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Recalling another Gujarat 'model': Vasant-Rajab martyrdom for communal harmony

By Sandeep Pandey* 

Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi is known for his supreme sacrifice at a young age of 41 years in trying to stop communal violence in Kanpur in 1931, two days after his colleague Bhagat Singh was hanged. He was part of the struggle for freedom both as part of the Congress led movement and with the revolutionary group led by Bhagat Singh and Chandrasekhar Azad.
Through his newspaper Pratap he raised issues of common people and became part of struggle of farmers from Rae Bareli and that of mill workers in Kanpur. His involvement in a broad range of progressive issues made him a well known figure at the national level. But the communal forces were also active at the same time and kept provoking people to violence.
It is sad that such a talented person as Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was stabbed to death trying to save the lives of common Muslims and Hindus on streets of Kanpur. Mahatma Gandhi condoled his death by saying he was proud of him and he too wished to die for the cause of communal harmony.
Ram Prasad Bismil and Ashfaqulla Khan were known for their thick friendship through the Indian freedom struggle, vitiated by the communal strife. These revolutionaries along with Thakur Roshan Singh and Rajendra Lahiri were convicted in the Kakori train dacoity case and hanged in four different jails of United Provinces in 1927. Their ages were between 26 and 35 years. To embrace death at such a young age for the cause of freedom of country is remarkable. They had no other dreams.
In the present times of consumerist lifestyles it may be difficult to imagine the depth of commitment of these handful of youth and even others who laid down their lives fighting for the cause of freedom. For Bismil and Ashfaqulla, with shared interests in poetry as well, freedom mattered as much as Hindu-Muslim harmony and they have become the shining stars of India’s syncretic culture.
Another duo from Ahmedabad, not so well known at the national level, who displayed similar idealism and laid down their lives on 1 July, 1946 were Vasant Rao Hegiste and Rajab Ali Lakhani. During the Rath Yatra, an annual Hindu religious festival, in a communally charged atmosphere Vasant Rao was trying to protect the Muslims from a Hindu mob and Rajab Ali was attempting to save the Hindus from another Muslim mob. However, their own community mobs killed both of them. Such was the madness overtaking people at that time.
Given that Gujarat, now a thoroughly communally polarised state, is looked up to by the Hindutva brigade as a model to be exported and replicated elsewhere in the country, it is welcome surprise that there is a history of Vasant-Rajab having laid down their lives for the cause of upholding communal harmony.
With the rise of communal politics since the emergence of Bhartiya Janata Party backed by Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh at the national scene, this country has been ripped asunder on religious lines. A deliberate attempt has been made to spread hatred, often on the basis of lies and half-truths, so that apartness has been created in people belonging to different religions who had a tradition of living harmoniously.
Veteran litterateur Prakash N Shah pays tribute to the martyrs
Different tools have been used like claiming ownership of historic mosques, demolishing churches, mob lynching people suspected of cow slaughter, targeting couples in inter-religious marriages or sometimes without any reason merely because somebody belongs to a minority religion people are harassed so that the Hindus can be mobilised around an emotional issue.
 It is welcome surprise that there is history of Vasant-Rajab having laid down their lives for upholding communal harmony
A certain assertiveness is also visible in Hindus when celebrating their festivals and going to temples, which is quite contrary to the tolerant and accommodating Hindu way of life because of Hinduism has survived for so long. And all this is being done for no other reason than to polarise the votes so that BJP can capture power and implement the Hindutva agenda. This has resulted in a besieged mindset where people feel insecure and are prone to violence.
Beginning with the murders of dissenting intellectuals in broad day light to mob lynchings, targeted harassment and encounters to use of bulldozers this country has been witness to many such acts. Manipur is the latest case in point.
India is reaching a point where people will have to now decide what kind of country they want. Do they want an aggressive Hindu rashtra where the minority is under constant attack because that is the only thing which keeps majority together? In addition, majority is always fed hatred against the minority so that they cannot think of other things which impact their quality of life.
Or, we want an India which was dreamt of by the likes of Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqulla Khan, Thakur Roshan Singh, Rajendra Lahiri, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, Sukhdev, Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi, Vasant Rao Hegiste, Rajab Ali Lakhani, Mahatma Gandhi and many others who laid down their lives to realise the values of equality, justice and communal harmony. It is notable that all the abovementioned who may have differed in their ideologies and methods of working, were in agreement about their vision of India.
On the anniversary of martyrdom of Vasant and Rajab let us remind ourselves that there is another Gujarat model which should inspire us for creation of a country and society which is shaped by the values of all the martyrs of our freedom struggle.
---
*Magsaysay award winning social activist-academic, General Secretary of Socialist Party (India)

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