Are the leaders of our Republic be it the Prime Minister, Home Minister or even the President of India correct in saying that Mahatma Gandhi wanted Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan to be given citizenship of India on their entry to India?

Union Home Minister Amit Shah said in Parliament that on September 26, 1947 Gandhi had said that Hindus and Sikhs coming from Pakistan should be made citizens of India. President of India Ram Nath Kovind repeated the same in his address to the Parliament on January 31m 2020, "“In the environment prevailing in the aftermath of Partition, the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi had said: ‘Hindus and Sikhs of Pakistan, who do not wish to live there, can come to India. It is the duty of the Government of India to ensure a normal life for them’.” He went on to claim that Citizenship Amendment Act fulfilled the vision of Mahatma Gandhi.

Such a statement attributed to Gandhi distorts what he said while addressing a prayer meeting in Delhi on September 26,n1947. It is worthwhile to quote his exact words. He said " If we regard all the Muslims as fifth-columnists, will not the Hindus and the Sikhs in Pakistan be also considered fifth-columnists? That would not do. The Hindus and the Sikhs staying there can come here by all means if they do not wish to continue staying there. In that case, it is the first duty of the Indian Government to give them jobs and make their lives comfortable. But they cannot continue to stay there and become petty spies and work for us and not for Pakistan. Such a thing cannot be done and I would not be a party to it".

It is quite clear that Mahatma Gandhi said very categorically that Hindus and Sikhs could not afford to stay in Pakistan if they intended to work as spies for India. Only in that context he exhorted them to leave Pakistan and come to India and wanted the Government of India to make their life comfortable.

It is crystal clear that Gandhi took a firm stand that Muslims in India should not be spying for Pakistan while living in India and the Hindus and Sikhs should not be doing the same thing to Pakistan while being part of that country. It is rather painful to note that top leadership of our country is taking Gandhi’s quote out of context and twisting it by hiding its substantive portions. Twisting the thoughts of Gandhi on the occasion of the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi is nothing but doing violence to him and to his worldview which was never exclusive but inclusive.

In fact the way our top leadership is repeatedly asserting inside and outside Parliament that Gandhi wanted Indian Government to grant citizenship of India to non-Muslims of Pakistan gives an impression that he was in favour of only non-Muslims of Pakistan and not for Muslims. Such an impression generates a false idea that Gandhi's worldview on the issue of citizenship was exclusive and not inclusive.

In fact a survey of his numerous writings and speeches reveal that he was open to give status of Indian citizenship to even the Muslims of Pakistan in case they preferred to come to India. While addressing a prayer meeting in Delhi on July 10, 1947 he said " But if people do leave their houses in Sind and other places and come to India, must we drive them out? If we do that, how can we call ourselves Indians? With what face can we shout Jai Hind? For what had Netaji fought? We are all Indians whether living in Delhi or Gujarat. They will be our guests. We shall welcome them saying that India is their country as much as Pakistan. If Nationalist Muslims also have to leave Pakistan we shall welcome them here. As Indians we all have the same status."

On September 19, 1947, a month after India got independence, Mahatma Gandhi said in a prayer meeting in Delhi that " Just because the Muslims of Pakistan have committed atrocities, let us not be frightened by the Muslims living here. Let us not frighten them either. There are also some Muslims who just cannot live in Pakistan."

Such pronouncements of Gandhi to embrace people of Pakistan regardless of their religion and accord them equality at par with Indians brought out his inclusive and non-discriminatory approach to the idea of citizenship. He not only followed an inclusive approach but also advocated that a broad and liberal approach beyond religion should be followed for the purpose of governing the country. That was why he cautioned by saying on January 201948, ten days before his martyrdom, that "It would spell the ruin of both the Hindu religion and the majority community if the latter, in the intoxication of power, entertains the belief that it can crush the minority community and establish a purely Hindu Raj".

Any approach to reduce citizenship of India to religion would be contrary to the ethos of India, constitutionally enshrined idea of citizenship and the vision of Mahatma Gandhi.

Speaking in the Federal Structure Committee in London on November 19th ,1931 Mahatma Gandhi had said, "The definition of “citizen” is a terrific job" and "....we do not want any racial discrimination" in defining it. If he was keeping the idea of citizenship issue above racial factors he would have been pained to see citizenship of India getting reduced to a few religions and nationalities for the purpose of granting citizenship status of India to Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Buddhists of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

No wonder that in 1947 he wrote, "Religion is my personal concern. It ought not to interfere with my duty as a citizen of India". Reduction of citizenship of India to a few religions by the powers that be is a violation of the duty which they are bound to perform as citizen of India based on constitutional provisions.

As early as October 30th, 1934 in a statement to the press Mahatma Gandhi had said, " The root meaning of politics is the science of citizenship....Since the boundaries of citizenship have been extended to cover continents, the science of politics includes attainment of advancement of humanity along all lines, social, moral, economic and political. "

Our top leadership must eschew misquoting Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, and remain wedded to his ideal of broad based citizenship beyond the scope of any religion.

S.N SAHU is former Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late K R Narayanan.