The former President of India Pranab Mukherjee has rightly said the other day that pluralism is the soul of India and it has been so for thousands of years. He also defined the concept of pluralism and ''deshbhakti''. However, pluralism is not characteristic of a piece of land called country. It is enshrined in the people that constitute the Indian Nation. What is Pakistan today was India yesterday and how much pluralism is there in that part of India.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah, for example, was as much Indian as Mahatma Gandhi. Both of them had inherited the tradition of pluralism, but their attitudes toward pluralism were poles apart. Gandhi Ji had pluralism close to his heart. He was willing even to make Jinnah as the Prime Minister if pluralism is retained in undivided India. Nehru did not agree. Obviously, Jinnah did not have the same appreciation of age-old tolerance to pluralism in India while Gandhi Ji represented the values of Indian Nation. There is need to preserve this ancient Indian concept of pluralism, Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam.
Let there be no illusion that Jinnah is the prime destroyer of pluralism of India. His associates like Liaquat Ali and Suhrawardy when gave a call of direct action and the day of deliverance, they had no love left for pluralism. They were all Indians and inherited the same pluralism that our former President is talking about. There can be a debate about why India has respect for pluralism while Pakistan has contempt for it. Also why Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia and most others do not have pluralism.
Jinnah's hypothesis that Hindus and Muslims cannot live together in India because their heroes, food and habits and interests are different, is the antithesis of pluralism. Jinnah and his followers were opposed to ancient Indian pluralism that Gandhi Ji represented and about which our former president is talking about. After partition, India could retain pluralism only because of the age-old tradition of co-existence of differing views while Pakistan denied the right to its minorities.
The founding fathers of the modern democracy in India had set high standards of political culture, tradition and Pakistan detached itself from the ancient tradition of India. Maulana Azaad described India as Dar-ul-Aman. Undivided India could retain pluralism if Jinnah understood the difference between Da-ul-Harab and Dar-ul -Aman.
Sometimes, the desperate political leaders think that pluralism, democracy, secularism, tolerance and all that is in danger. The first time they thought so in 1967 and formed SVD to dislodge the Congress regime. Then again they formed "grand alliance" to save once again in the Eighties in what they thought was fight against corruption. Each time they withered away as they did not subscribe to "Nation above self". Once again the opposition has cobbled together to oust Modi Government
The masses of India believe in pluralism but leaders do not. If the leaders did, these experiments could lead to a two-party system. It could be Janta Party versus Congress in the Seventies and Janta Dal versus Congress in The Eighties. Leaders only pay lip service to pluralism but the illiterate masses truly believe in it. This time there is no one to lead the crowd of parties while in the Seventies it was JP and in Eighties it was VP. We can only wish that India will someday have a two-party system and pluralism of political parties would make way for individual jingoism.
There are defining moments in the life of leaders who set lofty examples of high standards keep nation above self. Think of Purushottam Das Tandon who defeated Hafiz Mohammad Ibrahim supported by Jawahar Lal Nehru who became upset and offered to resign. But Tandon, the newly elected President of the Congress Party had nation above self and resigned instead as he said Nehru's services are more valuable for India. Likewise, Patel did not hesitate to give way to Nehru in the National interest.
These days the political divergent policies and programmes are cobbling up together to deny Modi the power in 2019. The same thing happened in the seventies with the formation of Janta Party. Grand Alliance at the National level in 1971 formed out of the conglomeration of disparate elements for the sole purpose of snatching power from the Congress. They had nothing in common except the compelling cause of opposing emergency.
The Self-seeking leaders have to learn a lot from the ancient tradition of and from leaders who sacrificed in the National interest. The examples set by the founding fathers of free India should always remain the yardstick to measure the credibility of politicians. Pluralism whether religious, linguistic, caste-based, regional, or racial more by illiterate masses of India than the educated politicians. Hope they will learn.
(Dr S.B. Misra is Editor in Chief of the Gaon Connection and renowned geologist. To read his other articles click here.)