August, 1942! The fervour for freedom was at its peak; anger was brewing against a brute Empire and it was then that, Gandhi Ji called out,
“We shall either free India or die in the attempt; we shall not live to see the perpetuation of our slavery”.
Significance of the Palace:
In response, the British arrested Gandhi ji along with a few of his associates and detained him for 21 months at the Aga Khan Palace. While outside these walls the country was left leaderless, the movement for freedom from slavery was guided through the spirit and principles advocated by Gandhi.
This palace became the centre point of the ‘Quit India’ movement. It was here that Mahadev Desai (Gandhi’s Secretary) and Kasturba Gandhi breathed their last.
This memorial museum is dedicated to Gandhi ji and showcases in detail the entire 21 months that Gandhi ji was detained here. The 12 galleries spread over 3 floors will transport the visitor to those tough times that or beloved father of the nation spent behind bars and yet guided the freedom movement. (Only six galleries at the ground floor were open to public when I visited the palace last year, the rest were under renovation).
Formation of Aga Khan Palace:
The Aga Khan Palace also known as ‘Gandhi National Memorial’ was built in the year 1892, by the 3rd Agakhan Sultan Muhammad Shah Agakhan who was the 4th spiritual head of the Khoja Ismaili religion. He constructed this palace intended to be a source of employment for the famine-struck villagers in the surrounding areas.
It took about five years to complete the work of this palace, and one thousand people were employed and they were given full-hearted wages for their livelihood, while rupees twelve lakhs was the cost of construction.
In the year 1969, Prince Karim El Hussenim Agakhan IV, came to India and donated this palace with surrounding land to the Government of India ‘Gandhi Samarak Nidhi’, New Delhi in memory of Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy.
This palace is a national monument of India’s freedom movement. Following the launch of ‘Quit India’ movement in 1942, Gandhi ji, his wife Kasturba, secretary Mahadev Desai were confined at this palace from August 9, 1942 to May 6, 1944.
Mahadevbhai and Kasturba passed away while in captivity at the Agakhan Palace and their ‘Samadhis’ (Memorial) are located in the palace campus.
This monument is a simple memorial to Gandhi ji and his life. The museum inside the palace complex has a rich collection of pictures and photographs of the important incidents of his life. There is also a wide assortment of his personal items, including utensils, clothes, mala, slippers, and also a letter written by Gandhi ji on the death of his secretary.
A small amount of Gandhi ji’s ashes are kept near the Samadhi’s of Kasturba Gandhi and Mahadevbhai Desai.
Secret Congress Radio:
Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress made an open declaration that the ‘Quit India’ movement would commence with a rally in Bombay on the 9th of August 1942. Prior to the planned date, the British arrested Gandhi ji and other premier leaders. Party workers and Junior leaders went ahead with the mass rally and launched the ‘Quit India’ movement by hoisting the national flag.
Usha Mehta, a ‘Gandhian’, allied with a few close patriots and started a Secret Congress Radio on 14th August, 1942. The radio broadcast recorded messages from Gandhi ji and other prominent freedom fighters from across the nation. The location of the Secret Congress Radio was changed almost daily to duck authorities. However, the organizers were caught by the police after 3 months on 12th November; arrested, and sentenced to five years in imprisonment by the judiciary.
Even though the radio had a short-stint, it immensely aided the movement by delivering uncut news and other vital information banned by the British-Indian government.
Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai