Actually the immediate reason for this fast was his demand that the mosque in Mehrauli, [the shrine of Qutubuddin] Bakhtiyar Chishti, be returned to Muslims. It had been seized.
This was the time when India was also becoming independent, and Gandhi was isolated. He was isolated from high politics but he was very close to his people. This is the most astonishing thing, when all his lieutenants were all engaged in high political activities, Gandhi was actually spending most of his time with the most ordinary and humble people of India.
But the fast had an impact in Delhi. I'm telling you all this because this is our city. This is our city where these things happened in 1948. It had a big impact and then processions of Muslims were taken out in Sabzi Mandi and their Hindu neighbours offered them sweets and so on. So there was… it did have a calming effect on the population of Delhi. Undoubtedly.
And a declaration was made on the 18th of January 1948. It’s a very interesting declaration which was signed by everybody. So it was not a legal document but it was a kind of ethical and moral document which was signed in the presence of Gandhi which again people have forgotten about. It says… it was signed by all these top leaders including members of the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha, you see…
‘We wish to announce that it is our heartfelt desire that Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs and members of other communities should once again live in Delhi like brothers and in perfect amity. And we take the pledge that we should protect the life, property and faith of Muslims and the incidents that have occurred in Delhi shall not happen again. We want to assure Gandhiji that the annual fair held at Khwaja Qutub-ud-din's Mazaar will be held this year as in previous years. Muslims will be able to move around in Sabzi Mandi, Karol Bagh and Paharganj and in other localities just as in the past. The mosques which have been left by Muslims and now in the possession of Hindus and Sikhs will be returned. We shall not object to the return to Delhi of Muslims who had migrated. We assure
that all these things will be done by our personal effort and not with the help of the police and military.’ This is very significant. And then finally ‘we request Mahatmaji to believe us and give up his fast’.
So this is the declaration made on the 18th of January 1948 and then Gandhi made a very very moving speech in response to that declaration.
On the 30th of January, one Nathuram Godse, editor of a Poona Marathi journal called ‘Hindu Rashtra’, shot at him three times at point blank range and killed him. It’s a very very complex history of this crime and if you read.. it is worth reading what Nathuram Godse had to say about why he killed him, you could see a kind of Mahabharat-type epic symbolism in whatever he was saying. Ordinary concepts of law, morality, ethics did not enter the frame. It was like an epic confrontation and he said ‘with due respect for Mahatma I have to kill him because he has destroyed Hinduism and India’ and so on.