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Mainstream, VOL LV No 6 New Delhi January 28, 2017

Ridiculing the Mahatma

Tuesday 31 January 2017, by Kuldip Nayar


It is hard to believe that the government- financed Khadi Board printed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s picture in the familiar pose of Mahatama Gandhi sitting behind the charkha, spinning the yarn, without the PMO’s permission. Probably somebody at the lower level allowed the Board to go ahead. The furore in the public was so strong that the contradiction was inevitable.

Even then the PMO was not as strong as it should have been. In fact, a stern warning should have been issued there and then so that such examples of indiscretion do not go unpunished in future. This might have chastened those who, on one pretext or the other, violate the dignity of the Republic, not realising that they are insulting themselves.

Only the other day, the standing of people was made mandatory when the national anthem was played. People still do not respect the order and open the doors of cinemas even though they are bolted from inside. They think that it was a government’s order which they did not have to obey.

They do not seem to realise that the national anthem and the Republic’s flag are sacred because they represent the nation’s honour and sovereignty. People would have to realise themselves that no order or law can instil patriotism. It is their own feelings which should assert whenever the choice is between what benefits the nation and what benefits an individual or party.

Gandhiji himself was conscious of the people’s feelings. As I wrote earlier, he stopped his prayer meeting when someone objected to the recitation of the Quran. He resumed it only when the person concerned withdrew his opposition. Gandhiji was, however, more successful in Kolkata where the then Chief Minister, Hussein Shaheed Suhrawardy, had declared the Muslim League’s action plan in response to the Congress’ satyagraha.

The action plan turned into a massacre of Hindus and Sikhs with the state’s connivance. There was retaliation, taking the lives of thousands. Gandhiji went to Kolkata and asked the people to give him their weapons. Even the most affected ones surrendered the arms within 24 hours. Lord Mountbatten, who was then the Governor-General, remarked that the armed forces were of little consequence and the one- man force had done the job.

India has traversed a long way since then. It has less faith in pluralism than before. The border drawn on the basis of religion has diluted secularism. But the fault is that of the Congress, not that of the Muslim League which had demanded from day one the grouping of Muslim majority provinces into a separate, sovereign Islamic state. The Congress, which represented the secular ethos, is itself going away from its ideals. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, a tall Muslim leader, had warned the Muslims if they did not feel safe in undivided India where they could say that though less in number they were equal share-holders in post-independent India’s fortunes. But the Muslims were then riding the high horse and bent upon of having even a ‘moth eaten Pakistan‘. They have inherited a country which is bound to discriminate between Muslims and others. In fact, the living condition, whatever their number, is pitiable. There are forced conversions and of non-Muslims marrying Muslim boys.

The Maulana’s warning has come true. Roughly 18 crore Muslims have practically no say in the governance of the country. Their plight, as the Sachar report on Indian Muslims said, was worse than that of Dalits. Politically, they have ceased to matter. Nor do they assert themselves lest Hindu chauvinism takes a still more virulent shape.

However, the Muslims are themselves hardening their position. The Kashmiris are already behaving as if they are independent. At the time of accession, the popular leader, Sheikh Abdullah, had supported the Maharaja because he was fighting against the tribals incuding regular troops. It is a different story that he opposed New Delhi when it went beyond the three subjects, Defence, Foreign Affairs and Communications.

Chief Minister Mahbooba Mufti has been criticised by the Kashmiris for having met Prime Minister Narendra Modi who, they said, was the ‘Hindus’ leader’. They conveniently forget that he is India’s Prime Minister. Whether they support his views or not—many do not in India—is not relevant because he came to power after winning 262 seats in the 540- member Lok Sabha.

The example of Zaira Wasim from Kashmir is before us. She acted admirably in a film and, as Amir Khan, its director and producer, said in a message, she was brilliant. But the pressure of the separatists in the Valley was so much that she had to say in a TV interview that she was ‘ashamed’ of what she had done, disowning her role in the film. Her message was poignant: girls should not follow her example as if she was telling them about the ordeals she had gone through.

That means that those who are wanting to establish a separate, sovereign Islamic Republic in the Valley are far from satisfied. They know that their opponent was the Indian Army. But they go on fighting to register Kashmir’s demand for independence. I found them, when I went to Srinagar, relentless.

New Delhi would have to talk to the separatists and see if they could accept real autonomy within India, telling them that India would not spread itself beyond the three subjects: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Communications.

The author is a veteran journalist renowned not only in this country but also in our neighbouring states of Pakistan and Bangladesh where his columns are widely read. His website is

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