Calm down

This is a time of surgical strikes, hysteria, hostility to dissent. Why frankness, debate, questioning must follow

Written by Rajmohan Gandhi | Updated: October 13, 2016 3:32 pm
uri attack, uri attack probe, uri attack pakistan, pakistan uri attack probe, pakistan urges international uri attack probe, united nations uri attack, india news, indian express, Soldiers guard outside the army base which was attacked suspected militants in Uri, Jammu and Kashmir (PTI Photo)

When Uri happened on September 18, I recalled a remark that Gandhi made almost 70 years ago. He was in the middle of what would turn out to be his last fast for amity on the Subcontinent. Learning that an attack on a refugee train at West Punjab’s Gujarat station had killed or maimed hundreds of Hindus and Sikhs travelling from Bannu in the Frontier Province, he said on January 14, 1948: “[If] this kind of thing continues in Pakistan, how long will the people in India tolerate it? Even if 100 men like me fasted, they would not be able to stop the tragedy that may follow” (Collected Works, 98: 234-35).

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Eleven days after Uri came the Indian army’s surgical strikes, followed in Pakistan by denial and in India by chest-thumping as well as demands for precise information. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have cautioned cabinet colleagues against creating a hysteria over the strikes.

Although the expression “surgical strike” implies an intention, as far as possible, to confine destruction to a legitimate target and avoid collateral damage, the word “surgery” may to some also suggest that there is a patient somewhere. Or perhaps a great many patients.

The people of India and Pakistan are the patients. But they had better also become their own doctors and surgeons, for the medical teams supposed to take care of them, the men and women who shape policies and those who steer public opinion, are susceptible, as the prime minister seems to have warned, to hysteria.

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Hysteria is not a sickness emanating from nowhere. Long-nursed grudges and fears and unfulfilled wishes to exhibit power contribute to it. These psychological weaknesses exist on both sides of the Indo-Pak border and, potentially, if we are honest, in each of us.

Perhaps we have approached hysteria when a minister of the Delhi government demands from a public all-party platform, created for fostering tourism, that before he can proceed any further the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir sharing that stage with him must first declare that A and B are terrorists.

“Calm down!” is what any doctor or surgeon would today prescribe to fellow-citizens on the Subcontinent, and it is what we the people should prescribe to one another. Calm down, and think coolly.

Here, for the sake of genuine healing, I must direct a thought or two to the people of Pakistan for their individual and private consideration, not to invite risky public statements from them. Was the two-nation theory really such a good idea? Shouldn’t all of us on the Subcontinent, whatever our religion, sect, gender or caste, learn to live peacefully with one another and respect one another as humans, while remaining in our separate political entities? Within each country, for both of us have profound internal divides, and also between our countries.



We should be asking questions in India too. Should the world’s largest democracy be recording the world’s highest decibel levels on TV? What are we teaching our children when we interrupt, shout down or speak over someone we disagree with, not in a rare unavoidable moment, but all the time and as a habit?

Then there is the hostility towards dissent. A natural disaster or national tragedy may indeed call for closing ranks — for a period. After a time, frankness, debate and questioning must follow. Clicking heels and obeying a boss, or following a standard “line”, will never be a long-term part of the Indian character, even if hysteria demands it for a while.

And on both sides we should realise that radioactive fumes, hysteria’s possible culmination on our nuclearised Subcontinent, will not halt at the border or seek permission to cross it.

After saying what he did on January 14, 1948 Gandhi proceeded to challenge Pakistanis and Indians by recalling a verse that everyone knew: The poet says, “If there is paradise, it is here, it is here.” He had said it about a garden. I read it ages ago when I was a child. But paradise is not so easily secured. If Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs became decent, became brothers, then that verse could be inscribed on every door. But that will be only when Pakistan has become pure. If that happens in Pakistan, we in India shall not be behind them.

The sentence that followed is perhaps even more relevant.

Society is made up of individuals. It is we that make society. If one man takes the initiative others will follow and one can become many; if there is not even one there is nothing (98: 234-35).

Whether or not we approve of fasting as a weapon for change, Gandhi, a private citizen, took an initiative all those decades ago. As a result of the fast, as everyone knows, the Indian government released Pakistan’s share of the Subcontinent’s balances left by the departing British.

But that was not why he was killed, propaganda on the killers’ behalf notwithstanding; the assassination had been planned months earlier. And the withholding of that money was not the sole reason for the fast, which continued after January 14, when the decision to release it was announced.

The old man also wanted an assurance from the people of Delhi that “the annual fair at Khwaja Qutbuddin Mazar — near the Qutb Minar — would be held this year as in the previous years”, for there had been a threat to ban the fair. He also wanted Delhi’s Muslims “to be able to move about in Subzimandi, Karol Bagh, Paharganj and other localities just as they could in the past”.

And he wanted the people of Delhi to promise that “these things will be done by our personal effort and not with the help of the police or military” (98: 253). When, on January 18, a large group of citizens and leaders provided those assurances, Gandhi broke his fast.

When ordinary people in all parts of Pakistan and India are able to do ordinary things without fear or hindrance, when, thanks to the goodwill of neighbours and not because of the army or police, they can take part in a traditional fair, move about freely in their streets, and return in safety to their homes, that is when we can feel glad. Even in times of hysteria, this is a goal we can quietly nurse.

The writer, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, is a historian. His latest work is ‘Understanding the Founding Fathers’

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  1. A
    Atul Bhardwaj
    Oct 8, 2016 at 11:14 am
    The surname gives him the licence to be sanctimonious and like mahatma implore, arm twist,indians to give in to Muslims demand and all the while humiliate;br/gt;It is nice to enjoy gubernatorial position and be called historian,all the while doing nothing g but peng the name of mahatma and invoking your lineage.Shame on;br/gt;Try to earn a living for a change and realise the difficulty one;br/gt;Try to be a good human yourself first,who is just and fair in his observation.
    1. B
      bhokabs bengs
      Oct 8, 2016 at 3:49 am
      Kill our people, kill our soldiers - take a deep breath, calm down and meditate exhale and inhale and don't do anything and again allow them to kill and maim our fellow Indians and our soldiers
      1. G
        G Venkatappa Rao
        Oct 8, 2016 at 7:10 am
        A must read for every one CALM DOWN !!
        1. K
          Oct 8, 2016 at 4:43 am
          Destruction of stan , Maoists, communism, Vatican church and jehadi islam is the only guarantee of peace
          1. K
            KK Jha
            Oct 8, 2016 at 2:30 am
            Many people/leaders have done great damage to their own country in quest of Noble Prize. New hi, please do not damage our country further
            1. S
              Sankaran Krishnan
              Oct 8, 2016 at 9:14 am
              This "Calm Down" is applicable to the Terror Nation stan which provokes India in the name of ceasefire violations and also using under the cover of Militants to attack on Indian Soldiers instead of fighting from the forefront by chest thumping and as far as India is concerned it shows restraint irrespective of the party that rules the Centre which they had taken very lightly by the spineless stan and its brainless Military !!!
              1. K
                Oct 8, 2016 at 3:45 am
                You were lucky the first time.Lightning does not strike twice. The rest of us have woken up along the way.
                1. L
                  Oct 8, 2016 at 8:12 am
                  sir you are right , the fuel of enmity has been sown basically by sir sayyad ahmed khan in 1877 to say that Hindu and Muslim are two separate nations . That create rift between Hindu and Muslim . one question West and east Germany intermingled with each other , can we not live peacefully with each other , sir from your perspective and mine ,we the common people suffering . islam never teach to treat other sect harshly
                  1. M
                    Manipadma Datta
                    Oct 8, 2016 at 9:57 am
                    I would o my say, no hysteria please! Calm down!
                    1. M
                      Maya Valecha
                      Oct 8, 2016 at 11:40 am
                      To all those pouring vitriolic on author, my humble request to them is to go to border and see for themselves what exactly war is. Soldiers from poor families die, lives of villagers at border ruined. And all this for what? Just because people in power on both sides create this situation?
                      1. N
                        Oct 8, 2016 at 1:33 am
                        Modern hi sab, make a comparative statement of tolerance and how test books are created for schools . We include such men as you and many more from Hindu community to critique us and pak has no such system. Inspite of such vast and critical artificial constructs to say we are at par with each other is an insult to the majority and Modern his are driving all such towards BJP.
                        1. C
                          Oct 10, 2016 at 2:56 am
                          Come on Mr.hilt;br/gt;Pl grow up.look;br/gt;You are in 21st century!lt;br/gt;If tiger is coming to eat you, one should not talk about Ahimsa!
                          1. P
                            Oct 9, 2016 at 6:35 am
                            Dear Rajmohan, Ghi had same confusion as moderate muslims, he thought islamists' hunger for land and people can be satiated. He was himself asked to convert to Islam which he politely rejected, and his own son was manited into it. lt;br/gt;Good intentions are important, but they are not sufficient to ensure that actions will have good results, hi's all ideas for msulims had good intentions but he didn't know the islamist mindset and ideology hence the results were never good. lt;br/gt;He wouldn't have seen the bangladesh problem, he wouldn't have seen the stan of today, he couldn't have believed 56 islamic nations will exist on earth and everyone a sample of its own kind. lt;br/gt;Basically hi completely failed ot understand islamists and their goals. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;But you can learn it now, you won't have any excuse for future generations.
                            1. P
                              PL Dhar
                              Oct 9, 2016 at 12:01 am
                              No comment on the manner in which stan has been nourishing terrorists .... typical of intellectuals... that a why the term peacenik has become an abuse...Would he kindly go in a long fast till stan arrests international terrorist. Hafiz Sa ..... We will all be obliged.... 😕
                              1. बाबू सिंह
                                Oct 8, 2016 at 1:47 pm
                                पाकिस्तान के मुसलमानों से इतनी ही उम्मीद है तो एक बात का उत्तर दे दीजिए ,पिछले 70 वर्षों में पाकिस्तान के नागरिक हिंदुओंएवं अन्य अल्पसंख्यकों की आबादी नगण्य क्यों रह गई है ।वह मौत से भी बदतर जिंदगी क्यों जी रहे हैं ।शांति के मसीहा बनने के लिए,हमेशा हिंदुओं के "खून की दलाली "करते रहे हैं "शांति के मसीहा"
                                1. D
                                  Oct 8, 2016 at 6:57 am
                                  A man with borrowed fame whose gfather was neither a fakir, saint or wise politician. Who was utterly confused. Whose confusion led to millions of dea-th and a legacy laden to the path of he-ll.
                                  1. R
                                    Rajeev Sharma
                                    Oct 10, 2016 at 3:33 am
                                    Please refrain from dragging MK hi into every subject. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;It is high time you realize that he had become irrelevant in 1947 itself
                                    1. R
                                      Rakesh Katyal
                                      Oct 8, 2016 at 4:24 pm
                                      Self proclaimed intellectuals are feeling left out and they don't like it at all
                                      1. S
                                        Oct 11, 2016 at 2:40 am
                                        Everyone is a romantic at heart.. If those wishes were to come true, then what the author has written makes sense. Till then people have to live in the day-to-day world, with real borders and security plans. Once those wishes really come true, we can disband our military as well as police and live as the author has dreamt
                                        1. S
                                          S L
                                          Oct 8, 2016 at 3:20 am
                                          I am not sure what the author wants to convey? To talk about amity is good. Talking about maintaining the level of any discussion civilized is also good. But what political message has he conve?lt;br/gt;stan is our wise enemy. It has shaken an entire lethargic nation to wake up and fight! But we are not able to identify the real enemy who operates from our neighborhood mosque, does all political things and unsettles the settled Muslim potion!
                                          1. S
                                            Oct 8, 2016 at 2:25 am
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