Culture, Secularism and Diversity


We are assembled here to confer the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award upon one of the remarkable personalities of our time.  Shri Mohammad Yunus, as Rajiv Gandhi once said, was "an active and enthusiastic participant" in the nationalist movement and one who "personally experienced its thrill".  He is to-day a link between our present and the glorious days of our freedom struggle, and in his mellow ripeness he has nursed a spark of what Nehru was fond of calling the Indian revolution.  He is also a link between present-day India and its undivided past reminding us of the heroic sacrifices that the brave people of the North West Frontier under the inspiring leadership of Khan Abdul Ghaffer Khan made for the independence of the country.  As a young man Shri Yunus was an impetuous but disciplined soldier of the one hundred thousand strong force -- the Khudai Khidmatgars -- that the Frontier Gandhi organized as a non-violent volunteer army in the struggle for freedom.

The struggles and sacrifices of the people of the North West Frontier is perhaps not sufficiently well known to the younger generation of Indians.  The Rajiv Gandhi Award is as much a tribute to Shri Mohammad Yunus as to those freedom-fighters of the North West Frontier.  As Nehru wrote in his foreword to Shri Yunus's book "The Frontier Speaks",  ". . . . . it is good to think of our comrades of the Frontier, brave men and true, who have marched often through the valley of the shadow."

From the beginning, Shri Yunus was not just a brave young man of the Frontier, but one whose heart throbbed for India and who loved the Indian people.  He wrote about his entry into politics: "I jumped into the political arena, and came under the influence of Jawaharlalji.  I travelled with him all over the country, met the young and the old, and became acquainted with people like Maulana Azad, Zakir Sahib, Prof. Mujeeb, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, a host of colourful characters . . . . .  I was involved with varied aspects of politics, whether it was Gandhiji's Ashram or Gurudev's Santiniketan, the hustle and bustle of Anand Bhawan, or a wistful village night ! "   When Nehru asked him about his zest for travel he replied: "I may as well see my country for which I may be called upon to die one day."  It was in this spirit he went to jail during the Quit India movement, and left his blood relatives and friends and comrades in the Frontier and cast his destiny with India after partition.

Shri Mohammad Yunus cherished the ideals for which Rajiv Gandhi dedicated and, ultimately, sacrificed his life.  Rajivji was one who loved India, and the people of India and proud of being an Indian.  He fought against the irrational forces of communalism and violence and worked for harmony in society and the emotional integration of the country.   He once said that the status of becoming an Indian does not come by getting one's name registered in the electoral rolls or by possessing a passport.  It came rather from the way one felt, one accepted its diversities and differences with understanding, one loved the people whether they are from north, south, west, east or the north-east or the north-west, and one felt pride in our culture and traditions.  Indeed Sadbhavana is the essence of Indianness.  Mohammad Yunus is a fine example of Sadbhavana as conceived by Rajivji.

It has been the privilege of Shri Mohammad Yunus to participate in the drama of India's development as he did in the saga of India's freedom struggle.  The ardent Khudai Khidmatgar  -- the servant of God -- became a servant of the people.  In 1947  Jawaharlal Nehru sent him to Indonesia as India's representative where he played a role not only as a diplomat but as political activist earning the trust and affection of the heroes of Indonesian freedom struggle like Sukarno, Hatta and Sutan Shariyar.  Next he was sent as India's representative to Turkey.  One of his brothers, Abdur Rahman, had distinguished himself as the Ambassador of Turkey to Afghanistan and was buried in Istanbul.  Shri Yunus recalls how when he arrived in Istanbul he was met by a former Prime Minister of Turkey and taken to the tomb of his brother.  Indeed the diplomatic career of Mohammad Yunus was a remarkable one. 

He was an unorthodox diplomat of new India marked by the spirit and attitude of Sadbhavana.  While in Turkey, he records: "At times the ordinary peasants were surprised to find a diplomat in what to them was a prestigious flag-flying car ready to sleep in a village school and be content with the food they offered."   He had the privilege of opening several of India's first diplomatic missions, and he participated in the historic Asian Realations Conference in Delhi, the Asian African Conference in Bandung, and in Nonalignment Conferences at the instance of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.  At all these he was an unorthodox diplomat representing the spirit of resurgent India that had emerged from the anti-colonial revolution.

Indeed Shri Yunus retained his broad humanity and the common touch in his public career after independence as he did during the period of the freedom struggle.  He was bitterly opposed to communalism be it of the majority or the minority and he worked for a secular democratic society in India infused with the spirit of harmony, equality and fraternity.  And in the spirit of Sadbhavana and as a true Muslim he ardently wished that there be harmony and brotherhood among the communities in India, and peace and friendship in the Indian sub-continent, especially between India and Pakistan. 

He wrote: "I pray for the day when the two nations step together on the path of friendship and begin to share joys and sorrows of one another.  There are thousands like me who hope and pray that we develop a new relationship, where we can co-exist in mutual love, peace and harmony."  This is the outpouring from the heart of the deep feeling of Sadbhavana of a great Indian who has sacrificed so much for the freedom of the country and who yearns so passionately for peace and harmony.  It is such a personality on whom we are confering to-day the Rajiv Gandhi National Sadbhavana Award.  I have great pleasure to welcome to our midst, on behalf of you all, Shri Mohammad Yunus.

Thank you

Jai Hind