Home > 2018 > Anguish, not Anger / Gandhi’s Lonely Furrow

Mainstream, VOL LVI No 35 August 18, 2018

Anguish, not Anger / Gandhi’s Lonely Furrow

Thursday 16 August 2018, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

Anguish, not Anger

The countdown for a national crisis of fearsome dimension has begun. The build-up of a nationwide communal conflict could be discerned, as one finds that the feverish activity for the building of the Ram temple at Ayodhya is having its repercussions in distant Thiruva-nanthapuram where the Army has had to undertake flag march.

The onset of the crisis was evident on July 18 when at the stroke of midnight, the marathon session of the National Integration Council ended without even a one-line resolution calling for communal amity, which virtually marked the end of the angust body itself. Throughout that day there was exchange of high-tension polemics with the BJP leaders defending their position, and all the others attacking them or urging upon them to implement court rulings with regard to the disputed temple-mosque complex at Ayodhya. Every one of the speeches reflected the speaker’s point of view and there was little one could brand as irrelevant. And yet the sum total of it all was the emergence of a situation of confrontation between the BJP leadership on one side and the rest of the parties ranged against it on the other. Call it confrontation or polarisation, it was a shocking demonstration of bankruptcy of the leadership of all political parties—nothing less than that.

What needs to be emphasised is that leaders of all political parties look upon the mosque-temple controversy at Ayodhya as a political issue, an essentially vote-catching contention. Now that it has reached a flash-point, most of them have been pathetically putting the responsibility for finding a solution on the judiciary. Political leaders abdicate their own responsibility to hammer out a solution, and pass it on to half-a-dozen eminent persons sitting on the Bench.

At the same time, the situation on the ground has been allowed by all sides to drift to a point of high-tension confrontation, in which a court verdict may not bring peace. The side which would feel having lost might take to extra-constitutional means as is being done by Ashok Singhal’s VHP brigade. One has also to take into account that when the court verdict on the Shah Bano case was distasteful to a handful of self-styled leaders of one community, they got an obliging government of the day to pass a legislation negating the effect of that court verdict itself.

The irony of the situation is that the BJP Ministry in Uttar Pradesh is finding it difficult to curb the intransigence of its fellow-travelling VHP, whom the party itself has so long pampered. But the irony is not confined to the case of the BJP alone. It goes to the record of the Congress also which under the Rajiv dispen-sation permitted the shilanyas of the proposed Ram temple at a spot which many felt was within the disputed area. What is important to recall is that the Congress election campaign in UP in 1989—which Rajiv himself was promi-nently directing—claimed the credit for having enabled the laying of the foundation stone of the proposed Ram temple hoping thereby to cash in on the Hindu votes. And after the election which did not fetch the expected windfall of Hindu votes, no attempt was made to bring about an understanding between the leaders of the two communities—at least their political bosses—to sort out the complex question of the Babri mosque structure housing a spot of Hindu worship for the idol of Ram.

In a sense, the Ayodhya crisis of today is the

legacy of the past. As the recently published Nehru papers make it clear, the dispute was shelved by the national leaders by locking up the premises, without taking any decision or any measure for reconciliation between the two communities. The wages of neglect for three decades was compounded when in 1986, the UP Congress Government on the reported advice of Arun Nehru (at that time one of the ardent lieutenants of Rajiv) unlocked the disputed premise on the expectation of a bumper harvest of Hindu votes.

In the last four years little was done to defuse this potential crisis. V.P. Singh faced the brunt of Advani’s Ram rath and tried to take some desperate measures which did not work. In the bargain, his government lost the majority and had to quit office. Chandra Shekhar took some initiative by bringing together the contending leaders of the two communities, but this was short-lived. Narasimha Rao, busy settling his house at the Centre in his first year in office, could make no headway in the matter which turned explosive with the BJP letting the VHP spiritedly revive the temple building campaign.

There is good reason why the BJP leadership had to go in for this risky venture. The entire election campaign of the BJP centred round the promise of building the Ram temple. After the elections there was naturally restlessness among the fiery militants of the VHP and Bajrang Dal. Since the BJP leadership, on its part, made no effort at conditioning its own following about the need for restraint, particularly when the court ruling stayed all permanent construction even outside the disputed structure, there has been a fresh spurt of aggressive campaign for the building of the temple. So much so that the BJP Ministry in Uttar Pradesh today finds itself unable to turn the tide or halt it, thereby facing the charge of having been unable to enforce the court ruling. Here is a case of the predicament involved in running with the hare and hunting with the hound. As things stand today, the BJP can hardly ward off the aggressive kar sevaks by police terror—which no government, whatever its complexion, can do without facing the charge of taking recourse to brutal repression.

There is also another point of ambiguity in the BJP’s position which makes it weak, if not untenable, before the general public. The UP Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, has reiterated his commitment to protect the disputed structure. At the same time, the plan of the proposed Ram temple includes the spot inside the disputed mosque where, according to the mythology given currency by the BJP and its allies, Ram was actually born. Would not this mean the pulling down of the mosque? Thus, a cliff-hanging position has been reached by the BJP leadership.

Suppose the court finally gives the verdict that the Babri mosque could not be dismantled, what then happens to the present plan of the temple as popularised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and backed by the BJP? Would they defy the court verdict, or re-design the temple? If they are ready to re-design the temple, why don’t they do this now and thereby win over Muslim opinion? The BJP leader in the Rajya Sabha and one of the Vice-Presidents of the party, Sikandar Bakht, has made a categorical statement in Parliament that the Babri mosque would not be demolished—either now or at a future date. Speculation is ripe on this point that perhaps finally the BJP may enclose the entire mosque structure within the temple complex, since the party has taken the position that the Muslim public in the area does not use the mosque at all for prayer.

While all this tension has gone up to an alarming extent in the last two weeks, the parties opposed to the BJP are no less strident in their stand. The Janata Dal-Left alliance has been demanding Central intervention to enforce the court directive. While some sections of the combine, such as the Communists, have gone to the extent of offering support to the Central Government in case it invokes Article 356 of the Constitution to dislodge the UP Government, others prefer a localised takeover of the entire disputed area to ensure compliance with the court ruling. A good section of the Congress has also been going along with this position, though a smaller number advises a cautious approach.

The calculation of all the parties opposed to the BJP is that if it is dislodged from office, it would not be able to retain its present position, that it would shrink into its pre-1989 size in the legislatures and Parliament. What this view does not seem to take into account is that polarisation along communal lines has gone very far in the last three years, that the Hindutva concept has received widespread support which can hardly be wished away, particularly in the absence of any mass campaign to rebut it ideologically or politically by those who claim to be secularist. In fact, there are reports that the BJP Government in UP on its part may go in for a snap mid-term poll as a virtual referendum for the Ram temple.

One also comes across the point of view that the BJP-RSS combine should be treated as semi-fascist, and it should be given no quarter if Indian democracy is to survive. What is missing in this argument is that the BJP has gained its present position of being the second largest party in the country by the parliamentary election process, and so long it adheres to that path, there could be electoral battles with it, but there could be no political excommunication without destroying that democracy itself.

There is another element in this current demand for a tough line towards the BJP. Within the Congress party those who are concerned at the quiet consolidation of the Narasimha Rao leadership are keen to take a advantage of this situation to raise the demand for a change in leadership, that the country and the party need a firm and determined leadership and not a low-key one that Narasimha Rao is known for.

We are thus witness to the enveloping tragedy of all political segments thinking only of their own parties, how each can make the best of this crisis. And there is hardly anybody who is concerned about, first and foremost, how to maintain the integrity of this country within the fabric of a democratic order.

A moment of anguish, not of anger it should be. 

(Editor’s Notebook, Mainstream, July 25, 1992)

Gandhi’s Lonely Furrow

As the country is getting ready to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of attainment of freedom, many memories come back to those who were fortunate to be witness to those momentous events. The subcontinent—both India and Pakistan winning independence—opened a new chapter in history, the chapter on decolonisation. It is not often realised that it is the people of this subcontinent who started a historic move-ment which saw, country after country, becoming free from colonial bondage and asserting themselves as independent nations. It is ironic but true that this great historic process ended in the fiftieth anniversary of the liberation of India and Pakistan while the end has now come with the end of the British colonial rule in the Chinese island of Hong Kong.

For those of us who have seen with our own eyes the ushering in of the independence to this country, there will always remain a tinge of tragedy attached to it—namely, the searing partition of the country. The ecstasy of freedom was accompanied in those memorable days with the agony of partition. As we remember one, the other also comes back to mind. The joy of freedom was shattered by the bitter desolation evoked by the partition.

In the excitement of the golden jubilee celebrations, is but natural that the aspect of joy, of triumph is remembered and highlighted, while that of sorrow, of defeat, is often forgotten or glossed over. But at 50, a nation certainly reaches adulthood and can look back without anger or remorse on what happened and into the cause of this tragic development, namely, the vivisection of a country as a condition precedent to its independence. It is time we assessed who was responsible and for how much this division of the country, this slicing up of the organic whole of a vibrant body politic.

In this context, it is surprising to find that some of the principal actors on the Indian side could not anticipate the blood and tear that would follow the partition. In their intellectual horizon, it was going to be a smooth, painless partition which would usher in freedom but without tears. It is on record that both Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru expected that it would just be a peaceful partition and everything would be all right once it was brought about. Only Gandhiji had a different view. He had the terrible premonition that the partition would lead to endless distress as it turned out to be. This difference among the leaders of the triumphant national movement was known at that time to even the youngest of reporters. It was known that Gandhiji was not happy, and he was not called to the meeting of the Congress Working Committee which accepted the Mountbatten Plan for the partitioning of the country.

D.G. Tendulkar, who did a great national service writing volumes after volumes on Gandhiji’s very active life, had recorded an extraordinary piece out of Gandhiji’s papers. Two days before the Mountbatten Award was announced on June 3, 1947, Gandhiji who was in Delhi at the time, woke up half-an-hour before his early morning prayer on June 1, 1947 and wrote down in his diary the following which is part of our history:

The purity of my striving will be put to the test only now. Today, I find myself all alone. Even the Sardar and Jawaharlal think that my reading of the political situation is wrong and peace is sure to return if partition is agreed upon. They did not like my telling the Viceroy that even if there was to be partition, it should not be through British intervention or under the British rule. They wonder, if I have not deteriorated with age.

Nevertheless, I must speak as I feel, if I am to prove a true, loyal friend to the Congress and to the British people, as I claim to be, regardless of whether my advice is appreciate or not. I see clearly that we are setting about this business the wrong way. We may not feel the full effect immediately, but I can see clearly that the future of independence gained at this price is going to dark. I pray, that God may not keep me alive to witness it. In order that He may give me the strength and wisdom to remain firm in the midst of universal opposition and to utter the full truth, I need all the strength that purity can give.

But in spite of my being all alone in my thoughts, I am experiencing an ineffable inner joy and freshness of mind. I feel as if God Himself is lighting my path before me. And that is perhaps the reason why I am able to fight on single-handed. The people ask me to retire to Kashi or to the Himalayas. I laugh and tell them that the Himalayas of my penance are where there is misery to be alleviated, oppression to be relieved. There can be no rest for me, so long as there is a single person in India lacking the necessaries of life. I cannot bear to see Badshah Khan’s grief. His inner agony wrings my heart. But, if I give way to tears, it would be cowardly and, the stalwart Pathan as he is, he would break down. So I go about my business unmoved. That is no small thing.

But maybe all of them are right and I alone am floundering in darkness... I shall, perhaps, not be alive to witness it, but should the evil I apprehend overtake India and her independence can be imperilled, let posterity know what agony this old soul went through thinking of it. Let it not be said that Gandhi was party to India’s vivisection. But everybody is today impatient for independence. Therefore, there is no other help.

Here is the clear proof that Gandhiji was not a party to the partition of India, while statesmen like Nehru and Patel were beguiled into accepting it, nurturing the illusion that once the partition was brought about, everything would be lovely in the garden. Only Gandhi had the premonition that the partition would unleash forces which would be terrible for the two countries. It is known that in the negotiations that preceded the partition, Gandhi went to the utmost length to avert it. So much so that he at one stage proposed to hand over the Prime Ministership of India to Jinnah, an offer which was not approved by either Nehru or Patel. This was the report that the young reporter like the present writer got at the time.

Actually Gandhiji’s herculean efforts at averting the partition of India started long ago. Even from prison, he welcomed Rajaji’s formula in 1944 and immediatlely after his release, he had long and confidential parleys with Jinnah. The collapse of that round of talks naturally came as a severe blow for many of us. But the atmosphere at the time was not one of touch-and-go. Hope was nurtured that something would sooner be found to escape the partition. By the time Mountbatten started his final round of talks, it became inevitable that Gandhiji would not be able to avert the partition. It is thus clear that only one among the stalwarts of our freedom movement, Gandhiji, had the foresight about the irreparable damage that the partition would bring to the subcontinent.

All the other leaders regarded that the scar of the partition would be short-lived, though the British, as the imperial power still wielding their baton, wanted to make use of the partition for their Central Asian policy. It may be noted that three years before the actual partition, Prof Coupland had drawn up a tentative map of the partitioning of India. The idea behind that exercise was obviously to decontaminate the north-west from the rest of the subcontinent, and keep it as a reserve to use it as the jumping-off ground into Central Asia. Sir Olaf Caroe, who was one of the star players in the Great Game, found that after the War, Britain was too weak to play it. So, he took all his plans and papers for the Great Game to the US State Department and urged the USA, the new avatar, to take up the role which Britain had played for nearly a century. This gives us the clue why the US Administration assigned for Pakistan a strategic role in the period of the Cold War.

Why did the Congress leadership accept the partition? One gets the impression at the time that practically the entire lot of the Congress leaders had become tired, unwilling to undertake another round of struggle. Secondly they seemed to have been taken in by Mountbatten’s persuasions and blandishments. Gandhi saw through both. But perhaps he had the misgiving that another round of mass struggle—bigger even than the 1942 movement—might not be possible in view of the fact that the Congress leadership itself did not seem to be prepared for it.

This obvious reluctance of Gandhiji to undertake another round of struggle is one of the mysteries of Indian history in the modern age. Gandhi was never known to shirk even when he was single-handed, as it happened in the twenties. This time, he had on his side JP and the entire Left (including the thoroughlv chastened Communists). Why then did he keep quiet, anticipating the harrowing consequence of the partition?

Sometimes History does not provide the right answer—even after 50 long years.

(Mainstream, August 9, 1997—also published in The Hindu from where it was taken in Mainstream by arrangement)

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