The Return of Gandhi in the Indian Public sphere

shaheen bagh 1

   On the occasion of 72th death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and to save his  dream  of ‘Secular India’ from the current onslaught of Hindutva forces,  a long march ( from Jamia to  Rajghat on 30th January 2020)  was organized by Jamia’s students to pay tribute to Mahatma Gandhi and register protest against the CAA–NPR-NRC at his Samadhi, Rajghat. However, the said march has been stopped around the vicinity of Jamia when an unknown person opened fire ;   one student of Jamia (Shadab Alam)  got injured on his hand. He was immediately admitted to the Holy Family Hospital. The accused who fired bullet has been arrested by Delhi police.  After this unfortunate and horrific incident, the march has been stopped near the Hospital for several hours and could not reach the Rajghat.

Having noted the unfortunate incident, let me turn to discuss and highlight Gandhi’s contributions, his secular, non-violent and an inclusive legacy for which Gandhiji lived and died. It is to be noted that on 30th January 1948, Gandhiji was assassinated by Nathu Ram Godse simply because he was standing and supporting the Indian Muslims amidst communal tensions.

We the people of India are currently paying tribute to Gandhi on his 72th death anniversary, possibly this time with much sadness because of his ‘secular legacy’ is under threat. Broadly speaking, Gandhi’s views on a range of issues such as non-violence, Satyagraha, peace education, communal harmony, environment and his criticism of modern civilization, unfettered capitalism, colonial exploitations and moral force based on truth and gender equality are still relevant especially in the time of cultural intolerance across the world.

However, my discussion will be limited to the current ongoing protests against the CAA-NPR-NRC. Contrary to the allegations of communal forces, here it is argued that protests against said Act amidst massive unemployment and poverty are going on accordance with Gandhian principles. At the protests sites, like Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, his techniques of passive resistance and non- violent and Satyagraha are widely used by the protesters. On the basis of my close observations and regular visit at protests sites, contrary to the RSS-BJP combine (to note that the current issue of Organizer, January 2020, a mouthpiece of the RSS mentioned that an ongoing protest is essentially an anti-Hindu in nature and Jihadists and communist forces are behind the protests who are inciting the violence under the pretext of fighting against CAA), ongoing protests at both places are going in accordance with the principles of Gandhian techniques like passive resistance, non-violent and peaceful manner rather than anyone indulge in violence and  raising anti-India slogans as alleged by communal forces.  One cannot deny that ongoing protests, headed by students at Jamia and Muslim women at Shaheen Bagh for more than last 40 days, are deeply committed to save the Constitution, secularism, inclusive democracy and rights of citizens irrespective of caste, religion, and ethnicity as envisioned by Gandhiji,  Babasaheb Ambekar and Maulana Azad before independent and during the anti-colonial struggle . On the basis of my close observations, I can say that protesting masses are reviving the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi in the public domain and fighting the second unfinished agenda of freedom struggle while protesting against the unconstitutional CAA-NRC-NPR.

Our country got political freedom under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi but ‘Complete Swaraj’ (complete self-rule) which includes social and economic freedom too, is still not achieved after 70 years of independence. In short, the ongoing protests which have acquired the ‘Pan- Indian’ character now, in my view protesting masses are currently fighting the unfinished agenda of Swaraj (self-rule) in a non-violent and peaceful manner. The slogans which have become very popular at protests sites and which are mostly raised by the little kids, Kal Hamare log lade the gore se, Aaj ladege chore se. (yesterday our forefathers had fought with English rule, now we are fighting with present ruling thefts). In a similar way, the slogans like Hum leke rahege Azadi, Gandhi wali, Ambedkar Wali, Azad Waili, Baghat Singh wali, Asfaqualha Wali etc., are also raised by the protesting masses on a regular basis.

Most of the secular-minded scholars and social activists have expressed deep disappointment with regards to the manner in which existing ruling dispensation is suppressing the genuine ‘dissenting voices’ of subaltern masses who are protesting against the CAA-NRC-NPR irrespective of caste, religion, and regions. Just four months back, while celebrating 150th birth anniversary with much passion and commitments at that time, Gandhians have reminded us that Gandhiji’s principles of non-violence, Satyagraha, communal harmony, Hindu-Muslim unity, religious pluralism, diversity and his concept like Sarva dhram Sambhava (equal respect for all religion on which the broad principles of Indian secularism is based) are more relevant worldwide including in the case of India since PM Modi captured political power.

To claim the true legacy of Mahatma Gandhi, political parties belonging to Right, Left, and Centre outfits have often made a claim that only our party following Gandhiji teachings holistically in the public domain. For Congress and Left forces, the current ruling dispensation is not respecting genuinely progressive principles of Gandhiji that might be a reason why phenomena like lynching, mob- violence, and hate crimes, communal tensions, caste atrocities violence against women have been increased sharply in the public sphere.

In response to these allegations, PM Narendra Modi has more often claimed that we are true followers of Mahatma Gandhi and his values but Congress party has done nothing concrete for the last 60 years to promote his legacy. But, it is ironical to note that now the BJP M.P. Pragya Singh Thakur who praised Nathu Ram Godse and hailed true patriot, the killer of Mahatma Gandhi during the campaign of Lok Sabha election in 2019.

In this piece, I am not going to enter the claim and counter-claim with regards to whose claim is valid as far as  Gandhi’s legacy is concerned whether the BJP or the Congress. Rather, I limit myself to discuss how the ongoing protests against the CAA-NRC-NPR at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh have revived the rich legacy of our Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi once again in the social sphere.  In this easy, I will also talk about the manner in which, Jamia’s students through the sustained protest have radically revived Gandhi’s legacy in particular and Jamia’s stalwarts like Zakir Husain, Jauhar Saheb, Mohammad Mujeeb and Hakim Ajmal Khan (who had sided with Gandhiji during an anti-colonial struggle and fought shoulder to shoulder) in general.

It is a well-known fact that Gandhiji was deeply attached to Jamia and had healthy relationships with its founding members. It was Gandhiji who candidly said that in any condition, Jamia should not be closed down due to lack of money and financial burden. For the cause of Jamia, Gandhi said that he is ready to beg money in a bowl to save and run Jamia properly. Besides, it was Gandhiji who took stand amidst hard times not erase the word, ‘Islamia’. It has to be remembered that Jamia as a nationalist institution, passed through extreme hardship when Jamia’s students and teachers together participated in the non-co-operation movement on the call of Gandhiji in the late 1920s. It is historically correct to say that Jamia is the first university possibly in India which has progressive history and cherished ‘composite culture’, diversity, secular legacy and Hindu-Muslims unity. The nationalist Muslims like Dr. Zakir Husain, Hakim Ajmal Khan, and M.M. Ansari and others had powerfully countered the two nation-theory put-forward by the Muslim League led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.

While highlighting the crucial role played by Jamia and its stalwarts in the anti-colonial struggle, the late  noted historian Prof. Mushirul Hasan and Rakhshanda Jalil in their book, “Partners in Freedom; Jamia Millia Islamia” (Niyogi Books, 2006), noted that nationalists Muslim stalwarts as mentioned above had sided with Gandhiji and fought against colonial regime along with championed the idea of ‘composite culture’ and ‘secular nationalism’ led by the Indian National Congress under the leadership of Gandhi and Nehru. In a similar way, a noted novelist and founding member of the progressive writer movement, Munshi Premchand (who authored several classic novels in both Hindi and Urdu) had said in his report around 1932 that the role of Jamia and its leaders in the anti-colonial struggle could not be questioned. And nationalist and patriotic credentials of Jamia’s stalwarts were deeply connected to our nation, underlined by Premchand in his report.

Recently when the President of India, Mr. Ram Nath Kovid came to Jamia on the occasion of annual convocation, 2019 also underlined a wide range of contributions made by Jamia’s stalwarts especially, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Hakim Ajmal Khan, and Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Prof. Mohammad Mujeeb in the nationalist project

However, Hindu nationalist forces had have expressed their misgivings over the nationalist and patriotic credentials of Indian Muslims since partition. In spite of the contributions made by Indian Muslims towards the nationalist cause, in general, and Jamia’s stalwarts, in particular, Hindu nationalist forces have repeatedly put blame on the Indian Muslims for being pro-Pakistan and anti-India. Now the students of Jamia who are protesting against the anti-democratic and anti-constitutional Act like CAA and exercise of NRC-NPR, again they ( communal forces) are falsely propagating on social media that they (students of Jamia) are anti-national and pro-Pakistan who want to establish Khilaphat-2.0 under the pretext of opposing said Act as stated above. But the fact must be remembered that the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha had not played any significant role and had done nothing substantially towards the nationalist cause as historians of modern India has consistently underlined.

Let us remind that it was Jamia and its stalwarts like Dr. Zakir Husain who made formidable contributions in the formulation and conceptualization of Nai Taleem with the support of Gandhiji.  The Nai Taleem was based on the craft centered education and conceptualized during the anti-colonial struggle to educate, provide training and skills to Indian students rooted in the local environment, so that they could become self-reliant as far as the livelihood is concerned at least for their own survival.

Having stated contributions of Jamia’s stalwarts towards nationalist cause let me come back on the role and contributions of Gandhiji once again.  Amidst heighten of communal frenzy, it was Mahatma Gandhi who took a categorical stand on the Hindu-Muslim unity and safeguarded the secular composite culture, in doing so, he showed genuine concerns for Indian Muslims. It is deeply sad to note that due to his firm stand on Indian Muslims and for their safety and security, Gandhiji was assassinated by Nathu Ram Godse was affiliated with the Hindu nationalist organization.

Unlike the hardcore orientalists and Hindu nationalist forces, Gandhiji had a secular and compassionate understanding of Indian Muslims and Islam. This point has been brought by the late historian Prof. Mushirul Hasan in his book, “Faith and freedom, Gandhi in History”. To Prof. Hasan Gandhiji was familiar with the basics teachings of the Quran including life and good deeds of the Prophet Muhammad. That is why Gandhiji in his prayer times often used to give equal respect to Islam and even Christianity. In short, for Gandhiji, the essential teachings of all religions are based on to respect other fellow human beings and work for the larger cause of humanity beyond the cultural boundaries of the nation-state.

While understanding Islam with humanistic lens, it is not wrong to say that the real teachings of Islam are based on peace, non-violent and communal harmony rather than stereotypical and aggressive image of Islam as erroneously created by Ismamophobic orientalists like Huntington and Bernard Lewis in the context of Western countries. But, Gandhi’s understanding of Islam and his relation with Jamia’s stalwarts need to be highlighted at this time when profound and deep fissures between the Hindus and Muslims seem to be increasing day-by-day in the larger public sphere. In my view, there is a high time to rediscover the real Gandhi and his teachings in the Indian public sphere for overcoming miserable and sad situations, currently the country is passing through as briefly mentioned above.

The real teachings of Gandhiji is based on ‘genuine Swaraj’ and path of satyagraha which cannot be achieved unless we endeavor for building a non-violent and harmonious society free from social and economic inequality. It was Gandhi’s influenced that inspired the nationalist Muslims who belonged to ‘Jamia’s fraternity’ to contribute in the freedom struggle and hence, then they had rejected both the Hindu nationalism led by the Hindu Mahasabha, the RSS, and the Muslim nationalism led by Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Besides, due to Gandhi’s efforts, Jamia had survived in its extremely bad times. In short, Gandhi’s relation with Jamia and Islam was based on reconciliation, ‘peaceful co-existence’ he had not seen the Hindu and Muslim relations antagonistically because of two communities belong to different civilizations and cultures.  Contrary to the Right-wing allegations (Jihadhits in alliance with communists who is fighting against the CAA-NRP-NRC, to spread anarchy and incite violence), on the basis of my close observations at Jamia and Shaheen Bagh, I can say that said  protests are going on in accordance with Gandhian principles  such as non-violent, satyagraha and peaceful way rather than anyone interested in inciting violence and raising anti-India slogans ( and putting forward the agenda of Khilaphat-2.0 as wrongly reported ) as falsely propagated by communal forces.

Let me end this essay by quoting lines which reject ‘Savarkar-Godse ideas of Hindu Rashtra’ and vow to follow  Gandhi’s idea of India [which is based on secular and inclusive values, as stated above] as mentioned in a pamphlet issued by Jamia Coordinating Committee (JCC) on  occasion of Gandhiji’s death anniversary 30th January 2020.

“As concerned citizens who reject Savarkar-Godse’s ideas of a Hindu Rashtra and vow to follow the footsteps of Gandhi, we will march 30th January 2020 to pay tribute to Gandhi at Rajghat and proclaim that they can kill Gandhi but not his idea. They cannot kill the idea of India, the idea of an undivided and united India, thus rejecting CAA and NRC which are distorted legal manifestations of the divisive and partisan ideology of the state” ( this Para is quoted from Pamphlet issued by JCC).

The writer is a Research Scholar, University of Delhi.




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