As is our unity, so is our capacity
My two eyes, Gandhi called Hindus and Muslims. Like Icarus, who flew so close to the sun on wings of wax that he fell, Gandhi would go so far chasing unity, he would fall to bullets.
Had it been set in Delhi’s Birla House instead of Dublin, the opening of Irish novelist Edna O’Brien’s biography of James Joyce would have been equally true of Gandhi:
Once Upon a time there was man coming down a road in Dublin and he gave himself the name of Dedalus the sorcerer, constructor of labyrinths and maker of wings for Icarus who flew so close to the sun that he fell, as the apostolic Dubliner James Joyce would fall deep into a world of words – from the ‘epiphanies’ of youth to the ‘epistomadologies’ of later years.”
Gandhi was no less a magician of Muslim-Hindu unity. He could singularly bring a riot to a grinding halt — in one fell swoop. As for maker of wings, Gandhi soared on his two wings of non-violence and communal harmony. He flew into a blazing sun of discord. But unlike the Dubliner’s cushioned fall “into a world of words”, Gandhi fell to shots fired by someone who felt Hindu interests were far too compromised. That’s a story we all know.
But I doubt whether our present-day politicians would take the kind of risks our founding fathers took. Hindu-Muslim unity is no longer spoken of by our political leaders. The catchphrases are economy and inclusive growth, none of which can help uplift people on bad terms.
Our prime ministers, ministers and leaders have gradually given this a pass. Seldom is a stirring speech heard. Rarely do they address the need for communal harmony, something that has still to be nursed like a new sapling from the storm, till its green shoots can flower.
Time was when Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Azad would never fail or forget to reinforce this. There was no live television then to carry their voices to millions, yet they were distinctly heard.
Today, when such messages could be instantly beamed across the length and breadth of the country, with the widest possible reach of non-stop media, sadly our politicians don’t speak much on this.
Their speeches are limited to either their political achievements or their craven criticism of the Opposition. Many Muslim writers sadly seek popularity by playing to the gallery, rather than dealing with the need to change mindsets. The topics chosen are the ones most palatable: pan Wahabism here and extol the virtues of Sufism there.
So, the present political class has nearly made ‘Hindu-Muslim unity’ a dispensable part of their rhetoric.
Ram Rajya was the defining motif of Leader of the Opposition L.K. Advani’s cross-country rath yatra, Gandhi being one of the five persons who inspired the BJP’s vision. As BJP searches answers to its shrinking base, as of now, it must ask why Muslims are abhorrent of its version of Ram Rajya.
Ensconced in a Hindu vote bank, BJP’s Ram Rajya is enfeebled by a lack of acceptability by one and all. Gandhi’s Ram Rajya, deeply ensconced in morality, is simply welfare of all.
Gandhi removed doubts with clarity and his actions backed his words: “Let no one commit the mistake of thinking that Ramrajya means a rule of the Hindus. My Rama is another name for Khuda or God. I want Khudai Raj, which is the same thing as the Kingdom of God on earth.”
Let us move away for a moment from contemporary key words like “nine per cent growth” and revisit some old concepts, seemingly irrelevant now, like Gandhi’s Swaraj for example. Literally, Swaraj meant self-rule, as used by Tilak and Naoroji. Swarajya, an inflection of the same word, would mean the state of self-determination.
For Gandhi, Swaraj would not simply mean self-rule. It would mean freedom for self-rule but not freedom from self-restraint. He was deeply concerned with the full moral meaning of Swaraj, a sacred Vedic word. It had to be a perfect harmony between freedom of the nation and freedom of individuals. “Swaraj government will be a sorry affair if people look upon it for regulation of every detail of life,” Gandhi wrote. That’s how I have understood my history.
If Ram Rajya is a just society, then its goal is the same as that of an Islamic state, not in the narrow application of Shariah or rule of clerics. Yet, Islamic state is such an unmentionable term now. In my opinion, democracy is the best means to the end of an Islamic state insofar as it means a just state pinioned to moral principles. So, an Islamic state need not necessarily be a theological state run by clerics.
If we can achieve justice for all, through multi-party democracy, it will no less be an Islamic state. It will also be at the same time a Ram Rajya.
According to Gandhi, government of the self is the truest Swaraj. This is so similar to the normative concept of Jihad-e-akbar, or greater Jihad. I am not yoking the two concepts with violence; rather there is a natural parallel. Greater Jihad according to the Prophet was the fight against evil inside one’s own self.
For all their contribution, I think the real power of our great leaders was that there was unity of purpose, despite differences.
Ambedkar did not quite approve of Gandhi’s “Harijan” word for it still meant a particular class of people. He blamed Hinduism as being responsible for the caste system and even burnt the old Hindu law treatise Manusmirit, which explicitly condoned the four varnas or castes as having had Vedic sanction.
Gandhi, on the other hand, did not quite approve of three temple satyagrahas of Ambedkar. Yet, both strove to give the “least, the last and the lost” their rightful place.
Writing in Harijan in 1942, Gandhi stated: “Hindustan belongs to all those who are born and bred here and who have no other country to look to. Therefore, it belongs to Parsis, Beni Israels, to Indian Christians, Muslims and other non-Hindus as much as to Hindus. Free India will be no Hindu Raj, it will be Indian Raj based not on the majority of any religious sect or community, but on the representatives of the whole people without distinction of religion. Foreign domination going, we shall laugh at our folly in having clung to false ideals and slogans.”
Far from being able to hold a candle to them, present-day leaders have nearly disinherited this great legacy. It is often observed that the abiding quality that most old-timers remember about leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad is the significance they attached to communal harmony.
If Jinnah was half in love with the idea of Pakistan, Gandhi was more than half in love with Hindu-Muslim unity. And he broke this down to its barest trifles.
In an article in Young India in 1921, Gandhi wrote:
“I am fully aware that we have not yet attained that unity to such an extent as to bear any strain. It is a daily-growing plant, as yet in delicate infancy, requiring special care and attention. The thing became clear in Nellore when the problem confronted me in a concrete shape. The relations between the two were none too happy. They fought only about two years ago over the question of playing music whilst passing mosques. I hold that we may not dignify every trifle into a matter of deep religious importance. Therefore a Hindu may not insist on playing music whilst passing a mosque. He may not even quote precedents in his own or any other place for the sake of playing music. It is not a matter of vital importance for him to play music whilst passing ‘a mosque. One can easily appreciate the Mussul man sentiment of having solemn silence near a mosque the whole of the twenty-four hours. What is a non-essential to a Hindu may be an essential to a Mussalman. And in all non-essential matters a Hindu must yield for the asking. It is criminal folly to quarrel over trivialities. The unity we desire will last only if we cultivate a yielding and a charitable disposition towards one another. The cow is as dear as life to a Hindu; the Mussulinan should therefore voluntarily accommodate his Hindu brother. Silence at his prayer is a precious thing for a Mussulman. Every Hindu should voluntarily respect his Mussulman’s brother’s sentiment.”
Eighty-five years later, Islamic seminary Darul Uloom would rule in a fatwa that cow-slaughter is not an Islamic tenet at all and if law of the land forbids it, Muslims should follow the law.
Gandhi believed there were no real differences between Hindus and Muslims but petty indifferences:
“I am striving to become the best cement between the two communities. My longing is to be able to cement the two with my blood, if necessary. There is nothing in either religion to keep the two communities apart. In nature there is a fundamentally unity running through all the diversity. Religions are no exception to the natural law. They are given to the mankind so as to accelerate the process of realization of fundamental unity. The need of the moment is not an establishment of a Universal religion but there is a greater need to develop mutual respect towards the different religions.”
The powerful and poetic idioms that marked the efforts of our founding leaders have become scantier. For Gandhi, Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam of the Vedic tradition was no different from the Quranic belief that Allah was the creator of all and that He would dispense justice on the basis of deeds.
Take Gandhi’s “two eyes” analogy for instance. Having begun with the “eyes” simile, I would like to trace back its roots for you.
Gandhi drew upon a famous saying of Muslim educator Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University: “Hindus and Muslims are like the two eyes of a ravishing beautiful new bride called Hindustan. If one of the eyes is weak or if both look in different directions, it spoils the beauty.”
Historians have observed that one reason why leaders like Gandhi wanted Hindu-Muslim unity with urgency was because without it, the mission of Independence would have suffered.
I wonder what makes our political leaders complacent now. India is never without a mission.