At a time when inter-faith harmony is being disturbed at several places in the country, it is important to recall a very important lesson of our freedom movement—all the great leaders who got the maximum support and affection of people were those who stood firmly for inter-faith harmony.
People generally identified two important streams of the freedom movement—the mainstream Congress movement and the revolutionaries. However there were common meeting grounds for these movements on some important aspects and perhaps the most important aspect was inter-faith harmony.
Within the Congress without doubt the two leaders who got the most affection of people at the national level were Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. And then there were several other prominent leaders who were very great in their own way, including Badshah Khan, Maulana Azad, Sarojini Naidu, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi… For all of them and for many others who got enduring and exceptional love from people, a firm commitment to inter-faith harmony was a non-negotiable precept of their life which they could never leave.
Among revolutionaries the commitment to communal harmony was no less, and there could be no better representative of this commitment than Amar Shahid Bhagat Singh.
Finally we have the noble example set by the great freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose who made the Azad Hind Fauj a great example of people from different faiths coming together and cooperating closely for the great cause of the freedom of their country.
Why is it that during the three decades of 1915-45 with continuity it is these leaders who got the most enduring and deep affection of people, millions of people, while those who opposed communal harmony got almost no enduring affection if people, only some opportunistic support from time to time?
This is because millions and millions of people who extended their support and deep affection to the great leaders realized that their policy of inter-faith harmony was the most noble, ethical, useful policy which would help to prepare a firm foundation for peace and prosperity. It was only after the colonial rulers unleashed big efforts to break the national unity shown in the Quit India Movement and started sowing the seeds of partition, extending full support to those who advanced a divisive agenda while imprisoning freedom-fighters and their leaders in huge numbers, that the divisive leaders started attracting big crowds, and it is by now well realized that those who spread inter-faith discord at this time caused the biggest harm to South Asia.
We need to remember these lessons of our freedom movement, and particularly how even great persons with diverse paths found a common ground in inter-faith harmony. Mahatma Gandhi was a firm believer in the positive aspects of religion , and he sought to harness the faiths of people as a source of spiritual strength for creating a world based on ethics and morality, based on the welfare and protection of all of humanity and living beings. Bhagat Singh, again guided by a great moral force, moved closer to atheism. So these were two different paths, but united by a very firm commitment to unity of people following different faiths and religions.
As soon as a significant number of people started leaving this path, misguided for the most part by persons working under colonial patronage at least initially, the country was forced into unprecedented turmoil and distress.
This is a very important lesson we should learn from the days of our struggle against colonial rule. This is a lesson which we must particularly recall in those times when organized efforts are made to disturb inter-faith harmony. Such efforts have been seen also in very recent times. Concerned citizens have been increasingly worried regarding why incidents of communal violence suddenly flare up at almost around the same period of time across vast distances, as though glued by some common planning. They are also worried why the most atrocious statements made by some persons and groups relating to spread of inter-faith hostility and even hatred are not dealt with strictly in accordance with already available legal provisions backed by constitutional precepts. A more persistent source of concern relates to the way in which issues of dress, food, livelihood, history, culture, everyday life are being constantly mishandled in such ways as to lead to communal polarization.
However what is even more worrying for concerned citizens is that those who are in the senior rungs of the ruling regime do not hesitate to use communal polarization as a means of getting electoral support. What is stated more openly by leaders in public meetings has to be seen together what their cadre says more discreetly at village and mohalla level meetings. Last but not the least, when communal violence erupts, then the rulers often do not send the right signals by immediately responding in a strong and clear way that such violence will not be allowed under any circumstances.
The constitution gives all people the freedom to practice their faith in conditions of equality and non-discrimination, creating the base for peace based on justice in all inter-faith issues. Respect for this constitutional precept will also help to create conditions for peace, stability and prosperity in the country, in addition to strengthening our international standing.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth now. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times ) and Protecting Earth for Our Children.