The Specter of Minorityism - Part II
Continued from The Specter of Minorityism
Divide et impera is the name of the game which rulers of the day play to stay entrenched in power. And it is as old as the hills. Roman ruler Caesar played it and so did Napoleon. In our own history Chankya in Arthshastra laid out fairly elaborately how to play it. However, Indian sophisticates steeped in secularism prefer, especially after Sonia Gandhi’s ascendance, to learn it from Machiavelli. Of course none played the game with such consummate skill as the British. After all, they had to hold to an Empire over which even the sun had to keep a 24x7 watch. Isn’t it unfortunate for the Republic that those who took over from the departing rulers played the same game to remain in power?
One of the first rule of this game is to know who has to be divided from whom, and then choose the skilled players to do the job. I referred in the previous essay to Sir Sayyid Ahmed who bent backwards to ingratiate himself and fellow Muslims to the British. He spared no effort to convince the British rulers of the loyalty of their ever-faithful Muslim subjects whom he did everything possible to wean away from the seditious ranks of the nationalist-minded Hindu middle class.
Sir Sayyid is always associated with what is called Aligarh movement which led to the formation of Aligarh Muslim University. His declared aim was to spread Western education among Muslims so that they could get employment in Government service. Whether the University lived up to its role to bring Indian Muslims in the main stream of modern thought is a moot question. It succeeded, however, in becoming a seat of Muslim separatism during the decades leading to the partition of the sub-continent on the basis of two-nation theory. Ever ready to fish in troubled waters, the British rulers suggested the Agha Khan and Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk to start the All India Muslim League, which came into being on December 31, 1906.
The Party had a three-pronged strategy: first, to promote and strengthen the Indian Muslims' loyalty to the British Raj; second, to protect and advance the interests of Her Majesty's loyal Muslim subjects; and third, to prevent the spread of hostility among Muslims towards other communities.
In October 1906 the Agha Khan led on the bidding of his imperial masters a delegation of Muslims to petition the Viceroy, Lord Minto that, if and when the British deemed fit to grant some powers to their loyal Indian subjects, the Muslims of India must get their share commensurate with their numerical strength. In other words, the British should remember on that fateful day – which turned out to be August 15, 1947 – that the Muslims were the rulers of India when the British arrived and they did everything possible to let their well-worn royal mantle automatically slip on the broad British shoulders. Muslims must, therefore, be rewarded for that. Also, their representatives must be chosen by Muslims only. Communal representation, as prayed for by the Muslim League, was incorporated in the Morley-Minto Reforms. The British were, indeed, keen to keep their loyal Muslim subjects out of what Minto called, "the ranks of seditious opposition" that was gathering momentum after the partition of Bengal in 1905.
Once the Muslims were convinced of their separate entity — an entity with a separate religion, a separate language, a separate heritage and separate interests — things moved inexorably towards the partition of India. As VS Naipaul puts it in Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, "The idea of a separate Indian Muslim state, once it had been formulated, couldn't have been resisted". And it was put forward concretely, for the first time, by poet, Sir Mohammed Iqbal (1876-1938). Presiding over the annual meeting of the All India Muslim League in Lahore, he made a plea for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the subcontinent in north-western India. Having washed his hands of the muddy waters of Indian politics, Jinnah (who later championed the cause of the Indian Muslims) was living those days in London.
Till the very end Gandhi, however, went on believing that the idea of Pakistan was merely a political ploy used by Muslim leadership as a bargaining chip. It was his conviction that Muslim masses, like their Hindu counterparts, were with him. He thought it were only the so-called educated Muslim leaders who were interested in raising the demand for a separate homeland. The reality was different.
Finally, Jinnah won and Gandhi lost. The Congress Working Committee in its meeting at Bombay on June 14, 1947 formally accepted the partition of India. Having learnt, at long last, his lesson Maulana Azad too had to woo his new constituency. After the Partition, in the words of DP Mishra, "he had started behaving almost as if there were a separate portfolio (in the first Nehru Cabinet) of the Muslim minority and he held its charge". (The Congress Party has now unabashedly made it public.) And to fortify his new-found convictions he hit the bottle. The only spokesman of Gandhi's ideal of Hindu-Muslim unity was Jawaharlal Nehru whom Patel called "the only nationalist Muslim in India".
Pakistan became an Islamic State. Having driven out the minorities, it has no minority problem. Indian polity, on the other hand, was, and still is, saddled with the long-lasting implications of the Muslim Question that defies easy solution. As Gandhi's disciple and a leader of independence movement in his own right, KM Munshi summed up:
... we have been brought up on a slogan: naturalness and inevitableness of Hindu-Muslim unity. That this was wishful thinking has been proved — Noakhali, Bihar and Rawalpindi in a hundred villages by tens of thousands of men, women and children fleeing for safety. The Muslims — as hard realists — knew and exploited the hollowness of the slogans; the Hindu cherishes it still. Hindus love words and ideals.
Pakistan is built on the foundation of hatred. It, therefore, augurs well neither for its future nor for the much-lamented Indo-Pak relations. In a chapter entitled "Karachi Phantasmagoria", Naipaul records in Among the Believers, a conversation with a Pakistani by the name Ahmed who tells him:
I will tell you the story of this country in two sentences. In the first quarter of this century the Hindus of India decided that everything that was wrong had to do with foreigners and foreign influence. Then in the second quarter the Muslims of India woke up. They had a double hate. They hated the foreigners and they hated the Hindus. So the country of Pakistan was built on hate and nothing else. (Italics added)
For Gandhi, Hindu-Muslim unity was an article of faith. He believed that hatred should be returned by love and, ultimately, it can be converted into goodwill. Theoretically, it’s laudable indeed. Practically, it never works. In case of a Muslim, the problem has an altogether different dimension. As an individual, a Muslim behaves — especially if he's educated — extremely politely. The well-bred and well-heeled can be charming and sophisticated. But, somehow, acting in a group their behavior and outlook undergoes a metamorphosis. Howsoever rational as an individual a Muslim might be, when engulfed in the Islam-in-danger frenzy, he is a completely different person. In such a situation, someone who will think a hundred times to be impolite, acts most violently without the slightest qualm of conscience or the remotest thought of decorum.
Everything considered, there are two opposing views that have determined the long-drawn controversy in our society about the role and place of Muslims in our polity. And these views represent two extremes on the spectrum. One view is that Muslims can't live with non-Muslims and history is a witness to that. Poet Mohammed Iqbal more than anyone else articulated this belief. And this provides the raison d'etre of the RSS stand on the Muslim question.
The other view — a view that Gandhi passionately believed in — is that despite historical aberrations there is no valid reason why the two communities cannot live together. Historically, several examples can be cited to substantiate such a view. After the proselytizing zeal of Islam exhausted itself, even the fanatical rulers of the Sultanate period realized the futility of converting the whole of India — i.e. all the Hindus — to Islam. After the failure of Aurangzeb's last-ditch bid to convert the Hindus to Islam, the eighteenth century Indian society evolved a modus operandi for both the communities to live together on terms of amity. This lasted almost till the middle of the nineteenth century. Whoever ruled the land, people lived together, practicing their religious faiths in peace. It was given to Ramakrishna in the second half of the nineteenth century to expatiate on the basic oneness of the religions of the world. The true religious experience — irrespective of the faith one followed — led to the same spiritual enlightenment. People of my generation will bear out how Hindus and Muslims lived together not only peacefully but on fairly amicable terms in rural India in the 1930s and 1940s till the virus of communalism spread to play havoc in 1946-47 and thereafter.
The most notable example of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs being welded together into a homogeneous entity was Netaji Subhas Bose's Indian National Army. With the divisive British policies kept at bay, Bose could bring men of all communities together to fight, shoulder to shoulder, a common enemy, viz., their erstwhile dividers.
If there is one thing that these examples prove, it is that the British were responsible for sowing the seeds of discord and reap a bumper crop of exploitation. It is they who had, to begin with, got the Muslim League created and till the end — behind the smokescreen of Mountbatten's declared sympathy for a united India — were desperately keen to have the subcontinent divided on communal lines so that both the warring dominions remained, indirectly, under their politico-military influence. Gandhi was, finally, defeated not by Jinnah but by the master manipulators, the perfidious British, who had decided to divide the country and then quit in response to Gandhi's clarion call of Quit India?
On August 15, 1947, the Muslims of India found themselves facing the same traumatic change which confronted their forbears ninety years ago at the time of the 1857 Revolt. Radical transformation in the political order, amidst bloodshed and carnage, was accompanied with threat to their old ways of living. They could not perceive its dimensions. The new reality shook them. They feared the worst. As in 1857, their loyalty to the new state was suspect. They felt helpless and forlorn as they experienced distrust and hostile discrimination in their daily lives.
Mohammed Riza Khan, a prominent Muslim Leaguer of his day, ruefully recorded this dilemma of Muslims in his memoirs:
About the end of July 1947, the Muslim members of the Central Legislative Assembly met Mr Jinnah who was also the leader of the Muslim League Party in the Assembly. It was for the last time that they met him, for he was then arranging to leave for Karachi. It was their farewell meeting. Many members expressed concern about the future of the Muslims in India. When they sought his advice about their future, and that of the Muslim League, he refrained from saying anything specific. He, however, told them they had enough experience under his leadership, and they would have to evolve their own policy and programme. They had to decide things for themselves in the new set-up, and in the changed circumstances. But he made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that they should be loyal to India, and that they should not seek to ride two horses. It has, therefore, to be said in clearest terms that Mr Jinnah did not give any positive directions or instructions to Indian Muslims as to their future. (Italics added.) (Quoted in Muslims in India: A Documentary Record. P 3)
Having got his pound of flesh, Jinnah left the Indian Muslims to their own fate. What further complicated their problems was the duplicity of their leadership, compounded by their inglorious heritage.
Before leaving India, Jinnah had hand-picked Khaliquzzaman to lead Muslims of India. His choice was in preference to the independent-minded and statesmanlike Nawab Mohammed Ismail of Meerut. Khaliquzzaman, you may recall, seconded the motion to adopt India Independence bill which Jawaharlal Nehru had moved in Parliament. A few days thereafter, he quietly left for Pakistan to settle down in the land of the pure. His example was soon followed by other prominent Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly, namely, Z.H. Lari, Husain Imam, and Abdul Sattar Sait. Lastly, the craftiest of the lot, H S Suhrawardy too left India. (His sprawling ancestral property is still occupied by the remnant of his big family in Suhrawardy Avenue in the Park Circus area of Kolkata.) All this goes to underline the insincerity of the vociferous Muslim claims of loyalty to the country.
We had after Independence the opportunity to finally bury the Hindu-Muslim divide and solve the so-called Muslim Question while adopting our Constitution. The Muslims who didn’t opt to go to Pakistan – voluntarily or involuntarily – had no right to claim special status for themselves. There were to be in the Republic only Indian citizens and not a Hindu majority and a Muslim minority, and the latter to be treated on a special footing.
The problem was put across bluntly by M.C. Chagla when as High Commissioner to Britain; he contributed to The Times on Republic Day 1962 an article, not on the country’s achievements, but the Muslim Question that has bedeviled the polity. Entitled “Muslims Stand Apart”, the article began with the question; ‘Is there a Muslim problem in India?’ and proceeded to answer: ‘If there is a problem it is an emotional one, and it exists largely because of the unwillingness of the Muslims to integrate themselves into the country, and then desire to consider themselves as separate and even to emphasize this separation (sic). He proceeded to lament: ‘They still talk of minorities, of minority rights, and even the most nationalist among them can foregather in a Muslim Convention to give expression to their fears and suspicions’ (italics added throughout).
Chagla’s recipe was breathtaking: “The very first thing the Muslims have to do is to forget that they are religious minority and to give up claiming that they should be considered separately outside the context of a completely Indian setting.”
That the Muslims should continue to have their Personal Muslim Law was a preposterous idea of Nehru who did not have the courage of convictions as nation-builder. Or worse, he had the imperial instinct of divide and rule by assuring Muslims special status as an earmarked minority and using them as an assured vote bank.
Like large minority groups in democracies elsewhere, Muslims served as a crucial voting bloc in regional and national elections. The divisions among Hindu voters on several scores, especially in southern states made Muslims a pivotal swing group in the South. For decades, India’s National Congress party, running on so-called secular platform, won elections with the help of the Muslim vote. But waning Muslim support for the party, along with a plethora of choices (there are over 150 political parties in India) contributed to the party’s loss of power to the BJP in the 1990s.
While we talk of Muslim minority let us remember that Muslims despite having conquered parts of India and ruled over them, always were a minority in India. At the time of Partition, Muslims constituted about thirty per cent of the total population. And it was this minority which during the Muslim rule till the eclipse of the Mughal Empire, did everything to humiliate the majority. Can the Hindus forget that their forbears had to pay a special tax called jazia to practice their religion? Indian Muslims were not like the Black minority brazenly deprived and ill treated by the whites for two centuries. It was, on the contrary, a minority which had ill treated the majority and not the other way round.
It is the good fortune of Indian Muslims that the country adopted a democratic constitution that guarantees certain fundamental rights, including equality to all its citizens. That assures Indian Muslims rights that their co-religionists nowhere else in the world can dream of. The head of Indian Intelligence and the Foreign Minister of the country, today, are Muslims. There have been three Muslim Presidents of the Republic. Can you ever imagine this to happen in a Muslim-majority State? Every five years Muslims in India alone have the right to exercise their right to decide the government of the country. Can their co-religionists can dream of that anywhere in the Muslim world?
The Muslim Question will finally go only after we adopt one uniform civil code – which we have conveniently tucked away in the Directive Principles of State Policy – that BJP adopted as its agenda in the 1990’s el but later jettisoned to form a coalition. If the Party had the patience to wait till others join them on their real secular term rather than sacrifice their principled stand for political expediency it would have made a significant dent in solving a problem that has defied us for decades.