went through Partition buried those memories deep down, in a kind of willful amnesia. Children of Partition survivors often say that their parents would never, ever talk about what they went through in 1947. What was the point? One refugee commented:


“Life went on. Freedom became a reality and nationalism its by-product. And, very quickly, like a deep internal wound that is left unexamined, the Partition became an unmentionable and invisible memory in the public sphere, reserved only for rare private discussion.”


Another said:


‘Because partition was so hard to talk about no one ever acknowledges it. And when you don’t acknowledge a thing for a very long time, then you forget about it, not in a sense that you forget it ever happened – you don’t consciously think that you’re not going to talk about it.’ ‘It’s difficult to talk to my uncle about it. It’s difficult to talk to my dad about it. I have that whole bunch of relatives who never mentioned it, even though he saved that part of the family, and it is a tricky subject to bring up.”


The writer Aanchal Malhotra had a similar experience, saying that:


“In my family, ‘Partition’ was a word unspoken for years, a feeling unexplored, a wound untouched.”


Perhaps the most striking illustration of this willful amnesia lies in the fact that, to this day, there are no official state-sponsored memorials to the victims of Partition violence in either India or Pakistan. “A million people may have died”, Urvashi Butalia writes, “ but they have no monuments. Stories are all that people have, stories that barely breach the frontiers of family and religious community. People talking to their own blood.”


For now, the monument to Partition is a living one. The memories, imperfect and imprecise as they are, passed down from generation to generation, however painfully and hesitantly. Most of the people who experienced Partition firsthand are dead and gone, but over the past several decades, journalist, historians, and researchers have gone to herculean lengths to preserve those stories. The documentation on Partition is thorough, but not widely acknowledged, as Hajari Nisid writes:


Although the subject of deep and often penetrating scholarship, the experience of Partition remains poorly understood both within and especially outside the subcontinent. On mice-infested library shelves in Delhi and Karachi, lines upon lines of moldering books pick apart the subject: academic histories, biographies, memoirs, collections of official papers, multivolume sets of correspondence, oral histories, poems, political screeds. Most are lamentably unread. Ordinary Indians and Pakistanis long ago settled on their own myopic and mutually contradictory versions of events, which largely focus on blaming the other side or the British for provoking the slaughter. Meanwhile, the rest of the world barely grasps what happened.


Today, Pakistan and India are still at each other’s throats, both are nuclear powers, and the Kashmir is a perennial source of diplomatic anxiety.


 But there are many who are hopeful that Partition can be more than just a window into old grievances and generational hatred. Maybe by looking back, by digging into those stories, by learning about what really happened, and how it happened, and why it happened, some semblance of reconciliation can be achieved.


But at the very least, Partition is a vivid example of what happens when neighbors drift apart, when they stop understanding each other, or even trying to understand each other. The solution, perhaps, is dialogue. Taking off the armor, and talking to people, even when you don’t understand why they are the way they are.


There’s at least one little old man in a loincloth who probably would’ve agreed.


As one child of a Partition survivor reflected:


‘Partition can be summarized in great detail or in one sentence. But I still feel great distress that what happened shouldn’t have happened. I think we should talk. We should talk about it very openly – we should know what happened at that time. And there is no disgrace in talking about that.“


This has been Conflicted. Thanks for listening.


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