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Mainstream, VOL LV No 25 New Delhi June 10, 2017

Glorious Dust (Editorial, Pakistan Times, January 31, 1948)

Saturday 10 June 2017

Mahatma Gandhi is dead. The world has been deprived of the sight and sound of his frail body and aged voice—the body and voice that had in the last few months almost lost, for a large section of mankind, their personal and emphemeral character and become timeless symbols of compassionate love and fearless rectitude. As the man who first ploughed the arid wastes of Indian politics in the pre-nationalist period, the man who husbanded the seeds and saplings, only recently come to fruit and flower, of the freedom of Indian peoples, Gandhi’s name had passed into history long before the present and the greatest chapter in his life commenced. It was he who lighted the path, for Muslims and Hindus alike, during our earlier travels towards the goal of national liberation. In later days our ways parted for reasons unnecessary to recount, but the nature of our national objectives remained identical—the attainment of full and unfettered freedom for all the great peoples of the Indian sub-continent. During this period, Gandhiji’s politics were not our politics. We have differed often and sometimes violently with what he said and did. We have occasionally spoken in bitterness and written in anger. And now the wheel has come full circle and our paths converged again. For in these last momentous days Gandhi, the politician, gave place to the infinitely greater Gandhi, the man. He saw, as few of us can fail to see, that spread out underneath the present political contours of India and Pakistan is one vast immensity of unhappiness and fear and suffering, and he strove as few of us have had the courage to strive to press back the dimensions of this suffering into circum-scription and confine. He saw, as few of us can fail to see, that the present bloodshed and savagery are the beginnings of an unholy assault, not only on our freedom newly-won, but also on our culture and civilisation inherited from our remote ancestors, and he fought as few of us have had the courage to fight against the frenzied onslaught. And now he is gone.

There have been great heroes in history who lived and fought and died to preserve their own people from dangers that threatened and from enemies lying in wait. It would be hard to name any who had fallen fighting his own people to preserve the honour of a people not his own. No greater sacrifice could be rendered by a member of one people to another and no greater tribute could be paid to the supremacy of fundamental human values as opposed to passing factional squabbles. And there could be no rebuttal more convincing to the popular prejudice that brands large sections of humanity as completely good or evil, as wholly moral or immoral. There is little hope for the world, however, if it has no other use for the noblest of deaths except to make it serve as proof of so obvious a thesis.

The greatest living Indian has fallen to the bullet of an unknown assassin. The most effective rational voice in the vast Indian Dominion has been brutally silenced. The best-loved and most venerated political leader and moral evangelist of a near sub-continent, the idol of millions, has been publicly murdered. In India and Pakistan today every heart and every conscience should be searched to assess how far every heart and every conscience is answerable for this most fearful of tragedies. The poor idiot or maniac who committed the crime was certainly not the only man responsible. Who had fed his mind with such fell hate for the weary old man seeking to purge men’s hearts with love? What nefarious potion made him flex his muscles to lay violent hands on the apostle of non-violence? The answer is obvious. Every man who has thought and felt and spoke and acted as Gandhiji’s assassin did, was his accomplice. Every violent word, deed, and thought went into the composition of the mind that conceived and the arm that executed the terrible deed.

Will this crime be the last? We do not know. Who can compute the amount of misery brought into the world since the day when heads began to roll and blood began to flow in the laughing countryside of the Punjab and on the time-hallowed pavements of Delhi and Ajmer? One should have thought that the people of this sub-continent had reached by now the surfeit of sorrow and the limit of pain. One should have thought that, however great the grip of fanatics and reactionaries on the mainsprings of popular thought and action, the common people would have, on account of the immeasurable losses and privations they have undergone, managed to disengage themselves by now from this deadly grip and be their normal selves. It has not been so.

The people of India, and indirectly the people of Pakistan, for he was trying to befriend both, have added to their other losses the most grievous loss of all—the loss of Gandhi. Let us hope that this most precious sacrifice to the demons of hate will placate them at last, and the death of one will yet save the lives of millions for whom this life was given. Once, the Hindus and Muslims of undivided India mingled their blood, to fight for freedom under Gandhi’s banner during the Khilafat days; let us hope they will now mingle their tears over his glorious dust, to retain their peaceful freedom under the independent flags of India and Pakistan. 

A Narrow Divide

Despite years of confrontation, three border skirmishes, and a history of hostility and suspicion at the leadership or the State level, I believe that India and Pakistan are separated by only a narrow divide.

This assessment is based on the reality that the peoples of the two States have refused to imbibe the hostility often exhibited by the rulers or festered by small groups interested in promoting ill-will and confusion. This could result from a desire to keep alive the legacy of the British Raj, or the sub-continental malady of scapegoatism or even on account of myopia that prevents them from seeing beyond tomorrow or beyond the next election.

The people’s mutual goodwill cannot be questioned. The most recent example is provided by the help and succour extended in the Punjab borderlands to people flooded out of their homes and compelled to move to the other side of the frontier. Going back further, even to the dreaded days of Partition, when a madness had descended over parts of the sub-continent, yet even during those days there were tens of thousands of cases of people working against the tide and even sacrificing their lives to stem the flow of blood.

But these instances have largely remained unrecorded. We should consider why historians and publicists seem keen to record the evil that man is capable of, but find little time to record the good. Why do only writers of fiction try to present the truth, be it a genius Sa’adat Hasan Manto or a mediocrity like Khushwant Singh? Poets have reflected the sentiments of the people—Faiz in Dagh Dagh Ujala, Amrita Pritam in soul-searing Mein Akhan Waris Shah Nu. Why no Pakistani or Indian Emile Zola—to accuse the mighty of Himalayan blunders? Are they conscience-less puppets? Whose hands make them move? Whose voice do they amplify?

There is the story of an encounter between caravans of the uprooted, beaten and battered, crossing between Lahore and Amritsar. When they met, no knives were drawn. No shots fired. No war-cries of Ya Ali or Sat Sri Akal were shouted. Hesitantly, they talked, offering each other information about the good lands they had left or where stocks of food and fodder could be found. Let us remember, always our people are human, very human.

The peoples’ feelings and thinking are easy to understand. They are aware of greater commonality than diversity. A common history of heritage, common languages, and common attitudes that have developed over centuries of living together. Contiguity of the two States cannot be changed; nor can the consanguinity of their peoples.
They are neighbours in eternity. And the people realise that it is better to be good neighbours than bad.

Among other things they have in common are poverty, hunger, ignorance and disease. The people are aware that these Horsemen of the Apocalypse ride so freely because their governments keep talking of peace but keep preparing for war. There is a lack of trust in the adversary, or a lack of confidence in ourselves.

Our peoples may not be articulate in modern terms, but they know that their wretched condition is a result of the same causes. Basically a failure of the national leadership to cope sensibly with the problems that faced the two countries before and after 1947. The manne of the sub-continent’s partition—once partition had been decided upon—could have been more rational, more just, more sensible. Then, apart from the disputes in the matter that came to us as a legacy from the Raj, new disputes have been created. In all these matters there is a deadly parallel. The matter in dispute is inflated and exaggerated but little attention is paid to the terrible consequences of continuing the conflict.

The media both guides and reflects public opinion. The more credible, the more honest a paper, the more guidance can it offer. For this, it is important that the trend evidenced in both countries of pandering to prejudices should be resisted. These are not always blind prejudices due to ignorance, but prejudices fostered delibearately with open eyes, a studied distortion of history, a conscious evasion of truth. Most often this is done in the service of certain vested interests, communal, sectarian or those of caste or class. Instigation by a variety of commision agents cannot be ruled out. Then, the advocates of eternal confrontation keep shouting their slogans because they have nothing else to offer to the people.

To promote understanding, we need greater exchanges between our two countries and all countries of the region, so that fears and suspicions can be dissipated, and the people’s desire for normal friendly relations can be reflected fully in inter-governmental relations.

Nothing lasts—not even military dictatorships. Let us resolve to be instruments of change in the service of the common weal. It will help greatly if all sections of the media decide to assist rather than hinder this process, so that the divide can be so narrowed that the hand of friendship can be extended without strain by one side and can be grasped by the other without any difficulty.

(Mainstream, January 28, 1989)

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