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INDIAN MUSLIMS - Victims of vote-baiting attitude of political parties

Paper No. 767                                                 19/08/2003

by R. Upadhaya 

Communal polararisation of Hindus and Muslims, the two largest religious communities in Indian sub-continent initially started with national renaissance movement particularly after the advent of British rule in this country. Contrary to the pluralistic character of Hindu society, Muslims have all along been a communally organised social group in India. Politicisation of this divide however got momentum during the freedom movement.  After independence, the Muslim masses more and more looked upon as vote banks to be exploited, by the political parties.  Muslim leaders looked at the formation of congress in 1885 not for political rights of Indians as such but more for the Hindu stream. 

They therefore floated a separate organization-the Muslim league in 1906.  Ignoring the efforts of leaders like Tilak, Lajpat Roy, Aurobindo and Vivekanand, who tried their best for Muslims' political integration in Indian society, the common Muslims played into the hands of their community leaders under the patronage of the British. They floated the divisive concept of two-nation theory and kept the Muslim mass away from the mainstream national political current of this land.

Noted socialist leaders like Asok Mehta and Achyut Patvardhan in their book entitled "Communal Triangle in India, 1942, page123) observed, "Religion and politics are inseparably associated in the minds and thoughts of Muslims

Despite the obsession of Muslim leaders the Congress tried its best to associate the Muslims as an integral part of Indian society in their fight against the British.  But the greed for political power among the Muslim elite kept the community segregated from the mainstream politics of the country and they remained obsessed to their conservative Islamic identity. "Maulana Mohammad Ali an otherwise highly educated and distinguished person … found it difficult to adjust his religious beliefs to his role as politician.  So there arose contradictions between his loyalty to Islam and India. This, in spite of the fact that in Islam the love of one's country has been described as half of one's faith. Yet the Maulana had said, Where Islam is concerned, I have nothing to do with India" (Persons, Passions and Politics by Mohammad Yunus, 1980, page 36). 

The reactionary attitude of Muslim leaders that they are first Muslims than Indians adversely affected the political relation between the two communities. They never agreed to join Hindus as equal partners in their fight against the British. They preferred to remain under British rule than under a Hindu-dominated democratic set up. The Congress leaders however, did not try to understand the separatist and aggressive character of these Muslim leaders, who always looked upon Hindus as inferiors. 

Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru were the two giant Congress leaders, whose attitude towards Muslims had a far-reaching effect on Hindu-Muslim relation in this country. Hindu-Muslim unity was one of the planks of Mahatma Gandhi for securing political freedom.  But his endeavour for this unity was more a tactical move to secure political freedom from the British than a social movement for their emotional integration in Indian society.  He tried to bridge the gap of mistrust between the two communities, which had started deepening with the status of separate electorates granted to Muslims under Lucknow Pact in 1916. He forced the Congress to join Muslims in Khilafat movement against the British but failed to get the confidence of the latter after the failure of the movement. M.R.A.Baig, in his book –The Muslim Dilemma, page 60, while commenting upon Tilak and Gandhi said:-

Whereas Tilak was quite clear about his objective and deliberately nourished separate communalism in order to canalise them into a joint freedom struggle, Gandhi, who stood somewhere between the extreme Tilak and moderate Gokhale, was indecisive and experimental, and even resorted to expediency.”

He added:-

“Gandhi tried to bridge the gulf between Hindus and Muslims but never to fill it.”   

Pandit Nehru on the other hand without trying to understand the social reality of this country supported the political design of Mahatma Gandhi for his own political ambition. Without taking any lesson from the religious and cultural persecution of Hindus during Muslim rule these two leaders ignored the aggressive, separatist and bigoted attitude of Muslims during freedom movement. So much so they did not make any sincere political bargain with the Muslims. 

Though, a number of nationalist leaders raised their voice for exchange of population the Congress rejected the idea. India was finally truncated on a communal basis but the Islamic institutions generating religious fundamentalism in the country were allowed to function here. The Muslim League (in form of Indian Union Muslim League) was revived in December 1947. 

Initially, with the strength of their population in new India reduced from twenty-five percent to twelve percent, Muslims became a demoralised social group. Had the then leadership formulated a nation-centric polity based on the cultural tradition of Indian society the Muslims would not have opposed it as they had neither the moral right nor the strength. But instead of transforming the polity of the country into its traditional spirit of democratic pluralism, which is the bedrock of the Indian society, the ruling party treated Muslims as a distinct social group and recognised it as a homogenous political entity.  

Despite the fact that most of the nationalist leaders were against the Muslim policy of Nehru, they succumbed to the pressure of the latter to avoid confrontation within the party. These leaders were forthright in appealing to the Muslims to adapt themselves to the changed condition. Sardar Patel said, "you {Muslims) must change your attitude, adapt yourself to the changed condition …don't pretend to say ' Oh, our affection is great for you'.  We have seen your affection ….Let us forget the affection. Let us face the realities. Ask yourself whether you really want to stand here and cooperate with us or you want to play disruptive tactics …" (The Unfinished Agenda edited by Mushirul Hasan, 2001, page 113). 

Sampurnanand another prominent Congress leader observed, "If God forbid, there was ever a war between India and Pakistan, our worries will be greatly increased for it is not impossible that the sympathies of our Muslim population will veer towards Pakistan" (Ibid. page 108). Govind Ballabh Pant on the other hand, said, "Every Indian Muslim should realise clearly what loyalty to the nation would mean if Pakistan invaded India. ..Each one should search his heart now, and decide whether he should migrate to Pakistan or not." (Ibid. page 109).  Mahabir Tyagi while speaking during a debate on minority rights in Constituent Assembly on May 26, 1949 maintained, " The Muslims have been separate in every matter for a long time past and in a day you can't switch over from communalism to nationalism" (Ibid. page 113). 

Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia, a noted Socialist leader, while addressing a rally at Delhi on October 8, 1947 "had pointedly asked India's Muslims to surrender arms and be loyal citizens of India" (Ibid. page109). Similarly, Ashok Mehta and Achyut Patvardhan in their book entitled 'communal  Triangle in India (1942, Page 123) quoted an the observation of a writer, "Religion and politics are inseparably associated in minds and thoughts of all Muslims. …Their religion includes their politics and their politics are a part of their religion. …Hence Hindu-Muslim unity or nationalism, signifying homogeneity between them in all non-religious matters, is unimaginable". 

B.R.Ambedkar, known as father of Indian constitution had his own assessment about the Muslims. He observed:  "The realist must take note of the fact that while the Musalman accepts the European as his superior, he looks upon the Hindus as his inferior" (Pakistan or the Partition of India by Ambedkar, third edition 1946, page 83). He added:

"Like the Christians and Muslims in the Turkish Empire, the Hindus and Muslims in India have met as enemies in many fields … There seems to be an inherent antagonism between the two, which centuries have not been able to dissolve" (Ibid. page 324).  In the same book he quoted, "Sir Mohammad Iqbal strongly condemned nationalism in Musalmans of any non-Muslim country including Indian Musalmans in the sense of an attachment to the mother country" (Ibid. page 326). 

Observations of the political leaders discussed above shows that except Nehru most of the contemporary political leaders were not happy with the medieval psyche of the Muslims, but they succumbed to the pressure of the first Prime Minister to avoid political confrontation just after Independence. They however cannot escape from the responsibility of the blunder they committed in formulating a policy towards Hindu-Muslim relation in the country by granting special privilege to Muslims under articles 25, 29 and 30 of the Indian Constitution. 

 Being apprehensive of Muslims reaction against secularisation  of Indian Islam, Nehru prevailed upon the Constituent Assembly to provide special privilege to religious minorities. Without infusing a sense of national identity among the second largest majority and inspiring them for joint participation in national re-construction programmes, he safeguarded their rights for special privilege in the name of minority and thereby protected a minor nation within Indian nation.  Giving special privilege to a particular social group on the basis of religion only strengthens its communal integrity, which is the strongest binding force among the Muslims. To support pan-Islamism in one hand and oppose Hinduism on the other cannot be an essence of secularism, which Nehru formulated for Indian polity. He forcefully introduced Hindu Code Bill despite strong opposition from the Hindu leaders but remained skeptical over Uniform Civil Code.  He chose to modernise the Hindus, but pushed the Muslims into the dark-corner of orthodoxy. Isolating the Muslims as a distinct social group on the basis of religion he simply nourished Islamic fundamentalism under his 'secular' establishment. He did not try to take the lesson from the past that the Muslims, who did not support his theory of Indian nationalism before partition - needed a revolutionary change in their mindset in new Indian State.  

Nehru as the first Prime Minister of the country was more concerned for managing power politics than charting out new schemes to resolve bilateral conflicting social issues particularly Hindu-Muslim relation.  He ignored the right noises, mood and logical expectations of the people to resolve the Hindu-Muslim issue on the basis of equality, mutual understanding, mutual accommodation and mutual adjustment. He even ignored the voice of dissent raised by nationalist leaders, who had their reservation against the loyalty of Muslims towards India due to their support to partition of the country. Instead, he kept the apprehension of Muslims alive and intentionally painted the Hindu organisations as communal only to ensure the votes of Muslims for Congress. 

Lending credence to the Islam-centric political claims of Muslims the Congress under Nehruvian establishment nursed a powerful political constituency by encouraging the Muslim fundamentalists for extremist interpretation of Islam and ruled over the country for over forty years. It did not interpret Islam for Hindu-Muslim brotherhood.  Dr. Ambedkar rightly observed, "The brotherhood of Islam is not the brotherhood of man.  It is brotherhood of Muslims for Muslims only"( Pakistan or Partition of India, 1946, page 325). 

Looking after the economic welfare of Muslims equally with their Hindu counterpart is the duty of the Government in a democratic establishment but encouraging the former towards religious bigotry only weakens the nation. For Congress secularism and Islamic fundamentalism were the two sides of the same coin. It did not formulate any policy to mobilise the Muslims for their participation in a 'secular movement' launched by Nehru. Its main endeavour was to build up a vote bank on caste and communal line to ensure Congress-centric power.  In stead of infusing any dream amongst the Muslims for a resurgent new India the Congress conformed them into conservative Islamic identity. This attitude of Congress party converted the Muslims into a political commodity for its sale and purchase in vote-market, which had a far-reaching effect on emotional integration of Muslims in Indian society.  

Abdul Halim Sharar, a writer-essayist of Lucknow had rightly observed:

".. whether we support Congress or not, one very sad thing, which we do notice about its activities is that it seems to be creating more differences between Hindus and Muslims than existed previously" (Nationalism and Communal Politics in India by Mashirul Hasan, 1991, page 25). 

Congress never made any attempt to integrate the Muslims in the cultural tradition of secular Indian society. Even after the decline of its dominance in national political scene, it did not give up its Muslim-baiting politics.  Joining hands with communists and other regional and casteist parties it only aggravated the communal temper in the country for the same Muslim votes, with which it had managed to remain in power for forty years. The attitude of the Congress to Muslim demands, its inclination towards the Muslim communal organisations, its handling of the Muslim issues helped the Muslim elite to play the same game as they did during freedom movement. 

The political balance sheet of India since Independence shows that both the ruling Congress and the opposition barring the Bhartiya Jana Sangh and its subsequent incarnation the Bhartiya Janata Party, which exploited the issue for consolidation of Hindu votes - accepted the legacy of communal divide as bonanza and kept its spirit alive in the country only for their vote-seeking politics. They committed blunder after blunder like providing special privilege to Muslims, compromising with Muslim orthodoxy in Shahbano case and stretching a none-issue like Ayodhya beyond a point, which only aggravated the communal polarisation in the country. They did not formulate any consistent national policy to transform the medieval psyche of the Muslims into the national current of political mainstream but encouraged this demoralised social group to maintain its separate national identity.  By creating fear psychosis of Islamic identity, they promoted the Mullas for leading the Muslim mass in the country and kept them away from any meaningful contribution in national re-construction programmes.  

All said and done the class character and social vision of political parties in India are always guided by self-seeking political ambition. They have been cheering up the Muslims only with sweet smiles without providing them any material benefit.  Advocating for their separate social identity, they only pushed them into the darker corner of Indian society and gradually added their woes. Ironically, they are propagating for Hindu-Muslim co-existence but supporting the separatist agenda of the latter for their votes in election. Unfortunately, no political party ever became sincere for the integration of Muslims in the political current of national mainstream. Like Congress the other political parties also treated the Muslims as a political commodity.  

Without taking note of historical contradictions in Hindu-Muslim relation, the attitude of the political parties towards Muslims since the dawn of Independence revolved around their vote catching manipulation. Transforming the Hindu-Muslim issue more into a political relation than their social integration the political leaders behaved like 'fair weather liberals' who bent with the wind if it suited their political interest.  Divided between 'communalists' and 'secularists' they exploited the Muslims politically by manipulating the issues like cow protection, personal laws, Urdu language and mosque-temple controversy.  

Communists, Socialists and Hindu nationalists are the three major political groups at national level apart from Congress. Among them the attitude of Indian Communists could be judged by a historical fact of October 1920, when M.N.Roy founded the Communist Party of India at Tashkent in Russia with the co-operation of a group of Indian Islamists, who had left India to fight against the British to avenge abolition of Khilafat. This shows that the Communists joined hands with communalists only for building a communist movement in India (Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Manuscript - An Introduction, 2003, page 25). The Communists in post colonial India continue to support the communal cause of Muslims only to win election. Taking advantage of Nehruvian concept of democracy, the Marxist parties in India helped the Congress to deny the legitimacy of Hindu-civilisational ethos. Ignoring the communal horror faced by Indian society on the eve of partition, they allowed the historical wrongs to be repeated and accordingly supported the fundamentalist design of Muslim leaders.  

The Socialists with their various splinter political groups have never been clear on their attitude towards Muslims. Some of the leaders of socialist background like Laloo Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh came to power on the basis of caste politics and managing the support of Muslims by scaring them of Hindu nationalists. Overshadowing every ethical consideration, they swept their ideals into the background for managing power. Using all the techniques in their irrational appeals they have been uniting the Muslims on communal lines only for getting their votes en bloc.  They raised war cry against the ruling party by highlighting the alleged oppression and tyranny on Muslims whenever they were in opposition. For three decades since Independence, they raised such war cry against Congress and formed government after joining hands with Hindu nationalists. Presently they are raising similar war cry jointly with Congress and Communists against the Bhartiya Janata Party by painting it a party of Hindu communalists. They launched aggressive campaign against the RSS and its political outfit the BJP and successfully convinced the Indian Muslims that these are the anti-Muslims Hindu organisations. Similarly, the recurring education for hatred among Indian Muslims against the BJP by the “secular media”/ Urdu-press and spokespersons of the community kept them alienated from the BJP. Demolition of “Babri Mosque” in 1992 was such an event of the contemporary history of Indian politics that Muslims are not ready to forget it. 

The Bhartiya Jana Sangh (now Bhartiya Janata Party) was founded on the concept of Hindu nationalism, which was contrary to the Nehruvian philosophy of composite Indian culture. It always criticised the Congress for it's alleged appeasement policy towards Muslims. It tried to make its stand clear that Muslims were part and parcel of the larger Indian society, which believed in the cultural tradition of the pre-medieval India but for tactical reason to consolidate Hindu votes it  supported the Ram Janmabhumi Temple movement. But once it came to power at centre under the leadership of A.B.Vajpayee with support of some regional parties, its attitude towards Muslims became ambiguous. In its Chennai declaration in December 1999 the BJP also deviated from its known stand of  'justice for all appeasement to none' and tried to woo Muslims on similar line of Congress. For this changed attitude of the BJP there were lot of bickerings within the party. 

In the backdrop of the discussion we find that the attitude of political parties towards Muslims, has never been in national perspective. Even though, a population of over 120 million Muslims is not befitting to the term of minority, there has been a mad rush among the political parties to ensure that their communal character is not disturbed. Without taking any lesson from the past they have been raising irrational noises in favour of the communal interest of Muslims as done by Muslim League during freedom movement and thereby encouraging the Muslims to maintain their communal identity.  

Providing minority status to Muslims with special privilege under constitutional safeguards, exempting them from rationalisation of civil code as done in case of Hindus in 1956, their exemption from the purview of the Child Adoption Bill in December 1980, Keeping Waqf out of the purview of Income Tax in 1980, enactment of the Muslim Women Act in May 1986 against the Supreme Court verdict in Shahbano case and stopping amendments in Waqf law in 1988 are some of the major communal demands of Muslims, which were fulfilled by the political masters of this country particularly under Congress rule. 

The attitude of Muslim leaders in post-colonial India towards their community also remained similar to their counterparts during freedom struggle. If Mohammad Ali Jinnah succeeded in galvanising the Indian Muslims into a political force on communal lines, the leaders of the community after Independence maintained similar attitude for sharing political power. Ironically the Muslim leaders in India never tried to mentally reconcile with their loss of  power after the advent of British rule and later in secular democratic polity after Independence. With their vested political interest they gradually developed Muslim politics by legitimizing the character of the community as a communally organised social group in Hindu-majority Indian society. They caused this irreparable damage to Hindu-Muslim relation despite the deep-rooted intra- sectarian division in Islamic world. The concept of two-nation theory, which was initially conceived in Aligarh Movement of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in second half of nineteenth century - was an outcome of the power-centric greed of the Muslim thinkers.  The theory subsequently expanded by Iqbal and politicised by Jinnah had left a deep imprint on the minds of Indian Muslims.  

India has lived over half a century under secular constitution but its Muslim population remained isolated from its political mainstream. Political parties as well as Muslim leadership used each other for their self-seeking political and communal interest respectively at the cost of common Muslims, who remained educationally and economically backward. The ever-worsening relation between the two communities may continue until and unless Mullas and Dharmacharyas of  these two largest social groups do not come forward to draw a religious road map in the contemporary environment without any political intervention. Need of the hour is to educate the Muslim mass to divorce religion from politics for their meaningful role in a secular polity.  

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