Mahatma’s vision of communal amity is ‘Idea of India’

  • S.N. Sahu

Communal amity and solidarity remained the defining aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s life and work right from his childhood days. He accorded top priority to communal unity over all others and cherished the idea of India by stating that “I do not want India to be wholly Hindu, holy Islamic and wholly Christian but wholly tolerant with all its religions coexisting and flourishing.” Gandhi lived and laid down his life for such a vision of India.

Such a vision of India is now being assailed in a calculated manner by powers that be controlling the State apparatus and aggressively pushing majoritarian agenda and polarization process in the name of faith. It is in such disturbing times, Gandhi’s vision of India is of paramount significance to defend our unity and integrity, so splendidly captured within the framework of our Constitution. The lofty vision of Gandhi became the motive force for Bharat Jodo Yatra spearheaded by Rahul Gandhi who is now in the forefront of the Bharat Nyay yatra from Manipur to Mumbai. In fact, the Nyay Yatra also reflects enduring idea of Gandhi who wrote in the Harijan on January 27, 1940: “My belief is unshaken that without communal unity swaraj cannot be attained through non-violence. But unity cannot be reached without justice between communities.” The justice that Gandhi flagged is being smothered by the ruling leaders of India on account of their narratives which spew venom among different communities.

It is illuminating to note that the idea of ‘Satyagraha’ Gandhi employed right from his South African days and later made it the rallying point of our epoch, making freedom struggle upheld communal harmony. In other words, his very method of non-violent struggle was rooted in diverse faith traditions. For instance - in his numerous public speeches while appealing people to join ‘Satyagraha’ for freedom of India, he was citing exemplary Satyagrahis from different faiths. In that context, he referred to Bhakt Prahalad from Hindu mythology, Socrates from Greek history, Jesus Christ representing Christianity and above all Imam Hussain from Islam and the Meerabai from Hinduism as examples to emulate for becoming Satyagrahis. He hailed them as outstanding Satyagrahis who left behind shining legacies in standing up to their convictions without ill will against those who oppressed them. For him, Bhakt Prahalad from the Hindu mythology was the first Satyagrahi because he while reciting the name of Lord Hari never submitted himself to the dictation of his father to stop doing so and never had nursed any ill will or prayed Hari to kill him even as Prahlad’s father conspired to physically eliminate his son. Examples like Socrates who drank poison in defence of truth without any ill will against the King who asked him to do so and Jesus Christ who prayed for forgiveness for those who put him on cross are well known. Imam Hussain’s legacy rooted self-sacrifice and his martyrdom inspired Gandhi to learn the lessons of ‘Satyagraha’ from Islam. Meerabai hailed by Gandhi as the only woman Satyagrahi, was persecuted and thrown out of her palace by her husband and in laws for her devotion to Lord Krishna and yet in her numerous hymns, she showed no ill will against them while remaining imbued with Krishna consciousness. Such confluential approach of Gandhi in learning vital lessons of Satyagraha from diverse religious traditions testified to his tryst with interfaith harmony which remained central to his pursuit of achieving communal unity.

In his Constructive Programme drafted by him in the early 1940, he placed communal unity ahead of rest of other points such as economic equality, sanitation, women’s upliftment, etc. In the point concerning communal unity he said that every Congress person should represent in himself or herself the elements of all faiths and not just the faith pursued by the individual concerned. He wanted not only political unity among Hindus and Muslims but also heart unity and stated that such heart unity among people professing different faiths would put an end to the divisive practice prevailing in British India of selling Hindu Pani, Muslim Pani and Hindu Tea and Muslim Tea.
When he went to see Indian National Army (INA) soldiers in jail, they told Gandhi that they who fought for India’s freedom as Indians were being served in jail Hindu Pani, Muslim Pani and Hindu Tea and Muslim Tea. He asked them as to how they dealt with the problem. The reply of those solders that they mixed Hindu Pani with Muslim Pani and Hindu tea and Muslim tea for consumption impressed Gandhi so much that he hailed it as the greatest lesson taught by Netaji Subhas Bose and his INA to live and die in defence of communal harmony.

Gandhi held not only the British Government for dividing the communities of India to perpetuate their rule but also held both the Maulvis and Hindu priests for causing rift among people in the name of faith. He also predicted that exacerbation of communalism would lead to distortion of history. He did so in his article “Of New Universities’ on November 2, 1947, and presciently wrote that deepening of strife in the name of faith would lead to removal of Taj Mahal and other aspects of Moghul era from history text books. He then stated, If, on the other hand, Hindus, Muslims and all the others who may belong to different faiths can live…..with perfect safety and honour, then in the nature of things, our education will take a shape altogether pleasing.”

Now Modi regime has removed several aspects of Moghul era from our history books and it is an outcome of the accentuation communal disharmony which now prompts Hindutva forces including some BJP leaders for issuing calls for genocide and comprehensive boycott of people on account of their faith. Remedy for this lies in remaining tuned to the vision of communal harmony expounded by Mahatma Gandhi. In doing so we can defend idea of ‘India’ and save our ‘Constitution and Democracy’.

(The author served as OSD to Rashtrapati K.R. Narayanan)