Scared of a solemn hymn? Dropping Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite hymn is another move by Narendra Modi to bury India’s past John DayalJohn Dayal, New DelhiPublished: January 25, 2022 10:31 AM GMT
Until New Year’s Day, not many people other than Christians in India, Catholics among them, who attend the English Sunday services in their neighborhood church had known of the hymn Abide With Me. With Amazing Grace, it was a favorite of a select few, among them a man called Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.
Today, most Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Buddhists with access to English-language media would know the hymn’s title, could have read the solemn verses and even hummed the tune.
Narendra Modi, India’s hyper-nationalist and arguably xenophobic prime minister, has had an inadvertently big hand in spreading the hymn among tens of millions of its new admirers.
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He did this by banning it from the repertoire of the massed military bands whose brass and bagpipes played the tune with stunning impact at the Beating Retreat ceremony held down the Raisina hill at Rashtrapati Bhawan, the residence of the president of India.
The Retreat ends the week-long state festivities that mark the birth of the Indian republic on Jan. 26, 1950, after a bloodstained partition and independence from Britain on Aug. 15, 1947.
While Pakistan was hived off as a homeland of Muslims, India remained as a land of people of all communities, a triumph of the moral force that Gandhi had become.
But Gandhi was no bigot. In 1947, he had risked his life in prayer fasts and physical protests calling for an end to violence
And just for that reason, Gandhi was assassinated on Jan. 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse, an activist of the Hindu chauvinist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
The RSS thought Gandhi had sold Hindus down the river, was pandering to Muslims — and to Christians by extension — and had betrayed the dream of Hindu Rashtra, a homeland just for them.
Gandhi had a chequered history with both Christianity and Islam. He had once famously said he loved Jesus, but not the Christians in the West and in India seeking to convert everyone they saw. He remained a God-fearing and practicing Hindu all his life and faced the bullets with “Hey Ram” on his lips, calling to his deity as he breathed his last.
But Gandhi was no bigot. In 1947, he had risked his life in prayer fasts and physical protests calling for an end to violence. No actual count has ever been done, but the partition violence saw half a million Muslims butchered in India and about an equal number of Hindus and Sikhs in what is now Pakistan. Tens of millions migrated across the border.
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