Gandhi rooted for secularism, successfully forged Hindu-Muslim unity: Historians
Kolkata: Mahatma Gandhi’s secularism was much more than just a religious yearning and he was successful in forging Hindu-Muslim unity, a panel of historians and political scientists said here on Sunday.
“I would like to say that Gandhi in the last few years of his life tried to make sure that India’s political leadership is committed to secularism. This is something that is not generally realised,” said Rajmohan Gandhi, biographer-cum-grandson of the leader, during a discussion on Gandhi’s Secularism at the 10th edition of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF).
His latest book was ‘Why Gandhi Still Matters: An Appraisal of the Mahatma’s Legacy’.
Rajmohan Gandhi, biographer of Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, mentioned that if one reads carefully the history of the last few months of 1947, he would see there was a possibility of India becoming a Hindu state and Pakistan, an Islamic state.
“At that time Gandhi played an active role in getting a clear written political commitment. It was not just his religious yearnings,” said.
Speaking about an incident when Gandhi was asked about rampant violence, his grandson said: “He preached ‘fear not-hate not’, but Gandhi had mentioned that ‘fear not’ became popular while the latter did not”.
But consciously people knew that by acting on the feelings of ill-will or malice, one would do great harm to Indian society, he said.
Speaking about Gandhi’s religious yearnings, political scientist Tridip Suhrud said “Ishwar Allah Tero Naam” is actually Bengal’s gift, as young Manu Gandhi (Gandhi’s grand niece) was visiting Noakhali when these words were added to ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram'( Hindu religious song). Gandhi told her that the lines must be included whenever this prayer is sung.
“It is not denial of God, it is about deep faith. To think of Gandhi minus his quest for religion would be to forget the most vital part of him. His life’s long quest was to see God face-to-face. The idea of secularism is very differently constituted; it is constituted by ‘samabhava’. This word is all about equality and equitability,” Suhrud said.
Regarding Gandhi’s take on religion in politics, historian-cum-grandnephew of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Sugata Bose said: “We have to understand he was describing non-violence, non-cooperation as a struggle of religion against irreligion. He was not in favour of separating the domains of religion and politics”.
Bose said that like many of his contemporaries in the early 20th century, Gandhi believed that if religion is taken completely out of politics, it might be like evacuating it of any sense of ethics.
Also, he was very successful in forging Hindu-Muslim unity. His closest political compatriots were Shaukat Ali and Mohammad Ali.
Pointing how Gandhi evolved with time, Bose said: “In the early 1920s he would not dine with the Ali brothers and that he was also not in favour of inter-marriage. But by 1940s, he honestly mentioned that now he is in favour of inter-marriage and also approved inter-dining”.
While writing papers on Gandhi, Bose found that though Gandhi failed to prevent Partition, in the months after independence he chided Congress leaders saying ‘India does not belong to majority community and minorities have equal rights”.