The book under review is the fourth edition of the title with additional information and comments spread over almost all the chapters. Eminently suitable to record the events as they took place during the period dealt with in the book, since the author Jha was with the Mahatma during the period immediately before the Indian Independence and the country’s partition and acquired first hand knowledge of what all he has chosen to record in this book. The author was in the party that accompanied Gandhi on the visit to Noakhali after the 1946 communal riots. He takes pain to reveal the passionate pursuit of the Mahatma to somehow stop dismembering India which was the desire of both England and Jinnah.
The book opens with the scene after the Second World War and Churchill’s adamant position regarding India’s independence. The first chapter lays the foundation for the book in which the author gives a clear picture of the events that preceded the independence of India. Though the narration is brief, no important point is left out of the scenario in which all the leaders of the movement appear along with the English people in their pivotal positions.
Gandhiji knew the partition would uproot millions of men and women with children from both sides of the divided country across the border; he foresaw the tragedy that would follow and strove hard to prevent such a separation taking place. The present generation will benefit from this chapter to understand history much better as in the following decades history has been twisted and retold in different forms to suit the necessity of times. Going through this narration one would be able at once to grasp where the country erred.
In the chapter Gandhi and Partition, the author records and rightly so by saying, “The curtain on the drama leading to partition had been rolled up by the Congress when abandoning its age-long stand against division of the country, on communal or religious lines, it demanded a few weeks before the arrival of the last Viceroy in March 1947, a partition of Punjab into Hindu and Muslim majority areas without consulting Gandhi.”
In the chapter, “Congress Breaches Gandhi’s Trust” the author explains how the Congress leaders allowed themselves to become willing partners with the British in dividing their motherland. He quotes Pyarelal Gandhi’s secretary: “The Congress dropped the pilot” Tired of going to prison again the leaders agreed to partition, said Nehru to his biographer Michael Brecher.
The seventh chapter is important in which the narration goes through the compelling need of the British to ram down the Indian throat the decision to divide the country and proclaimed to the world the ‘chief priests and elders’ of the Indian parties asked them to do so! That partition did happen in spite of Gandhi pleading not to shatter the beautiful mosaic of composite culture and heritage of the sub-continent is the tragedy, Gandhi’s advice having fallen on deaf ears.
Gandhi and Congress is a chapter in which the story unfolds as to how and why Gandhi did not succeed. Mountbatten had realised early that if he could not get the Muslim League to agree to keep India united, he would have to make the Congress leaders agree to its division. He found Gandhi unrelenting and found in Nehru a possible source to plough the decision through. Mountbatten being a clever diplomat as well, knew how he could use the good offices of Vallabhbhai Patel and Krishna Menon through V. P. Menon a trusted lieutenant of Patel. Mountbatten had found, the author says, “Nehru and Patel had no objection to put Gandhi on a pedestal, admired … consulted, listened to with respectful attention and bypassed” Very impressive point indeed!
The book must be read to understand Gandhi properly in connection with his stand on partition. The appendix has important papers like Gandhi’s last will and testament — completely forgotten now — and exchange of letters with various leaders, the British PM’s statement on Transfer of Power by June 1948 in February 20, 1947, and earlier introduction to the book by Dr. Mohan Dharia. The book is an excellent narration of a time that is not understood properly, especially for this generation to read and comprehend the phenomenon that was Gandhi.