Mahatma Gandhi was a staunch Hindu and definitely one of the earliest examples in Indian polity where religion was used for political purpose. Much ahead of BJP in 2014 or AIMIM in state polls.
One may blame the Lynch mobs in name of cow protection on the ruling party today, but the first Indian who propagated cow protection was Gandhi. He smartly interlinked religion to it to create a nucleus around which the independence movement could be taken forward. Gandhi's last utterance ever was "Hey Ram", the same For Ram who is at centre of a bitterly fought legal case in the Supreme Court right now.
But Gandhi's Hinduism was inclusive and accommodative rather than exclusive and reactionary. Gandhi had elaborated his taken Hinduism, "Hinduism is not an exclusive religion. In it, there is room for worship of all the prophets of the world. It is not a missionary religion in the ordinary sense of the term. Hinduism tells everyone to worship God according to his own faith or dharma, and so it lives at peace with all religions."
Gandhis Hinduism was an amalgamation of pragmatic use of religion for independence movement and upholding liberty. Though he was a firm believer of "Gau seva", something he would preach to his followers, he refused to give in to demands for a cow slaughter ban.
When Gandhi was told his preaching had deep effect and around 25,000 letters were sent from across the nation demanding a nation wide cow slaughter ban, he didn't give in. He had famously said, "I have another telegram which says that a friend has started a fast for this cause. In India no law can be made to ban cow-slaughter. I do not doubt that Hindus are forbidden the slaughter of cows. I have been long pledged to serve the cow but how can my religion also be the religion of the rest of the Indians? "
Gandhi's Hinduism was unique. One cannot brand it as black or white but his beliefs lay in the grey.
In 1928, during the First Annual Meeting of Federation of International fellowship at Sabarmathi Ashramam, Ahmedabad, he said, "All religions are almost as dear to me as my own Hinduism... The aim of the fellowship should be to help a Hindu to become better Hindu, a Mussalman to become a better Mussalman, and a Christian to become a better Christian"
In spite of such liberal take on Hinduism, when he had shared a stage with Veer Savarkar in London in the early 1900 on invitation of the Indian diaspora, he ended up agreeing with the Hindutva icon when he had said that all religions have a right to flourish in India but around the core religion which shall remain Hinduism.
Gandhi believed in Geeta but he had its own interpretations, he followed Hindu scriptures but also other religious scriptures. Gandhi saw violence in Geeta. In the columns of Young India, Gandhi's radical interpretation of the scripture started to appear, by 1931. Gandhi's sense of Hinduism made him read and re-reda Geeta but his sense of "ahimsa" or non violence made him allege the author of Geeta used war imageries liberally. Some of his interpretations and beliefs were so radical that it led to his assassination in January 30, 1984. During his trial, Nathuram Godse, who had pulled the trigger on Gandhi had claimed that "Gandhiji's views" had always been "detrimental to the Hindu community and its interests".
But in spite of that, for Gandhi, politics bereft of religion was "absolute dirt, ever to be shunned". Yet, he managed the contradictions that came along with it. Neither did he flash his Janeu like Rahul Gandhi, nor did he announce himself as a nonbeliever in God like our communists. He had balanced both. Gandhi's use of symbolism in politics was unparralel. Yet stayed firm to his beliefs.
The word religion comes from a Latin word ereligare'. It's meaning is eto bind again'. Gandhi's Hinduism was intended to bind a country together and fight in pursuit of independence. Different symbolism helped him bind the nation together.
"I could not live for a single second without religion", Gandhi had famously said. But he would also criticize the same religion to reform it. That was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
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