Mahatma Gandhi: ‘My Ramrajya means Khuda ki Basti… but a Secular State’

Mahatma Gandhi: ‘My Ramrajya means Khuda ki Basti… but a Secular State’
Teesta Setalvad                                                                                          30 Jan 2020
First published on: 02 Oct 2016
“By Ram Rajya I do not mean Hindu Raj. I mean by Ramarajya Divine Raj, Khuda ki Basti or the Kingdom of God on Earth”  Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi[1]


At the heart of the visceral animosity that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Hindu Mahasabha (HMS) and all the affiliates have against Gandhi is his deep, reasoned and passionate commitment to a composite Indian nationhood. His writings in Young India and Harijan are well-documented as also is his subsequent clarity on the issue which is unequivocal[2]

Faced with the growing appeal of communalists across the religious spectrum, in the early-mid 1900s,  Gandhi remained firm in his commitment to equal citizenship based on human rights and dignity…..

Under Gandhi’s guidance and leadership, communal amity remained central to the constructive programmes of the Congress. Muslim intellectuals and leaders of national stature, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, Dr Ansari Hakim Ajmal Khan, Badruddin Tyabjee, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Jauhar Ali were proud part of the Congress fold. While the larger national movement, represented by the Congress and Revolutionaries, was surging ahead with a wider vision and inclusive foundation of Indian nationhood, at play were majoritarian and minority communal forces, in parallel, pushing their narrow, hate-driven, communal agendas.

In 1937, at the open session of the Hindu Mahasabha held at Ahmedabad, V.D. Savarkar, in his presidential address asserted: “India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation, but on the contrary there are two nations in the main – the Hindus and the Muslims.”[3] By 1945, Savarkar had gone to the extent of stating, “I have no quarrel with Mr. Jinnah’s two–nation theory. We, the Hindus are a nation by ourselves, and it is a historical fact that the Hindus and the Muslims are two nations”[4]It was this sentiment of separate and irreconcilable identities of the followers of these religions that led to the communal holocaust and the formation of Pakistan. 

If the Muslim League and Jinnah need to squarely be positioned for their responsibility in articulating a politics that eventually led to a communal bloodbath, the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtritya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) with their consistently divisive politics cannot escape their share of the blame.

Arguably, as much as Gandhi’s and the larger, Congress’ commitment to secular and composite Indian nationhood, a deep source of resentment for the proponents of a Hindu Rashtra was the democratic and egalitarian agenda being articulated by the national leadership through the Karachi resolution. The attempts on Gandhi’s life that began in 1934 were a response to the dominant political articulations on nationhood, caste and economic and other democratic rights that were in direct challenge to a hegemonistic and authoritarian Hindu Rashtra. 1933, the year before the first attempt on Gandhi’s life, he had declared firm support to two Bills, one of whom was against the abhorrent practice of Untouchability.

The run up to Independence and unfortunately, Partition, was the scene or battle ground for fundamentally different notions of nationhood. While over one hundred years of sustained movements and mobilizations to throw off British yoke were wedded in the united battle of all Indians against foreign rule, the early-mid 1900s saw the birth and emergence of sectarian and communal definitions of Indian and Pakistani nationhood. With the birth of the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League and the RSS, these movements were in constant battle with the larger movement, significantly, at different points of time actually acting as collaborators with the British.


Later, on January 27, 1935, Gandhi addressed some members of the Central Legislature. He told them that “(e)ven if the whole body of Hindu opinion were to be against the removal of untouchability, still he would advise a secular legislature like the Assembly not to tolerate that attitude.”.[5] On January 20, 1942 Gandhi remarked while discussing the Pakistan scheme: “What conflict of interest can there be between Hindus and Muslims in the matter of revenue, sanitation, police, justice, or the use of public conveniences? The difference can only be in religious usage and observance with which a secular state has no concern.” [6] From then until he was shot dead in cold blood on January 30, 1948, his responses and articulation on the disassociation of religion from politics became even clearer and sharper. This meant in effect he was a great threat to past and present day proponents of a Hindu Rashtra.

[[As quoted by Nauriya, in the Hindu, 2003, in September 1946, Gandhi told a Christian missionary: “If I were a dictator, religion and state would be separate. I swear by my religion. I will die for it. But it is my personal affair. The state has nothing to do with it. The state would look after your secular welfare, health, communications, foreign relations, currency and so on, but not your or my religion. That is everybody’s personal concern!” Gandhi’s talk with Rev. Kellas of the Scottish Church College, Calcutta on August 16, 1947, the day after Independence, was reported in Harijan on August 24:

“Gandhiji expressed the opinion that the state should undoubtedly be secular. It could never promote denominational education out of public funds. Everyone living in it should be entitled to profess his religion without let or hindrance, so long as the citizen obeyed the common law of the land. There should be no interference with missionary effort, but no mission could enjoy the patronage of the state as it did during the foreign regime.” This understanding came subsequently to be reflected in Articles 25, 26 and 27 of the Constitution.

On the next day, August 17, Gandhi elaborated publicly on the same point in his speech at Narkeldanga, which Harijan reported thus: “In the India for whose fashioning he had worked all his life every man enjoyed equality of status, whatever his religion was. The state was bound to be wholly secular. He went so far as to say that no denominational institution in it should enjoy state patronage. All subjects would thus be equal in the eye of the law.” Five days later, Gandhi observed in a speech at Deshbandhu Park in Calcutta on August 22, 1947: “Religion was a personal matter and if we succeeded in confining it to the personal plane, all would be well in our political life… If officers of Government as well as members of the public undertook the responsibility and worked wholeheartedly for the creation of a secular state, we could build a new India that would be the glory of the world.” Speaking on Guru Nanak’s birthday on November 28, 1947, Gandhi opposed any possibility of state funds being spent for the renovation of the Somnath temple. His reasoning was: “After all, we have formed the Government for all. It is a `secular’ government, that is, it is not a theocratic government, rather, it does not belong to any particular religion. Hence it cannot spend money on the basis of communities.” ]]

Excerpted from Beyond Doubt: A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination, Teesta Setalvad, Introduction by the author


[1] Ibid, from The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi
[2] Ibid
[3] Swatantarya Veer Savarkar, Vol. 6 page 296, Maharashtra Prantiya Hindu Mahasabha, Pune
[4] Indian Educational Register, 1943, vol. 2, page 10
  [5] Gandhi in Young India, September 19, 1929, p. 305.
[6] Gandhi on secular law and state, Anil Nauriya

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