By Khaled Ahmed
September 29, 2018
Textbooks take a long time to absorb change
and Pakistan has yet to digest what happened on January 30, 1948. Nathuram
Godse, who killed Mahatma Gandhi, later said, “The accumulating provocation of
thirty-two years, culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast, at last, goaded me
to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhi should be brought to an end
immediately… When top leaders of Congress, with the consent of Gandhi, divided
and tore the country — which we consider a deity of worship — my mind was
filled with direful anger”.
Gandhi was killed because his assailants
perceived that he supported the idea of Pakistan by dividing India. He was also
the leader of the greatest Muslim movement in history, the Khilafat Movement,
whose leaders were not too enamoured of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Arun Shourie, in
his book The World of Fatwas, says Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Maulana
Shaukat Ali used to kiss the feet of Mahatma Gandhi for leading the Khilafat
Movement. Hamza Alavi, in Ironies of History: Contradictions of The Khilafat
Movement, writes that Jinnah was physically beaten by Shaukat Ali for opposing
the movement. After 1947, Khilafat was not in the Pakistani textbooks although
most of the anti-Pakistan Khilafat leaders were accepted into the pantheon of
Pakistan’s Islamic nationalism. Why not Gandhi?
Christophe Jaffrelot wrote in The Indian
Express (January 30, 2015) that a BJP MP wanted to elevate Gandhi’s killer
Nathuram Godse to the status of a patriot because he “killed for a cause”.
Presumably, Gandhi died “without a cause”. All this is happening as India looks
to climb to world-power ranking with a permanent seat in the UN Security
Council. Some Pakistanis thought Pakistan’s early medievalism would subside after
a series of failures. Who could imagine that, instead of being chastened by
Pakistan’s failure, India would set Gandhi aside and start killing Muslims “to
protect the cow”?
Gandhi wanted Hindus and non-Hindus to live
together and wanted Pakistan as a peaceful neighbour. Pakistan succumbed to
extremist ideology and can hardly govern itself today. But India was not
supposed to succumb to the same aetiology of state failure where people are
scared on the streets, the judges scared in the courts and the media forced to
hide the truth. The hope for peace inspired by a great man from within
Hindutva, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, has quickly faded. If the next election is won
by the BJP, it might have enough numbers in Parliament to remove the word
“secular” from the Indian Constitution.
Mahatma Gandhi has to be celebrated because
he represented an important milestone in India’s intellectual evolution.
Judging from the numbers he was able to mobilise in his movement, he will
remain the greatest leader of South Asia for a long time. Vivekananda thought
Hinduism could be the staple of Indian civilisation only if it could borrow
monotheism from Islam and end its internal rifts. Gandhi thought of a
Hindu-Muslim synthesis based on non-violence and tolerance.
Unfortunately, it was V D Savarkar who had
clarity. His Hindu Mahasabha vision came out of the anti-Muslim historiography
under the British Raj. He read the Muslim religious literature and suspected
the Muslims of finally not accepting to live as one nation with the Hindus in
India. His “solution” was that the Muslims should accept India as a Hindu
Rashtra and convert back to Hinduism if they were to have full rights as
citizens. As a non-Congress leader, Savarkar was marginalised but his appeal
was pan-Indian and he was to become the ideologue of Hindu nationalism sweeping
India at the end of the 20th century.
Gandhi put off Jinnah when he mixed
religion with politics, even though he agreed with the project of creating a
secular state in India. He was firmly inclusivist in his approach to other
religions. His mother, Putli Bai, believed in respecting Hindu and Muslim
faiths equally. Gandhi did not tackle the Muslim question directly because he
would not go into why the Indians were degenerate before British occupation.
Others thought degeneration was owed to Muslim rule; he dodged the subject. As
an apostle of non-violence, he thought of letting Muslims share power in India.
The world of Islam is in a state of
upheaval because of a “surplus phenomenology of identity” or “hyper-Asabiya”,
which makes it fight internecine wars. This crisis has grown out of an
inability to reinterpret a creed predicated on violence. Gandhi’s non-violence
appealed to many great leaders in the West after the two World Wars. India can
never claim that he was a leader only of India.
Pakistan is frequently shaken by the
persecution of innocent non-Muslims and secularists. The national trauma of the
lynching of a free-thinking student, Mashal Khan, in a university in the
province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa persists. Gandhi-hating “new” India has provoked
India-watching Christophe Jaffrelot (‘Hindu Rashtra, de facto’, IE, August 12)
into saying: “Not only has the prime minister abstained from condemning
lynchings, some legislators and ministers have extended their blessings to the
lynchers. Only a few of the lynchers have been convicted so far. Whenever
lynchers have been arrested, the local judiciary has released them on bail. If
the executive, legislature and judiciary do not effectively oppose lynchings,
India may remain a rule-of-law country only on paper and, in practice, a de