Mahatma Gandhi dealt with problem of communalism in variety of ways. Throughout his life, he worked for communal harmony among communities of diverse social and cultural backgrounds. Though, the years following Hindu-Muslim riots in 1940s posed a greater challenge for Gandhi and Indian leadership. The challenge was to address the communal sentiment and to bring both communities on a common ground of anti-colonial struggle. Gandhi, however, did not confine himself to only politics. He identified communal sentiments in every walk of life and addressed them accordingly. Interestingly, two domestic cricketing tournaments,Pentangular and the Ranji Trophy, also came under scrutiny for communal reasons. These tournaments were organized in Mumbai. Among them, Pentangular was a religion-based series in which teams played along identarian line of Hindu, Muslim and Christianity. The debate expectantly gained ground against such sporting event and soon reached to the doors of Gandhi. He condemned such events saying that it feeds communalism more than the sporting spirit.
Gandhi was also instrumental in shaping public opinion on variety of issues of national interest through his newspaper, Harijan. The Letter to Editor Column of his newspaper regularly carried his response to range of issues. He mostly responded to his criticism for the campaigns against untouchability and non-violent Satyagraha in this column. Although, issues of world-affairs, queries on diet and disciplined life-style also found mention. In the same column on April 19 1942, a reader curiously questioned Gandhi: You have expressed yourself against communalism in cricket. Are not the communal universities also to be deplored? Would not well-endowed Chairs in common centers of learning serve the purpose of advancing different cultures?
Gandhi’s short and precise reply to the reader in many ways finds relevance in the present context. He replied: ‘You are right. If we can do without communal institution, it would be good. But, I am unable to say that there should be no Muslim or Hindu Universities as I am able to say positively that there should be no Communal Cricket. The Communal Universities, if their origin is not tainted may conceivably serve a national purpose. Thus, the Hindu University and the Muslim University may, as they ought to be seats of communal concord. But, communal sports seem to be a contradiction in terms. I wholly agree with you that there should be, as there are, non- communal colleges and hostels. Unfortunately, the virus has entered even these. Let us hope that it is a passing phase.’
Diwaker is a Research Scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia