Modi, Shah Have Been Lying About Gandhi. Here's What He Really Said About Minorities.

Gandhi was completely opposed to any suggestion about doubting the nationality of minority Hindus in Pakistan and minority Muslims in India.

“Those people from three neighbouring countries who belong to minority communities and have fled to India to escape persecution, have been provided a measure of help and relief by the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019; they have been shown some leniency. These concessions are not necessarily the outcome of Modi’s thinking. It is not that the idea materialised in Modi’s mind overnight and Modi made it happen. These concessions conform to the very spirit of Gandhi’s thought. Mahatma Gandhi said so – those who have used his name to pontificate about the state of the nation and continue to use his surname for their vested interests, better listen carefully. Gandhi ji said so – you may or may not believe Modi, but at least believe Gandhi! Mahatma Gandhi has said, whenever our Hindu and Sikh brothers and sisters living in Pakistan feel they want to come to India, they are welcome. Mind you, I am not the one saying this but our venerable Mahatma Gandhi.”           

The above statement is part of the speech Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered at the Ramlila Ground in Delhi on December 22, 2019. Exactly a month after that rally, I deeply regret to inform you that our prime minister can utter lies even about Mahatma Gandhi.

While it takes no more than a moment to utter a falsehood, it may take as long as a decade to catch that lie. Gandhi never said it the way it has been conveyed – that our Hindu and Sikh brethren from Pakistan can come to India whenever they want. On the contrary, Gandhi never tired of saying that if the minorities in Pakistan and India were to die fighting the injustice meted out to them by their respective governments, it would make him happier.

Union home minister Amit Shah did one better than Modi. On January 16, 2020, he went for a meeting in Vaishali district, Bihar complete with a written note which he proceeded to read out, saying it was what Gandhi had said on September 26, 1947: “Mahatma Gandhi said, on September 26, 1947, that from every point of view the Hindus and Sikhs living in Pakistan were qualified to come to India. The first and foremost duty of independent India was to see that they got jobs, the amenities required for a comfortable existence, and citizenship.”

Also read: In Punjab, the Legacy of the Ghadar Movement Continues to Inspire the Fight for Justice

Did Mahatma Gandhi actually say it the way Modi and Shah claim he did?

I have before me a two-volume collection of Gandhi’s prayer discourses in Hindi, Prarthana Pravachan, which has been published by the Delhi-based Raza Foundation and Rajkamal Prakashan. This collection contains all the prayer discourses given by Gandhi, from April 1, 1947, to January 29, 1948. It would be instructive to read the discourse of July 5, 1947, especially a part of it:

“But Pakistan’s real test will lie in how it treats the nationalist Muslims, Christians, Sikhs and Hindus who live there. Moreover, there are many sects among Muslims themselves. Shias and Sunnis are the well-known ones, but there are many others too, and how they are treated remains to be seen. Will they fight with the Hindus or develop a friendship with them?”

Here Gandhi is clearly stating that there aren’t just Shias and Sunnis in Pakistan; there are other Muslim sects as well. He wants to see how Pakistan deals with them. It was precisely this point that was raised by the opposition during the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (now an Act) debate in parliament, namely that by linking the issue with religion the government was shutting the door on such groups among Muslims who may be persecuted; that the move was not in accordance with the spirit of the Constitution and Gandhi’s principles.

The government’s thinking would have been on predictable lines – “Who reads Gandhi these days? The Hindi newspapers will publish only what we say. Taking it for the unvarnished truth the reader will carry on animated discussions in the park about how Modiji is doing what he is for the good of the country.”

That is what happened. The Hindi newspapers will still not publish anything about how Modi and Shah have incorrectly presented Gandhi’s statements.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute to a statue of Gandhi in Sabarmati Ashram. Photo: PTI

The first concern Gandhiji raises in his discourse of July 5, 1947, is regarding the treatment of nationalist Muslims in the new nation of Pakistan. The question is, who is this nationalist Muslim who will be residing in Pakistan?

For an answer to this question, let us look at those sections of the discourses of July 10, 1947, and July 12, 1947, where Gandhi clearly states who this nationalist Muslim of Pakistan is.

In the discourse of July 10, 1947, he says:

“If people flee their homes in Sindh and other places out of fear and come here, shall we turn them away? If we do so, with what face shall we call ourselves Indians? How can we chant the slogan Jai Hind? Welcome them saying, this too is your country just as that is your country. This is how we should deal with them. If nationalist Muslims are also forced to leave Pakistan and come here, then they too will live here. As Hindustanis, we all have the same standing. If this cannot be, then Hindustan cannot come into being.”

On July 12, 1947, Gandhi said:

“Many Muslims come to meet me these days. The mention of Pakistan makes them nervous. The apprehension of Christians, Parsis and other non-Muslims is understandable, but why should Muslims be afraid? They say, ‘we are considered quislings [traitors]. The problems we encounter will be far greater than the troubles the Hindus will face in Pakistan. As soon as the government is in full control, our association with the Congress will be deemed an offence under the Shariat.’ If this is what Islam means, then I do not accept it. How can the nationalist Muslims be called quislings? I trust that just as Jinnah Saheb will protect non-Muslim minorities, so will he defend these Muslims.”

Also read: Gandhi, a Lifelong Friend of Jamia Millia Islamia

This part of the discourse of July 12, 1947, makes it amply clear that the nationalist Muslim is one who walks on the path set by Gandhi, and is associated with the Congress. At the same time, he is apprehensive that to continue an association with the Congress in the new nation of Pakistan would be seen as an offence under the Shariat. The background to this apprehension is to be found in the tussle between the Muslims who supported the Congress and those who backed the Muslim League. Historian Yasmin Khan has dealt with this issue extensively in her book, The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan.

As is well known, the British government had decided to hold talks about independence only with elected representatives, hence elections to the central and provincial legislative assemblies were held from December 1945 to March 1946. In those elections there were reserved seats for Muslims where only Muslim voters could elect Muslim candidates. There was intense competition between the ‘League-i’ Muslims and ‘Congressi’ Muslims for those seats. In Muslim neighbourhoods, the Congress-i Muslims became increasingly isolated. They suffered the ire of League supporters, even getting roughed up, but remained steadfast on Gandhi’s path. For that they were dubbed ‘kafir’ by the maulanas supporting the Muslim League. On his part, the head of the Jamiat ul Ulema had issued a fatwa against Jinnah in 1945, calling him ‘Kafir-e-Azam’.

The object of Gandhi’s concern is this nationalist Muslim who consistently rejected Jinnah – in India, and in the newly formed nation of Pakistan, too. This was a time when in addition to taking a stand against Jinnah, the nationalist Muslim found himself ranged against his very own within his home and family. After Partition many nationalist Muslims stayed on in Pakistan, but that did not mean they had placed their faith in Jinnah’s Pakistan. These were the Muslims who came to Gandhi and said that they felt afraid to be in Jinnah’s Pakistan.

Many Muslims rejected Jinnah’s Pakistan and came to India. Otherwise, a great actor like Dilip Kumar would not have become the crown of the Hindi film industry. In all this talk about crossing over and not crossing over, it is important to remember one thing, namely that when the territorial division took place, many felt that people would not allow themselves to be divided; that one day they would come together.

Jinnah and Gandhi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In their speeches, Modi and Shah reject the nationalist Muslims who fought all that Jinnah stood for. They don’t mention them at all. The way they see it, all Muslims should be recognised by what they wear, and that garb, according to them, is of one kind only – whereas, in this country Muslims wear dhotis too, even sherwanis and suits (of course, the latter may not be in the range of Rs 26 lakh). Is it possible to imagine a constitution where one can reject, or exclude, the nationalist Muslim and yet talk about Gandhi? My unequivocal reply is that it is just not possible.

During his rally in Vaishali district, Shah not only quoted Gandhi, he also provided the date (September 26, 1947) on which, he said, Gandhi had made that statement. I read the discourse Gandhi gave on that day, in the Prarthana Pravachan. It turned out that the date given by the home minister was correct – Gandhi did speak on that day, after all – but the statement he read out was not; it was not part of the discourse of September 26, 1947. In that day’s discourse, Gandhi shared with the audience an account of his conversation with a respected vaidya named Gurudutt who had come from Pakistan to meet him. In the conversation, Gurudutt tells Gandhi, I did not heed your advice, I came away.

What advice of Gandhi did Gurudutt not heed? Gandhiji was telling people that wherever they were, they should be fighting against the injustice being perpetrated by their government – even if it meant dying in the effort.

In that day’s discourse, Gandhi mentions one term, fifth columnist, which is used to describe those people who secretly aid the enemy of their country through activities that sabotage it from within. It is important to mention this section of Gandhiji’s discourse of September 26, 1947, so that Modi and Amit Shah realise that Gandhi never said anything to the effect that Hindus and Sikhs could come over to India from Pakistan whenever they wanted. Gandhi stated:

“Looking upon Hindus in Pakistan and Muslims in India as fifth columnists, as unworthy of trust, will not do. If they are disloyal to Pakistan while living there, we cannot speak for just one side. If we look upon the Muslims living here as fifth columnists, will the Hindus and Sikhs living in Pakistan be also considered fifth columnists? This will not do. Those living there, who no longer want to live there, are welcome to come here. To give them jobs, look after their comfort becomes the most important duty of our union government. But it certainly cannot be that they continue to be there and become little spies, working for us, not for Pakistan. This would never do, and I would not be party to it.”

Gandhi was completely opposed to any suggestion about doubting the nationality of minority Hindus in Pakistan and minority Muslims in India. Gandhi never said – remember, or recognise, Muslims by their clothes.  

Towards the end of his discourse of September 26, 1947, Gandhi mentioned one more thing which Amit Shah seems to have missed – Satyameva jayate, nanritam; truth alone triumphs, not untruth.

Also read: When Gandhi Argued in Favour of Kashmir’s Right to Self-Determination

In his discourse of September 18, 1947, Gandhi said: “Assume that all Muslims in Pakistan are bad. So what? My only advice to you is, let India remain the ocean in which the filth is swept away. We cannot be doing bad things because someone else is doing them.”

What I really want is for Modi to express his ‘mann ki baat’ to Gandhi as he reads the prayer discourses. His hands will start shaking and his lips will start twitching. He will be able to see how after being cast aside by the people and politicians, Gandhi was still able to get on his feet, stand alone. Now journeying from Delhi to Noakhali, now Bihar. Experimenting once again with his beloved principles of ahimsa and truth his final effort to bring them centrestage, claiming his life.

The prime minister will also be able to see how he, Modi, gave the very person lauding Gandhi’s killer as a patriot the Lok Sabha ticket from Bhopal in 2019; how, during a debate on TV Today, BJP politician, Amitabh Sinha, in response to a question from Kanhaiya Kumar, said he would not say anything against Godse, Gandhi’s assassin.  

I am certain that after reading Gandhi’s prayer discourses, Modi will go back to the same Ramlila Ground and say: The name of this ground is connected with the name of Rama; Rama’s name is connected with truth, and Gandhi’s name is also connected with truth. I have taken the names of both Rama and Gandhi and lied to them. I seek the forgiveness of 130 crore Indians.

Ravish Kumar is an anchor with NDTV India.

Translated from the Hindi original by Chitra Padmanabhan.