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09 March 2014

Gandhi on Hindu-Muslim unity and divide

KEEN against the background of the bloody situation in Karachi, the arrival of Dr Rajmohan Gandhi as the chief guest at the Karachi Literature Festival was of great significance. The very fact of his being the grandson of Gandhiji appeared to impart a grace to his personality. He soon became the centre of attraction for the crowd.
Each session where he was expected to speak attracted an extraordinarily large crowd.
This led to a revival of interest in the enigmatic personality of Gandhiji. The youngsters, who knew so little about him, appeared keen to find out more. This curiosity about Gandhiji in the younger generations of Pakistan is justified. He stood distinguished among his contemporaries not just for being the leading figure of the Indian freedom movement but also because of the fact that his peculiar way of living and thinking gave the impression of his being a sage.
In consequence, he gained a distinct aura around his personality.
Fortunately, one recent Pakistani publication in Urdu may provide a glimpse of the man forthe benefit of inquisitive souls.
Translated from English and published by Sang-e-Meel under the title Sawal-o-Jawab, the book takes us back to the period when the Khilafat Movement was at its peak, bringing Muslims and Hindus together on the same page with Gandhiji at the forefront.
Gandhiji had devised a way to keep in touch with people in general. In his weekly paper, Young India, he responded sympathetically to the letters written to him.
He dealt with the questions put to him and tried to convince the questioner to the best of his ability. In Sawal-o-Jawab, the compiler has made a selection from those writings by Gandhiji in which he is responding to questions put forward by Muslims.
One Muslim gentleman writing to Gandhiji asks a question relating to Hindu-Muslim problems, calling the two religious groups `born enemies.` `These words (Hindus and the Muslims being born enemies) are the inventionsof our common enemy,` writes Gandhiji. He adds: `Hindus made a lot of progress under the rule of the Muslims. So was the case with Muslims living under Hindu rule.
The two groups had developed an understanding that internecine fighting is tantamount to committing suicide. So they decided for peaceful co-existence. But with the arrival of the Englishman, they once again started fighting.
In the Oct 20, 1921, issue of Young India, Gandhiji refers to a comment made by the Modern Review that the present HinduMuslim unity is just a show. He writes, `I and Ali Brothers claim to believe with sincerity in our respective religions. In spite of that we three are heartily so close that no other three souls can claim to be so close to each other. This unity is not a fraud nor a show business. It stands on the basis of deep respect and a sense of tolerance for each others` beliefs and habits.
Now we all deeply believe that unless we are united we cannotachieve freedom. And I can say very boldly that in the absence of such a unity, the Muslims cannot provide the kind of help they wish to provide to the Khilafat Movement. We should have full faith in Hindu-Muslim unity, a unity for ever and under all circumstances.
But, alas! This unity could not last long. A young Muslim man in his letter asked Gandhiji, `Do you expect to achieve Swaraj just by your own efforts or with the help of Hindus alone?` Gandhiji, as quoted in the book, replied, `I never dreamt of achieving Swaraj singly with my own efforts or with the help of Hindus alone. I stand in need of the cooperation of Muslims, Parsis, Christians, Sikhs, Jews and all the Indians. And most of all, I stand in need of God`s help.` He then added: `I know that I don`t enjoy the cooperation of Ali Brothers now. Maulana Shaukat Ali too does not now stand in support of me. Do you think I don`t miss them. But if I stand for truth, they will come back and join me.They cannot afford to stand estranged for long from the present struggle.
But they did not come back. The fissure was too deep. It was a goodbye for ever. And it was later on one occasion in 1931 that Gandhiji, overwhelmed by a mood of despondency, said, `I have trained myself in a way that I go on smiling while a storm is brewing deep inside me. But now this storm seems to be getting out of my control. I feel very worried.
Maybe someone from the Muslims will relieve me of my fear and cowardice.` While saying these words he lost control over himself and broke down.
But how ironic that the person who eventually relieved him of his fears was a Hindu, not a Muslim.
Gandhi on Hindu-Muslim unity and divide. By Intizar Husain
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