How a closed railway crossing saved Gandhi's life

In this file photo taken on November 5, 1934 Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, delivers a speech at the All-India Congress Committe in Mumbai. (Photo by - / AFP)

Before Nathuram Godse shot him in the chest in the grounds of Birla House in Delhi on January 30, 1948, there were four to five attempts on the life of Mahatma Gandhi, one of them in Pune 14 years earlier.

It was suspected that Gandhi's nationwide campaign against untouchability led to this attack, but the assailant's identity remains unknown to this date.

A bomb was thrown at a car, believing that Gandhi was inside, during his visit here on June 25, 1934. The incident took place in Vishrambaug area where he was to address a meeting.

Some people including the chief officer of the Pune municipal corporation and occupants of the car were injured.

Late Narhar Vishnu Gadgil, a Congress leader who became a minister in the first cabinet of independent India, describes this attempt on Gandhi's life in his autobiography in Marathi, "Pathik" (A traveller).

According to Gadgil, the Mahatma set out for the meeting in time, but his car was held up at the railway crossing at Wakdewadi, and he reached the venue five minutes late.

"A loud explosion was heard outside the meeting hall in Vishrambaug," Gadgil writes.

"People inside the hall thought it was fireworks to welcome Gandhi. Later it was learnt that some malevolent person had hurled a bomb at a car, thinking that Gandhi was inside," he writes.

"It was because of the railway crossing gate that was closed, Gandhi's life was saved," Gadgil adds.

When Gandhi's car arrived at the venue some minutes later, Gadgil took him to one side, embracing him so as to cover his body, and led him in.

The meeting was over in a few minutes and Gandhi was escorted out in police security.

While boarding the railway compartment on his way back, Gandhi told Gadgil, "If they find the assailant, tell him I have forgiven him."

But the assailant was never found or even identified.

Arun Khore, a journalist and researcher who is writing a book on Gandhi's association with Pune, pointed out the irony that both his mentor and his assassin were from Pune.

"Gopal Krishna Gokhale, whom Gandhi regarded his political guru, was from Pune, and Godse, who assassinated him, too was from the city," Khore said.

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