Monday 27 January 2020, by Gargi Chakravartty

The following paper was presented at an International Winter School on “Globalistion and Religious Diversity: Issues, Perspectives and the Relevance of Gandhian Philosophy”, organised by the Ambedkar University, Delhi and Aarhus University, on January 8-14, 2020.

Commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, I find it most relevant to talk about a subject like religious faith and secularism. Gandhi, a truly religious man, struggled throughout his life to make the people of this country understand the importance of togetherness among people of all religious faith, particularly Hindus and Muslims.

He said: “My religion teaches me to love equally.”1 His ideas of religious and cultural pluralism, interfaith communal harmony and non-violence are still relevant today with the ascendancy of religious fundamentalism around the world and within the country.

His spiritual bondings earned him friends beyond religious boundaries. One of his closest friends was C.F. Andrews, a Christian who served Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan, the abode of universalism. In Gandhi’s words, “It was not a friendship between an Englishman and an Indian. It was an unbreakable bond between two seekers and servants.”2

Now, when we go through the lives of such personalities — like Tagore, Andrews and Gandhi, and many other intellectual figures of that period we find a strong element of spiritualism in their religious understanding. Gandhi was very close to Tagore. Though they differed in their ideas on nationalism as Tagore was more of an internationalist and opposed to narrow sectarian nationalism, but they were very intimate to each other. Both were spiritual, and free from religious chauvinism. Tagore’s perception of Godliness in nature led him to a higher level of connection with the Almighty.

It won’t be out of place to make a distinction between religion and spirituality. Without having interest in religion, ritual and scriptures, one can still attain spiritual experiences. Peter Heehs, an American historian, in his book, Spirituality without God, deals with this theme. He argues that most of the religious people think about atheism as non-belief in God or an aggressive denial of God. But there are also non-dogmatic atheists who simply do not believe in Him and Her, yet gets spiritual vibes, good and positive by simply sitting, or walking on the seashore, or hills, or listening to a particular kind of music. This experience is a deeper one which ignites an enlightenment. For example, yoga and Tai Chi Kuan help in mental growth without being ritualistic, superstitious and dogmatic.

One needs to understand the moral and ethical aspect of religion which has a sublime character. Dr B.R. Ambedkar, though a born Hindu, embraced Buddhism at a later stage of his life, and said: “Real religion lives in the heart of man, not in the Shastras.” He also said: “Man and morality must be the centre of religion. If not, religion is a cruel superstition.”3

Gandhi was very similar to Ambedkar in his observation when he wrote: Religion was not an intellectual exercise but a ‘heart grasp’.4

We had a tradition of Bhakti and Sufi which were independent of orthodox scriptures. How-ever in course of time it was overshadowed by ritualistic aspects of religion. India, being a Hindu majority country, the ills of that religion were naturally to have a cascading effect on our society at large.

Hinduism, with over-emphasis on ritualism and scripture and departure from the mystic components of Bhakti has slowly given a huge space to an aggressive, arrogant, dogmatic, and violent form of Hinduism which for many is not true Hinduism, and which is detrimental to our composite culture of multi-religious assimilation, and particularly blending of Hindu and Muslim religious identities.

Here I’d like to quote from the famous Chicago address by Swami Vivekanand in September 11, 1893 on the platform of Parliament of Religion. He said: “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth.”

The element of spirituality receded from religion with overemphasis on performance of rituals mechanically and scriptures without any understanding.

I need to recall the words of Tagore. Disturbed at the stream of political events, he wrote in 1931: “In Hindu society, rituals have taken the name of religion. For this reason, a difference in rituals creates a deep chasm among people… the mental attitude that attaches greater significance to superficial rituals is bound to have human understanding that is confined or limited.. This dearth is apparent in every discussion, even in the national conferences and it becomes evident that the invisible barrier that will carry around us is based on superstition. It is subtle, therefore difficult to overcome. Even if we deny it in public, it remains in our subconscious without us being aware of it. Religion has not been able to bring us together. Instead it has build a thousand walls and reinforced them by calling them per-historic truths… Our main identity remains either as a Hindu or a Muslim.”5

Religion has lost its essence of ethical and moral value and has beceme a bedrock of blind faith, superstition, irrationalism, bigotry and hate.

Gandhi’s political journey started from South Africa from 1893 onwards, with his legal work with the Indian indentured labourers who lived virtually as slaves. At the height of repression, Gandhi was waiting for an interview with the Minister of Interior, General Smuts. At that juncture,Gokhale had asked C.F. Andrews to go to South Africa to assist Gandhi in his talks with Smuts.

Gandhi later wrote about Andrew’s dedication: “I’ve known him setting out for South Africa at a moment’s notice at the late Gokhale’s behest. This is true and silent Tapascharya.”6 In fact Gokhale had a great influence on Gandhi and Andrews. In a letter to Gandhi on April 5, 1914, Andrews wrote about how Gokhale convinced him to assist Gandhi. “We want you men of religion within the political movement to keep it wholesome and sweet.”7

Gokhale’s idea was to absorb the political into religion so that there could be no separation between the two. Gandhi also echoed the same voice at a speech in Bangalore on May 8, 1915. “Mr Gokhale taught me to spiritualise the political life of the country and political institu-tions of the country. He inspired my life and is still inspiring [it]. In that, I wish to purify myself, and spiritualise myself, I have dedicated myself to that ideal.”

In one word, those leaders wanted to spiritualise the political life of the country with ethical norms of love, acceptance, friendship, largeness of heart, and not religionise with a dogmatic, narrow and confined mind. That has been the perspective of my first part of the presentation — to differentiate between spirituality and religiosity, between true religion and fake religion, between spiritualisation of political life and interplay of religion and politics.


Now I come to my second part: How interplay of religion and politics by certain political forces destroyed the efforts of such spiritual persons like Gandhi. Religion or religious identities started playing a decisive role in various nationalist movements in the colonial period. The symptoms of such religious revivalism could be traced to the earlier period of our nationalist struggle when Tilak in Maharashtra launched Ganesh Utsav to bring the common people into the orbit of anti-colonial movement. Resolutions on cow protection were placed on Congress sessions.

When Gandhi launched the nationwide Khilafat Non-Cooperation movement in 1920, leaders like Jinnah opposed it as he was not in favour of bringing religious issues like Khilafat into the political arena. Jinnah never took any real interest in any pan-Islamic programme, and felt that it might imperil the Hindu-Muslim entente.8

Pan-Islamism, an ideology that sought to consolidate Muslims across the world against western imperialism did not become a living force in India until 1911, when a war broke out between Italy and Turkey. Britain formed a secret alliance with Italy. This led to the alienation of the Indian Muslims from the British. “They felt that British imperialism was bent on destroying their Islamic culture.”9

The alarm ‘Islam in danger’ was imbued with fanatical hatred against Christianity and British colonialists, not directed against the Hindus.

Gandhi’s South African experiences of non-violent satyagraha, and working for the rights of the Indians, mostly Muslims, made him realise that Hindu-Muslim unity was imperative and indispensable for achieving Indian freedom from colonial rule. The anti-British component of Pan-Islamic Khilafat movement created an opportune moment for Gandhi, a political space for launching a countrywide national struggle against the British. Thus, in 1919-20, under the leadership of Gandhi, Congress launched the Non-Cooperation Movement by raising the Jallianwala and Khilafat issues together. Shaukat Ali and Muhammad Ali became Gandhi’s close allies during the movement. A devout practicing Hindu, he had no problem to embrace his Muslim friends, as he did in South Africa.

Though Jinnah, then a moderate, and a few extremist Muslims and extremist Hindus, for different reasons, were not comfortable with Gandhi’s idea of bringing the Khilafat issue into our national struggle.

Gandhi had a vision of India, akin to his secular precept. On October 6, 1920, he wrote in Young India: “Swaraj for India is an impossible dream without a union of all Hindus and Muslims of India.”

His vision of Swaraj India was indeed secular. His entire political philosophy was secular in the sense that he did not believe in state religion, even if the whole community had one religion.10 It is important to remember what Gandhi had observed: “The Hindus and Mohammedans, the Parsis and the Christians who have made India their country are fellow countrymen, and they have to live in unity, if only for their own interest. In no part of the world, there are one nationality, one religion, synonymous terms. Nor has it been so in India.”11

Ramchandra Guha, in his seminal work on Gandhi, has rightly mentioned: “For Gandhi, Muslims and Christians were as much part of the nation-in-the-making as Hindus. Seeing them as foreigners, or susceptible to foreign influences was so to say ‘foreign’ to his way of thinking.”12

Inter-faith harmony was the essence of Gandhi’s secularism. Since the period of Non-Cooperation Movement, Gandhi’s conflict ensued within Congress as well as outside Congress with the political parties based on religious identities. On the one hand, we witnessed a large number of Muslims attending Congress sessions, but on the other hand, Hindu Mahasabha members, though members of the Congress stood indifferent or distant from the 1920 movement. Gandhi was disturbed to find many Hindus filling in the vacancies created as a result of resignation of the Muslims from government posts during the Non-Cooperation Movement. In a pointed reference to them, Gandhi wrote in 1920: “At the moment, I wish to say a few words to the Hindus alone… any Hindu taking up a job given up by a Muslim will have acted as an enemy of the latter, and non-cooperation will become if not impossible, extremely difficult.”13

Hindu Mahasabha did not consider the British as its No. 1 enemy, rather it perceived the British rule providing a protection to the Hindus. Gandhi understood this attitude and he minced no words to admonish them at the Calcutta Congress of 1920. He said: “Many Hindus believe that British rule serves at any rate to protect Hinduism and, therefore, whatever other harms it may do, the protection of Hinduism is a sufficient compensation. I can think of no more humiliating idea which can occur to a Hindu.”14 That was the beginning of a long conflict between secular ethos of Gandhi and the dogmatic forces opposed to him.

He was attacked from both sides, first by the Hindu supremacists, and then by some of his own Muslim partners from 1930s onwards. In this conflict between Hindu nationalism and Muslim nationalism, the inevitable victim was the concept of secularism. A political scientist, D.E. Smith, rightly apprehended that “a nationalism imbued with a spirit of militant religious revivalism is not likely to lead to a secular independent state.15

It is difficult to trace the entire process of the conflict in such a short space. Still, certain points need to be highlighted.

Hindu Mahasabha leaders were very critical of Gandhi as is evident from their leader, B.S. Moonje’s observation. He wrote: “Since the rise of Mahatma, to dictatorship in the Congress, the Congress has developed a tendency that may aptly be called a pro-Muslim mentality at the cost of Hindu interests with the ultimate object of placating and winning them over to merge in the Congress.”16 Similarly, Bhai Paramanand wrote: “I am convinced that if the Congress had not thought of Hindu-Muslim unity, if Gandhi had not made his ill-fated pact with the Ali brothers, it could have made a significant contribution to the achievement of freedom.”17 They considered Hindu Muslim fraternization as superficial.

With Gandhi’s emergence in Congress, Hindu Mahasabha (RSS not yet born) failed to play any decisive role as a lobby within the Congress. As historian Christophe Jaffrelot puts it: “Gandhi did not leave the Hindu Sabhaites much room for manoeuvre in Congress, and more generally, in the Indian public sphere.”18 But outside the Congress, the Hindu Mahasabha was growing. The attendance at the Mahasabha session was far more than that of the Congress. In spite of the fact that the Congress session was being presided by Gandhi himself.

The ideological basis of Hindu Mahasabha was strengthened by its leader, V.D. Savarkar, when he spelt out the Theory of Hindu Nation in 1920 in his book, The Hindutva: who is a Hindu?, which was published in 1923 in Nagpur. He talked about Hindus as a nation, and also about foreign invaders. He considered Muslims as invaders and failed to understand migration as a part of historical process through the world. And failed to understand the cultural assimi-lation with the intermingling of races and the beauty of unity in diversity and cosmopolitan culture. His vision of India was different from that of Gandhi. He was convinced as D Keer, the official biographer of Savarkar has mentioned that for Savarkar, the Muslims were the real enemies, not the British.19

Let me quote from Savarkar’s Hindutva: Who is a Hindu: “In this prolong furious conflicts, our people became intensely conscious of ourselves as Hindus and were welded into a nation to an extent unknown in our history. It must not be forgotten that we have all along referred to the progress of Hindu movement as a whole, and not to that of any particular creed or religious section thereof — of Hindutva and not Hinduism only Sanatanists, Satnamists, Sikhs, Aryas, Anarays, Marathas, Madrasis, Brahmins, Panchamas—all suffered as Hindus and triumphed as Hindus.”20 With the foundation of RSS in 1925, the concept of Hindu Nation surfaced repeatedly in the speeches of leaders of both Hindu Mahasabha and RSS.

The concept of Hindu Nation began to overshadow the concept of Indian nationalism.

The overwhelming presence of Hindu Maha-sabha in the Congress and in their opposition to contentious issues like electoral representation alienated the Muslims within the Congress. The Nehru Report of 1928 and subsequent rejection of Jinnah’s 14 points distanced the Muslims to the extent of uniting the two wings of the Muslim League—the extreme group of Mahammad Shafi and the moderate group of the League, represented by Jinnah. Even the Ali brothers moved away as they felt that Congress had become a tool of the Hindu Mahasabha.

Where to place Gandhi in this conflict between the two forces?

Gandhi, a helpless person forever, was trying to reach a point of reconciliation as he even admitted that it would be very difficult to obtain Swaraj in 1930, if there was no unity.21 But Hindu Mahasabha leaders were perturbed by Gandhi’s attitude of conciliation. B.S. Moonje wrote to Malaviya on July 31, 1928: “You should tell Mahatmaji that if he were to yield to those points (Jinah’s 14 points), you would be painfully obliged to lead the opposition on behalf of the Hindus even against him, Gandhi, Jinnah and Motilal combined.”22 The economic dependence of the Congress on the financiers who were at the same time financing the Hindu nationalist movements possibly impacted the shifting of the political ideology of the Congress in the last 1920s.

The cleavage between the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League widened. Their vision of Swaraj of India was different. BS Moonje, in his presidential address, at the April 1927 annual session of Hindu Mahasabha in Patna, even before the Nehru Report of 1928, said: “I can only imagine that Swaraj where the Hindu in his forefather’s land of Hindustan shall be prospering and supreme.”23

On the other hand, at the All Parties Conference in April 1930, Mohammad Ali, close associate of Gandhi during the Khilafat Non-Cooperation Movement, said; “We refuse to join Gandhi because his movement (civil disobe-dience movement) is not a movement for complete independence of India, but for making 70 millions of Indian Musalmans dependent on the Hindu Mahasabha.”24

Nobody listened to Gandhi’s voice. On the contrary, we heard Savarkar speaking at the 19 session of the Hindu Mahasabha in Ahmedabad in 1937, explaining his ‘two nation theory’ at length. He said: “Let us bravely face unpleasant facts as they are. India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation. But, on the contrary, there are two nations in the main — the Hindus and Muslims in India.”25

Three years later, resolution on Pakistan was passed by the Muslim League.

Though Hindu Mahasabha did not represent the entire Hindu population of India, neither did Muslim League represent the entire Muslim population, but their respective position of the ‘Two Nation Theory’ proved to be a great challenge for the Congress, particularly for Gandhi. Religious sentiments and identities were whipped up by the Two Nation Theory pro-pounded by political leaders of both Hindu Mahasabha and Muslim League. Muslim League leaders became the spokesperson of Indian Muslims though it actually represented upper middle classes having no contact with the Muslim masses.26 They spread the fear of Hindu Raj once India gets freedom. This synchronized with the increasing strength of the Hindu nationalists as number of RSS volunteers already rose upto one lakh by 1940.27


In the midst of fear psychosis and distrust between the two communities, the discourse on transfer of power began. Gandhi’s secular vision of India with no state religion made him carrying on his single agenda of bringing these two conflicting forces together. Gandhi met Jinnah several times in 1944, in spite of strong protest from Hindu extremists. In fact, there had been five attempts at his life since June 1934 as he was considered not only soft towards the Muslims, but destroyer of Hindu religion by Sanatanists, who opposed the Temple Entry Bill.28

After the Poona Pact on September 24, 1932, Ambedkar said on Spetember 25- I think in all these negotiations a large part of credit must be attributed to Mahatma Gandhi himself. I must confess that I was surprised, immendsely surprised when I met him that there was so much in common between him and me.29

Last years of Gandhi’s life reflect his vision of a united secular India. He moved around from Noakhali to Kashmir, to different corners with one mission. Throughout his life, he undertook several fasts as a penance to communal violence, “striving to become the best cement between the two communities.” He said as early as September 1924 “my longing is to be to cement the two with my blood, if necessary. Before I can do so, I must prove to the Mussalmans that I love them as well as I love the Hindus.”30 He succeeded on many occasions, but the root cause of such communal violence remained, public being fed by the distorted narratives of our history.

When Gandhi, as a crusader of non-violence was asked in 1946 to show the way of “quelling riots”, he answered in a pretty long speech whose last lines were: “Several lives like mine will have to be given if the terrible violence that has spread all over is to be stopped and non-violence reign supreme in its place.”31

India was moving towards Partition which was no doubt a defeat for secular nationalism and a victory for religious nationalism of both the Hindu and Muslim varieties. Gandhi was firm against the Mountbatten plan. When he was asked by Mountbatten “to put his proposal in writing”, Gandhi sent his one-page draft note. It suggested that Jinnah should be asked to form the government with cabinet ministers of his choice. “If Jinnah rejects this offer, the same offer be made to Congress.” Gandhi’s original proposal was rejected by the entire Congress Working Committee except Ghaffar Khan. Gandhi sent the news back to Mount-batten.32 Gandhi’s main intention was to stop the Partition.

A disheartened Gandhi was nowhere in Delhi when the actual transfer of power took place on August 15, 1947. Even the Congress was totally against the Partition till February 1947. However within four months, the political scenario changed and most of the Congress leaders felt that give-in to the Muslim League might bring an end to the prevailing, uncontrollable, communal frenzy, and thereby, restore peace. Finally, when the AICC passed the resolution on Partition, many of the Congress leaders considered it to be a temporary one. Abul Kalam Azad said: “The division is only of the map of the country and not in the hearts of the people and I’m sure that it is going to be a short-lived Partition.”33

Azad’s anticipation proved wrong. It only reflects the unhappiness of the Congress to this Partition Plan. The tense situation forced the leaders to accept the Mountbatten Plan.

Gandhi felt helpless to convince everybody who seemed to be impatient for independence. A few days before the AICC resolution on Partition, Gandhi said in a monologue: “Should the evil I apprehend overtake India and her independence be imperilled. Let posterity know what agony this old soul went through thinking of it. Let it not be said Gandhi was party to India’s vivisection. But everybody is today impatient for independence. Therefore, there is no other help.”34 Gandhi “lived with a moral loneliness throughout his leadership… he increasingly felt helpless about the long standing problem of Hindu-Muslim unity.”35

Gandhi could not share the country’s jubilation. He stayed in Beleghata in Kolkata on the day of independence which turned into a place of pilgrimage. There one witnessed many a moving scenes of Hindu-Muslim fraternization. Gandhi, being a spiritual person, observed the day by fasting and spinning, without holding any special function. When a government official went to him ‘for a message’, he said: “I have run dry.” When it was conveyed to him that if he declined to give any message, it might not be a good thing and might be misconstrued, Gandhi replied: “There is no message at all. If it is bad, let it be so.”36


Gandhi’s cherished dream of Hindu-Muslim unity and togetherness and his life-long mission of a united India shattered with Partition. But that was not the end of the story. In order to understand the religious faith and secular ethos of Gandhi, his last days were most significant. He came to Delhi from Calcutta on September 9, 1947 in a communally charged scenario, where angry Hindu refugees were up in arms against local Muslims. A few days letter, on 15 September, he said in his prayer meeting: “Let the Hindus and Sikhs take the right step and invite the Muslims who have been driven out of their home to return. If they can take this courageous step, worthy from every point of view, they immediately reduce refugee problem to its simplest terms.”37 He also said: “The transfer of millions of Hindus and Sikhs and Muslims is unthinkable. It is wrong. The wrong of Pakistan will be undone by the right of resolute non-transference of population. I hope I shall have the courage to stand by it, even though mine may be the solitary voice in its favour.”38 (ibid)

All his speeches, during his last prayer meetings, were to bring sanity to the nation. Being a truly devout Hindu and Rambhakt, his religious faith never debarred him from being secular in his political philosophy. His Hinduism never made him anti-Muslim or anti-Christian. His life was an example of a person who had no contradiction between religious faith and secularism.

Spiritualisation of politics, as envisaged by Gokhale, was absolutely different from interplay of religion and politics which led to Partition of India. Gandhi stood for spiritualization of politics with the idea of unity, love, fraternity, togetherness and a bond among all human beings.

Gandhi’s vision of communal harmony was detested by many who wanted a Hindu Rashtra and send all the Muslims to Pakistan. How the speeches of RSS leaders and other Hindu extremists poisoned the minds of Hindu youth is clear from a letter of Sardar Patel who in anguish after Gandhi’s assassination wrote to MS Golwalkar on 11 September 1948: “All their speeches were full of communal poison. It was not necessary to spread poison in order to enthuse the Hindus and organise for their protection. As final result of the poison, the country had to suffer the invaluable life of Gandhiji.”39 Patel was angry when those forces who killed Gandhi distributed sweets after his death.40

Why was Sardar Patel angry with the extremists? To understand that, let us go back to December 1947 when in the first week M.S. Golwalkar remarked referring to the Muslims: “No power on Earth could keep Muslims in Hindustan. They shall have to quit this country. Mahatma Gandhi wanted to keep the Muslims in India so that the Congress may profit by their votes at the time of elections. But, by that time, not a single Muslim will be left in India… Mahatma Gandhi could not mislead them any longer. We have the means whereby such men can be immediately silenced. But it is our tradition not to be inimical to Hindus. If we are compelled, we will have to resort to that course too.”41

When the Hindu extremists were spreading such poison to enthuse the Hindus, Gandhi was firm in his mission of Hindu-Muslim togetherness and a secular India. Here we need to remember that at a time when Kashmir was attacked by Pakistani tribals, Gandhi was busy in Delhi taking up the issue of financial quota to be given to newly born Pakistan. The Nehru government had been pressurised by the Hindu public opinion, influenced by Hindu Mahasbaha/RSS propaganda, to refuse the due share of financial quota to Pakistan. Gandhi took it up as a moral issue and launched his fast unto death on it.He began his fast on 13 January noon in 1948. A few lines from the long speech he delivered reflects his determination and firmness on the matter: “Death for me will be a glorious deliverance rather than that I should be helpless witness of the destruction of India, Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. That destruction is certain if Pakistan ensures no equality of status and security of life and property for all professing the various faiths of the world. And if India copies Pakistan.”42

Gandhi suggested to Sardar Patel, the then Home Minister, that the question of Pakistan’s share of the cash assets, which had been withheld by the Union Government should be given priority. Gandhi himself wanted to go to Pakistan. The entire Cabinet met Gandhi on his bed to consider the issue while he was on fast. Hindu extremists regarded this act of Gandhi as the most glaring evidence of appeasement of the Muslims.

Gandhi’s philosophy of life and idea of India was not confined to narrow religious pers-pective; he had a broader vision of not targeting anybody as enemy or any country as enemy. This was possible because he was truly a spiritual person and opposed to politicization of religion. Gandhi said: “Religion is a personal matter which should have no place in politics.”43

Gandhi had to give his life for secular ethos. He was considered pro-Muslim and an obstacle to the success of majoritarian ideology growing rampantly around that time. He became a martyr of Partition, being shot dead on January 30, 1948 not by any mad fanatic, but by an associate of a Hindu extremist ideology and planned conspiracy. His name was Nathuram Godse, who never regretted his action. He said: “I am not at all sorry what I’ve done.”44 The narrative of Indian history and civilization, the narrative of Partition and Nationalism, pro-pounded by the Hindu extremists failed them to understand Gandhi, his religious and political philosophy.

Gandhi’s speech, during his last fast on 15 January 1948, clarified his position and vision which has a lot of relevance even today. He said: “My fast, as I’ve stated in plain language, is undoubtedly on behalf of the Muslim community in the Indian union and, therefore, it is necessarily against the Hindus and Sikhs of the Union and the Muslims of Pakistan. It is also on behalf of the minorities in Pakistan as in the case of Muslim minority inthe Union.45 He felt that his fast would give “the right guidance to the newly made two dominions…”46


Gandhi could not witness the making of the Constitution. But all his followers understood his vision of India. They refused to follow the theocratic pattern of Pakistan. They all knew the message of Gandhi, that India is not the land of the Hindus alone, rather for those who had come and made this country as their own. Sardar Patel, one of his close followers, has said on October 7, 1950: “Ours is a secular state. We cannot fashion our policies or shape our conduct in the way that Pakistan does it. We must see that our secular ideals are actually realized in practice. Here every Muslim should feel that he is an Indian citizen and has equal rights as an Indian. If we cannot make him feel like this, we shall not be worthy of our heritage and our country.”47

In fact, Gandhi’s words of caution to the Congress organisation are still relevant. He said: “… the Congress can never become an organization of the Hindus. Those who seek to make it such will be doing great harm to India and Hinduism” “… people professing different religions have mingled to form the Indian nation and they are all citizens of India and no section has the right to oppress another section.”48

Secularism does not mean absence of religion, neither appeasement of minorities. It means neutrality to religion so far as the state is concerned. In the words of Ambedkar, “the state shall not recognise any religion as state religion” and “guarantee to every citizen the liberty to conscience.” Gandhi’s life, philosophy, doctrine of love, harmony and communal unity prepared the ground for the foundation of a secular state.

For Tagore, Gandhi was a Mahatma, a great soul. For Subhash Chandra Bose and many others, he was the Father of the Nation. For a scientist like Einstein, Gandhi was “the supreme moral compass”.

It was Gandhi who made us the post-independence generation, understand through his life, sacrifice and martyrdom, the meaning of true religion, spirituality and ethos of secular nationalism, and how religious faith and secularism are not contrary to each other. He made us understand the difference between true religion and fake religion, between secular nationalism and religious nationalism. To celebrate his life on his 150th birth anniversary, we need not make Gandhi a symbolic icon. Rather we need to walk in his footsteps.


1. Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Volume 25, p. 202.

2. Gandhi wrote this after Andrew’s death in 1940. See Uma Das Gupta edited Friendships of ‘Largeness and Freedom’Andrews Tagore and GandhiAn epistolary account 1912-1940. OUP, Delhi; 2018 p. xxxi.

3. Balchandra Mungekar edited The Essential Ambedkar; Rupa, New Delhi, 2017, p. 352.

4. Uma Das Gupta, op. cit., p. xxxvi.

5. Rabindra Rachanabali, centenary publication Volume 13, pp. 363-364, translation is mine.

6. Uma Das Gupta: op. cit., p. xxx.

7. Uma Das Gupta, op. cit., p. xxxvi.

8. Home/Political/Deposit: February 1918, file no 29 and kw. NAI. For details see Gargi Chakravartty: Gandhi: A Challenge to Communalism, Eastern Book Centre, New Delhi, 1987, p. 54.

9. Tara Chand: History of the Freedom Movement in India,Vol I, 1967, p. 365.

10. N.K. Bose: Selections from Gandhi, Ahmedabad 1968, p. 287.

11. CWMG, Volume 10, p. 29.

12. Ramchandra Guha, Gandhi: The Years that Changed the World 1914-1948, Penguin India 2018, p. 361.

13. Navjivan, June 27, 1920, CWMG, Vol 17, pp. 514-515.

14. Navjivan, August 29, 1920, CWMG, Vol 18, p 203.

15. D.E. Smith, India as a Secular State, in Rajeev Bhargava edited Secularism and his Critics, OUP Delhi, 1998, p. 190.

16. Indra Prakash, A Review of the History and Work of the Hindu Mahasabha and Sangathan Movement, Delhi, Second edition, 1952; preface by Dr B.S. Moonje, p. vi.

17. ibid, Forword by Parmanand, xxxxiii.

18. Christophe Jaffrelot: Hindu Nationalism: A Reader; Permanent Black, New Delhi, 2009. p. 14.

19. D Keer; Veer Savarkar: Popular Prakashan 1988,        p. 161)

20. Quoted in Christophe Jafferlot: op. cit, p. 93.

21. Mahatma Gandhi: source material from the History of the Freedom Movement, Vol 3; Part II, p 416).

22. Jaykar Papers, 437, NAI.

23. Indra Prakash, op. cit, p. 102.

24. quoted in R Coupland’, The Indian Problem: 1833-1955; Bombay 1942, p. 111.

25. SamagraSavarkarWangmaya, collected works of Savarkar, Hindu Mahasabha, 1963 p. 296.

26. Ram Gopal, The Indian Muslim: A Political History: 1858-1947; Bombay 1964, p. 251.

27. Tapan Bose et. al, Khaki Shorts, Saffron Flags, Orient Longman, New Delhi 1993; p. 24.

28. Govt. Record, Ramachandra Guha, op. cit, p. 483.

29. Guha, op. cit, p. 439.

30. See WMG Volume 25, p. 202.

31. D.G Tendulkar; Mahatma Volume 7; p. 171.

32. see CWMG: Lixxxvii; pp. 254-255, quoted in Ramchandra Guha op-cit pg. 827.

33. quoted in Dilip Hiro, The Longest August; the Unflinching Rivalry between India and Pakistan, Nation Books, New York, 2015, p. 97.

34. D.G Tendulkar; Mahatma Vol 7, p. 415.

35. Introduction by Uma Das Gupta, op. cit, p. xxxv.)

36. D.G Tendulkar, op. cit, Vol 8, p. 80.

37. ibid, page 120.

38. See Neerja Singh, Patel, Prasad and Rajaji: Myth of the Indian Right; Sage Publication, New Delhi, 2015, p. 82.

40. ibid.

41. from Delhi Police Records, quoted in Ramchandra Guha, op. cit, p. 864.

42. D.G. Tendulkar. op. cit.,p. 247-248.

43. CWMG; Vol. 76; 1972; p. 402.

44. Ramchandra Guha, op. cit, pp. 882-883.

45. D.G Tendulkar op. cit, Vol 8, p. 259.

46. ibid.

47. Sardar Patel’s speech at Hyderabad; Neerja Singh op. cit, p. 78.

48. CWMG; lxxxviii, p. 452-453, quoted in Ramchandra Guha, op. cit., pp. 834-835.

The author is a former Associate Professor in History, Maitreyi College, University of Delhi. 

courtesy Mainstream Weekly