By Peer Bilal Ahmad Baba
M. K. Gandhi, the ‘pioneer and apostle of peace’ was born 148 years ago on October 2, 1869. The young Gandhi grew to manhood in the state of Gujarat, where the impact of the West was more remote than in the administrative centres of British imperialism at Bombay, Calcutta and Madras. The saints and values of devotional Hinduism shaped his consciousness and reinforced his adoption of peaceful leadership. Gandhi experimented with his life as few others have. He was at once a devoutly spiritual, religious person as well as an astute politician. He introduced an entirely new way of leadership to organize and run nations and to transform cultures of violence into cultures of nonviolence. Gandhi’s philosophy bears the influence of a number of sources and ahimsa forms the basic foundation of Gandhian Thought. Apart from Bhagavad-Gita, Isha Upanishad and Bible he was highly influenced by Tolstoy’s ‘The Kingdom of God is Within Us’, Ruskin’s ‘Unto This Last’, Thoreau’s ‘On the Duty of Civil Disobedience’ and Plato’s dialogues of Socrates. All these influences make him a moderate leader though not undisputed. Gandhi’s legacy includes not just the brilliantly waged struggle against institutionalized racism in South Africa, the independence movement of India, and a ground-breaking path of interreligious dialogue, but also boasts the first widespread application of nonviolence as the most powerful tool for positive social change.
Gandhi, however, has a contested legacy along with his leadership tagged on him. He has himself acknowledged the launching of Non-cooperation movement as his ‘Himalayan blunder’. Not only this he is being contested on his role in the Gandhi-Irvin talks of 1930’s subsequently of which Bhagat Singh was hanged. More importantly, his role in Kashmir affairs is very much dramatic and diplomatic. Of course, his prominent leadership in India’s freedom struggle fetched him the title of ‘Bapu’ but that doesn’t exonerate him from the guild he is blamed for. He played a pale shadowy role in the Kashmir politics. He is credited by the majority of Indians and blamed by a healthy section of Kashmiris for his role in preventing the Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir from taking an independent decision which thus paved the way for a forceful accession of Kashmir resulting in the creation of a perpetual conflict between the two powerful neighbors. This very conflict has consumed lakhs of Kashmiris since 1947 and has the potential of consuming much more if a nuclear spark kindles out between the two countries.
When Gandhi met Maharaja nobody knows what exactly did Gandhi tell to him, but the chain of events that followed his visit is the stark indicator of what must have happened. His meetings with Hari Singh and Tara Devi changed the equation in India’s favour. An ardent supporter of Kashmir Independence, Ram Chandra Kak, the Prime Minister of Kashmir, was dismissed on 11th of August and replaced by Janak Singh and then by the Indian loyalist, Mehr Chand Mahajan. Orders for construction of a bridge over the Ravi River, near Pathankot, to allow connectivity between India and Jammu and Kashmir were issued. The road between Jammu and Kathua was improved and a telegraph line was constructed between Jammu and the valley. This was possible because of massive assistance from India, once it was assured of accession. The Union of India has been taking a lively interest in the subject and indications are that the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, has lately been much influenced by representations made by Gandhi who visited Kashmir three months. One anecdote is this that Gandhi refused to eat food at Hari Singh’s residence on the conditions that Maharaja should change his mind regarding his decision.
Gandhi although was successful in making things possible for Indian union by insisting the last Maharaja of Kashmir but he as a man of peace is blamed to brought illimitable miseries and disturbed peace to the people.
Peer Bilal Ahmad Baba is RTI activist and can be reached at [email protected]