“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it.”
— Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
Hannah Arendt was a prominent political philosopher of the last century. A Jew who settled in America after narrowly escaping from Hitler’s Germany, she wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism in 1951 to tell the world how Nazism and Stalinism distorted facts, and yet were able to convince many people to believe them to be truths.
India is nowhere close to becoming Hiter’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia.
Nevertheless, in Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, one can clearly discern the totalitarian instinct of trying ‘to fit reality to their facts’.
Look how they are marketing the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), a patently anti-Muslim and unconstitutional legislation, as the realisation of the wish and vision of… lo and behold… the greatest votary of Hindu-Muslim unity, Mahatma Gandhi. Its premise — and also the premise of its administrative offspring, the National Register of Citizens (NRC), which necessitates ‘detention centres’ — flies in the face of everything Gandhi ji preached, practised and pursued in his life.
- Modi and Shah have distorted both the text and context of what Gandhi had wished for at the time of Partition.
- The words ‘citizenship’ and ‘voting rights’ are simply not there in the actual quotation from Gandhi’s speech.
- Gandhi had categorically stated that India should also welcome ‘Nationalist Muslims’ who wished to leave Pakistan, insisting that ‘as Indians’, they should have ‘the same status’ as non-Muslim refugees.
- What is the larger historical context that both Shah and Modi are suppressing? It is that Gandhi had tried his utmost to prevent India’s partition on the basis of the Muslim League’s toxic ‘Two-Nation’ theory.
Did Gandhi Want Only Non-Muslims from Pakistan to be Welcomed in India?
In his controversial speech at Ramakrishna Mission in Kolkata on 12 January, Modi claimed that the Mahatma wanted Indian citizenship for non-Muslims fleeing religious persecution from Pakistan. “We’ve only done what Mahatma Gandhi had said decades ago.” But what exactly had Gandhi ji said? We first heard it from Amit Shah, who, replying to the debate on the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB) in the Rajya Sabha, had quoted him as saying at his prayer meeting on 26 September 1947: “The Hindus and Sikhs living in Pakistan, if they don’t want to live there, then they can come to India without a doubt. In this matter, to provide them with employment, voting rights, a life of dignity and happiness, is the first duty of the government of India.”
Speaking at a rally in Bihar on 16 January, and misquoting from the same prayer meeting, Shah even inserted the word ‘citizenship’ into the Mahatma’s mouth.
Modi and Shah have distorted both the text and context of what Gandhi ji had wished at the time of Partition. First, the textual falsification. The words ‘citizenship’ and ‘voting rights’ are simply not there in the actual quotation from Gandhi’s speech. This can be verified online from Volume 96 of Mahatma Gandhi’s Collected Works. They are mischievous interpolations to fit a political necessity.
Falsifying Gandhi’s Words
But did the Father of the Nation want only non-Muslims from Pakistan to be welcomed in India? This claim of Modi and Shah is demolished by what he stated in his prayer-time speech on 10 July. He categorically stated that India should also welcome ‘Nationalist Muslims’ who wished to leave Pakistan, insisting that ‘as Indians’ they should have ‘the same status’ as non-Muslim refugees. He elaborated this point on 12 July. “Many Muslims come to see me these days. They too are nervous about Pakistan. One can understand Christians, Parsis and other non-Muslims feeling uneasy, but why Muslims? They say they are treated as Quislings, that they will receive even worse treatment than the Hindus in Pakistan, and after full power has been transferred to Pakistan their association with the Congress will be considered a crime according to the tenets of Shariat.”
Shah’s contextual falsification was even more glaring and egregious.
In his speech on CAB in the Lok Sabha, he made the baseless claim that the ‘Congress party was responsible for the division of India on religious lines’. He further stated that, but for the Congress party’s ‘original sin’, the new citizenship law would not have been necessary at all. Since the tallest Congress leader those days was the Mahatma himself, Shah was thus blaming the very person whose support he was seeking to justify CAB!
What Shah & Modi Are ‘Suppressing’ About Gandhi
But let’s leave this inconvenient contradiction behind, and ask: What is the larger historical context that both Shah and Modi are suppressing? It is that Gandhi ji had tried his utmost to prevent India’s partition on the basis of the Muslim League’s toxic ‘Two-Nation’ theory. But when it did happen in August 1947, he made heroic efforts to stop the communal carnage in which nearly half a million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were killed. The killings triggered the largest transnational migration in human history, the number of refugees swelling to 15 million. Amongst the dead and the displaced, the number of Hindus and Sikhs (mainly in areas that became West Pakistan) was more or less equal to that of Muslims (mainly in east Punjab, now in India). Property was looted, places of worship were attacked, and women were raped, on both sides. (Bengal’s division witnessed less violence.)
Faced with this unspeakable tragedy, Gandhi ji used all the moral might at his command to make, essentially, four appeals to Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, and their leaders on both sides of the blood-soaked border.
First, people should stay put in their own ancestral villages and towns, and their immediate neighbours should ensure their safety. Second, the governments in the two newly-created dominions must do everything necessary to stop communal violence and the flight of refugees. Third, they must ensure dignified rehabilitation of those who migrate voluntarily. Fourth, and most relevant to our discussion: the governments and communities in both dominions should quickly create conditions of peace enabling the refugees to go back to their native places. In the speech of 26 September 1947, from which Shah has deliberately misquoted, Gandhi ji said: “Let us arrive at a mutual and friendly settlement. Why can we not do so? We Hindus and Muslims were friends till yesterday. Have we become such enemies today that we cannot trust one another?”
Gandhi Was Impartial In Blaming Communal Forces On Both Sides
An ardent believer in the power of prayer, his all-religion prayer meetings at Birla House in Delhi became his unique spiritual resistance to the madness of communal violence. “The trouble has no doubt started in West Pakistan, but some parts of the Indian Union have resorted to retaliation,” he lamented. His prescription: “If either Dominion behaves correctly, the other will follow suit and both will be saved.” On 15 September, he said, “For me, the transfer of millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims is unthinkable. It is wrong. The wrong of Pakistan will be undone by the right of a resolute non-transfer of population.”
He was scrupulously impartial in blaming communal forces on both sides.
When attacks on Muslim families began in the national capital, his newspaper, Harijan (28 September 1947), carried this exhortation from his speech: “The people of Delhi will make it difficult to demand justice from the Pakistan Government. Those who seek justice must do justice, must have clean hands. Let the Hindus and the Sikhs take the right step and invite the Muslims who have been driven out of their homes to return. If they can take this courageous step, worthy from every point of view, they immediately reduce the refugee problem to its simplest terms. They will command recognition from Pakistan, nay, from the whole world. They will save Delhi and India from disgrace and ruin.”
“I cannot rest in peace till every Muslim and Hindu and Sikh in India and Pakistan is rehabilitated in his own home,” he said at the prayer meeting on 18 September. “What is to become of the Juma Masjid, the biggest mosque in India, or of the Nankana Saheb or Punja Saheb if no Muslim can live in Delhi or India, and no Sikh live in Pakistan? Are these sacred places to be turned to other purposes? Never.”
‘Both India & Pakistan Are My Country’: Gandhi
To drive home the fact that Hindus and Sikhs have the same legitimate claim to be equal citizens of Pakistan as Muslims do in India, he posed the following question in his prayer meeting on 23 September: “The Hindus and the Sikhs have made Rawalpindi what it is. They were all well off there. Today they are refugees without shelter. This hurts me deeply. Who has made modern Lahore as it is if not the Hindus and the Sikhs? They are exiles from their own lands. Similarly, the Muslims have not a little to do with the making of Delhi. Thus, all communities have worked together to make India what it was on 15 August last.”
He repeatedly warned that both the dominions — also both Islam and Hinduism — would invite ‘ruin’ upon themselves if Pakistan became ‘a purely Muslim state’ and the Indian Union ‘a purely Hindu and Sikh State’, ‘with no rights for the minorities on either side’.
On 2 July, he announced his resolve to cross the western border on a peace mission, having already undertaken such a mission earlier in Noakhali in the east, which is now in Bangladesh. In words of unbelievable audacity, he said, “Both India and Pakistan are my country. Nobody can stop me. Even Mr Jinnah cannot stop me. I have not become a foreign national. I am not going to take out a passport for going to Pakistan.” For calling Pakistan as ‘my country’, he would have been branded as ‘anti-national’ today by the followers of Modi and Shah.
Working Towards a ‘Heart-Union’ Between Hindus & Muslims
He expressed the same view at his prayer meeting on 26 January, just four days before his assassination: “Though geographically and politically India is divided into two, at heart we shall ever be friends and brothers helping and respecting one another and be one for the outside world.” Again, a day later, in an interview to Kingsley Martin, editor of New Statesman, London, Gandhi ji said he was working for a ‘heart-union’ between Hindus and Muslims not only in India but in Pakistan, too.
Does all this add up to a vision that is consistent with the discriminatory and exclusionary intent of the CAA?
If Modi, Shah and their supporters still think so, they should listen to what the Mahatma said at his prayer meeting on 13 January 1948. It was the second day of the last of the many fasts he had undertaken in his life. He had done so to express his anguish at the large-scale violent attacks on Muslims in Delhi. “Delhi is the capital of India… 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 place only for the majority and the minority should be dishonoured... Therefore, anyone who seeks to drive out the Muslims is Delhi’s Enemy Number One, and therefore, India’s Enemy Number One.” (emphasis added)
Modi-Shah Can’t ‘Justify’ Their Claim That Gandhi Would Have Supported CAA
Notice that, even after the founding of Pakistan, Gandhi was still affirming that Muslims from Karachi have an ‘equal right’ to Delhi, and that our ‘dear motherland’ cannot exclude and ‘dishonour’ the minority. Indeed, one of the main conditions he set for ending his fast (which lasted six days) was that non-Muslims should not object to Muslims returning to their homes from Pakistan.
Two points emerge from the foregoing.
- One: Modi and Shah have absolutely no justification in claiming that the Mahatma would have supported the CAA. He did not want the influx of Hindu-Sikh refugees from Pakistan to be given a legal, permanent and irreversible endorsement in the form of conferment of citizenship. If anything, he wanted Indians and Pakistanis, of all religions, to embrace and further develop a shared socio-cultural identity notwithstanding the separate legal identity of the two nation-states.
- Two: Religious persecution happened on both sides of the border at the time of Partition. Similarly, ill-treatment of minorities has continued in Pakistan, Bangladesh and India even today, albeit more in Islamised Pakistan than in constitutionally secular India. Our response to this cannot be the CAA, which is a deceitful attempt towards the Hinduisation of India. Rather, it has to be on Gandhian lines — strengthening of Hindu-Muslim unity at home and, simultaneously, engaging with our neighbours in such a brotherly manner that we all can, over a period of time, influence one another positively, leading to a heart-integration of the Indian subcontinent.
(The writer, who served as an aide to India’s former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, is founder of the ‘Forum for a New South Asia – Powered by India-Pakistan-China Cooperation’. He tweets @SudheenKulkarni and welcomes comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)