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The Place of Mahatma Gandhi

  • By Sri Sita Ram Goel

The Gandhians present a very curious case. They claim to have inherited the message of the Mahatma. But the only people with whom they feel at home are Hindu-baiters. They avoid all those who are not ashamed of being Hindus or who take pride in Hindu history and heritage. They suspect that “Hindu communalism” has been and remains India’s major malady. The only point to which they never refer is that Mahatma Gandhi was a proud Hindu with a profound faith in Sanatana Dharma and that a reawakening and rejuvenation of Hindu society was his most important preoccupation.

Introduction

The language of British and Christian imperialism had stood fully exposed for what they were in essence by the time the Swadeshi Movement swept forward after the Partition of Bengal in 1905. The language of Islamic imperialism had revived but was not resounding enough as yet to ring bells in the minds of national leaders. And the language of Communist imperialism had not yet appeared on the scene.

The last two languages came into their own by the end of the twenties. The freedom movement had to feel their full blast by the middle of the thirties. The leader who had emerged in complete command of the freedom movement by that time was Mahatma Gandhi. And his role vis-a-vis these two languages has been a matter of controversy.

Mahatma Gandhi showed the same understanding of the languages of British and Christian imperialism as had been shown earlier by the leaders of the Swadeshi Movement. There were indications in his writings and statements that he suspected the language of Communist imperialism as something sinister, though he started faltering when this language became the language of Leftism in the mouths of Pandit Nehru and the Congress Socialists. But his response to the language of Islamic imperialism was not at all what could be expected from a man of his instinctive perceptions.

His failure vis-a-vis the language of Islamic imperialism can be explained in various ways. But the fact remains that this failure made the Muslims more and more aggressive and created a lot of resentment in a section of Indian nationalists. These anti-Gandhi nationalists have not been able to get reconciled to his role even after his death in very tragic circumstances. On the other hand, all sorts of Hindu-baiters have been invoking his name and fame to put Hindu society in the wrong.

Mahatma Gandhi in hostile lands

The Leftists had no use for Mahatma Gandhi during his life time. They had hurled their choicest swear words at him. But the Mahatma dead seems to have become an asset for them. Not that they have revised their estimate of his role in the past or acquired any respect for him in the present. They are only using him as a stick to beat Hindu society into shame.

Muslims, too, have staged a similar volte-face. They had opposed him tooth and nail during his life-time. The language which their press had used for him provides a study in pornography. But after his death, they have been holding him up in order to harangue Hindu society. Not that they have changed their opinion about him or imbibed any of his teachings. They are only using him as a device to put Hindu society on the defensive.

The Gandhians present a very curious case. They claim to have inherited the message of the Mahatma. But the only people with whom they feel at home are Hindu-baiters. They avoid all those who are not ashamed of being Hindus or who take pride in Hindu history and heritage. They suspect that “Hindu communalism” has been and remains India’s major malady. The only point to which they never refer is that Mahatma Gandhi was a proud Hindu with a profound faith in Sanatana Dharma and that a reawakening and rejuvenation of Hindu society was his most important preoccupation.

The Hindu-baiters highlight the fact that the Mahatma was murdered by a Hindu. But they hide the fact that it was the Hindus who had always rallied round Mahatma Gandhi, who had adored him throughout his life, who had followed him as their leader and who had stood by him through thick and thin. It is tantamount to insinuating that Hindus have done nothing in the whole of their history except murdering the Mahatma. The only parallel is provided by the Catholic Church which has known the Jews only as murderers of Jesus.

This exercise in employing the name of a great Hindu to malign Hindu society has succeeded because whatever nationalists have come forward to lead Hindu society in the post-independence period have chosen to ignore all facets of the Mahatma’s life and teachings except one, namely, his handling of the Muslim problem. They have meditated, one must say rather morbidly, on the one mistake he made in his life, namely, his understanding of Islam. They have never taken into account the sterling services he rendered to Hinduism and Hindu society in so many spheres. The only thing they remember with resentment is his failure in one field, namely, his final inability to prevent partition.

Two significant facts

The anti-Gandhi nationalists have never tried honestly to face the fact that it was he and not they who had stirred the minds and hearts of Hindu masses. It was he and not they who had mobilized Hindu society to make sacrifices in the service of the motherland. Nor have the denunciations of anti-Gandhi nationalists succeeded in doing the slightest damage to his stature. In fact, his stature has risen higher with the passing of time. He continues to be cherished by Hindu masses as one of the greatest in their history. Reverence for him in the world at large has also continued to grow. He is now regarded as a profound thinker on problems created by an industrial civilisation and a hedonistic culture. Hinduism has gained abroad because Gandhi is known as a great Hindu.

On the other hand, it must be admitted that the failure which the Mahatma met vis-a-vis the Muslims was truly of startling proportions. Hindu-Muslim unity was a goal which he had pursued with great dedication throughout his life. He had paid high tributes to Islam, its prophet, its caliphs and its scriptures. He had espoused the cause of Khilafat in order to win Muslim hearts. He had befriended even questionable characters like Mohammad Ali {Jinnah] because the latter enjoyed the confidence of Muslim masses. He had gone out of his way to humour Jinnah who was always cold and quite often nasty in his manners. He had ignored the invectives that were hurled at him by the Muslim press and politicians. He had even advised the British to hand over power to Muslims and quit. he had always frowned at all efforts to organise Hindus in order to call the Muslim bluff. In short, his policy towards Muslims had been full of appeasement at the cost of Hindu society. But nothing had helped. Muslims had continued to grow more and more hostile.

If we put these two facts together, we can perhaps draw some worthwhile conclusions. First, it follows that Hindu society responds only to a call which is deeply religious and cultural. Anti-Gandhi nationalists have failed to move Hindu masses because their appeal has been purely political. These nationalists have drawn most of their inspiration from the modern West and not from India’s own great past. Secondly, there must be something very hard in the heart of Islam so that even a man of an oceanic goodwill like Mahatma Gandhi failed to move it. He succeeded with the British by making them feel morally in the wrong. He succeeded with such sections of Hindu society as had nourished some grievances of their own and had tried to turn away from the freedom movement. It was only the Muslims with whom he failed miserably.

In justice to Mahatma Gandhi

There is no doubt that Mahatma Gandhi’s failure vis-a-vis Muslims was great and has had grievous consequences. But the failure can be attributed to him only in so for as he was at the helm of affairs during that particular period of Indian history. It is highly doubtful if Hindu society would have been able to prevent partition even if there had been no Mahatma Gandhi. On the other hand, there is ample evidence that Hindu society would have failed in any case. In fact, the seeds of that failure had been sown long before Mahatma Gandhi appeared on the scene.

The first thing to be done in this context is to put straight the record of the freedom movement and find out how Hindu leaders who preceded Mahatma Gandhi had functioned vis-a-vis the Muslim problem. For, although the Mahatma dominated the freedom movement for more than twenty-five years, he had appeared on the scene when thirty-five years had already passed since the founding of the Indian National Congress in 1885.

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan was the first leader to start sabre-rattling on behalf of his community. That was a year or two after the Congress came into existence. There is no evidence that any Hindu leader called his bluff at that time or at a subsequent stage. On the other hand, there is ample evidence of how Hindu leaders tried to appease the bully. To top it all, Hindus contributed quite a lot of money towards the establishment of his Anglo-Oriental Mohammedan College at Aligarh which was to become the main seat of Muslim separatism at a subsequent stage. Mahatma Gandhi was nowhere near the scene.

The Swadeshi Movement was the next step in the struggle for freedom. It was immediately followed by the founding of the Muslim League. Muslims not only boycotted the movement but also let loose an orgy of riots which were particularly violent and beastly in Bengal. But there is no record of Hindu leaders coming forward to beat back the aggression. The only Hindu response to this Muslim mayhem was to hail Siraj ud-Daulah, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan as national heroes. Again, Mahatma Gandhi was not on the scene.

Then came the Lucknow Pact of 1916. Muslim leaders had made no secret that pan-Islamic causes rather than patriotism had made them move towards a joint front with the Congress. But no Hindu leader cared to look into the motivation of Muslims. Only a slight gesture from the Muslim League was enough to elicit an enthusiastic response from the Congress. Hindu leaders conceded not only separate electorates to Muslims but also one-third representation in the Central Assembly to a less than one-fourth of the total Indian population. It was Lokmanya Tilak and not Mahatma Gandhi who was the leader of the Congress at that time.

Once the legitimacy of the pan-Islamic cause was recognised by the national leadership, it was only a short step to the Khilafat agitation. The meeting that was held on June 1, 1920, under the auspices of the Central Khilafat Committee, in order to solicit Congress support for the Sultan of Turkey, was not attended by Mahatma Gandhi alone. Leaving aside Motilal Nehru. Tej Bahadur Sapru and Jawaharlal Nehru, whose support for all Islamic causes was always a bygone conclusion, the others who sat by the side of Mahatma Gandhi in that crucial meeting were Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Satyamurti, C. Rajagopalachari, and Chintamani. The proceedings of that meeting exist in cold print. Some of these Hindu leaders did oppose the proposal for a Non-Cooperation Movement to be launched simultaneously with the Khilafat agitation. But no one pointed out that the national movement should have nothing to do with a pan-Islamic platform. The same story was repeated at the Special Session of the Congress at Calcutta in September that year and at its Annual Session at Nagpur in December. Later on, Swami Shraddhananda was to be lionised for lambasting the British Government from the steps of the Jama Masjid at Delhi. He was speaking in support of the Khilafat agitation.

The Congress and the Muslim League never came together again at an all-Indian level after this brief period of six years which ended with the suspension of the Non-Cooperation Movement in February 1922. Muslims made no secret of their belief that they had been betrayed by Mahatma Gandhi. They let loose another orgy of riots all over the country. It was in the midst of this bloodshed, and while Mahatma Gandhi was behind prison bars that Deshbandhu C.R. Das led the Bengal Provincial Congress into signing a Hindu-Muslim Pact which permitted Muslims to kill cows during their festivals but forbade Hindus from playing music before the mosques!

Justice demands that anti-Gandhi nationalists review Hindu history vis-a-vis Islam and lay the blame where it belongs. They will soon find out that Mahatma Gandhi was neither the first nor the last to accord the status of a religion to Islam, the dignity of a deity to Allah, the aura of an avatar to Muhammad, the sanctity of a scripture to the Quran, the holiness of saints to the Sufis, the majesty of a place of worship to the mosque and the rights of a minority to the Muslim millat. Most Hindus are still chanting sarva dharma sama bhava vis-a-vis Islam in the face of Muslim fanaticism, though over three decades have passed since the death of Mahatma Gandhi.

The Mahatma’s Failure: A failure of Hindu society

There is ample evidence in the Mahatma’s writings that he could see quite clearly the pattern of perverse behaviour on the part of Muslims. That was at the back of his statement repeated several times, that an average Muslim was a bully and an average Hindu a coward. But he refused to believe that this pattern was derived directly from the teachings of the prophet.

That, however, is the story of Hindu society in its centuries-old encounter with Islam. Hindu society has always viewed Islam through the eyes of its own spirituality. Islam had shown its full face to Hindu society quite early not only in the devil dance of its swordsmen but also in the pronouncements and prolific writings of its mullahs, sufis and historians. But Hindu society had all along failed to draw the right conclusions. It had continued to regard Islam as a religion. The folly has persisted till the present time.

Modern Hindu and Sikh scholars have done something worse. They have presented Islam not only as a superior religion but also as a superior social system. This is obvious in hundreds of books written by them about the nirguna saints like Kabir and Nanak. These saints alone had the courage to question the exclusive claims of Islam while they sang in the advaitic tunes set by ancient Hindu spirituality. Islam had no impact on their teachings. But modern scholars have paraded these saints as monotheists who were in revolt against the multiplicity of Hindu gods and goddesses, as iconoclasts who were against image worship in Hindu temples and as social reformers who denounced the so-called caste system under the “influence of an equalitarian Muslim society.” The saints have thus been turned into tawdry social reformers. Falsehood can go no farther.

The relevant in Mahatma Gandhi

Sri Aurobindo has said in his Uttarpara Speech that India rises with the rise of Sanatana Dharma. Mahatma Gandhi proved the aptness of this observation. What is relevant in Mahatma Gandhi, therefore, is not his failure in solving the Muslim problem but his success in re-affirming the language of Sanatana Dharma which had been revived during the Swadeshi Movement. I give below a few specimens.

“The English have taught us that we were not one nation before and that it will require centuries before we become one nation. This is without foundation. We were one nation before they came to India. One thought inspired us. Our mode of life was the same. It was because we were one nation that they were able to establish one kingdom.” (Hind Swaraj, Chapter IX)

“I believe that the civilisation India has evolved is not to be beaten in the world. Nothing can equal the seeds sown by our ancestry. Rome went; Greece shared the same fate; the might of the Pharaohs was broken; Japan has become westernised; of China nothing can be said; but India is still, somehow or other, sound at the foundation.” (Ibid., Chapter XIII)

“Hinduism is a relentless pursuit after truth and if today it has become moribund, inactive, irresponsive to growth, it is because we are fatigued. As soon as the fatigue is over, Hinduism will burst forth upon the world with a brilliance perhaps never known before.” (Young India, 24-4-1924)

“What the divine author of the Mahabharata said of his great creation is equally true of Hinduism. Whatever of substance is contained in any other religion is always to be found in Hinduism, and what is not contained in it is insubstantial or unnecessary.” (Ibid., 27-9-1925)

“Hinduism is like the Ganga, pure and unsullied at its source but taking in its course the impurities in the way. Even like the Ganga it is beneficent in its total effect. It takes a provincial form in every province, but the inner substance is retained everywhere.” (Ibid., 8-4-1926)

“Our sages have taught us to learn one thing: ‘As in the Self, so in the Universe.’ It is not possible to scan the universe as it is to scan the self. Know the self and you know the universe.” (Ibid.)

“Now when we talk of brotherhood of men, we stop there and feel that all other life is there for man to exploit for his own purposes. But Hinduism excludes all exploitation.” (Ibid., 26-12-1926)

“Hinduism insists on the brotherhood of not only all mankind but of all that lives.” (Harijan, 28-3-1936).

Such sayings of Mahatma Gandhi about Hinduism can be multiplied. He affirmed, again, and again not only the fundamentals of Hindu spirituality but also the framework of Hindu culture and social life. He valued “the spirit behind idol worship” and declared his determination “to defend with my life the thousands of holy temples which sanctify this land of ours.” For him cow protection was “the dearest possession of the Hindu heart” and “no one who does not believe in cow protection can possibly be a Hindu.” The sacred thread had a deep meaning for him because it was “the sign of the second birth, that is spiritual.” He believed that varnashrama was “inherent in human nature, and Hinduism had simply reduced it to a science.” He wrote several articles in defence of the “much-maligned Brahmin” and had not a shadow of doubt in his mind that “if Brahmanism does not revive, Hinduism must perish.” There was no symbol of Sanatana Dharma which did not stir him to the depths and which he did not trace back to its inner and eternal spirit.

And he served Hinduism not by words alone. His whole life was an uninterrupted hymn to Hinduism. He rendered many sterling services to Hindu society. He staked his life in order to free Hindu society from the stigma of untouchability. He wanted the Hindus to shed fear and be brave. By all accounts, his place should be secure in the mainstream of Indian nationalism.

There was no lack of Hindu leaders during the Mahatma’s life-time who appealed in the name of political patriotism. They left Hindu society cold and unresponsive. Nor has a purely political approach to Hindu society succeeded after the passing away of the Mahatma. The one lesson we learn from the freedom movement as a whole is that a religious and cultural awakening in Hindu society has to precede political awakening. The language of Indian nationalism has to be the language of Sanatana Dharma before it can challenge and defeat the various languages of imperialism. The more clearly Hindu society sees the universal truth of Hindu spirituality and culture, the more readily it will reject political ideologies masquerading as religion or promising a paradise on this earth.

Mahatma Gandhi stands squarely with Maharshi Dayananda, Bankim Chandra, Swami Vivekananda, Lokamanya Tilak and Sri Aurobindo in developing the language of Indian nationalism. His mistake about Islam does not diminish the lustre of that language which he spoke with full faith and confidence. On the contrary, his mistake carries a message of its own. – Pragyata, 1 October 2019

› This excerpt is taken from Perversion of India’s Political Parlance by Sita Ram Goel 

Partitioned freedom : The Conclusion

(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 1” from this link – 1)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 2” from this link – 2)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 3” from this link – 3)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 4” from this link – 4)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 5” from this link – 5)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 6” from this link – 6)

The final years and the lessons:

A decade of appeasement had only helped the Muslim League gain greater legitimacy. When the Second Round Table Conference came in September 1931, the League leadership played an even more divisive role.

Jinnah and the Aga Khan were present in London for the Conference on behalf of the League. Gandhi was the lone Congress representative. Dr. B R Ambedkar was there representing the Depressed Classes. There were envoys from several communities including the Sikhs, the Parsis, the Anglo-Indians, and the Concord of Princes. Behind Gandhi’s back, the Aga Khan held secret meetings with the leaders of various groups and put forward a proposal before the British for enhanced separate representation for all of them in the Indian legislature. Gandhi firmly rejected this fragmentation of the Indian society in the name of creating separate electorates. Already, the Muslims and a few other minorities enjoyed separate electorates under the Government of India Act 1919.

Communal Award 1932:

British Prime Minister Ramsay McDonald went ahead with a modified version of the League’s recommendations and announced the famous Communal Award 1932. It came as a rude shock to the Congress leadership. They were especially aghast at the British decision to provide exclusive electorates for the Depressed Classes by separating them from other Hindus.

Gandhi viewed the Communal Award as the negation of his years of toil. He rightly believed that the separate electorates would eventually perpetuate social evils like untouchability as they excluded the depressed classes from the rest of Hindu society. Disheartened and back in India, Gandhi announced an indefinite fast against the Award on September 20, 1932.

Poona Pact:

The Congress command persuaded the leader of the depressed classes, Dr. Ambedkar to engage in negotiations with Gandhi at the Yerawada prison. The negotiations led to the Poona Pact, which was signed by Dr. Ambedkar from the depressed classes and Madan Mohan Malaviya from the Congress. Under the pact, Dr. Ambedkar agreed to give up the demand for exclusive electorates for the depressed classes and secured instead a larger number of seats for the community from 71 to 147 under the Hindu quota. The Communal Award was accordingly amended in 1933. Gandhi thus prevented the Hindu society from further fragmentation.

However, regarding the rest of the Award, Congress continued its politics of ambiguity and appeasement. Though it opposed the Communal Award in principle, the consent of the minorities was needed to take a final position, the Congress leaders argued. The Muslim leaders in Congress like Dr. Ansari started supporting the Award. Finally, Congress took a bizarre stand of “neither accepting nor rejecting” the Communal Award. This new concession irked leaders like Madan Mohan Malaviya and Loknayak Aney, who resigned and started the Congress Nationalist Party.

The Communal Award came as a significant setback to Gandhi’s efforts for Hindu-Muslim unity and it gave greater teeth to Jinnah and the Muslim League. The stridency of the League’s separatist rhetoric increased. Jinnah now insisted that the Congress should represent Hindus only.

Provincial Elections:

The provincial elections of 1937 provided an excellent opportunity to the Congress. Despite its separatist rhetoric, the Muslim League was decisively rejected in all the Muslim majority provinces in the country. Out of the 482 exclusive Muslim constituencies, the League could hardly win 109 seats. While the Congress was able to form governments in eight provinces, the League could not form even in one. The Muslim voters preferred other Muslim parties like the Unionists in Punjab, the Krishak Praja Party in Bengal, and the Assam Valley Muslim Party in Assam. Several of those regional Muslim outfits were keen to join hands with the Congress.

The Muslim League was in utter disarray, and Jinnah demoralised. But two steps taken by the Congress leadership helped Jinnah revive his fortunes once again:

First was the Congress’s decision to reach out to Jinnah instead of talking to the leaders of the regional Muslim parties. Gandhi, Nehru, and Bose approached Jinnah once again with a proposal to work together. This gave Jinnah a fresh lease of life. While the League refused the Congress’s offer, Jinnah succeeded in attracting smaller Muslim parties into his fold.

The second self-defeating move was the decision of the Congress on October 22, 1939, to ask all provincial governments to resign in response to Viceroy Linlithgow’s decision to involve India in the Second World War without committing to grant Self-rule after the War. The League seized this opportunity and declared its support to the British in return for enhanced protection to the League in the provinces. Jinnah appealed to the Muslims to celebrate December 22, 1939, as the ‘Day of Deliverance’ from the ‘unjust Congress regime.

Jinnah’s Demand for ‘Pakistan’:

At Lahore in 1940, when the League demanded Pakistan, Gandhi realised that it was time for a more decisive action. On August 8, 1942, at its Mumbai session, the Congress launched the Quit India movement. The Muslim League responded by asking the British to ‘Divide and Quit’. March 23, 1943, was observed by the League as Pakistan Day.

C Rajagopalachari approached Gandhi at Yerawada prison with a formula for a thaw between the Congress and the League. Known as the C R Formula, it proposed that if the League endorsed the demand for national independence, the Congress would agree to the demarcation of contiguous Muslim majority districts in the North-West and the North-East of India after the War. A plebiscite would be conducted on the basis of the adult franchise over the demand for Pakistan. Jinnah immediately dismissed the proposal as a “shadow and a husk, a maimed and moth-eaten Pakistan.” But he also expressed vicarious satisfaction that at last, Gandhi had accepted “the principle of Pakistan”.

Gandhi persisted. “Let us meet whenever you wish. Do not disappoint me,” he wrote to Jinnah. The two finally met at Mumbai. For full nineteen days, from 9th to 27th September 1944, Gandhi climbed up the steps of Jinnah’s place, ‘almost daily, and sometimes even twice in a day’. Gandhi would address Jinnah as ‘Quaid-e-Azam’ – Great leader, while Jinnah would reciprocate with ‘Mr. Gandhi’. On September 27, 1944, Jinnah announced the termination of the talks without any result.

In the provincial elections in 1946, the League secured convincing victories in Muslim seats but it fell short of a majority everywhere. In fact, the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), which became Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in 2010, gave a huge majority to the Congress. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the senior Congress leader of the NWFP, famous as the Frontier Gandhi, shed tears when his province became a part of Pakistan. In Punjab, the Congress and the Akalis together had an equal number of seats to that of the League. Eventually, those who did not vote for the League ended up in Pakistan, and those who voted for it remained in India.

The Direct Action ensued in 1946 and Partition followed a year later.

Partition saga has several lessons:

Why is this history relevant today? India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are three sovereign nations. We respect the sovereignty of each of our neighbours and strive for cordial relations with them. But the partition saga has several lessons. Firstly, countries should never pander to separatist sentiments even with good intentions. Compulsions of time should not become convictions. Secondly, Jinnah’s notion of religion-based nationhood couldn’t stand the test of time. In less than 25 years, Pakistan was split into two.

But most importantly, as the Spanish writer-philosopher George Santayana said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

(Courtesy: The article was originally published in Chintan, India Foundation on August 19, 2020).

Continue reading

Partitioned Freedom – 6

(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 1” from this link – 1)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 2” from this link – 2)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 3” from this link – 3)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 4” from this link – 4)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 5” from this link – 5)

Part 6

When strategy became policy at Lucknow in 1916, and the Khilafat and Moplah lay bare the slide of the Congress, many leaders were genuinely worried. They realised that the appeasement policies of the Congress were helping the League in furthering its separatist agenda. Despite his best efforts at placating the League and striving for Hindu-Muslim unity, Gandhi could not achieve much. When attempts were made to pacify the Moplahs in the name of Gandhi’s non-violence, they bluntly replied that Gandhi was a Kafir, and he could never be their leader. In 1924, Maulana Mohammed Ali, to whom Gandhi gave more importance than he did to Jinnah, declared: “However pure Mr. Gandhi’s character may be, he must appear to me, from the point of religion, inferior to any Mussalman even though he be without character.” In 1925, he reiterated it saying, “Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr. Gandhi”.

Savarkar was one of the leaders who felt that Congress was making a colossal mistake by appeasing the fundamentalist Leaguers. Savarkar asked the Congress leadership to stop in the downward spiral of appeasement and be firm with the Muslim League leadership. “If you come, with you; if you do not, without you; if you oppose in spite of you” – this was the message he wanted the Congress to convey to the League. Yet the Congress leadership lacked that courage.

Shraddhananda’s Murder:
Swami Shraddhanand was a renowned Arya Samajist and a senior leader of the Congress. As a disciplined soldier of the movement, he had participated actively in the Khilafat movement too. Shraddhananda was a disciple of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, the founder of the Arya Samaj, and used to play an active role in reconversion activities. This angered some fanatical Muslims. One such young man called Abdul Rasheed visited Shraddhananda’s residence at Naya Bazar in Delhi on December 23, 1926, on the pretext of discussing “some problems of the Islamic religion”. Shraddhananda was unwell and lying on his bed. According to the Arya Samaj website: “
The visitor then asked for a glass of water, and while Dharm Singh (Shraddhanand’s attendant) was taking his glass away, he rushed up to the Swamiji and fired two bullets point-blank into his chest.

The annual session of the Congress was taking place from December 25, 1926, at Guwahati. All the senior leaders, including Gandhi, were present at the session when the news of the gruesome murder of Swami Shraddhananda came in. Gandhi called Abdul Rashid his own brother, but moved a condolence motion himself. “If you hold dear the memory of Swami Shraddhanandji, you would help in purging the atmosphere of mutual hatred and calumny. Now you will perhaps understand why I have called Abdul Rashid a brother and I repeat it. I do not even regard him as guilty of Swamiji’s murder. Guilty indeed are all those who excited feelings of hatred against one another”, Gandhi said to the shock of many in the audience. At the very same session, funds were collected for the legal defence of Rashid in the courts. When he was sentenced to capital punishment by the British, there were over fifty thousand people in his funeral procession at Kolkata. That was where the appeasement policy of the leaders had led the country.

National Flag – (National symbols compromised):

Gandhi had proposed in 1921 that Congress should design a national flag. Several models were presented to him, and the one with three colours – orange, white and green –proved to be popular However, its interpretation as orange for the Hindus, white for the Christians, and green for the Muslims did not go down well with the people. A flag committee was then appointed in 1931 to look into the controversy and recommend a national flag for India. Among others, the 7-member committee included Nehru, Patel, and Azad. The committee submitted its report to the Karachi Congress session in December 1931.

“Opinion has been unanimous that our National Flag should be of a single colour except for the colour of the device. If there is one colour that is more acceptable to the Indians as a whole, one that is associated with this ancient country by long tradition, it is the Kesari or saffron colour. Accordingly, it is felt that the flag should be of the Kesari colour except for the colour of the device. That the device should be the Charkha is unanimously agreed to. The Committee have come to the conclusion that the charka should be in blue. Accordingly we recommend that the National Flag should be of Kesari or saffron colour having on it at the left top quarter the Charkha in blue with the wheel towards the flagstaff, the proportions of the flag being fly to hoist as three to two”, the report, signed by all the seven members stated.

However, the Congress session at Karachi rejected it, saying that the saffron colour represented only Hindus. The tricolour flag designed by Pingali Venkayya was adopted. It featured three horizontal stripes of saffron, white and green, with a Charkha in the centre. The colours were given a new interpretation thus: saffron for courage; white for truth and peace; and green for faith and prosperity. After the national song came the compromise with the national flag.

Language (concessions were made):

The Hindu Bhajans were modified. ‘Raghupati Raghava Rajaram – Patita Pavan Sitaram’ saw ‘Isvar Allah Tere Naam’ added to it. Even the national language was not spared. There were concerted efforts to discourage Muslims from learning Hindi right from the time of Syed Ahmad Khan. Syed Ahmad asked Muslims to prefer English to Hindi. Aligarh Muslim University taught only in English and Urdu. An effort was made to project Hindi as the language of the Hindus, and Urdu, that of the Muslims. In its eagerness to please the fundamentalists in the Muslim League, the Congress leadership decided at its 1925 Karachi session that Hindustania hybrid product from the mixture of Hindi and Urdu – should be the lingua franca of independent India. It even suggested that the script could either be Devnagari or Arabic.

Texts were rewritten. Special language classes were held for the Congress volunteers to familiarise them with the new hybrid language. Phrases like Badshah Ram, Begum Sita, and Maulvi Vasistha were promoted. Nevertheless, this one compromise did not go down well with the Congress and the nation. The protagonists of Hindi could succeed only after several years in making it the official language of the nation.

The Congress leadership continued to make these one-sided compromises without any reciprocal gestures being made by the League.

Cow slaughter was given free hand:

Even on a question as important to him as cow-slaughter, Gandhi was willing to compromise. “How can I force anyone not to slaughter cows unless he is himself so disposed? It is not as if there were only Hindus in the Indian Union. There are Muslims, Parsis, Christians, and other religious groups here”, he argued.

None of these concessions could move the League leadership. Instead, they only led to establishing the League and Jinnah, now its leader, as the ‘sole spokesmen’ for the Muslims, as Ayesha Jalal puts it. Emboldened, Jinnah went ahead ruthlessly, unmaking everything the Congress made, including, in the end, the geographical unity of the country.

(Final part to follow)


(Courtesy: The article was originally published in Chintan, India Foundation on August 18, 2020).

Partitioned Freedom – 4

(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 1” from this link – 1)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 2” from this link – 2)
(Read “Partitioned Freedom – 3” from this link – 3)

Part 4

Khilafat Movement: Congress’ turn towards communal politics

What began as a tactical move to wean away the League from the British soon became a conviction within the Congress, that – without Muslim League coming along, there would be no freedom. For the British, the League not joining hands with Congress meant no united resistance. Hence, both started patronizing the League. The last three decades of the independence movement were a saga of this competitive bargaining with the Muslim League.

There were many Muslim leaders in Congress at that time. Even Jinnah was a Congress leader and was seen as the ambassador of Hindu – Muslim unity. Sadly, in its competitive bargaining for the League’s support, the Congress leadership gave up on those saner and secular Muslim leaders and leaned more towards the communal and fundamentalist elements of the community.

Khilafat Movement:

The first milestone in the race of appeasement of the Muslim League was the Khilafat movement of 1919-1924. Khilafat was a religio-political movement launched by a section of the Muslim League for the preservation of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Mehmed V as he was regarded as the Khalifa (leader) of the entire Muslim Ummah (religious community). It should be clear from the description that, one, it was a religious movement; and two, it had nothing to do with India’s independence. More importantly, the myth of the Ottoman Emperor as the Khalifa of world Muslims had been shattered by the dismantling of the empire by the British and the French after World War I, and subsequently when Mustafa Kemal Pasha, the newly elected leader of Turkey, abolished the title of Khalifa in 1924.

That was what even Jinnah told the Muslim League convention held in Delhi in 1918. Jinnah called Khilafat a ‘false religious frenzy of which no good will come out for India.’ When some members objected to his views and the League decided to form a Khilafat Committee to launch an agitation for the cause, Jinnah, along with some others, walked out of the session.

However, where Jinnah had walked out, Gandhi walked in a year later. Gandhi had returned to India in 1915 and was a relatively new figure in the Congress. But certain historical events paved the way for his easy rise in the Congress hierarchy. His mentor and a senior Congress leader Gopal Krishna Gokhale passed away in February 1915. Feroz Shah Mehta, too died in the same year. Lokmanya Tilak left for London to sue the British journalist, Valentine Chirol for defamation in 1919, and he too passed away a year later.

Gandhi walked into the space vacated by several illustrious seniors. Yet he needed an anchor which he found in the issue of Hindu-Muslim unity. In South Africa, during his struggle against the British, Gandhi was regarded as the leader of both the Hindu and Muslim migrants. Gandhi looked at the native situation too from the South African prism. By then, winning over the Muslim League became a zealous conviction for many in the Congress. Gandhi decided to use the Khilafat for Hindu-Muslim unity as well as for establishing his own credentials as the leader with the power to achieve that.

Several Congress leaders participated in the Khilafat Day protests organized by the Muslim League on October 17, 1919. Swami Shraddhananda, a renowned Arya Samaj leader and a senior Congress leader, was one among them, standing on the steps of the Jama Masjid in Delhi and exhorting the Muslims to fight for the Khilafat. Gandhi, along with Motilal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malviya, and others, was present at the Muslim League convention in December 1919. He described Khilafat as the “holy cow” of the Muslim community. Gandhi viewed Khilafat as the best opportunity for Hindu – Muslim unity and exhorted the Hindus to join the struggle for preserving Islam’s honour if they really want Muslims’ friendship. “Arise! Awake! Or be fallen forever”, was Gandhi’s call to the Muslims.

However, a section of the Congressmen started raising concerns over this gamble. Sardar Patel was unconvinced about a slave country fighting for the maintainence of a foreign Muslim Empire. Many were aghast when they heard that Khilafat leaders like Shaukat Ali and Hasrat Mohani were inviting the King of Afghanistan to invade India to achieve the Khilafat. Gandhi’s good friend Barrister Henry Pollack had warned that on the Khilafat question, Gandhi was behaving in an “ill-informed and dangerous manner”. On the other hand, the Khilafat leaders like Maula Abdul Bari started threatening Gandhi that if he failed to deliver on the promise of the Congress’ support, they would end their relations with it.

Non-Cooperation Movement

An emergency session of the Congress was called in August 1920 at Kolkata, in which Gandhi proposed to launch a nationwide Non-Cooperation Movement in support of the Khilafat.         “I would, in order to achieve success in the Khilafat issue, even postpone the issue of Swaraj,” Gandhi declared. Leaders like Chittaranjan Das, Bipin Chandra Pal, and Annie Besant were against this bargain. Finally, issues like Swaraj and Jallianwala Bagh massacre were also included to make it look like an agitation for the Indian cause.

Jinnah, who was until then midwifing the Congress-League friendship, got disillusioned. He was particularly upset with his own sidelining and promotion of rank fundamentalists like Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali – the ‘Ali Brothers’ – by Gandhi. At the Nagpur session of the Congress later that year, Jinnah resigned, highlighting his opposition to the Khilafat. “I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria, politics is a gentleman’s game”, Jinnah told while quitting.

Khilafat failed

Khilafat failed. The Non-Cooperation Movement was abruptly called off by Gandhi when a violent incident took place at Chauri Chaura in the Gorakhpur district of the United Provinces in which 22 policemen were killed by the agitators. However, the damage to the fabric of national unity was already done. After the Khilafat, the voices of the nationalist Muslims became further subdued. Condoned by the Congress leadership, Muslim communalism became the order of the day. For example, when Shaukat Ali and others were arrested by the British on sedition charges for inviting the King of Afghanistan to invade India, Gandhi reacted by arguing that he couldn’t understand why the Ali brothers should be in jail when he was outside.

This was the only religious cause that Gandhi ever espoused during the independence movement. He probably had his reasons for doing so.

The passions he had helped rouse, which were now turned against him and the Congress, meant that the Congress haemorrhaged Muslims ever afterwards. Gandhi returned to the secular straight-and-narrow with the Salt Satyagraha ten years later and strove manfully to secure the moderate aim of a pluralist nationalism in the age of mass politics, but opportunism of the Khilafat movement haunted the Congress and helped alienate the one constituency it prized above all others: India’s Muslims”, wrote historian Mukul Kesavan.

The Khilafat misadventure of the Congress had demonstrated that the seeds of communal separatism sown by the British a decade earlier were sprouting up actively, nurtured by the misplaced convictions of the Congress leadership. Later events led the process further along resulting in the blossoming of Muslim communal politics as the Congress continued its appeasement policies.

(Read Next: “Partitioned Freedom – 5” from this link – 5)

(Courtesy: The article was originally published in Chintan, India Foundation on August 16, 2020)

Partitioned Freedom – 1

Partitioned Freedom” (a four-part series of articles authored by Sri Ram Madhav) is an account of the preceding events that led to the tragic partition of Bhārat in 1947; revisiting the political haste, the wanting leadership, and the sordid consequences of the partition. AriseBharat is documenting these articles giving the links of the previous articles along with the Video talk delivered by the author on the same topic (Video Courtesy : “Disha Bharat“).

The author has earlier written a book on the same topic in Telugu (“మాతృభూమి ముక్కలైంది – 1947 విషాద గాథ ”), giving an account of the events and conditions leading to the partition, the failure of the leadership, the heart-wrenching public crisis and the carnage. This book is available for purchase at HindueShop.

Among the contributed texts in writing of this book was a well-known book titled “The Tragic Story of Partition” authored by Sri H.V. Seshadri; a comprehensive treatise that gives episodic perspective of all the facts leading to the partition.  This book is also available for purchase at HindueShop and the summary of which is available in AriseBharat. 

Part I

On the night of August 14-15, 1947, when India was celebrating its independence, the architect of the independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi was not among the revellers. When his protégé Jawahar Lal Nehru was making that epochal speech about ‘India’s tryst with destiny’, and the ministers of his new cabinet were taking the oath of office, Gandhi was not rejoicing.    A 1000 miles away in Kolkata, he was in a sombre mood, tired of the day-long fasting and prayers.

I cannot rejoice on August 15. I do not want to deceive you. But at the same time I shall not ask you not to rejoice. Unfortunately, the kind of freedom we have got today contains also the seeds of future conflict between India and Pakistan”, he had told his colleagues in July that year.

Gandhi no doubt was prophetic about the future conflict. But what was the ‘kind of freedom’ that put him off? The proclamation of India’s independence was to be a moment of jubilation and pride for over 350 million Indians. But it became a moment of sorrow and suffering for several million among them. While granting independence, the British had partitioned India into two in a hurried manner creating Pakistan as a separate nation. Overnight, the land under their feet, on which they had lived for generations, became foreign to those millions who found themselves on the wrong side of what was to be their future home. Not unexpectedly, massive violence broke out on both sides of the clumsily carved out frontiers.

India’s partition was not a smooth and peaceful affair. It happened over the dead bodies of hundreds of thousands of innocents. Historians wrote poignantly that the Sindhu river flowed not with water but with the blood of tens of thousands of Hindus and Muslims. Millions were uprooted, and leaving everything behind, were forced to undertake an arduous and often hazardous trek of hundreds of miles seeking a new home and meaning for lives. “It was the world’s largest and rarest exodus”, wrote Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre in ‘Freedom at Midnight’.

Why did this tragedy take place? Who was responsible?

None of the leading lights of India’s independence movement wanted India to be divided. Neither did the majority of the people of India – both Muslim and Hindu.

Vivisect me before vivisecting India”, Gandhi warned firmly, when he was informed about the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution of March 24, 1940 in which the League demanded that the “areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North Western and Eastern Zones of India should be grouped to constitute ‘independent states’ in which the constituent units should be autonomous and sovereign”. Although the word ‘Pakistan’ was not used, the reference to ‘autonomous and sovereign independent states’ made the intentions of the League amply clear. They were demanding a separate country. This resolution became popular later in history as the ‘Pakistan Resolution’. For Gandhi, the Pakistan resolution was a ‘moral sin’. It militated against all his lifelong convictions, especially his dearest idea of Hindu-Muslim unity. It was totally unacceptable to him. “The step of Mr. Jinnah is like that two brothers have a fight on same cow and they cut it and divide it”, Gandhi lamented. Yet the country was divided before his eyes.

Jawahar Lal Nehru, in his typical romantic way, proclaimed that the idea of partition was “fantastic nonsense”, a fantasy of some mad people. Yet he became one of the enthusiastic supporters of the ‘June 3rd Plan’ for the country’s partition. Sardar Patel went one step further and declared in his typical style “Talwar se talwar bhidegi” (sword will clash with sword), meaning that the countrymen would fight till the end against partition. But even he became a mute witness to the passing of the ‘June 3rd Plan’.

Dr Rajendra Prasad, who was in jail during the Quit India Movement, went on to write the book India Divided, in which he spoke of the ills of partition and how illogical the thought was. The book was published in early 1946. Even before the ink on the pages of that book could dry up, India was partitioned.

Not just the Indian leaders, many British leaders too did not support the idea of partitioning India. Lord Wavell, who was the British viceroy during 1943-47, had opposed it in 1944, stating, “India is a God-made triangle, you cannot divide it”. Even Clement Atlee’s original mandate as Britain’s Prime Minister to Mountbatten, who was sent to Delhi to replace Lord Wavell in February 1947, was not to partition India. “Keep it united if possible. Save a bit from the wreck. Bring the British out in any case”, were Attlee’s instructions to Mountbatten.

Yet the country was partitioned.

Mountbatten presented the final plan for India’s partition to the leaders of the Congress and the Muslim League in a meeting on June 3, 1947. Thus it began to be famously called as the ‘June 3rd Plan’. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Sardar Patel, and Acharya Kripalani were present from the Congress while the League was represented by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Liaqat Ali and Abdur Nishtar. Mountbatten later claimed that “the Indian leaders agreed unanimously, without any sort of reservation, to the choice of 15th August”.

When the partition plan was brought before the Congress Working Committee on June 14, 1947 there was vocal resistance. Gandhi, who declared six years earlier that it should happen over his dead body, intervened to ask the members to support the partition. Acknowledging that he was one of those who steadfastly opposed the division of India, Gandhi, nevertheless, urged the members to accept the resolution as “sometimes certain decisions, however unpalatable they might be, had to be taken”. Gandhi also indicated that if the resolution was rejected, they would have to find a “new set of leaders”. He also insisted that it was essential for peace in the country.

While nobody wanted the partition of India, nobody was there to stand up against it when the moment came. It needed people to come on to the streets to fight the forces of vivisection, and leaders to lead that resistance. Unfortunately, at that momentous juncture, people were not ready for the fight to save India’s integrity, and the leaders too were not ready.. ‘We became old’ one of them confessed later. Why?

(Read Next: “Partitioned Freedom – 2” from this link – 2)

(Courtesy: The article was originally published in Chintan, India Foundation on August 13, 2020)

A lecture delivered by Sri Ram Madhav on the tragic story of partition
(Video Courtesy: “Disha Bharat”):