By M.S.N. Menon
Once an American lady wanted to know from Gandhi why he chose to remain a Hindu. She also wanted him to give her his interpretation of Hinduism and a comparison of Hinduism with the teachings of Christ.
Gandhi, as usual, was categoric. It would be better, he told her, if, instead of ?telling? India about Christ, the missionaries lived their life as described in the Sermon on the Mount (the most important sermon of Jesus). Christianity would, then, be self-propagating, he assured her.
Gandhi was particular about the way people lived. It is not enough, he seemed to say, if Christian or Muslim ideals are enshrined in the Bible or the Quran. What matters is whether the Christians and Muslims live those ideals. This, they do not. In fact, they have made a mockery of those ideals. In contrast, Hindus still retain a large measure of their ideals, although Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world.
Gandhi, therefore, explained: ?I do not believe in people telling others of their faiths, especially with a view to conversion. Faith does not admit of telling. It has to be lived.? So, Gandhi refused to compare Hinduism with Christianity. He merely offered her his explanation for remaining a Hindu.
Why was he, then, a Hindu? Because he was born in a Hindu family. That is obvious enough. But he had other reasons. He writes: ?On examination, I have found it (Hinduism) to be the most tolerant of all religions known to me. Its freedom from dogma makes a forcible appeal to me inasmuch as it gives the votary the largest scope for self-expression.? In other words, it is a religion based on freedom of thought, expression and enquiry.
Gandhi, the apostle of peace and non-violence, had another reason to remain a Hindu. He says: ?Non-violence is common to all religions (I doubt it), but it has found the highest expression and application in Hinduism.? He was being unduly modest. The fact is: More blood has been shed by Christianity and Islam in the name of religion than in defence of any other cause.
Was Gandhi a Hindu nationalist? He was. How? Because he was in love with everything Hindu. Almost. Unlike Nehru, he was not Westernised. Unlike Nehru, he refused to adopt the Western experience. But Gandhi preferred to remain a deaf-mute about his Hindu nationalism for fear of offending minority sensibilities, mainly that of Christians and Muslims.
There is no need for the Hindus to remain deaf-mutes about their nationalism any more. Once the Muslims brought about the Partition of India, they lost their claim to be called lovers of India. True, we have no count of the goats and sheep. As Muslims violated Hindu sensitivities, Hindus have no reason to be unduly sensitive to Muslim concerns.
But there is a new Hindu sensitivity that Muslims can support and prompt and thereby regain their status as equal citizens-that is the cause of India´s greatness in the comity of nations. Or will their loyalty to the Umma come in the way?
It is now recognised that India will be the third largest economic power in the world in a few years. But that is not the greatness I have in mind. I am thinking of India as a model for mankind.
Prof. Arnold Toynbee, the great historian, writes: ?It is already clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race… At this supremely dangerous moment in human history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way-Emperor Ashoka´s and Mahatma Gandhi´s principles of non-violence and Sri Ramakrishna´s testimony to the ?harmony of religions?.? Toynbee did not refer to either Christianity or Islam.
If there is already the nucleus of a civilisation which can guide men for the rest of their journey, it is the Hindu civilisation. By their perversities throughout their history, both Christianity and Islam can no more be in the race to be models.
But Hinduism has suffered under foreign rule. The roots of the Hindu civilisation have been out. If we have to regain our nationalist spirit-and without it, India cannot become a global power-there is no other way but to go back to our roots. A man without roots counts for nothing in the world. Will Muslims change the way they look at India?