In the cleanliness drive Gandhi’s real message of communal harmony was missing

“That communal harmony was his (Gandhi’s) foremost concern was emphasized again in 1921 and repeated on March 24, 1947, at a prayer meeting in Rajghat thus: “I would say that Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of mother India – just as the trouble in one eye affects the other too, similarly the whole of India suffers when either a Hindu or a Muslim suffers”, says the author

The Modi government has, by a not-so-clever sleight of hand, converted the most important day in India, October 2, Gandhi’s birthday, into a cleanliness day. Of course this was buttressed by a repeat of Gandhi’s exhortation of “cleanliness is next to godliness”. No one can be against spreading awareness about cleanliness. But when an attempt, and not so subtle one, is made by the RSSdominated Modi government to sidetrack the real message of Gandhi, one cannot ignore this mischievous move.

Days before Modi was to do the cleaning act at the Valmiki quarters in New Delhi, the whole area was checked for security (right, no objection to the security angle). But what was hypocritical was the fact that the whole area was cleaned by the sanitation staff regularly for days earlier. Have we not seen in newspapers how ministers, in order to show their extra loyalty, had empty bottles thrown by the sanitary staff without any embarrassment and then made a mockery of the cleanliness drive by removing them while getting themselves photographed? My objection is not to the observance of the cleanliness day – do it by all means provided it is on another day. But I do have a serious objection to converting Gandhi’s birthday as the cleanliness day, as if that is the most important message of Mahatma Gandhi.

If one watched TV channels, it was Modi and his cohorts waving the broom. Gandhi’s real message of communal harmony was totally missing. Gandhi’s stature of being the tallest Indian was reduced to a small mention and the whole focus was on Modi holding a broom. If the Modi government denies this, will it explain why it never mentioned the real message of Gandhi which he consistently emphasized? Let me reproduce the pledge which Mahatma Gandhi wanted Indians to take in 1919: “With God as a witness we Hindus and Mohamedans declare that we shall behave towards one another as children of the same parents, that we shall have no differences, that the sorrows of each will be the sorrows of the other and that each shall help the other in removing them. We shall respect each other’s religion and religious feelings, and shall not stand in the way of our respective religious practices.

We shall always refrain from violence to each other in the name of religion.” That communal harmony was his foremost concern was emphasized again in 1921 and repeated on March 24, 1947, at a prayer meeting in Rajghat thus: “I would say that Hindus and Muslims are the two eyes of mother India – just as the trouble in one eye affects the other too, similarly the whole of India suffers when either a Hindu or a Muslim suffers.” Gandhi’s emphasis against communalism was again shown in the letter he wrote in Harijan in January 1948 in Gujarati (emphasis mine) where he specifically said: “I think it is proper to address a few words to the people of Gujarat. (Modi as a Gujarati should have in all propriety and claiming to be spreading the message of Gandhi reminded the nation of what Gandhi wrote in 1948) Delhi has always been the Capital.

It would be the limit of foolishness to regard it as belonging only to the Hindus or the Sikhs. All Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Jews who people this country from Kanyakumari to Kashmir and from Karachi to Dibrugarh in Assam and who have lovingly and in a spirit of service adopted it as their dear motherland, have an equal right to it. No one can say that it has a place only for the majority and the minority should be dishonoured” (emphasis mine). Modi went to pay homage at Rajghat on the 2nd October 2014 morning.

Surprisingly, no one told him about this solemn pledge taken by Gandhi. But then Modi could not have taken this pledge with a clear conscience, considering the B.J.P. is shame-facedly busy in congratulating and felicitating party workers accused of violent crimes against Muslims in Muzaffarnagar (U.P.) even when they are being prosecuted in a court of law. Such open demonstration in favor of the accused is a clear case of contempt of the court.

Also, how can Modi spread the message of Hindu-Muslim harmony when his mentor, RSS chief Bhagwat, was provided the services of Doordarshan to spread communal poison against the Muslims by falsely bringing up the question of Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam and West Bengal, Bihar and creating panic by a canard that it had the potential to endanger the life of Hindu society there – very mischievously ignoring the fact that hundreds of Muslims were killed in the recent flare-ups in Assam, Bodoland? Modi’s claim to be secular is unacceptable in the context of his silence at the crude thinking of some of the BJP diehards who are planning to celebrate the birthday of Hemu, employed as a General in the army of Afghan ruler Sher Shah – he vainly chose to describe himself as King Vikramaditya and challenged the King. Akbar’s army was defeated.

The diehard in the RSS are so perverse that they are claiming it as a very big battle of a Hindu king against the great Akbar who has been praised in the U.N. Human Development Report 2004 for his pronouncements on religious tolerance such as “no one should be interfered with on account of religion, and any one is allowed to go over to a religion that pleases him”. Modi in his radio speech has rightly referred reverentially to Swami Vivekanand as one of the greatest Indians. But will Modi tell his RSS followers to remember and follow Swami Vivekanand, who believed in total Hindu-Muslim unity and profusely praised Islam?

In a letter to his friend Mohammed Sarfraz Hussain (June 10, 1898 ) Vivekanand wrote without any hesitation: “Therefore I am firmly persuaded that without the help of practical Islam, theories of Vedantism, however fine and wonderful they maybe, are entirely valueless to the vast mass of mankind. For our own motherland a junction of the two great systems Hinduism and Islam – Vedanta brain and Islam body – is the only hope……” There thus can be no real progress in India which does not include the minorities such as Muslims and Christians as equal stakeholders. This is the real message which Modi should have spoken of on Gandhi’s birthday if he meant to pay a genuine respectful tribute to Mahatma Gandhi.

(The author is an Indian lawyer and a former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court. He was a member of United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.)