Communalism: Indian Independence Movement and India Muslim League

Communalism is a belief that all those who have a common religion also have, as a result, common social, political, cultural and economic interests and identities. It is a notion that religion forms the base of the society and a basic unit of division and that it is religion which determines all other interests of its adherents. Hence communalism is a phenomenon of superimposition of religious beliefs on all other aspects of a man’s life.

Because in pre-independence India, communalism mainly manifested itself in Hindu-Muslim context, hence it is also loosely referred to as Hindu-Muslim problem even though it contains in its gamut all rabble-rousing saber-rattling extremists of all hues. Ingrained in this concept of communalism are three mistaken beliefs 1. interests of the adherents of a religion are the same. 2. interests of the adherents of different religions were different. 3. interests of adherents of different religions were also antagonistic.

Though there is no unanimity amongst scholars on the emergence of communalism, its genesis can be safely seen with the British conquest of India and its impact on socio-politico-economics of its peoples. Communalism flourished in India and reached monstrous proportions in 1947 under British rule. But British did not create communalism. It only took advantage of socio-economic and cultural differences and amplified those differences to serve their political ends.

Hence the British policy of ‘divide and rule’ was planted on an earth made very fertile by those existing differences. Post 1857, British shifted to a policy of ‘concession, counterpoise and coercion’ to accommodate new rising class, to counterbalance strong class and to browbeat recalcitrant class. The revivalistic tendencies of the 19th century, while serving some good interests also contributed to development of schism between these two religions as it projected to different origins, glorious or otherwise, for Hindus and Muslims. This culminated in Md.

Jinnah declaring that Hindus and Muslims were two nations also because they had a different history and often the hero for one was the villain for the other! Certain innocuous political trends, though not communal in themselves, obliquely led to its growth. In this context reference may be made to Sir Syed Ahmad Khan who was not a communal to start with (his political allegiance is even now ambivalent) but his pitch for Muslims, derision for Congress as Hindu body and fear of majority gobbling up the minority led to the growth of communalism.

Along with these, the communal organizations like All India Muslim League (1906) and Hindu Mahasabha (1915) provided the gory feast of hatred and mistrust from which communal forces drew their sustenance and balancing justification for each other. British government was happily monitoring the alarming situation and Curzon responded with Partition of Bengal in 1905 to carve out Hindu and Muslim majority areas to weaken the national movement and fuel Hindu Muslim tension. Coming just after the swadeshi movement, where a lot of Hindu idioms like Ramrajya etc. ad been used to consolidate the masses, this division of Bengal came as a masterstroke and succeeded in further alienating the Muslims from national movement as Swadeshi movement was largely led by Hindu leaders. (it was just incidental that those leaders were Hindu. ) Introduction of separate electorates (grouping of constituencies, voters and elected candidates on the basis of religion- famously known as Morley Minto Reforms of 1909) further contributed to the worsening of the situation.

The weakness of the national movement and the failure of the leadership to correctly assess the situation led to the Congress giving more to the Muslim League under Lucknow pact of 1916 between Congress and Muslim League. This also, implicitly acknowledged that AIML was the lone representative of the Muslims in India. But soon even this pact became redundant as Government of India Act of 1919 (Montagu Chemsford reforms) gave much more to muslims. Going side by side were features like Khilafat movement when national movement and Pan Islamism went hand in hand.

But after the withdrawal of Non Cooperation Movement following the violence at Chauri Chaura, communal violence erupted. Khilafat bodies representing Hindu Muslim unity petered out. Muslim League got revived in 1922-23. As a corollary, Hindu mahasabha got activated. Tablig and Tanzim movement started amongst Muslims in response to Shuddhi and Sangathan movement amongst Hindus. RSS was founded in 1925. Spread of education without growth in jobs worsened situation amongst educated Indians. Khilafat had already brought religion headlong into politics.

In the wake of Simon commission, one more opportunity was given for religios reconciliation. But rejection of truce formula by Hindu Mahasabha along with rejection of Nehru report by Jinnah led to what Jinnah called “parting of ways” and his demands attained more stridency. After the election under the Government of India Act 1935 showed lack of popular Muslim support for jinnah, he went on a massive drive to cultivate mass base whereas Congress disregarded it thinking that it would die its won death.

The result was a catastrophe for the nation and Lahore session in 1940 Jinnah came up with his Pakistan demand. Now we already have seen one partition. And if we donot learn from history, we might have to see it again. It would, hence, be in the fitness of things to try and conquer our feelings of illwill or else as we have seen, our ill-will will provide justification for the counterbalancing hatred. The losers will be our country. And that includes Baba Beakanandaji Maharaj also! Mr. Mulliner