GANDHI’S CONTRIBUTION TO COMMUNAL HARMONY

Mahatma Gandhi

            It is
well known that Mahatma Gandhi began his meetings with a all faith prayer  – reciting portions from various religious
texts. Gandhi was a firm believer in the idea of communal harmony. From his
childhood as he used to nurse his father, he got an opportunity to listen to
his father’s friends, belonging to different religions including Islam and
Zoroastrian, about their faith. Interestingly, he was biased against
Christianity as he heard some preachers criticise Hindu Gods and believed that
drinking and eating beef were integral part of this religion. It was much later
in England when a Christian, who was a teetotaler and vegetarian, encouraged
him to read Bible, that Gandhi gave a serious thought to this religion. Once he
started reading Bible, especially the New Testament, he was enthralled and
particularly liked the idea that ‘if somebody slaps you on the right cheek,
offer your left cheek.’

            Even
before reading Bible he had got this idea from perusal of different religious
texts that evil should not be countered with evil but by good. He was exposed
to different religions but he doubts whether he was a believer in his
childhood. In spite of this he was of the firm view that all religions deserve
equal respect. Hence seeds of communal harmony were sown even at a young age
for him. In fact, he became more atheist after reading Manu Smriti as it
supported non-vegetarianism. The essential learning he imbibed from these
religious texts was that this world survives on principles and principles are
subsumed in truth. Thus from his childhood truth was highly held value which
became the basis for living his life and various actions that ensued.

            It is
ironical that Gandhi, who is wrongly accused of having supported partition of
the country, whereas in reality it was people like famous poet Iqbal and
fundamentalist Hindus like Savarkar who made public pronouncements supporting
the idea of two nation theory, is questioned by the fundamentalist Hindus for
not having undertaken a fast to prevent partition of the country? The fact is
decision about partition was taken by Mountbatten, Nehru, Patel and Jinnah by
marginalising Gandhi and he was only informed of the decision as a fait
accompli. Had Gandhi supported the idea of partition why would he choose to
remain absent from the ceremonies of transfer of power from the British to
India and Pakistan? When India was becoming independent Gandhi was fasting in
Noakhali to stop communal riots.

            In
fact, Gandhi realised and he had publicly expressed his frustration on people
not heeding to his advice of practicing tolerance, non-violence and communal
harmony. The only role he could play was to bring moral pressure on people to
desist from communal thought and violent action. He undertook a fast in Delhi
in January 1948 upon returning from Bengal. This fast was in support of
minorities – Muslims in India and Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan.

Hindu fundamentalists were furious and tried to defame
him by spreading a rumour that he was fasting to force Indian government to
give Rs. 55 crores to Pakistan, which was actually due to them as part of an
agreement on division of assets of Government of undivided India with
Mountbatten, it received positive response from Muslims in India and Pakistan.
He was hailed in Pakistan as one man in both countries who was willing to
sacrifice his life for Hindu-Muslim unity.

            Some
people say that Gandhi could not speak in harsh terms to Muslims as he could to
Hindus and hence practised Muslim appeasement. This is also not true. During
his fasts he convinced nationalist Muslims visiting him to condemn the
treatment of minorities in Pakistan as un-Islamic and unethical. He beseeched
Pakistan to put an end to all violence against minorities there if it wanted
the State in India to protect the rights of minorities here. When some Muslims
brought rusted arms as a proof to him that they had given up violence, probably
out of concern for him so that he could give up his fast, he chastised them and
asked them to cleanse their hearts instead.

            Gandhi’s
towering personality could contain communal violence to some extent. His
assassination had a more dramatic impact and brought all such violence to an
end. The ban on Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh by Sardar Patel also helped. But
four decades later the communal politics raised its fangs again when
Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya. What followed is a downward slide of
the nation into communal frenzy.

For the first time a right wing party practising
outright communal politics is in power with full majority at the centre and in
most states of the country, incidents of mob lynching on suspicion of Muslims
having partaken beef, their marginalisation in social, economic and political
life, treating them as second rate citizens are the new normal. Majoritarian
thinking, which is contrary to the idea of democracy, is dominating and the
minds of people have been communalised as never before in the history of the
country. The communal politics has brought out the worst in us.

            It
appears that the seed of communalism was buried is us. Probably seeds of good
and bad both are buried in us. The atmosphere in which we grow will determine
which thinking will flower. Communal politics in the post-Babri Masjid
demolition era fanned communal thinking and it started dominating. By this time
the generation influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideas and who had seen Gandhi in
flesh and blood was on its way out. Hence thought and practice of communal
harmony waned.

An atheist can truly practice the concept of communal harmony

Sandeep-Pandey

            I was
once invited by a respected gentleman belonging to Jamat-e-Islami for a
meeting on communal harmony. I told him that if he was inviting me as a
representative of Hindu religion then he should rethink about it as I was an
atheist. He opined that I need not come for the meeting.

I argued with him that only an atheist can truly
practice the concept of communal harmony because he is equidistant from all
religions. Anybody practising a faith would always be more attached to his
religion. Hence it appears that we have not even given a serious thought to
what communal harmony is all about and have paid only a lip service to the
idea. No wonder we have landed is such a messy situation today.

By Dr. Sandeep Pandey

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