(Rahnuma) Just nine days after ending his last fast on January 18, 1948, to bring sanity in Delhi which was engulfed in unprecedented communal violence, and three days before he was assassinated on January 30, weak and weary 79-year-old Mahatma Gandhi was visiting the Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah in Mehrauli.
It was freezing cold in Delhi and he reached there before 8 a.m. to see the damage done to it during the communal orgy. He was very upset that in the name of religion, Muslims were attacked in their own land. He was there with Maulana Azad and Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur. Even though it was Urs time there, yet the mood was sombre and Bapu was unwell as he was on fast till recently.
After this holy place was attacked and vandalised, many local Muslims left their homes for safer places. Even staffers of the Dargah abandoned it as they feared for their lives. They too moved to safer places.
Those were the days when only villages constituted the entire Mehrauli area. IIT and various South Delhi colonies like Green Park, Hauz Khas and Safderjung Development Area(SDA) came up only after mid 50s.
Pyare Lal Nayar, Bapu’s PA, writes in ‘Mahatma Gandhi Purnahuti’, “Bapu was devastated to see some part of the dargah damaged. It was being attacked by refugees coming from Pakistan. They were given make-shift accommodation close to the Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah by the government.”
At the dargah, he appealed to everybody to live peacefully. He asked refugees to rebuild the damaged area. Gandhiji had asked Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to get the dargah repaired as it had sustained extensive damage during the riots.
Further, Gandhiji asked Nehru to allocate Rs 50,000 for the damages. Of course, it was a huge amount in those days. After his visit, Gandhi himself wrote, as per his collected works (Volume 98 pg 98-99): “Esteemed as second only to the shrine at Ajmer, it (the Qutbuddin Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah) is visited every year not only by Muslims but by thousands of non-Muslims too.”
Before leaving the dargah, Gandhiji told the large assembly, “I have come on a pilgrimage. I request Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs who have come here with cleansed hearts to take a vow that they will never allow strife to raise its head, but will live in amity, united as friends and brothers. We must purify ourselves and meet even our opponents with love.”
Visited shrines only twice
In his 744-day stay in Delhi between April 12, 1915, and the fateful January 30, 1948, he visited religious places only twice even though he was a devout Hindu. He inaugurated the Birla Mandir on September 22, 1939, on the condition that the entry of dalits would not be barred there.
The second time when he visited any shrine, it was the dargah. Yes, he lived in a tiny room at Valmiki Mandir in Delhi where he used to teach kids of Valmiki families. That black board is still intact which was used by none other than Gandhiji during his classes to teach his students.
Bapu stayed at Valmiki Mandir in then Reading Road (now Mandir Marg) for exactly 214 days from April 1, 1946 to June 10, 1947. Here Louis Fischer used to interview him before writing his great biography ‘The Life of Mahatma Gandhi’.
“This shrine was subjected to the wrath of mobs. The Muslims living in the vicinity for the last 800 years had to leave. Though Muslims love the shrine, today no Muslim can be found anywhere near it. It is the duty of the Hindus, Sikhs, the officials and the government to open the shrine again and wash off this stain on us.
“The time has come when both India and Pakistan must unequivocally declare to the majorities in each country that they will not tolerate desecration of religious places, be they small or big. They should also undertake to repair the places damaged during riots,” Gandhiji had said.
Bakhtiyar Kaki Dargah comes alive every year during autumn when ‘Phool Walon Ki Sair’, the annual Delhi festival which celebrates communal harmony, takes place here. It is indeed a tribute to Gandhiji who stood firm that India has to survive on secular ethos.
The seven-day festival was revived by the then Prime Minister Nehru in 1961. During the festival, both Hindus and Muslims offer floral ‘chaadar’ and ‘pankha’ at the dargah. Floral ‘pankha’ and canopy are also offered at the ancient temple of Devi Yogmaya, also in Mehrauli.
Alas, there is no plaque at the dargah that can give an idea that this place has very strong connections with Gandhiji. Sadly enough, those who work at the dargah have no clue as to why Gandhiji came here on January 27, 1948.
(The writer is a senior journalist)