Posted by Shashi Tharoor
I have often been forced to wonder whether our redoubtable Home Minister, Shri Amit Shah, paid attention in history class at school. His latest pronouncements on our country’s historical past makes me seriously doubt whether he did.
In an appearance in New Delhi on 13 February, Shri Shah made two assertions: first, that Congress had partitioned the country on the basis of religion; and second, that a series of statements from 1947, two by Mahatma Gandhi and one in a resolution of the Congress Working Committee in November that year, demonstrate India’s commitment to giving refuge to persecuted Hindu and Sikh refugees from Pakistan— therefore today’s Congress Party is going back on its revered leaders’ commitments.
Congress Does Not See Indianness as Defined by Religion
Both these assertions are challengeable, and used cynically. Any elementary reading of the history of our nationalist movement will take you to Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the “two-nation theory”, and the Muslim League’s Pakistan Resolution of 1940. Our nationalist movement did not divide on ideological lines (Marxists versus capitalists, for instance), nor on geographical lines (North versus South); it divided on one principle alone, which was whether religion should be the determinant of nationhood.
Partition was the demand of the League, which argued that their religion determined their political identity, a proposition voted for by a significant plurality of India’s Muslims in 1946.
But Mahatma Gandhi’s Indian National Congress, the flag-bearer for six decades of a united nationalist movement, a party that had been led multiple times by Muslims and actually served under a Muslim President (Maulana Azad) in the crucial period from 1940 to 1945, rejected the logic of the League. They argued that religion did not determine Indianness, that their freedom struggle was for the rights of every Indian, and the Constitution they wrote enshrined the principle of equality for Indians of all faiths. How on earth can anybody with even a basic knowledge of the past argue with a straight face that the Congress divided India on religious lines?
Yes, Congress Supports Citizenship for Refugees But Here’s the Context
But this is not really about history, it’s about politics. Shri Shah was saying it because his BJP, hero-worshippers of V.D. Savarkar—who first propounded the two-nation theory as President of the Hindu Mahasabha before Jinnah seized upon the same idea—had continued its tiresome political tactic of ascribing to the Congress Party responsibility for any error, tragedy or event that had cast a blight upon the country.
Amit Shah next employs another variant of this tactic – to say that Congress had already done what it is now attacking the BJP for doing. This time the quotes are accurate but divorced from context: the Congress did indeed accord refugees fleeing Pakistan in the Partition of the country the rights of Indian citizens, which they had lost not because they had a crossed a border but because a border had crossed over them.
No one disagrees with that stand; the Congress Party supported the Mahatma then and still does. It was, nonetheless, appalling and distressing to see this government’s Home Minister selectively quote the father of our nation, whose ideals they have wilfully disregarded, in an attempt to legitimise their desecration of the very national unity Gandhi-ji gave his life for. For Shri Shah was using this quote to make an absurd claim that the draconian Citizenship Amendment Bill was a fulfilment of the Mahatma’s wishes.
Why Did Amit Shah Quote Mahatma Gandhi Selectively?
By reproducing his lines without their context, the Home Minister has attempted another affront to a man who spent his lifetime advocating Hindu-Muslim unity, a man who fought till the very end the idea that religion should determine nationhood, which is sadly the idea that the BJP has embraced.
If he had continued to quote the Mahatma, Shri Shah would have also found his words in the same period that say “To drive every Muslim from India … would mean war and eternal ruin for the country. If such a suicidal policy is followed, it would spell the ruin of …Hinduism in the Union. Good alone can beget good. Love breeds love. As for revenge, it behooves man to leave the evil-doer in God’s hands….The idea that India should only belong to Hindus is wrong. That way lies destruction.”
It is destruction, indeed, to which Shri Shah and his government is leading us.
Guided by the Mahatma, we in the Congress Party have historically committed ourselves to sustaining an Idea of India that is fundamentally different from the thinking of those who rule us today. In these last few months, under this government, we have witnessed a fundamental assault on the democratic, secular and constitutional fabric of India that our forefathers—giants like Mahatma Gandhi-ji, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Dr. Ambedkar, Maulana Azad and so many other revered figures of the Independence movement—dedicated their lives to.
Partition of the Indian Soul
Even as they have driven the economy into the doldrums, the present ruling dispensation has become, in their own phrase, a tukde-tukde gang. They are dividing this country into tukdes: Hindus versus Muslims; Deshdrohis versus Deshbhakts; Raamzaade versus something unprintable; Hindi speakers versus non-Hindi speakers; Us versus Them.
In 1947, as I observed in Parliament, we had a partition of the Indian soil. In 2020, this government is giving us a partition of the Indian soul.
It is bad enough that our Home Minister forgets our history. It would be far worse if he leads the country down a path that repeats it.