April 16, 2002


 Search the Internet

E-Mail this column to
a friend
Print this page Best Printed on HP
Recent Columns
National shame is not
    for premiers, Mr
A question of
    'squaring' up
Legal labyrinth of
    Ram's Ayodhya
The Parivar missed
    the legal bus
Why secular 'history'
    repeats itself

Arvind Lavakare

Of Sabarmati secularism & non-violence

After his world-famous satyagraha in apartheid South Africa, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi returned to India towards the end of 1914 and almost immediately plunged into the country's public life by starting an ashram in Ahmedabad on the banks of the Sabarmati river, with 'Truth' and 'Non-violence' as his slogans. The recent fracas in that ashram entailing a physical assault on Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan by a group allegedly led by a BJP youth leader was grist to the mill of our 'secularists' in the media and elsewhere.

Baying for the blood of the Hindutva brigade and the Gujarat government for the sustained militancy against Muslims there while totally ignoring the latter's retaliation in select pockets, these 'secularists' used the Sabarmati Ashram incident to rub salt into the wounded Hindu psyche by proclaiming the irony of sustained communal violence in Gandhi country.

That derision provokes a retrospective look at Gandhi's concept of Hindu-Muslim unity, religious tolerance and non-violence.

Let's go back then to Gandhi's role in the Khilafat Movement. That movement, remember, was sparked by Kemal Pasha's decision at the end of the First World War to finish off the regime of the autocratic and dynastic Sultan of Turkey, who was titled the Caliph and was looked upon as the temporal representative of Allah as well as the religious head of the entire Islamic world.

Unwilling to free themselves from the chains of mullahs and maulvis, the anger of the Muslims in India against the British rule assumed a new edge. For the first time, these Muslims remembered the Hindus. The Muslim League session of December 1919 discussed what was believed to be Khilafat injustice and invited the Congress leaders to join hands with them. Gandhi jumped at the offer.

"If the Hindus wish to cultivate eternal friendship with Mussalmans," said Gandhi, "they must perish with them in the attempt to vindicate the honour of Islam" (V B Kulkarni in his India And Pakistan, page 219). Gandhi decided to lead the Khilafat agitation himself even before the Congress called for the Non-cooperation Movement on the Khilafat issue in its emergency session in Calcutta in August 1920. Thus had Gandhi let religion enter the political domain - 'secularists', please note.

Occupying the position of the "right hand and left hand" of Gandhi in his Khilafat agitation were two brothers: Maulana Mohammed Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali. Why were two Muslims chosen? As Gandhi himself explained, he was "seeking the friendship of good Mussalmans... to understand the Mussalman through contact with their purest and most patriotic representatives". (A Hindu Nationalist in Gandhi-Muslim Conspiracy, page 70).

These two blue-eyed Muslims of Gandhi, today's 'secularists' must note, were the ones who later wrote a letter to the Amir of Afghanistan inviting him to invade Bharat. The letter was followed by a telegram urging him not to enter into any kind of peace arrangement with the British. The telegram's draft was written in the distinctive handwriting of... Gandhi himself. Yes, Gandhi was willing to assist the Amir in staging a war against the British on Indian soil. He wrote as much in Young India in May 1921.

Although the Khilafat Movement fizzled out in 1921 itself, propaganda was set afloat among Kerala's local Muslims -- the Moplahs -- that the British regime had ended and Khilafat had been reinstated. The time to eliminate all kafirs had come, they were told. The Moplahs followed it up by anointing one Mohommed Haji as their Caliph and proclaimed jihad -- against the British first and, after being defeated by the colonialists, against the Hindus. According to the Report of the Enquiry Committee of the Servants of India Society, the number of Hindus murdered was 1,500, the number of those forcibly converted was 20,000 and property looted was assessed at about Rs 30 million, while the molestation and abduction of Hindu women was apparently endless. In The Future of Indian Politics, page 252, Dr Annie Besant wrote, "They murdered and plundered abundantly, and killed or drove away all Hindus who would not apostatise. Somewhere about a lakh (100,000) of people were driven from their homes with nothing but their clothes they had on, stripped of everything."

Today's 'secularists' and today's Gandhi must note the resolution of the Congress Working Committee on the Moplah carnage. While condemning their violence, it stated that "the Working Committee desires it to be known that the evidence in its possession shows that provocation beyond endurance was given to the Moplahs". Ah, "provocation" was defensible then but not now after Godhra! Incidentally, despite Dr Besant's account, the CWC put the figure of conversions at just three.

Gandhi's reaction to the Moplah carnage must also be noted by today's 'secularists'. According to B R Ambedkar's book, Pakistan, page 148, Gandhi's comment on the Moplah marauders was: "They are brave and god-fearing people who were fighting for what they consider as religion, and in a manner which they consider as religion." And, in a Young India issue of 1924, Gandhi wrote, "My own experience but confirms the opinion that the Mussalman as a rule is a bully, and the Hindu as a rule is a coward. Need the Hindus blame the Mussalman for his cowardice?" In the context of the latter 'logic', today's 'secularists' must tell us what their Sabarmati practitioner of non-violence would have said of the boiling Hindu blood, post-Godhra, having spilt beyond 'cowardice'.

Here's another instance of Gandhi's 'logic' in defence of his Mussalman. On December 23, 1926, Swami Shraddhananda, an eminent Congress as well as Arya Samaj leader who had launched a campaign to bring back the converted into the Hindu fold, was shot four times in his sick bed by a Muslim youth, Abdul Rashid. Although hanged for that crime, Rashid was treated by the Muslim community as some sort of martyr deserving of a special namaaz in the masjids and five complete recitations of the Koran. And in the Congress session in Guwahati, 1926, Gandhi himself said, "I have called Abdul Rashid a brother and I repeat it. I do not even regard him as guilty of Swami's murder. Guilty indeed are those who excited feeling of hatred against one another." (History of Congress, page 516, by Pattabhi Sitaramayya, a prominent Congress leader.) Today's 'secularists' -- who are, post-Godhra, simply itching to hang Narendra Modi in the public square -- must note what Gandhi's concept of 'guilty' was.

These 'secular' chappies must also note that Gandhi, who had such a soft corner for the likes of Abdul Rashid, the Ali brothers and the Moplahs, was the one who refused to sign a petition for saving the life of Bhagat Singh, and he was also the one who condemned Chhatrapati Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Guru Gobind as misguided patriots (The Tragic Story of Partition, page 82, Jagaran Publication, 2nd edition, 1984, by H V Seshadri).

And yes, these 'secularists' must also note how the Ali brothers -- those "purest representatives of the Mussalman mind" -- reciprocated Gandhi's affection for them after they had no need of him once the Khilafat Movement became history. In 1924, Maulana Mohammed Ali stated: "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." A year later, the Maulana 'improved' upon that statement by saying "Yes, according to my religion and creed, I do hold an adulterous and a fallen Mussalman to be better than Mr Gandhi" (History of the Freedom Movement by R C Majumdar).

But Gandhi was sold on his brand of communal harmony and on his Mussalmans, whatever they said about him in the Islamic context. Thus, in his post-prayer speech at Birla Mandir, New Delhi, on April 6, 1947, Gandhi said, "Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence." In another post-prayer speech asking the Partition-inflicted Hindus not to seek refuge in India, he said, "They should not be afraid of death. After all, the killers will be none other than our Muslim brothers."

If the 'secularists' in the media and elsewhere want the Hindus of 2002 to accept those Sabarmati shibboleths of non-violence and amity with the Muslims at any cost, they ought to also demand that the red carpet be laid for Pakistan to just stride into Srinagar and all the way down into Sabarimalai -- via Sabarmati, if you please.

Arvind Lavakare

Tell us what you think of this column