By Mahmood A. Madani
an axiom that a nation can forget its great leaders only at its own peril.
Indeed, some leaders have a far-reaching influence on the nation in its onward
march, as they serve as a lighthouse. If there ever was one leader in modern
India in whom the characteristic civilisational ethos of India manifested as
living truth, it was Mahatma Gandhi. In his 150th anniversary year, we ought to
recall the words and actions of this great man who will remain an everlasting
source of inspiration for the world.
have embalmed the man with the epithet father of the nation, we do need to
reflect whether he would be at ease, leave alone he be happy, with the state of
the nation today. The question that we need to begin with is: Is this the India
of Gandhiji’s dreams?
seems to be a general unease among the populace at large, from villages to
cities. Some sections at more unease than others because of their community
identities and markers. Sadly, this unease is barely reaching those who are in
the driving seats of the nation.
when communal disharmony and enmities — primarily between Hindus and Muslims —
have reached an unprecedented height, we need leaders with a Gandhian moral
urgency to address the situation. We need to recall that these issues had primacy
over the attainment of swaraj in the Gandhian worldview. This pervasive
communalised environment has unleashed institutionalised as well as ad hoc
rabid forces with an exclusivist agenda. This agenda wants to push those
already on margins, most pronouncedly Muslims, further to the edge with
disparaging appellations such as anti-Hindu, misogynist, extremist, etc. This
has created a stark polarisation, where the political class as a whole shies
away from stating the obvious for fear of eroding their vote-bank. In such an
environment, it is not the principles of civility or constitutional ethos of
rights or the equality of rule of law that informs and nudges our leadership.
Gandhi must feel ashamed.
Gandhiji, India’s religious and linguistic diversity was an asset, not a
liability. His use of metaphors like “clay pot” and the “oceanic circle” while
talking about nurturing civic nationalism is quite fascinating and needs to be
emulated. Moreover, as opposed to V D Savarkar’s understanding, he wants to see
a deep emotional tie between different sub-national groups.
today’s times, when general misconceptions and outright fallacies about Muslims
and Islam are spread with unrestrained passion, we need to recall how Gandhiji
had to deal with the similar issues in his day — most prominently immediately,
during and just after Partition. His writings, speeches and actions did much to
imbibe the moral ethos of a composite culture in the warring communities. He
didn’t allow the majoritarian perception about Islam and Muslims to become a
verity. True to the great syncretic and evolved tradition of India, he
proceeded to understand Islam and Muslims not through hearsay and tittle-tattle
but his own reading of the Quran, the Prophet and Muslims he had lived and grown
up with. He approached it with objectivity and sobriety and found Islam
essentially to be a religion of peace and the Prophet as a pure soul with pious
was, in many ways. the Indian equivalent of Thomas Carlyle who shook the
prejudicial attitude of Jews and Christians towards Islam and Muslims through
his 1840 lecture titled “The Hero as Prophet”, where he showered praise on
Islam and called the Prophet genuine, compassionate and humane. It was
Gandhiji’s commitment to communal harmony that led him to engage with great
freedom fighters like Maulana Mahmood Hasan and Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani,
among many other stalwarts of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind.
the violence and intimidation against the oppressed by organised zealots and
individual psychopaths alike have made minorities feverishly insecure. This
insecurity — physical as well as psychological — when matched with material
privations has engendered a sense of estrangement and helplessness, which bodes
ill for any civilised, democratic polity.
such a situation, Gandhiji should serve as a reminder that the idea of swaraj
has as a central tenet the notion of “sarvodaya”. As a nation, we must assure
that our minorities must feel at home, fully partaking in public life as free
and equal citizens. Gandhiji’s ethical concepts and moral universe are capable
of dealing with the violent sectarian politics that is being unleashed today.
a sane voice from the East needs to have a dialogue with the hegemonic West. As
the humongous force of globalised capital has created havoc — destabilising
nations and endangering peace — a counter-hegemonic discourse is the need of
the hour. This capital, the biggest Satan of our time, has already destroyed
lives in many poorer nations. It constantly puts up “enemies” as a trope to
find new sources of profit. It has unleashed crass materialism and consumerism
that is eating into away at the norms of family and community. We must face
this onslaught with the moral force Gandhiji employed throughout his political
career. Our fight must remain, under all circumstances, non-violent.