As India celebrated the end of British rule on 15 August, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi spent the day in Calcutta, fasting and praying. Deeply saddened by the bloodshed of Partition, Bapu had joined hands with Shaheed Suhrawardy, former Chief Minister of undivided Bengal and his sharp critic who had once called him “that old fraud”. They went from Hindu locality to Muslim locality in Calcutta, convincing the rioters to welcome back those they had driven away. The violence soon stopped in Noakhali and other parts of East Bengal.
But Bapu's heart remained heavy. That year on the 12th of November, he made a special address to his countrymen over radio. Appealing to the lakhs of refugees to face their suffering 'with as much fortitude and patience' as they could summon, he said: “Today is Diwali day but there can be no lighting of chirags for you or for anyone. Our Diwali will be best celebrated by service of you and you will celebrate it by living in your camp as brothers and looking upon everyone as your own. If you will do that you will come through victorious.”
Next year on January 13, Mahatma Gandhi decided to go on fast, which was to prove to be his last. He explained why he was undertaking it in 'Harijan'.
"One fasts for health’s sake under laws governing health, fasts as a penance for a wrong done and felt as such. In these fasts, the fasting one need not believe in Ahimsa. here is, however, a fast which a votary of non-violence sometimes feels impelled to undertake by way of protest against some wrong done by society, and this he does when as a votary of Ahimsa has no other remedy left. Such an occasion has come my way.
When on September 9th, I returned to Delhi from Calcutta, it was to proceed to the West Punjab. But that was not to be. Gay Delhi looked a city of the dead. As I alighted from the train I observed gloom on every face I saw. Even the Sardar, whom humour and the joy that humour gives never desert, was no exception this time. The cause of it I did not know. He was on the platform to receive me. He lost no time in giving me the sad news of the disturbances that had taken place in the Metropolis of the Union. At once I saw that I had to be in Delhi and ‘do or die’. There is a apparent calm brought about by prompt military and police action. But there is storm within the breast. It may burst forth any day. This I count as no fulfillment of the vow to ‘do’ which alone can keep me from death, the incomparable friend. I yearn for heart friendship between the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims. It subsisted between them the other day. Today it is non-existent. It is a state that no Indian patriot worthy of the name can contemplate with equanimity. Though the Voice within has been beckoning for a long time, I have been shutting my ears to it, lest it may be the voice of Satan otherwise called my weakness. I never like to feel resourceless, a Satyagrahi never should. Fasting is his last resort in the place of the sword–his or other’s. I have no answer to return to the Muslim friends who see me from day to day as to what they should do. My impotence has been gnawing at me of late. It will go immediately the fast is undertaken..."
And in conclusion Bapu further wrote:
"A pure fast, like duty, is its own reward. I do not embark upon it for the sake of the result it may bring. I do so because I must. Hence, I urge everybody dispassionately to examine the purpose and let me die, if I must, in peace which I hope is ensured. Death for me would be a glorious deliverance rather than that I should be a helpless witness of the destruction of India, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. That destruction is certain if Pakistan ensures no equality of status and security of life and property for all professing the various faiths of the world, and if India copies her. Only then Islam dies in the two India's, not in the world. But Hinduism and Sikhism have no world outside India. Those who differ from me will be honoured by me for their resistance however implacable. Let my fast quicken conscience, not deaden it. Just contemplate the rot that has set in beloved India and you will rejoice to think that there is a humble son of hers who is strong enough and possibly pure enough to take the happy step. If he is neither, he is a burden on earth. The sooner he disappears and clears the Indian atmosphere of the burden, the better for him and all concerned."
Even as that month was ending, on 30 January, 1948 to be exact, the Mahatma's words were to prove eerily prophetic as he fell to a bigot's bullets.
— the harbinger