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When the Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah formerly introduced Pakistan o the world he spoke of a nation built on the principles of tolerance he saw as part of past Islamic civilizations. In his single minded pursuit for recognition for his minority Muslim friends he was equally careful to be unclear and nebulous of the details.

Muslims, excited by the prospect of some political recognition of their ideals, found Pakistan a geographically distant impossibility. To many unable to travel north to new West of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh)if Pakistan was for Muslims then were they somehow less a Muslim when all the political hype and promises of independence softened?

Now Pakistan is seen by many Indians as the enemy that lost its ideals to a democracy weakened by military coups.

……….and what is India?

Westernised Jawaharlal Nehru with his ideas of semi socialist liberalism wanted a secular India, not strictly divided between Church and State as in the USA, but influenced by Gandhi , a secularism understood to mean a diluted tolerant pluralism, and a government not necessarily distant from faith[1].

How would this play out? When asked how Pakistan with its essentially Hindustani culture was different to India, Jinnah pointed to the USA and the power of an idea. America was essentially British but an idea birthed a new nation.

Selling one liner ideas is easier than sustaining a nation. Similarly, in India slogans may win elections but they are rarely sustainable policies.

For instance, Nehru’s deputy, the tea-totalling austere Vallabhbhai Patel , saw that minorities should prove their loyalty to India. Muslims who had once clamoured for Pakistan should prove to a nervous Hindu population they would remain loyal Indians.

Nehru felt the congress led government should ensure Muslims would want to be loyal. The minority must be treated as the majority. They should not only be treated fairly but feel they are being treated fairly.

I am reminded of how when the British allowed a semi autonomous government in Central Provinces in 1937, some Hindus demanded veneration of Durga as symbol of Mother India, much as the West may demand a flag salute or recitation of the Oath of Allegiance. The most pro Indian Muslim could not consent to idolatry and was seen as unpatriotic. In India, 1937 seems to me a stepping stone that led to a widening divide between Congress and the Muslim League.

Of course, Independent India was born from what Gandhi called “the vivisection of the mother”, the blood of partition.

A symbol of the tension of the New India may be the Somnath temple in Gujurat, destroyed by Muslims Mahmoud of Ghanzi in the eleventh century , and after being rebuilt, by Emperor Aurangzeb After two centuries, it was rebuilt for the last time and inaugurated by Rajendra Prasad, India’s first President. .

A close friend of the disciplined Patel, the Hindu Prasad had ignore Nehru’s advice to stay away.

“I respect all religions and on occasion visit a church, a dagah and a gardwara” he said.

Nehru feared a “spirit of communism and revivalism has gradually invaded the congress” speaking when another of Patel’s friends Purshottamdas Tandon was elected President of Congress in 1950.

Perhaps now the need to maintain the public order as different groups seeks to divide and conquer the voting public disillusioned by an unwieldy and corrupt government. Public supported tolerance has drifted into pacifying intolerant demands of pressure groups playing on people’s fears.

It is not a uniquely Indian problem. As an Australian based in Bhopal, I am appalled by the Abbott governments insistence of criminalising refugees as “cue jumpers” , the misuse of the Anzac legend to portray Australia as a nationalist Bronzed Aussie of British descent.   The myth ignores Australia’s post world war II European migration. 60% of Australians do not claim British heritage.

Similarly Gandhi called on the myth of a once great Hindu India. India has never been entirely Hindu. Gandhi’s ideas worked in the public mind because they gave the powerless a way to protest. Gandhi’s ahimsa , a Jain respect for animal life that the Mahatma turned into a political ideal, was born during the violent birth of Indian nationalism. The British could use guns against Tilak’s calling on the Mahabharata to over throw Colonialism. Violence against Gandhi’s defenceless salt marchers would destroy British claims of moral superiority.

By turning the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna’s great justification to Arjuna slaughter his warring brethren into a tale of personal spiritual struggle,[i] Gandhi recreated a myth as unhistorical, but more benign, as the singular and narrow Hindutva of some nationalist politicians.

“One nation one religion” as a slogan has even been used as a readymade garment manufacturer in Bund Garden Road Pune. Even if only intended for commerce, this large sign, politicized religious sentiment, whatever its creed, makes me nervous.

Manu’s legal code may have preferred the “twice born” upper class and Brahmins to live between the Indian ocean and the Bay of Bengal is contrasted with India’s ancient merchant diaspora .that is often quick to desert Brahmin ideals alone but whose displays of piety in he country are more Indian than in India.

[[I assume the stricter members of the Hindutva movement would disagree, The rise of the Brahmins to power came with feudal society, after the collapse of the Maurya’s, claims Devangana Desai (The religious imagery of Khajuraho), drawing on archaeological research. Hinduism pre-dated Buddhism, but Brahmins were given already religiously significant land such as Nashik and Mathura by rulers seeking to raise their prestige . Also, Dravidian south sees its religion predating the northern Aryan invasion, which some Hindus do not believe. It is quiet possible that the British spread idea of an Aryan race may have been tribal groups rather than a racial entity]].

“Hindui is tolerance, but [fill in the blank] are not rue Hindu’s.”

Yes, Hinduism has been remarkably tolerant over the years, what is less clear historically what Hinduism really is.

That will be another blog post …….

For the moment, consider how Prime Minister Nehru defined a secular constitution. Rather than evoke the strict church -state division of the USA, Nehru said “Some people think that it means something opposed to religion. That obviously is not correct. What it means is a state  which honours all faiths equally and gives them equal opportunities” (Sarveralli Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: An Anthology).


[1] Concerned over religions primal passions, Nehru’s ideas were initially more universally but moderated over time, perhaps influenced by the carnage of partition. Early nationalism was religiously inspired bur Gandhi realised the need to transcend its potential divisiveness. He taught ‘sarva dharma sambbhava’ or Equality of All Religions.

[i] In a sense it reminds me of the personal struggle or jihad of Islam, which is also used by some to justify conquest.