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What religion meant to the Mahatma


Well-known member
For him, religion was not nationality. All citizens, irrespective of their beliefs, had a right to India

Rajmohan Gandhi

Though raised in a devout Vaishnava home, Mohandas was an atheist in his final years at Rajkot’s Alfred High School. In the words of his autobiography, he ‘crossed the Sahara of atheism’ during three subsequent years (1888-91) in London where, in addition to studying law, he read, for the first time, the Gita, the New Testament and texts about the Buddha and Islam.

For the rest of his life, including as the leader of India’s national movement, Gandhi remained a believing, questioning and tolerant Hindu. In due course he was blessed with a team of brilliant colleagues of varying religious hues. These included the visionary agnostic Jawaharlal Nehru, Vinoba Bhave the scholar-ascetic, and Vallabhbhai Patel, the realist who prayed silently but stayed clear of godmen.

Plus the scholar, Koran translator and fighter for Hindu-Muslim partnership, Abul Kalam Azad. Plus C Rajagopalachari, who retold the Ramayana and Mahabharata stories and simplified the Upanishads.

And Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the devout Muslim with loyal Hindu and Sikh comrades, Charlie Andrews, the Christian who put the deprived first, Gora the staunch Andhra atheist, the poet Sarojini Naidu, the young United States-educated revolutionary Jayaprakash Narayan, and many more.

Some of Gandhi’s core views were shared by his colleagues and by many Indians. One was that a person of any religious belief – a Hindu, a Muslim, a Christian, a Sikh, a Jew, a Zoroastrian, a Jain, a Buddhist, an atheist, an agnostic, whatever – had an equal right to India. Religion was one thing, nationality another.

Another core Gandhian view was about the Almighty. While human beings called God by different names, all, claimed Gandhi, were addressing the same Supreme Being. As the line sung by him and millions of Indians put it, Ishwar Allah tere naam.

Gandhi turned to religion to cope with life’s sorrows and shocks, not to find a political rallying cry.

“In the midst of death,” he wrote in 1928, “life persists. In the midst of untruth, truth persists. In the midst of darkness, light persists. Hence I gather that God is Life, Truth, Light. He is Love. He is the Supreme Good.” (Young India, 11 October 1928)

In 1947, against his advice, Gandhi’s colleagues, led by Patel and Nehru, opted for Partition, which seemed to them the only route to independence. The people too seemed resigned to Partition, and Gandhi acquiesced. Yet neither Gandhi nor Nehru nor Patel nor the bulk of the Indian people conceded that Hindus and Muslims were two nations.

To give minorities in India and Pakistan a sense of security, Gandhi spent much of August 1947, including Independence Day, in a dilapidated Muslim home in a Hindu-majority locality in Kolkata. When, three days later, Eid fell, half a million Hindus and Muslims attended Gandhi’s prayer-meeting.

Gandhi thought his “India for all” to be crucial to humanity as a whole. On January 12, 1948, wounded by malice in the subcontinent, he fasted and prayed for “the regaining of India’s dwindling prestige”, saying: I flatter myself with the belief that the loss of her soul by India will mean the loss of the hope of the aching, storm-tossed and hungry world. (CW 90: 409)
When he was killed, Sarojini Naidu pleaded in a radio broadcast, “My father, do not rest. Do not allow us to rest.”
Even if, 150 years after his birth, Gandhi’s spirit is entitled to peace and quiet, the rest of us might ask if there is no misery to be alleviated, no oppression to be relieved.

Rajmohan Gandhi is a noted historian, biographer, and Gandhi’s grandson.


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