Martyrdom Day of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30 this year assumes enormous significance, as it happens to be the year of Amrit Mahotsav or 75 years of Indian Independence. Gandhiji articulated the ideal of Welfare State, with the attributes of National Unity and Integrity, Democracy, Secularism and Socialism, through the concept of Ram Rajya.
Under Gandhiji’s guiding hand, not only did India attain Independence, but also got the three potent, visible symbols of Nationalism, the National Anthem, the Constitution and the Tricolour.
Mahatma Gandhi gave India its defining attributes that have really come down to us since times immemorial, like Ram Rajya, Hindu-Muslim unity, secularism and democracy.
Indeed, Mahatma Gandhi lived and died for Hindu-Muslim unity. Soon after his experiment with Ahimsa and Satyagraha during Champaran Satyagraha in 1917, Gandhiji plunged headlong into the Freedom Struggle, with the Khilafat Movement in 1919, which aimed at Hindu-Muslim unity as the necessary foundation for the Independence movement.
It proved to be a decisive moment and a turning point, as that single move of Gandhiji transformed the Congress from a party of prayers and petitions into a mass organization. From then on, the Congress proved to be unstoppable on the ground.
Ironically, three decades later, on January 30, 1948, Gandhiji fell to the assassin’s bullets, becoming a martyr for the ideal of Hindu-Muslim Unity. Indeed it was a conviction for which he lived and died for.
Symbols of Nationalism
All the three visible symbols of Indian Nationalism— the National Anthem, the Constitution and the Tricolour— were all chosen by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, under the inspiration of Gandhiji.
Jana Gana Mana was identified as National Anthem and National Song status was conferred on Saare Jahaan Se Achha. Even All-India Congress Committee (AICC) Session commences with Vande Mataram, the National Song, and concludes with Jana Gana Mana, which is the National Anthem.
It was on Gandhiji’s insistence and as part of broad national reconciliation, that soon after Independence, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was engaged in preparing the Indian Constitution, agreed on Dr B R Ambedkar as Chairman of the Drafting Committee. It was Nehru, who moved the Aims and Objects Resolution in the Constituent Assembly that gave the Democratic, Secular and Socialistic direction to the Indian Constitution.
Later, Dr B R Ambedkar and Shyama Prasad Mookherjee were inducted into the Union Cabinet by Jawaharlal Nehru. This was done despite the fact that the two leaders did not belong to the Congress. Yet, they were taken on board, as part of a larger national reconciliation, soon after India attained Independence.
Similarly, the present Congress Tricolour was originally designed and presented to Mahatma Gandhi in Vijayawada on April 1, 1921. Gandhiji suggested a minor change. This was confirmed by some more modifications by the Congress in 1931. It was ultimately adopted in the Constituent Assembly as the National Flag on July 22, 1947, with a minor change. The change was Ashoka Chakra replaced the Charkha in the centre of the Tricolour.
Hindu-Muslim Unity Plank
Gandhiji’s biggest socio-political and cultural plank was Hindu-Muslim Unity. It may be recalled that Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru described Mughal Emperor Akbar as the Father of Indian Nationalism. It was because Akbar was the first to recognize Hindu-Muslim unity as the basis for Indian Nationhood. In our times, Gandhiji realized that the Indian Independence Movement cannot succeed without Muslim participation.
Over the heads of the Aligarh Movement leaders and the Muslim League, and with the nudge from the Tehreek-e-Jamia Millia Islamia with which he was himself associated, Gandhiji appealed for and succeeded in securing fullest Muslim participation in the Freedom Struggle. That single development ultimately proved to be the nemesis for the British Raj in India. The countdown for British Empire had started.
Secular ideal came down from the times of Ashoka and Akbar and in our own times of Mahatma Gandhi. Ashoka, a Buddhist, never imposed his religion on the majority, who were Hindus; although he sent his daughter Sanghamitra and son Mahinda to Sri Lanka to propagate Buddhism.
Similarly, Akbar never imposed his religion on the majority of people, who were Hindus. In fact, Akbar celebrated Janmashtami and Holi along with Eid. Legend has it that Jodha Bai was made Queen of India, without being converted. His Prime Minister was Raja Mansingh.
Gandhiji was responsible for the Congress making the choice of democracy as the political system. This choice was made not because it was the best system, but because no other political system would have been more suitable to manage the great Indian diversity and pluralism.
It was also significant that Gandhiji realized that it was only through democracy that his ideal of Gram Swaraj could be achieved.
Giving shape to Gandhiji’s idea of Gram Swaraj, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru hailed as his greatest disciple, took democracy down to the grassroots level, with the Panchayat Raj. After the Balwant Rai Mehta Committee submitted its report, Nehru laid the foundation for the Panchayat Raj system in Nagaur in Rajasthan on October 2, 1959.
Three decades later in 1989, Rajiv Gandhi brought the Constitution 63rd and 64th Amendments to confer Constitutional status on Local Bodies, Panchayat Raj and Nagarpalika, which could not be passed; but the same was passed as Constitution 73rd and 74th Amendments in 1992 by the P V Narasimha Rao Government. It came into force on April 24, 1993.
The Congress did not see Independence as the goal, but as only a means to achieve the goal of Ram Rajya. The Ram Rajya, as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, entails ending discrimination and deprivation among the vast masses, the teeming millions of people.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi pointed out recently how millions of Indians still faced discrimination and injustice in their everyday lives. Sonia Gandhi declared that the nation could not progress without social harmony and tolerance.
After unfurling the National Tricolour at the Congress headquarters on Independence Day in 2019, in her message, Congress President Sonia Gandhi said, “India has surged ahead exponentially in all arenas. But at our core are the founding principles of Truth, Non-Violence, Compassion and unwavering Patriotism.” Now, these were the political values bequeathed to the nation by Mahatma Gandhi.
In a bid to drive home the centrality of these Gandhian Ideals for national political, social and cultural advancement and the renaissance of the spirit, Sonia Gandhi harked back to these essential Gandhian ideals that define the Indian Nationhood.
Sonia Gandhi went on to add, “India has no place for bigotry, superstition, sectarianism, fanaticism, racialism, intolerance or injustice, yet millions of fellow citizens encounter discrimination every day. … We must rise as a nation to stand against every act of injustice, intolerance and discrimination to truly cherish our freedom.”
Gandhiji’s continued relevance is because of the persistence of the evils that plagued his times. Gandhiji will continue to remain relevant and a source of inspiration in the battle to erase even the last traces of injustice and discrimination in society.