By Priyanka Chaturvedi
Today is 2nd October. Gandhi Jayanti. The man who roused the Indian nation and led us to independence from the British. Nothing captures his greatness better than the message from Albert Einstein on the occasion of Mahatma Gandhi’s 70th birthday: “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”
Now, 74 years after Einstein spoke those words, the country again faces major challenges over two fundamental Gandhian principles: secularism and welfare of the poor. Mahatma Gandhi pronounced the secular basis of the Indian polity in the following words, which has always guided the Congress party:
“Hindustan belongs to all those who are born and bred here and who have no other country to look to. Therefore, it belongs to Parsis, Beni Israelis, to Indian Christians, Muslims and other non-Hindus as much as to Hindus. Free India will be no Hindu raj, it will be Indian raj based not on the majority of any religious sect or community, but on the representatives of the whole people without distinction of religion. I can conceive of a mixed majority putting the Hindus in a minority. They would be elected for their record of service and merits.” [pp 277-278; M.K. Gandhi, India of My Dreams, compiled by R.K. Prabhu, Navjivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1947]
Gandhi not only lived for this idea. He died for the secular democratic idea of India. The struggle for India’s freedom—led by Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Azad—was not just a battle against imperialism. It was also a bitter contestation about the kind of nation India would be when it becomes free. A plural, diverse and secular democracy is what makes this great country of ours exceptionable. It cannot be any other way.
If you are active on social media like I am, you will come across hordes of vitriolic supporters of a particular political leader who want to replace the Gandhian vision of an ‘Indian Raj’ with a ‘Hindu Rashtra’. This is a challenge all well-meaning and patriotic Indians have to fight at many planes: intellectual, cultural and above all, political. When we make our electoral choices in the coming months, all of us need to be sure that the leaders we vote for believe in the Gandhian vision of a secular India.
In the last two tenures of the UPA government, the Congress party has been guided in its actions by the other defining talisman of Mahatma Gandhi: “to wipe every tear from every eye”. He added, “Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him.” UPA’s governing principle of Inclusive Growth—inclusion in growth and growth by inclusion—is derived from that talisman.
Whether it is the Right to Employment or Right to Education or the recent Right to Food, Gandhi’s words, “will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions” have guided the Congress party. This has been opposed by parties and leaders who believe in economic growth without concern for the poor, and without concern for our environment and natural resources. Their political and propaganda machinery works at full tilt to stop the government from fulfilling the commitments to the poor. As with secularism, it is a challenge each one of us has to fight at multiple levels. And fight we must.
For the Congress party, working for the poor is a mission bequeathed by Jawaharlal Nehru in his Tryst With D