Gandhi, Modi and Jinnah

Sceptics and critics yet to be convinced that Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is the tallest Gandhian of our day at last have to contend with compelling proof of the man’s love and devotion for the apostle of ahimsa. Mr Modi may well boast in the days to come that he was the first politician to rise to the defence of nation’s honour by ordering a ban on Joseph Lelyveld’s book on Mahatma Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India.

According to him, “The writing is perverse in nature. It has hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking”.
Mr Modi’s logic or his wounded sentiments may not mute the numerous voices against the outrageous ban, but why should he care. Enough for him to have sent out a message to his doting “paanch karod Gujarat ni junta” (five crores people of Gujarat) that when it comes to protecting Gujarati asmita they can always count on their man with the “chappan ni chati” (one with a lion’s chest).
Look how promptly he came to Bapu’s rescue while Mahatma’s own progeny let him down. “Don’t ban the book”, said the Mahatma’s grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, “To think of banning the book would be wrong from every point of view, and doubly so in the light of Gandhi’s commitment to freedom of speech. In fact, extreme scepticism too should be welcomed, especially in the case of Gandhi, who wanted to live and die for the truth and wanted his life to be an open book”.
“Gandhi, least interested in self-protection, is best protected by the strength of his own words and the wordlessness of his own strength”, says his other grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi. “Banning the book would be the most un-Gandhi thing to do”, said Gandhi’s great grandson, Tushar.
What kind of a parivar is this? Even as critics of book bans await the fate of Lelyveld’s book, Bihar’s Muslims are up in arms demanding a ban on a book in Hindi, Adhunik Bharat Mein Samajik Parivartan (Social Change in Modern India), authored by J.P. Singh, a lecturer at Patna University. Muslims are agitated because the book allegedly damns two of their icons, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, and poet-philosopher Mohammed Iqbal as being communal and separatist. The Bihar Assembly has been rocked by uproarious scenes, memoranda submitted to the governor, dharnas staged.
Why should Singh’s book be banned? Just because it describes Sir Syed and Iqbal as communal and separatist? Surely, Singh is by no means the first person to say so about either or both of them.
I’m not sure where Iqbal stood on the book ban business, but one thing is certain: the demand for such bans is as un-Syed as it is un-Gandhi. One can do no better here than quote Maulana Altaf Husain “Hali” on the subject in his highly-regarded biography of Sir Syed, Hayat-e-Javed: “Some Muslims consider it a matter of great piety not to cast even a passing glance at the objections that Christians raise against Islam or the kind of things they say about Prophet Mohammed in their books. Others feel so angry and outraged that they burn these books. Yet others appeal to the government that since insulting things have been written about Islam or the Prophet in a certain book, the government should order the seizure of all copies and ban any further publication of the same... Such an attitude suggests that we have no answer to the arguments of our opponents except that of closing our eyes and ears, or appealing to the government to confiscate such books and prohibit future publication. Contrary to this, Sir Syed was of the view that it will no longer do for Muslims to ignore books that they consider to be obscene or abusive, or to prove by appealing for government’s intervention that Muslims are incapable of responding to such writings. Concern for upholding the dignity of Islam demands that we reflect on the objections raised with calmness, patience and a clear mind. Having done so, we should respond to those writings that are worthy of a reply. As for those books which contain nothing apart from malice and bad taste, we should leave it to the public to judge for themselves instead of asking the government to sit in judgment and seek the protection of governments in religious debates”. (Pgs 790-791, Hayat-e-Javed).
If Sir Syed had no problem with problematic texts concerning Islam or its Prophet, it’s unlikely he would have supported a book ban for self-protection. Had they been alive in the 1920s, even though the highly-incendiary book Rangeela Rasool was apparently intended to inflame Muslim sentiments, Sir Syed and Maulana Hali would not have supported any ban demand, much less approved the murder of its author. But Muhammad Ali Jinnah did: for reasons of politics.
On the subject of book bans then it should not be difficult for us to draw a line: Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Hali, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Gandhi ki aulad on one side; Muhammad Ali Jinnah and Mr Modi on the other.

Javed Anand is general secretary, Muslims for Secular

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