Narendra Modi
Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaking at the rally in Ramlila Maidan, New Delhi | Photo: Suraj Singh Bisht | ThePrint
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It is widely known that the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh don’t share the same views as Mahatma Gandhi on India’s Partition. So, it came as a surprise when Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently cited one of Mahatma Gandhi’s Partition-related quotes to defend his government’s amendment to the Citizenship Act.

Always eager to appropriate Gandhi, PM Modi taunted the Congress Sunday during his rally at Ramlila Maidan in Delhi, “Gandhiji had said that Sikhs and Hindus living in Pakistan will always be welcomed in India. This Act is in line with the promise the Government of India made in 1947…You believe me or not but at least believe Gandhiji.”

It hardly matters to the BJP’s propaganda machinery that it’s been 72 years since Gandhi made the remark and 48 years have passed since the collapse of ‘the two-nation theory’ with the formation of Bangladesh from erstwhile East Pakistan.

A booklet in circulation highlights Gandhi’s quote in a more asserting form, with a reference date and a photo of Gandhi to support the claim. The quote says, “Mahatma Gandhi announced openly in a prayer meeting that Hindus and Sikhs staying in Pakistan can come to India by all means if they do not wish to stay there. In that case, it is primary duty of Indian Government to provide them employment and make their lives normal.” [Naagrikata (Sanshodhan) Adhiniyam-2019, Ek Parichay Kamal Sandesh, Dr. Mukerji Smriti Nyas, New Delhi, December 2019, page 9]


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Gandhi on Pakistani refugees

Before we go ahead, it is imperative to note what Gandhi actually said about the treatment of minorities after Partition. He mentioned Hindus and Sikhs a couple of times in his post-prayer speech on 26 September 1947. He talked about Pandit Thakur Datt who had to flee Lahore, and said that “he (Gandhi) wanted him and all the other Hindu and Sikh friends to help him in restoring real peace in Delhi. Then he would proceed to Western Pakistan with fresh strength.” (Delhi Diary, M.K.Gandhi, 26-9-1947, Page 38,  Navjivan Publication, Ahmedabad, 1948)

On the role of the Indian government, Gandhi said, “To secure justice for the Hindus and Sikhs was the function of the Government.” (Delhi Diary, M. K. Gandhi, 26-9-1947, Page 39) This quote has been deliberately dug up and spiced up to buttress Modi government’s arguments in the CAA debate. It is a travesty of truth to quote Gandhi falsely and that too in support of a law that discriminates against refugees from neighbouring countries on the basis of religion.

If one is really interested in knowing what Gandhi said during testing times, then his post-prayer speeches from September 1947 to January 1948 serve as a better guide. Just a day before the speech mentioned above, Gandhi dealt with the subject of ill-treatment of minorities with more force. In reply to a question, he said he did not propose that the Indian government should ignore the mistreatment of Hindus and Sikhs in Pakistan. The government was bound to do its utmost to save them. But his answer most certainly did not tell Indian authorities to drive away Muslims and copy Pakistan’s methods. (Delhi Diary, M. K. Gandhi, 25-9-1947, Page 35).

As a staunch optimist, Gandhi hoped that wiser counsel would prevail and Muslims, many of whom had possibly not migrated to Pakistan out of their own free will, should be asked to return to their homes in India with a sense of safety. (Delhi Diary, M. K. Gandhi, 17-9-1947, Page 18). He would express such a hope almost as an inevitable condition for peace in the future.


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Debunking popular perception

In reply to another question, Gandhi said that “his Hinduism taught him to respect all religions. In that lay the secret of Rama Raj.” Gandhi added: “If Pandit Jawaharlal, the Sardar and people with their ideas had forfeited their respect and confidence, they (people) could replace them by another team that had their confidence. But they could not and should not expect them to act against their conscience and regard that India belonged only to the Hindus. That way lay destruction.” (Delhi Diary, M. K. Gandhi,7-10-1947, Page 69).

Unlike the popular perception that Gandhi appeased Muslims and Pakistan, he spoke frequently against Pakistan’s ill-treatment of its minorities. He said, “Pakistan has to bear the burden of its sins, which I know are terrible enough. It should be enough for everybody to know my opinion (in so far as it has any value) that the beginning was made by Muslim League long before 15th of August…we of the union copied the sins and thus became fellow sinners. Odds became even. Shall we now awake from the trance, repent and change or must we fall?” (Delhi Diary, M. K. Gandhi, 24-11-1947, Page 202).

It would be interesting to note what ‘unfinished agenda of Partition’ — a rhetoric common on both sides of the border — meant for Gandhi. He could never bring himself to accept the proposition of a permanent exchange of population. Even if the refugees were well settled, they would return to their old homes. Therefore, Gandhi could not envisage real peace without the parties returning to their homes. (Delhi Diary, M.K. Gandhi, 31-12-1947, Page 296). He expressed this sentiment repeatedly during the last phase of his life in personal conversations as well as in public speeches.


Also read: BJP’s failure to see dissenting students as citizens belies Modi’s own youth activist history


The Modi government would do well to revisit the history before it thinks of incorrectly using Gandhi’s words to justify its divisive policies.

The author is a senior columnist and writer based in Ahmedabad. Views are personal.

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10 COMMENTS

  1. Modi did not quote Mahatma Gandhi wrongly as the writer has given its headline. Modi and Amit Shah are deliberately and purposefully play a dubious role in Indian Politics interpreting all evils of RSS in the name of Gandhi. Modi has been doing this from the time he entered politics and much more after he became Prime Minister. For they have the right information as to how ill informed this generation and the general public who do not have the capacity to read books, have about Mahatma Gandhi. Ravish Kumar in his Prime time on 16th Jan, 2020 has rightly said of the present leadership of Congress that they claim the hesitance of Mahatme but they have shown their illiteracy about what and how and why Mahatma lived the way he lived. It is easy to campaign against RSS terming them as killer of Gandhi but even Rahul Gandhi has never tried to explain the people of India as to what and why Gandhi stood for and that he never meant to. Narendra Modi and Amit Shah know what Gandhi said on the day that they mentioned ie 26 sep’47. If not please take out the page to be read from ” Delhi Diary” Authored by Mahatma Gandhi. which is compilation of his Prayer speeches from 10 sep, 1947 to 30th january, 1948. the day he was killed. He began his payer meeting with : ” Before the prayers started gandhijee asked as usual whether anyone had any objection to his reciting the prayers including some verses from the Quran. A young man said that he should omit the recitation from the Quran. Gandhijee replied that he could not do that. But he was willing to omit the whole prayer. The audience said that they did not wish that and wanted the whole prayer. Thereupon, the objector became silent” This displays as an evidence that how he is been interpreted by Modi and Amit Shah was a deliberate misinterpretation of Ganhdi.

  2. Please don’t indulge in wordplay to put a screen over the spirit of something. It is more important to act in accordance with the spirit of something than be accurate with the letter and forget the spirit. Non-muslims who unwittingly ended up on the wrong side after partition have first right to seek Citizenship of India (their most natural home in the world) if they feel unsafe in the Islamic republic of Pakistan or in Bangladesh. This is not to say that Muslims are not persecuted in islamic countries. Yes, they are. But that is not on account of partition. The limited purpose of CAA is to help partition victims who have been left in the lurch for 70 years.

    • When Modi and Amit Shah uses Gandhi from what Gandhi spoke on 26 sep, 1947, it is what Ganhi said not what Modi and Amit Shah quoted Mahatma Gandhi having said. It has always been RSS that wanted two nation theory on the basis of religion and they had agreed with Muslim League. Modi and Amit Shah are lying before public to justify their unjustified points of view. May be what you are saying is your view or views of RSS.

  3. It may be true that Gandhiji would not have approved CAA as it does not provide citizenship to Muslim migrants. But it is equally true that he was at pain due to ill treatment of non Muslims in Pakistan. If non Muslims are sent back to Pakistan, it is similar to sending them to hell. But if the Muslims are send back, no problem for them. They are not going to be porsecuted.

  4. So Gandhiji did say that it was the duty of the Indian Govt to protect the minorities of Pakistan! So a fake title with news that is true.

  5. The author Urvashi Kothari did not read and understand Gandhi properly. Her reading dies not show how Gandhi was wrongly quoted. such a piece should not have been published. It present Gandhi improperly.

  6. The author has completely failed to disprove that Modi has wrongly quoted Mahatma Gandhi on Pakistan’s Hindu & Sikh refugees to defend CAA. The author tried in vain to quote Gandhi’s other statements of treating Hindus and Muslims alike and downplaying the religious persecution aspects of non-Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Isn’t it true that every Indian government swear to treat every Indian citizen equally. As usual this Modi hater author tried to prove Modi wrong even if it’s required to distort and misrepresent the historical facts i.e. a method perfected by Modi haters.

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