Hari Jaisingh
Opinion

Gandhian spirit and intolerance don’t go together!

Well-known historian and author Ramchandra Guha has decided not to join Ahmedabad University (AU), two weeks after the RSS student wing ABVP opposed his appointment and asked the university authorities to rescind their offer. It was on October 16 that the university had announced Guha’s appointment as Shrenik Lalbhai Chair Professor of Humanities and the director of the Gandhi Winter School of the University Department of Arts and Science. This was a prestigious position for any academician of eminence. But that was not to be as the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad dubbed him as “anti-national” and “urban Naxal”.

This is the Sangh Parivar’s usual line of thinking with regard to independent-minded persons who go by their broad liberal concept of secularism. No sensitive and respectable historian could have digested such insulting labeling of being “anti-national” because he does not blindly toe the Sangh line of misplaced radical concept of Hindu nationalism. What about other categories of citizens? Are they anti-national? The less said about such matters the better. Guha did not wish to adopt a confrontationist posture in an academic institution in the BJP-run state of Gujarat. So, he decided to say “no” to the university proposal in a dignified manner!

Apparently, historian Guha felt, and rightly so, that the university authorities were under “tremendous political pressure” of the Sangh Parivar as Guha is widely known for his independent views which may or may not be in tune with the Sangh line of thinking. While wishing the university authorities “All well”, he stated that Ahmedabad University “has fine faculty and an outstanding Vice-Chancellor” and hoped that one day “the spirit of Gandhi (would) come alive once more in his native Gujarat”.

In any case, the Gandhian spirit is no longer vibrant in the state after the 2002 happenings when Narendra Modi was at the helm of affairs in Gujarat. I do not wish to sit on judgment on those hoary days of history in Gandhian Gujarat.

There are surely sensitivities galore in the Indian setting as religious and social realities get inter-mixed. This is the reason why certain inconvenient matters are either overlooked or underplayed or twisted out of shape. No wonder, some historical accounts have been written with a colonial mindset. Of late certain narrations by some prominent historians have been questioned by the new custodians of power because they wish to erase certain ugly facets of the past. This is not desirable if we have to build our nation on a solid foundation of Satyameva Jayate and all-inclusive concept of nationalism as reflected in our national anthem.

In the political-social complexities of India today, a thin line divides between perversion and rationality. So is the case between secularism and communalism and what is right and what is wrong. What is equally disquieting is the way the voices of dissent and sanity are getting stifled these days on religious grounds. Perhaps, that is the problem with Guha who has his own concepts of liberalism and values which run counter to radical Hindu lines of the Sangh Parivar.

It will be interesting to note that Ahmedabad University was established in 2009 by the Ahmedabad Education Society (AES), a non-profit educational trust. The university has, over the years, built up its reputation as a great institution offering students “a liberal education and moulding “independent thinkers and compassionate leaders”. It may also be mentioned that the AES was established more than eight decades back, at the behest of Sardar Vallabhai Patel by Kusturbhai, the doyen of the textile industry, Ganesh Mavalankar, the first Parliament Speaker and Amrutlal Hargovindas, a prominent industrialist of Ahmedabad. The society has played a key role in setting up national institutions such as IIM, Ahmedabad, National Institute of Design etc.

Guha’s appointment was expected to strengthen liberal education and help the university build “our own dialogue around (Mahatma ) Gandhi”. Looking at the state of drift in liberal values, this is the need of today’s times in view of the growing intolerance, lawlessness, violence and communal and caste tensions which are eating into the vitals of our nation.

Looking ahead, I would like to say that clay has the tendency to be moulded, but it requires a porter’s hand to take shape and form Well, only writers of conviction and intellectual honesty can leave their imprints on the pages of history. Hopefully, the voices of dissent and sanity will gain strength in our society and force the orthodox forces to listen to reason one day in the larger interest of Sabke Saath, Sabka Vikas of India’s multi-dimensional, value-based liberal ancient land of ours!

Let us not overlook the universalistic nature of Hindu religion. And thanks to the emergence of an enlightened elite in post-independence India who have taken a more liberal attitude on various social aberrations and pseudo-religious custom by law. The main problem before the present leadership is how to widen and consolidate rational commitment to nationalism not only among the Hindus but also among the minorities, the Muslims included.

Unfortunately, crude politics and politicking have created new mental barriers between the majority and minority communities. This is regrettable. Still, there is scope for cultural synthesis that could be part of the Indian spirit common to all communities. My point is: The Indian spirit can certainly be inducted without inviting religious intolerance. The basic essence of Indian tradition need not be politicized. Over to the new generation of Indians!

- Hari Jaisingh, Senior Journalist.