Madan Mohan Malaviya: As secular as Gandhi

Book: ‘Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya: A Valiant Visionary’; Author: Madhuker Upadhyay; Publisher: All India Congress Committee; Pages: 180, Price: Rs.300

The best testimony that the Congress had virtually disowned Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya came when the author realised he was the only one who missing from the official collection of speeches of party presidents. Luckily, these were stored in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Journalist-writer Madhuker Upadhyay plunged into those to pen a moving biography that dispels many of the myths surrounding Malaviya.

Malaviya was no doubt a strong supporter of Hindi language and moaned that young Hindus seemed to know little about their rich cultural heritage. But he was not communal, says Upadhyay. Malaviya constantly underlined the importance of both Urdu and Hindi, and favoured Urdu, Persian, Turkish and English words that were easy on the tongue to be part of Hindi.

Malaviya grew up in a deeply religious family and was heavily influenced by his innately secular grandfather. Malaviya was, according to the author, a "hardcore liberal", one who respected all religions and who asked people not to attack each other`s religion. "We are Indians first and then Hindus." So much so that many Muslim and Christian groups often invited him to preside over their meetings.

Although he was widely considered a Hindu leader, Malaviya spoke virtually the same language as Mahatma Gandhi. "Hindustan is not just the beloved birthplace of Hindus but as much so of Muslims," he said in Lahore. And as communal riots became more frequent, he blamed both communities for the violence and said Hindus and Muslims cannot prove their superiority "by destroying temples and mosques".

Malaviya grew up in poverty. A family friend paid one rupee a month and his mother pawned her jewellery to get him educated. Since the family home was too small and always crowded, he often went to a neighbour`s house to study. The later associate of Gandhi proved a bright kid and became a fiery orator. But he had to skip post-graduation so as to become a teacher to earn for the family.

He later became a hugely successful lawyer but gave it all up to team up with Annie Besant to set up the Banaras Hindu University, which, he was clear would be open to students from all communities. He had his differences with Gandhi on some issues but the two had deep respect for each other. Malaviya did not live to see a free India. Pneumonia killed him in November 1946, at age 86. Malaviya was a patriot who, says the book, "was misunderstood as a narrow minded leader of the Hindus". He was anything but that.



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