Gandhi's idea of Swaraj was admittedly shaped by his Hindu ethos. But can it be overlooked that he sacrificed Hindu interests for Pan-Islamism?
In 2003, the trio of JK Bajaj, Professor MD Srinivas and AP Joshi came out with a path-breaking work, ‘Religious Demography of India’. It revealed the changing share of different religious communities in India, based on the Census figures between 1881 and 1991. The Partition was a watershed moment in India’s inter-communal relations. The study, however, suggests that it was far from the culmination. Muslims are still the fastest growing community in India, particularly in certain pockets close to the frontiers or coastline. Numerous districts of India, often contiguous, betrayed a significantly higher growth rate of the Muslim population. A belt of Muslim concentration districts spans Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), western Uttar Pradesh (UP), north-eastern Bihar, West Bengal and Assam, running almost into Bangladesh.
Way back in 1912, Colonel UN Mukherji (based on his study of Censuses 1881 to 1911) had stated that the Hindus were a “dying” race. Bajaj’s team — through a more exhaustive analysis of the Census figures — concluded that the changes on the ground were far too serious in independent India than those in the colonial era. These developments could not be without severe consequences for India.
It was a book about India’s future, or rather challenges to it, which those in power should have taken note of. However, the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government soon lost power in May 2004. The UPA-1 Government attuned its policies to the growing Muslim clout. It set up the Sachar Committee to study Muslim underdevelopment, created an independent Ministry of Minority Affairs permanently headed by a Muslim Minister and announced lakhs of scholarships for the minorities, where the lion’s share went to Muslims. It was in a sense Bajaj’s predictions coming true; Muslim demographic heft was moulding State policies.
However, those with whom he shared his ideological affinity also did not seem to realise the importance of his work. They would hardly read or quote from his laborious work. Though Bajaj’s Centre for Policy Studies continued to function and even secured its own building in Central Delhi (which apparently meant that it was able to monetise its projects, or obtain funding), his path-breaking work was not sufficiently appreciated by those on whom he had pinned his hopes the most.
Since 2014, India seems to have come under a divinely-ordained Prime Minister. The Hindu nationalists have reasons to be upbeat. However, the pro-minority (read Muslim) policies of the Government have only got bigger and better. New schemes like Nai Manzil, USTTAD and Gharib Nawaz have been started by the Modi Government. Almost Rs 2,082 crore were disbursed towards pre-matric, post-matric and merit-cum-means-based scholarships during financial year (FY) 2019-20, marking a definite improvement over the Rs 1,739 crore worth of scholarships during FY 2013-14. The ambit of Pradhan Mantri Jan Vikas Karyakram (previously called multi-sectoral development programme for the minorities) has been expanded to 308 districts from mere 90 under the UPA Government. What was previously alleged as “appeasement” is now being re-interpreted as “empowerment”. All the Congress-era institutions catering to religious minorities are functioning well. However, this Government never appointed a Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities, though it is a constitutional post.
Bajaj and Prof Srinivas recently sprang a surprise with a 1,000-page tome on Gandhi. The book, titled ‘Making of a Hindu Patriot: Background of Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj’, is based mostly on Gandhi’s own correspondences and conversations. As evident, it deals with the period prior to 1908, when the Hind Swaraj was published. Gandhi spent 24 years in South Africa before returning to India in January 1915. This columnist, though he is yet to see the book, is in no doubt that the authors would have done a thorough job. However, was the subject really worth the massive labour the two authors put up? Further, does this really contribute something to India’s future as their previous work on religious demography did?
The crux of the authors’ argument is that Gandhi’s political outlook was shaped by profound Hindu convictions. Those having read the speeches and correspondences of Gandhi would know that this is correct. Expressions like “I speak as a Hindu” and “our Hindu scriptures say that…” frequently appear in his literature. He mainstreamed the concepts like satyagraha, ashram, brahmacharya, Ram rajya, upvaas (fast), maun (silence), Daridra Narayan, Harijan and suchlike in a bid to de-colonise the Indian mind. However, why would such a person, with deep formative influence of Hinduism, zealously take up the Khilafat Movement to restore the deposed Sultan of Turkey on his throne? Gandhi made Hindu-Muslim unity a precondition for any political action. He went to the extent of distorting the bhajan “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram” to include words like Allah, Rahim and Karim. Gandhi described the marauding Moplahs in Malabar as “God-fearing people” and (at the Guwahati Congress, 1926) refused to censure Abdul Rashid, the assassin of Swami Shraddhanand, but rather called him a “brother” who had done no wrong.
BR Ambedkar — in his landmark book Pakistan, or the Partition of India — wondered whether any sane man could go to the extent that Gandhi went for the sake of Hindu-Muslim unity. However, while Gandhi harmed the Hindu interests, he failed to impress the Muslims either. They dissociated themselves from the leadership of Gandhi soon as the Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement ended in a fiasco. Rather, the Muslims turned upon the Hindus as though they were responsible for Mustafa Kemal Pasha’s abolition of the Caliphate. Gandhi had to acknowledge that every Muslim was a bully, and every Hindu a coward.
Gandhi fraternised with Husyen Shaheed Suhrawardy (1884-1963), the evil genius of Great Calcutta Killings (August 1946) to the extent that the latter could attend Gandhi’s prayers at Birla House in New Delhi (September 1947) as Subimal Dutt (later India’s Foreign Secretary) found him (With Nehru in Foreign Office, P18). Is this how a “Hindu patriot” should act?
One wonders what purpose will be served by identifying a “Hindu patriot” in Gandhi in South Africa. In South Africa, the Hindu-Muslim question was either non-existent or subservient to the question of colonial policy. The immigrant Indians were a small minority among the huge native black population and tiny White rulers. Gandhi’s test of Hinduism was in the India between the years of Khilafat Movement to the Muslim League’s campaign for Pakistan. He failed the test miserably.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat launching the book is perhaps an indication of “Gandhi-tisation of the RSS” even though the Hindus might continue to put its faith in the organisation as their saviour. If Gandhi were really a “Hindu patriot”, KB Hedgewar need not have founded the RSS in 1925. Moreover, the Gandhi that one comes across in the Hind Swaraj or Indian Home Rule (1908) is a person who wants to disengage with all forms of modernism and industrialism, viz; railways, machinery, law courts, Parliament and so on. Is it the way forward for the much-touted “New India”?
(The writer is an author and independent researcher based in New Delhi. The opinions expressed are personal.)