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India's current inability for dialogue is a dishonour to our legacy of discourse

Apoorvanand | Updated on: 14 August 2017, 19:00 IST
(Photo: Arya Sharma/Catch News)

There is shouting and there is silence. There are threats and there is reluctant acquiescence. There are bloodthirsty eyes and there is the aversion of this gaze by the other. There are assaults and there is a retreat. There is cacophony and there is a helplessness in not finding meaningful words.


India is hanging from a precipice. Its state is precarious. The alarm has been sounded, but it seems be lost on the people marching gaily ahead with the Tricolour. It is as if they are in a state war. The aim is to conquer. But, this time, is it is not a foreign land they are aiming for. The targets are their neighbours. Their countrymen.


It is as if they are out to finish a mission that was only half accomplished . A mission forcibly stopped in its tracks by the sound of three bullets. By a sense of guilt. All that, though, has now been overcome.

The inability to listen

The feeling of bringing neighbours under one's subjugation falls in a different category of emotions. Indian Hindus are delirious with this feeling. They have lost the ability to hear. Or, perhaps they have no will to.


Slogans have rent the sky and have deafened us. Words have lost their meaning. Words lead to humanity. But they come only if you talk as well as listen. And, even then, talk only after listening. The act of listening itself requires an openness to of the validity of a position different from, and in many cases opposed to one's own.

Discussion, not destruction

The beauty and strength of India's journey since nationhood is that it is a long act of listening. Pleading, even. Pleading to be heard. Pleading is not weakness. It is trust in the strength of one's voice and also in the openness of the listener.

A central word in the freedom struggle is correspondence. All our leaders were tireless correspondents. The volumes of Gandhi, Patel, Nehru, Sarojini Naidu, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Amrit Kaur, Maulana Azad, Bhim Rao Ambedkar, Tagore, and others are filled with letters written to each other.

Positions are taken, held and defended. But there was always an invitation for understanding.

There are unending disagreements and debates. Even polemics. But never dismissal or, for that matter, the imposition of one's own views.


One sees with amazement the battle of ideas raging in those times. Battles which should have ideally demanded only one voice to prevail. Positions are taken, positions are held and defended, but there is always an invitation for understanding. The desire to persuade other to one's viewpoint, but always a readiness to be convinced to the opposite.

All this is not only to achieve one's nation. An objective far higher than this drove our leaders of yore: Freedom of the individual and dignity for all.

Lessons from the Mahatma

When Gandhi writes to the Viceroy or to the representatives of the British imperialism he always tells them that by holding India as its slave, Britain has fallen from the ideals its poets and thinkers have set for them. By robbing India, Africa and other nations of their freedom, Britain has also lost its liberty and humanity.


The power and violence that the British have to constantly deploy to keep these populations under their subjugation is a drain on them. It robs them of their humanity bit by bit.


Gandhi tells the British that by lifting their grasp on India, they would be doing a service, not just to India, but to themselves. They would attain liberation.

70 years later, this conversation seems to have been drowned under the noise of nationalism.

Gandhi makes clear that he did not want to embarrass them. In Britain's most difficult time, under attack by the Germans, Gandhi is pained at the destruction Britain suffers. He tells them that Indians would like to aid their war efforts as friends, but that can be done only when Indian themselves feel free and equal to the British.

The toughest battle Gandhi fought, apart from his crusade against caste, was against Jinnah. He could not win both. But he never allowed the fear of defeat to distort his voice. Jinnah remained a brother, and the Viceroy, a friend.

Gandhi's disagreement with C.Rajagopalachari or Nehru did not tempt either of them to shut the door on the opposite side.

Creation of Pakistan was the ultimate defeat of Gandhi's idea of co-living but that did not again allow him to succumb to the idea of a Hindu nation.

Non violence required one to have respect for their fellow man, but also faith in the correctness of one's own position. It also called for unending patience.The India thus achieved was an invitation to continue this conversation.

70 years later, this conversation seems to have reached breaking point. Drowning under the noise of nationalism.

The noisy and boisterous crowds of Hindus who have given in to the politics of Hindu Rashtra, and are trying to achieve it by stealth, should be alarmed that what they are doing is the beginning of the end of India.

First published: 14 August 2017, 19:00 IST

He is a professor at the University of Delhi