Skip to main content

Quest for fraternity


From a unique vantage point, Rajmohan Gandhi traces India’s journey after independence

Seventy-five years is not a long time in the life of a nation. Winston Churchill had dismissively predicted that after independence from British rule, free India would soon slide into anarchy. That did not happen. On the contrary, the nation emerged as a symbol of the strength of democratic values.

In this slim volume,  India After 1947: Reflections and Recollections, published to mark the 75th year of Indian independence, Rajmohan Gandhi reflects on the journey travelled by the nation whose march to freedom was led by Mahatma Gandhi.

The grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari, and the biographer of Sardar Patel, Rajmohan was born in 1935. His father Devdas was for many years the editor of the  Hindustan Times.

Rajmohan grew up above the newspaper office and printing press. As a curious boy, he would often run down to find out the cricket score. Among the figures in the editorial office was the legendary cartoonist, Shankar. “Shankar drew his cartoons on a desk in a room on the floor below our apartment. Pencil in hand, he concentrated on the drawing sheet under his nose unless a boy like me landed up before him and asked a silly question, when he exploded.”

Rajmohan’s circumstances gave him a unique vantage point into the freedom movement and the early years of independent India. “I was born into privilege, in comparison with many others, but also into a tradition of struggle.”

This brought him in close contact with the leading figures of Indian independence, and, in later decades, with social reformers and activists. Their commitment and fierce passion shine brightly through these recollections. A common element of all their projects is a quest for fraternity. Subhas Chandra Bose stressed on developing a close fellow-feeling among the soldiers of the Azad Hind Fauj. Gandhi gave a call to freedom fighters to identify “with every one of the millions” living in India. Baba Amte, who worked for the rehabilitation of people suffering from leprosy and who saw how they were ostracised, suggested that it was more important for Indians to ‘knit India’ than even for the British to Quit India.

Rajmohan quotes the powerful words of Dr. Ambedkar in his Annihilation of Caste (1936): “If you ask me, my ideal would be a society based on liberty, equality, and fraternity. And why not?”

From the Constituent Assembly discussions on the article abolishing untouchability, we hear the cool, clear voice of Dakshayani Velayudhan: “Even in public places like schools, untouchability was observed whenever there was a tea party or anything of that kind... I always non-cooperated with those functions.”

Rajmohan quotes from Dr. Ambedkar’s letter to Dr. Rajendra Prasad about the decision of the Constitution Drafting Committee to add a clause about fraternity in the preamble, even though it was not part of the Objectives Resolution: “The Committee felt that the need for fraternal concord and goodwill in India was never greater than now, and this particular aim of the new Constitution should be emphasized by special mention in the preamble.”

Contemplating on the role of Gandhi in the 21st century, Rajmohan points out that for the people whom he led to freedom, Gandhi was first a symbol of love. Tagore had recognised this early on and described Gandhi as a Mahatma — one who wore the same clothes as India’s millions, and talked to them in their own language: “As soon as true love stood at India’s door, it flew open.”

Gandhi’s legacy continues into our times. As a reminder, Rajmohan quotes Sarojini Naidu’s heartfelt 1948 tribute to the Father of the Nation: “My father, do not rest! Do not allow us to rest. Keep us to our pledge.”

India After 1947: Reflections and Recollections; Rajmohan Gandhi, Aleph, ₹399. 

The reviewer is in the IAS.