The idea of non-violence as an alternative to armed uprising which formed the core of Mahatma Gandhi’s movement had a China connection as hundreds of Chinese took part in his first peaceful protest in Zanzibar in 1906, a noted Indian historian said.
Highlighting this much-forgotten Chinese link to the birth of Gandhi’s non-violent movement, veteran Indian historian Ramachandra Guha told a meeting here that 1,100 Chinese along with 8,000 Indians took part in the agitation against Asiatic ordinance of the then Zanzibar racist government in East Africa in 1906.
This was Gandhi’s first movement after the idea of non-violence as an alternative to armed violence to bring about political change was formulated on September 11, 1906 at Johannesburg in South Africa, which Guha described as the world’s first 9/11.
The Asiatic ordinance barred Asians from owning property, made it mandatory to carry identity cards and imposed restrictions on their trade bringing about system of exclusion.
Subsequently the first non-violent movement was launched by Gandhi in Zanzibar when the racist government in which Chinese took part shoulder-to-shoulder along with Indians, Mr. Guha said at a literary festival.
Significantly, the first truce agreement with Zanzibar government was signed by Gandhi, Thambi Naidoo, on behalf of Tamils and Leon Qin who represented the Chinese.
Piqued by Indian-Chinese solidarity in 1906-1909 the Zanzibar government brought about more stringent ordinance resulting in the deportation of both Indians and Chinese to Madras, now Chennai, he said.
After the deportation Qin talked about how their movement in Zanzibar was given birth to Asian solidarity movement, Mr. Guha said referring to a newspaper clipping of that time.
Gandhi subsequently talked about his first experience with non-violent movement and his discussions with Qin in jail.
After that Gandhi moved to India and plunged into Indian independent struggle, while the India-China solidarity was subsequently promoted by Rabindranath Tagore and Jawaharlal Nehru, he said.
Gandhi is the most remarkable individual produced by India since Buddha and in the birth of most important potent moral and political ideas, the Chinese played a contributory role in it, Guha said.
The meeting addressed by Guha in which Indian Ambassador S Jaishankar took part was held at a restaurant here as part of a literary festival in which several authors and intellectuals are taking part.
In his over hour—long interaction, Guha also spoke about how Gandhi had predicted the dangers of industrialisation way back in 1928 when he wrote that if India with its large population, (300 million at that time) takes to industrialisation, it could strip the world bare like locusts.
It is turning out to be the case about high industrialisation in China which is experiencing dangerous environmental problems, proving Gandhi’s words prophetic, he said.
About India-China rivalry, Mr. Guha who declined to talk much about China and its problems said like in sports there are no permanent winners among nations.
“Only one lesson of history, no permanent winners and losers,” he said adding that India and China can learn from each other.
Mr. Guha said India must not be a superpower though it deserves to be member of the United Nations Security Council, as a permanent member.
“India must play a role commensurate with its standing. Superpower is akin to race,” he said adding that it should strive to meet the founding principles.
About Indian successes, Mr. Guha said India was fairly successful in achieving linguistic diversity while moderately successful in dealing with religious diversity.
India’s success in dealing with linguistic diversity as part of nation building could be model of US in dealing with its Spanish-speaking population, as well as French in dealing with Asians and even Pakistan which has its own linguistic plurality, he said.
On the religious diversity he said, India had mixed successes, adding that the political class today was not as committed as during the time of Nehru.
But at the same time, the Mumbai terrorist attacks, which were primarily aimed by Pakistani terrorist groups to provoke Hindu anger against Muslims failed.
“Linguistic diversity, a sterling success and religious diversity, mixed record,” Mr. Guha said.