Justice Katju: Ending poverty, communalism, casteism, hunger is true nationalism

Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Katju-

(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own)

In India in recent years some people have made the test of nationalism as hatred of minorities (particularly Muslims, but also Christians), hatred of western culture and customs (e.g. Valentine’s Day), hatred of Muslim names of cities and places (e.g. Allahabad, Mughal Gardens, etc ), and hatred of people who speak out against injustice (who are often branded as ‘Tukde tukde’ gang, urban Naxals, etc).

From this perspective, Adolf Hitler, who persecuted Jews, was a great nationalist, and Lenin was anti-nationalist, as he was against injustice.

My own test is very different: a true Indian nationalist, in my opinion, is one who hates poverty, malnutrition, unemployment, lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, casteism, communalism, etc, and fights against these evils.

I am not at all impressed by those who claim that India has the fastest growing economy in the world. Even assuming that the claim is correct (I for one doubt it), the important question to be asked is who is getting the fruits of this growth: the Indian masses, or a handful of big businessmen?

It is often reported that 1% of rich Indians own 40% of India’s wealth.

On the other hand, it is reported that India has slipped from 101 to 107 out of the 121 countries surveyed by Global Hunger Index, and has the highest levels of child stunting and child wasting in the world.

What kind of growth is this?

I love the good things in Indian culture, its great achievements in science, literature, art, etc.

But I hate the caste system that has divided us, and continues to divide us (at a time when it is absolutely necessary to be united if we want to resolve our huge socio-economic problems), and has treated Dalits abominably.

I hate communalism, i.e. hatred of minorities, for the same reason. India is a country of great diversity, with numerous religions, castes, languages, races, customs, etc, which is because it is broadly a country of immigrants, like North America.

So the only correct policy if we wish India to hold together and prosper is secularism and giving equal respect to all religions. This was the policy (suleh-e-kul) of the great Mughal emperor Akbar who gave equal respect to all religions and communities, and in my opinion is the real Father of the Indian Nation.

Those who say that India got freedom in 1947 after 1000 years of slavery equate India with its Hindu majority. But the Mughals, though Muslims, were very much Indian. For instance, Babur may have been a foreigner, but his grandson Akbar was an Indian, as he was born in India, lived his life here, and identified himself with the people here (he joined in many Hindu festivals).

Many Hindus, e.g. Todarmal, Man Singh, Birbal, etc occupied the top positions in his Empire.

Under Mughal rule, India became the richest country in the world, enjoying 25% of the world’s wealth and trade, which benefited all who lived here, including Hindus.

Akbar’s successors too were secular (though there is a controversy about Aurangzeb). The Nawabs of Avadh, Murshidabad, Tipu Sultan, etc, though Muslims, were also secular. For instance, the Nawabs of Avadh used to celebrate Holi and Diwali, organise Ram Lila, etc.

Some people have tried to paint Tipu Sultan as a bigoted villain, but the truth is in this article.

So how can we say that Muslim rulers in India were not Indians, and that India was not free under their rule?

In my opinion, a true nationalist in India is one wants to abolish its massive and widespread poverty, hunger, unemployment, casteism, communalism, etc, and works for it.

There can be no other definition of a nationalist.

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