Is It Really A Surprise That Gandhi’s Thoughts On Religion Are Relevant Today?

This year marks Mahatma Gandhi’s 72nd death anniversary. For a person who had become a great social, political and spiritual leader of India and a revered figure in history, he is now remembered more so in a ritualistic manner.

At a time when Gandhi’s India is witnessing such turbulent conditions, it is crucial that his legacy is preserved. To embrace Gandhi, it should not only be limited to exalting Gandhian principles in mere political speeches but to embark upon a journey to revive what he stood for till the end of his last breath.

We Indians need Gandhi’s ideas to guide us, now more than ever. We stand at a crossroads where our contrasting opinions about Gandhi should not be what leads us. There are innumerable aspects of his legacy but what holds major and prominent in the current scenario is his emphasis on communal harmony. His book, The Way To Communal Harmony, was an outcome of his idea of religious tolerance amongst people of different faiths.

His quest to bring harmony between Hindus and Muslims started in South Africa and he strived to cement the gap between the two communities. He believed that there is nothing in either religion to keep the two communities apart.

He expressed, “The need of the moment is not an establishment of a Universal religion but there is a greater need to develop mutual respect towards the different religions.”

An archival photo of Gandhi, at the spinning wheel.

Bapu believed that the time is coming when people belonging to different faiths will have the same regard for other faiths that they have for their own. He emphasised upon the need of brotherhood amongst Indians collectively and universal peace and mutual respect for each other’s faith.

Majoritarian thinking, which has crept into the minds of many has been communalised to an extent that it poses a threat to the democratic fabric of our country. Communal politics has brought the worst in us. This is exactly what Bapu always refuted.

Gandhi’s writings and books reflects the passion and sincerity with which he advocated the need for better understanding amongst individuals of different faiths in India. He believed that the seeds of good and bad both are buried in us and the atmosphere in which we grow will determine which thinking will flower. This is exactly what we need to decide in the current regime.

Communalism as a concept has also evolved. Earlier, it was more on the lines of, say, keeping away from other religions being considered communalism. But now, it possesses a high degree of antagonism towards the other religion. In a multi-religious nation like ours, the risk of the enmity between Hindus and Muslims grew at the cost of national unity which was understood by Bapu and he thus reiterated the need to bring these conflicting parties together.

In his words, “The Hindu thinks that in quarrelling with the Mussalman he is benefiting Hinduism; and the Mussalman thinks that in fighting a Hindu, he is benefiting Islam. But each is ruining his own faith.”

He believed that once both the communities understood this fact, they would realise that fighting each other is futile in the name of religion and that would end the communal hatred. Gandhi’s understanding of communal harmony in India not only from religious point but from socio-political point of view holds much ground in the present scenario that we are witnessing in our motherland.

Unity is an inalienable factor in national integration. A living unity between the two communities is fraught with danger, be it by the British in pre-independence era or by the political stewards in the current one.

In his journal, Young India, written by Mahatma Gandhi, he emphasised upon the need for solution to this communal problem. He said that the unity between Hindu-Muslim communities would only come if both parties think and act on common interests and cooperate to reach the same goal by sharing one another’s sorrows and by mutual toleration.

Conflicts between individuals should be seen as conflicts between citizens of India. If two parties, one Hindu and the other Muslim are in conflict regarding an issue, it should be viewed as two Indians in conflict.

Religion should also remain a personal affair as it is often used as a catalyst agent to create communal disharmony. What better than the present scenario to understand this better.

Religious tolerance comes with perceiving all religions to be equal. A nation with all its faith enjoying equal freedom and tolerance towards each other can have less room for communal hatred.

“I do not expect India of my dream to develop one religion, but I want it to be wholly tolerant with its religions working side by side with one another.”

Religions for Gandhi are different roads converging to the same point. The Gandhian principle of sarvadharmasamabhava means a state of toleration and bondage and mutual respect for each other, something that we find contested in the present times.

Gandhi was determined about the multi-religious secular character of free India and to this realisation he said, “India, free India, will be a secular state and it will have nothing to do with a particular religion.”

History remembers each era in its own peculiar way. At a time when the country is bearing witness to such a remarkable movement, it reminds us of the ideals of Bapu and what made him such a distinguished figure. We can remain divided upon our allegiance and our opinions about him, yet we can imbibe the principles he introduced us to.

Mahatma Gandhi was a visionary. His ideology on attaining communal harmony in India is rightly suited for Indian situations, were religion is used in a rampant manner for political gains. Embracing unconstrained political dissent can be a start in reviving his legacy.

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