26/01/2015 7:37 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya: Nationalist Or Hindu Nationalist?

Indian statesmen and activists Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) and Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861 - 1946) at Varanasi, 1941. (Photo by Dinodia Photos/Getty Images)
Dinodia Photos via Getty Images
Indian statesmen and activists Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869 - 1948) and Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861 - 1946) at Varanasi, 1941. (Photo by Dinodia Photos/Getty Images)

This past December, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya (1861-1946), was posthumously given the highest honor--the award of the Bharat Ratna from the Government of India for his service to the nation. Since then, Malaviya ji has received much media attention throughout India. Many have referred to Pandit Malaviya as a Hindu nationalist and believe that the Modi government issued the award to him for that reason. In Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and the Formative Years of Indian Nationalism (LG Publishers), author Dr. Vishwanath Pandey makes a case that Pandit Malaviya should be recognised for his important role as a leading Indian nationalist during the formative years of the Indian independence movement. Dr. Pandey argues against the categorisation of Pandit Malaviya as a Hindu nationalist. Pandey questions the tendency to categorise Indian nationalists all too neatly as either "nationalists" (implying purely secular nationalists) and "Hindu nationalists" and points out that significant scholarship (T. N. Madan, Ashis Nandy, Bipin Chandra, Rajeev Bhargava) has shown that the two categories are arbitrary and simplistic, ignoring the blurred line between the "nationalists" and the "Hindu nationalists" and obscuring the great diversity of opinion and political orientations of India's nationalists.

"Strong in their religion, unified by a new awareness of their own national identity, and equipped with modern knowledge, the Indians would be prepared to assume responsibility for their nation" Dr Leah Renold quoted Malaviya in her book on Hindu Education. At Punjab Hindu Sammelan in 1923, Malaviya said that only a religiously oriented society would unite the Indians as a nation and allow them to make progress. In order to achieve unity, Muslim and Hindu communities alike needed to be more religious.

In his glowing tribute Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had declared as President of Malaviya Centenary Celebrations Committee that, "Though he may no longer be with us, he will live in the proud structure of free India, which he build from the foundation upward. May we be worthy of him."

Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya was a member of Indian National Congress, who served twice as the President of Congress in 1909 and 1918 and was elected again to the position in the1930 and 1932, but was prevented from serving because of his arrest for nationalist activities. Pandit Malaviya was a lawyer, known also during his life for his famous court cases, and for his energetic work on behalf of Indian rights in Indian legislative bodies during the pre-independence year. Today, he is primarily remembered as the founder of the expansive Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, one of the leading institutions of higher education in India, and for promotion of Hindu unity and a Hindu causes such a protection of the cow. Attention, though, to Malaviya's leadership of the Hindu Mahasabha, an organisation that sought to address issues of concern to Hindus, such as protection of cows, and whose subscribers included many members of the Indian National Congress, has been seen by some as reason to erroneously categorise Pandit Malaviya as a Hindu nationalist.

Pandey points out in his book that Malaviya did not support antagonism against India's Muslims. Contrariwise, in his speeches in the Hindu Mahasabha, Malaviya reminded Hindus that India also belonged to Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, and others and that "no single community can run over the rest." Pandey argues that Malaviya's support for unity amongst the followers of the different faiths of India led him to oppose communal electorates based on religious affiliation. Malaviya ji stood strong in his position that communal electorates harmed national unity by creating divisiveness. Pandey writes that after independence, the Constitution of India went with Malaviya's position in that it did not include communal electorates. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, therefore, cannot be claimed as a hero of those Hindus who take aggressive positions against Muslim or other minority rights in India. Malaviya ji did not support a nationalist view that supported India as the rightful home of only Hindus and their traditions. As Mushirul Hasan, noted historian, has written in the foreword of Dr. Pandey's book, "Malaviya was a fervent nationalist, who joined the Congress quite early in public life." He further suggests that "he had differences with the party on many issues, but he did not sever his links with its policies or its leaders. As a matter of fact, he held Gandhiji in high esteem; the Mahatma, too, thought of him as a patriot."

All major speeches of Pandit Malaviya clearly illustrate his anti-colonialist work in both the non-cooperation movement of the National Congress and in the Indian legislatures, his work on the behalf of education in India, and his less known, but no less important work supporting institutions to promote Indian technology and industry. It would be wrong to blindly categorise Pandit Malaviya, especially as he has now been officially recognised as a major figure of modern Indian history, without reading what he actually had to say.