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Hindu nationalists should claim Gandhiji back - The Observer

Virendra Parekh ()
October 1, 1998

Title: Hindu nationalists should claim Gandhiji back
Author: Virendra Parekh
Publication: The Observer
Date: October 1, 1998

A great irony of Indian politics is that the name of Gandhiji -
one of the greatest Hindus ever born - is used to browbeat the
Hindu society.

Communists and the Muslim League had no use for Gandhiji when he
was alive. They routinely hurled their choicest swear words at
him. Since his death, however, he has become an invaluable
asset for them. Not that they have revised their estimate of his
role in the past or his relevance to the present. They use him
as a stick to beat Hindu nationalists into shame and put the
Hindus on defensive.

The dwindling tribe of Gandhians presents a curious spectacle.
They claim to have inherited Gandhiji's mantle, but the only
people with whom they feel at home are Hindu-baiters. They have
little patience for those who are not ashamed of being a Hindu
or, worse, take pride in the Hindu heritage and culture.

The Leftists and Muslim Leaguers talk as if the Hindus have not
done anything in their hoary history except murdering Gandhiji.
The only parallel is provided by the Catholic church which has
always known the Jews as nothing but killers of Jesus.

This game of employing the name of a great Hindu to malign the
Hindu society has succeeded, at least partly, because Hindu
nationalists have unwittingly gone along with their detractors.
They have chosen to ignore all the facets of Gandhiji's life and
teachings except one: His handling of the Muslim problem.

They do not take into account the sterling services he rendered
to the Hindu society, but tend to meditate rather morbidly on
his failure to avert partition of the country.

Hindu nationalist and their detractors both forget that Gandhiji
always insisted on calling himself an orthodox Hindu. Unlike
Nehru and his mental progeny who think India is a nation in the
making, Gandhiji was aware of India as a self-conscious
civilisation. It was because we were one country that they (the
Britishers) were able to establish one kingdom, he pointed out
in Hind Swaraj.

Like Aurobindo, Gandhiji also believed that India rises with the
rise of Sanatan Dharma. "Hinduism is a relentless pursuit of
truth and if today it has become moribund, inactive,
irresponsive to growth, it is because we are fatigued. As soon
as the fatigue is over, Hinduism will burst forth upon the world
with a brilliance perhaps never known before."

Gandhiji affirmed again and again not only the fundamentals of
Hindu spirituality but also the framework of Hindu culture and
social life. He valued the spirit behind the idol worship. For
him no one, who did not believe in cow protection could possibly
be a Hindu. He said that Varnashram was inherent in human nature
and Hinduism had only systematised it.

He wrote many articles in defence of the much-maligned Brahman
and had not an iota of doubt that if Brahmanism did not revive,
Hinduism must perish.

And he served the Hindu society not merely with words. He
wanted Hindus to shed fear and be brave. He staked his life to
rid it of the stigma of untouchability. R C Zaehner in work
Hinduism described Gandhiji's effort as "a struggle for the
recovery of India's dignity, self-respect and soul".

India had to be independent in order to recover her dignity and
self-respect. And there could be no doubt that Gandhiji wanted
to re-establish the integrity of Hindu society, for that is what
recovery of soul would imply.

It is tempting to believe that faced with the interlinked
problems of getting rid of the British rule and reconciling
Muslims to an independent India not under their own hegemony,
Gandhiji subordinated the goal of Hindu self-affirmation to a
goal of a superficial Hindu-Muslim reconciliation.

But it is also possible, as noted by the late Girilal Jain, that
Gandhiji put aside the issue of pre-eminence of Hindu
civilisation because he was convinced that Hindus needed first
to overcome their weaknesses. Hindu consolidation on a
political platform was a precondition for a successful
independence struggle.

And this he accomplished by following the footprints of
countless sages and saints before him. Unlike non-Gandhian
nationalists, Gandhiji instinctively realised that Hindu society
only responds to a call that is deeply spiritual and cultural.
He embodied in his own life all the spiritual ideals cherished
by the Hindus through ages, In return, ordinary Hindus regarded
him as a saviour and educated Hindus found him irresistible.

People came to be convinced that to be loyal to Gandhiji won
them rewards from heaven and to be opposed to him brought

On the other hand, non-Gandhian nationalists drew their
inspiration from modern nationalism in the West and not from
India's great past. Their appeal was basically political and not
spiritual. That is why they have not evoked much response from
the masses. It is not at all an accident that the single
political issue that stirred Hindu society like nothing else in
Independent India was related to Ram, the political exemplar par
excellence in the Indian tradition.

This brings us to Gandhiji's failure to deal with Muslim League
and avert the partition. There is no doubt that this failure
was of a colossal proportion and its consequences have been
quite heavy.

The subject is large and complex. Three observations, however,
can be made to put the issue in a proper perspective.

First, the Britishers tried to divide the Indian society on
every conceivable line. They used the bogus Aryan Invasion
theory to divide the north and the south. They propagated the
myth of martial and non-martial races. They spoke of the so-
called Bengali domination in the east India and 'drew attention'
to distinctiveness of Tamil among southern languages. They
offered separate electorates to Harijans. And, of course, they
promoted Muslim league to protect the interests of the 'poor and
persecuted minority' that the Muslims were. It is a measure of
Gandhiji's greatness that he succeeded in foiling these tactics
and welding the Hindu society into a formidable instrument of
freedom struggle.

Secondly, Gandhiji's failure in the face of Muslim intransigence
has a lesson for us. It shows that there is a hard core at the
heart of Islam which even a man of oceanic goodwill like
Gandhiji could not melt.

There is ample evidence in his writings to show he realised the
perverse, aggressive and violent nature of the behaviour pattern
patented by Islam. However, he failed to trace it to its
original source viz Islamic theology and world view as reflected
in Quran and hadis. Islam remained to him a noble faith till his
own life was consumed in flames ignited by that 'noble religion
of peace and brotherhood'.

Educated and secularised Hindus, with their infinite capacity
for self-deception, have refused to learn from Gandhiji's
failure. They have nothing new to offer. They continue to
cherish the fond hope that Mulayam Singhs and Mani Shankar
Aiyers will succeed where the Mahatma failed.

This brings us to the third observation. Gandhiji was neither
the first nor the last Hindu leader to misread the nature of
Muslim challenge and formulate appropriate response. Congress
leaders before him and even non-Congress leaders after him
followed the same policy of appeasement and indulgence towards
Islam in the hope of scoring a victory through concessions.

It is time Hindu nationalists set the record straight,
acknowledge the yeoman service of Gandhiji in awakening and
consolidating the Hindu society and claim this great leader back
from their adversaries. This will give them the moral courage
to expose secularism for what it is: Moral and political
disarmament of the Hindus.

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