75 yrs of Quit India: Sugata Bose gives Modi a lesson on ‘Sankalp’ and ‘siddhi’

Let us be clear about our ‘Sankalp’, says the historian and MP that we do not want a vision of untrammelled domination of one community and one language. Excerpts from the speech:

Photo courtesy: YouTube
Photo courtesy: YouTube
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NH Web Desk

The 75th Anniversary of the Quit India Movement and the 70th Anniversary of Independence call for soul-searching introspection rather than chest-thumping celebration. It was the Mahatma’s moral force, which ensured that peace reigned in Calcutta on August 15, 1947; and Hindus and Muslims chanted “Jai Hind” in unison.

Gandhiji published an article Miracle or Accident on August 16, 1947; and he said: “This peace was neither miracle nor accident. It was the determination of human beings to dance to God’s tune.” ‘We have drunk the poison of mutual hatred’. Gandhiji wrote in Harijan “and so this nectar of fraternisation tastes all the sweeter, and the sweetness should never wear out.”

The final five and a half months of Gandhji’s life constituted a message for the predicament that we face in India today. Gandhiji had a keen insight when he commented: “Irreligion masquerades as religion.” Today, we see irreligion masquerading as religion.

When the first AICC Session met in mid-November 1947, Gandhiji had a clear message for the ruling party and the Government of the day. ‘No Muslim in the Indian Union’, he told them ‘should feel his life unsafe.’ Then, of course, he went on his final fast on January 12, 1948 to maintain peace in this great land of ours. On 23rd January, by the way, which was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s birth day, he said: “Subhas knew no provincialism nor communal differences” and “had in his brave army, men and women drawn from all over India without distinction and evoked affection and loyalty, which very few have been able to evoke.”

“In memory of that great patriot”, he called upon his countrymen to “cleanse their hearts of all communal bitterness.” The 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement and the approaching 70th anniversary of Freedom may be an apt occasion to ponder the relationship between the past and the future, between the old and the new.

Vivekananda’s and Tagore’s vision

Narendra Modiji has been talking about building a new India by 2022. We too have a dream for a new India inspired by the great leaders from the past. “Let new India arise”, Swami Vivekananda had proclaimed, “arise out of the peasants’ cottage, grasping the plough; out of the huts of the fishermen, the cobbler, and the sweeper.” His message of equality went beyond class to encompass gender and caste as well. He said that there were two great evils in our country – trampling on the women and grinding the poor through caste restrictions.

Vivekananda’s vision was fundamentally one of religious harmony. That is what led him to proclaim: “We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions are true.” Vivekananda taught us to mix with all the races of the earth. “And every Hindu that goes out to travel in foreign parts,” he believed, “renders more benefit to his country than hundreds of men who are bundles of superstition and selfishness.”

The sage held a balanced view of ancient India, which contemporary champions of India’s past would do well to heed. “There were many good things in the ancient times,” according to Vivekananda, “but there were bad things too. The good things are to be retained, but the India that is to be, the future India, must be much greater than ancient India.”

It is not easy to be rid of bad things from the past. Today, in some parts of the country, we are witnessing a recrudescence of the hatred that had marked the cow protection movements of the 1890s, and the shuddhi and sangathan movements of the late 1920s.

Rabindranath Tagore’s book, Nationalism published exactly a hundred years ago in 1917, has a passage that sounds like an uncanny foretelling of the social and political crisis besetting India today. “The social habit of mind”, he wrote, “which impels us to make the life of our fellow beings a burden to them where they differ from us even in such a thing as their choice of food is sure to persist in our political organisation and result in creating engines of coercion to crush every rational difference which is the sign of life.”

I appeal to the Prime Minister to stop the engines of coercion in their tracks. Faith in India’s destiny rescues us from debilitating pessimism in the face of ferocious assaults on the expression of rational difference. The song composed by Rabindranath that we have adopted as our National Anthem offers thanks to “Bharata Bhagya Bidhata” for the divine benediction showered so generously on our country and our people.

The poet’s lyrics sang a paean to the expression of this divine glory that had many attributes – the “Janaganamangaldayak”, the Giver of grace, was at the same time, in the later verses of the song, the “Janagana-aikya-bidhayak” – the One who crafted unity out of India’s myriad religious and regional diversity. The “Janaganadukhatrayak” appears in feminine form.

Ghor timir ghana nibir nishithe peerita murchhita deshe, Jagrata chhilo taba abichala mangala nata nayane animeshe Duhswapne atanke raksha korile anke Snehamayee tumi Mata” The maker of India’s destiny gives solace in the darkest of times and offers hope that the terror of the current nightmare will pass.

“The appointed day has come,” Nehru said of the tryst, “the day appointed by destiny”. Was August 15, 1947 the day appointed by destiny? Viceroy Mountbatten chose the day randomly as he tried to quit India with the least possible harm to British interests. Yet, exactly two years before Independence on August 15, 1945, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had issued a poignant last order of the day to those who fought under his leadership for India’s freedom: “Never for a moment falter in your faith in India’s destiny. India shall be free and before long.”

Appeal to Narendra Modi

Today, we need to rekindle the spirit of our great freedom struggle. Narendra Modi ji says that the next five years will be transformative. We sometimes wonder when he says that these years will be transformative because the three top Constitutional posts are held by people belonging to the same ideology, we cannot but expresses some concern.

We need to be clear about what our sankalp is. If he truly wants all evils to quit India by 2022, including communalism, in the pejorative sense of that word, we hope that he will unambiguously condemn and take stronger action against those who are spreading the poison of hatred and killing human beings in the name of religion.

A galaxy of great leaders including Mahatma Gandhi, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru led the people of India on their brave journey towards freedom. After Independence, sometimes we have had to ask and say: “Manzil unko mile jo sharik-e-safar na the.”

That is why, today, we have to make sure that we do not have a vision of untrammelled dominance of one community and one language. I agree with Dr Thambidurai that we must counter-pose an alternative and a better vision of a new India based on the cultural intimacy of all India’s different communities. A part of the battle for the soul of India will be fought in the realm of ideas not in the trenches of party politics.

So, let us have a healthy democratic contest during the next five years. I know that those who are occupying the treasury benches today have their own gurujies. But for the next five years, I would invite them to join us on a journey on the broad highway illuminated by the halo of Mahatma Gandhi.

Let us banish poverty, illiteracy and disease from this great land of ours. Our new India will be the most vibrant economy in the world with its inhabitants enjoying universal access to education and health care. Our new India will be home to some of the greatest institutions of learning attracting the finest faculty and students from all over the world. An overarching sense of Indian nationhood will happily coexist with multiple identities of our diverse populace. We will celebrate and respect our differences to rise above them.

To move from that resolution to accomplishment, from that sankalp to siddhi, we need peace. To ensure peace, we must avoid all temptations to be chauvinistic and jingoistic. To build a truly great new India by the 75th anniversary of our Independence, we must have a grand vision inspired by a broad, generous and imaginative conception of India’s place in the world and our contributions to the cause of humanity.

It is time for us, as democratically elected representatives of the people of India, to not just affirm today’s resolution that you, Madam Speaker, are placing before us, but also to renew the famous midnight pledge “…to India, our much-loved motherland, the ancient, the eternal and the ever-new, we pay our reverent homage and we bind ourselves afresh to her service. Jai Hind.

(Sugata Bose is a Member of the Lok Sabha and Gardiner Professor of History at Harvard)

The full speech can be heard here :

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