• Omer Haq


We continue to dive into the history of communalism in India and how it shaped the nation's social character. In the struggle of bringing Hindus and Muslims together, nationalist leaders gave way to communalism to spread its roots. Thus failing to bring the communal political ideology in accommodation with the secular political ideology. This blog post also traces how the communal question was being attempted to tackle by the existing Nationalist forces

The positive elements in the Congress and within the Muslim league allowed for a reconciliation between the two major parties.

An important part of this broad political unity between the Congress and the League was of Lokmanya Tilak and Jinnah.

The two organizations organized a joint season at Lucknow at the end of 1916, signing a pact that came to be known as the Lucknow Pact. The pact aimed at establishing and putting forward a common political demand in front of the government. The demands included a demand for self-government, the pact, however, accepted separate Electorates and a system of weightage and reservation of seats for minorities.

The signing of the Lucknow Pact

Although the pact was a step forward, it was also a step back. By agreeing to the pact the Congress had now recognised communal politics. In the following years after World War I, Hindu-Muslim unity and the Nationalist movement took leaps forward. The united agitation against the Rowlatt Act, the Khilafat Movement and Non-Corporation movement had now led to the political unity between Hindus and Muslims like never before. Sadly, scenes like these were never seen again. Swami Shradhanand, a staunch Arya Samajist, was asked by Muslims to preach from the pulpit of the Jama Masjid at Delhi, while Dr Saifuddin Kitchlu, a Muslim, was given the keys to the Golden Temple, the Sikh shrine at Amritsar.

The entire country resounded to the cry of ‘Hindu-Muslim ki Jai.’

There was a major metamorphosis in the political scene of India. The communal leaders of the Muslim League began to disassociate themselves from the League. The League was now overshadowed by the Khilafat committee, which was intensely anti-imperialist and began pulling Muslims into the active and conscious political arena. Although Khilafat was a religious issue affecting Muslims only- the national movement took it up, just as it had the Akali movement which affected the Sikhs only or the Anti-Untouchability Movement even if it only affected the Hindus. A major drawback was, however, that the nationalist leaders failed to raise the political consciousness of the Muslims to the secular plain. You can head to our 18th episode - the Khilafat Movement to know more about how the Khilafat Movement spanned and how it lead to the extensive and gradual rise of Muslim nationalism in India, culminating in the creation of a separate Muslim Pakistan.

The Non-cooperation movement in 1922

The Non-co-operation movement was withdrawn in February of 1922. Post-1922 years witnessed the horrifying rise of communalism again, with the nation plunging into riots repeatedly. The upper class became open with their communalism and the old organisation was revived with new ones popping out. The Muslim League was active once again and the nationalist elements were washed away. The Hindu Mahasabha was revived in 1923 and openly began to cater to anti-Muslim sentiments. Its proclaimed objective became ‘the maintenance, protection and promotion of Hindu race, Hindu culture and Hindu civilization for the advancement of Hindu Rashtra.’ Working with the psychology of fear, the League and the Mahasabha instilled among its followers a fear of suppression and domination by the other. In the years that followed, Hindus started the movements of Sanghatan and Shuddi whereas Muslims started Tabligh and Tanzeem working towards communal consolidation. A large number of nationalists were not able to withstand communal pressure and began to adopt communal or semi-communal positions. The nationalist leadership made strenuous efforts to oppose communal political forces but was not able to evolve an effective line of action.

A strategy the leaders adopted was to strike unity between the top brass of these communal groups through negotiations, arriving at a compromise.

One of the most well-known efforts was made in 1928, as an answer to the Simon Commission. The nationalist leaders organised several All India conferences to settle the communal disputes and draw up an agreed constitution for India.

A large number of Muslim communal leaders met at Delhi in December 1927 and evolved four basic demands known as the Delhi Proposals. These proposals were:

(1) Sindh should be made a separate province; (2) the North-West Frontier Province should be treated constitutionally on the same footing as other provinces;

(3) Muslims should have 33 1/3 per cent representation in the central legislature;

(4) in Punjab and Bengal, the proportion of representation should be by the population, thus guaranteeing a Muslim majority, and in other provinces, where Muslims were a minority, the existing reservation of seats for Muslims should continue.

Participants of the conference held in Delhi, 1927

Congress proposed what was known as the Nehru Report. The Report recommended that India should be a federation of states drawn on linguistic divisions with provincial autonomy. It also mentioned that seats would be reserved for religious minorities in proportion to their population

The Report was put up in a joint all part conference at Calcutta in December of 1928. The Report was not unanimously accepted by all parties. Jinnah moved three amendments all of which were accepted. Eventually, it all failed as Jinnah along with other Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communalists decided to produce counter demands in a document that came to be known as Jinnah’s Fourteen Points.

Why this effort failed: A. Any negotiations the congress held with the communalist leaders meant that it was recognising that particular party represents the interests of its community. B. By negotiating with communal leaders, Congress legitimized their politics and made them respectable C. It also weakened the Congress’ right, will to carry on a hard political-ideological campaign against communal parties and individuals.

Real answers as suggested by Bipin Chandra to this intense communal question could have been;

A. Stand opposing communalism in all the sectors i.e; ideological, cultural, social and political by figuring out its scientific understanding, social and ideological roots and reasons for its intense growth.

B. This ideological understanding of the cause should have been initiated by looking at the cause of peasants' class struggle which was given a communal angle.

C. This was not done by leaders like Gandhi, Nehru and Naoroji who were initially emphasising the idea of secularism.

D. Another measure could have been by taking the rational and analytical outlook as opposed to communalism which was based on emotions and bias more.

Even though Gandhi and INC did make Hindu-Muslim unity one of their motives in the nationalist struggle but they failed to go into its deeper causes.

If looked upon clearly, there were many weaknesses of the idea of communalism, like;

A. While communal parties seemed very active in doing their roles during the 1920s communalism was still not a very widely spreading phenomenon and communal riots were very much limited to the specific cities if compared with the size of the country.

B. Hindu communalism had very little support amongst the general masses.

C. Even Muslim communalism had a narrow social base.

D. Nationalist Muslims who were a part of the congress represented a relatively larger political force.

E. The Youth movements were largely secular.

F. The Simon Commission saw a major divide within the communal parties, where some supported it while others stood against it.

Even these anti-Simon commission and second civil disobedience movements saw huge support from the entire country pushing the communal angle into the backseat.

Following this for the first time, the national movement saw massive support from the NWF province and Kashmir, the areas of the Muslim majority. Led by the Congress, Jamait-ul-Ulama-i-Hind, Khudai Khidmatgars and other organizations, thousands of Muslims went to jail.

Although the communal parties tried hard during the Round table conference of the 1930s to defend their communal interests by joining hands with British ruling classes yet their base stayed relatively weak in the face of nationalist struggle till 1937.

The second Round Table conference of the 1930s

But their collapsing position saw a new situation when the British government announced the Communal Awards which accepted nearly all the Muslim communal demands. This award had all the demands of the Delhi proposal of 1927 and Jinnah's fourteen points of 1929. This was done by the colonial rulers with the motive of reviving the declining Muslim communalism.

This new situation presented a rather massive way ahead.

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