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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 41

Dissecting Anew Hindu-Muslim Ties And Partition

Wednesday 1 October 2008, by Amarendra Nath Banerjee



Hindu-Muslim relations are very much complicated—the knottiest problem in Indian history. Since the advent of Islam in the Indian subcontinent more than millennium years ago, India faced a powerful challenge from a militant and vigorous religion with an egalitarian appeal. India failed to stem the tide of the rapid spread of Islam due to internal squabbles and degeneration of society. In the caste-ridden Brahminical society the lower castes were denied proper human rights. They were not only socially degraded but also economically exploited. It is no wonder, therefore, that millions of them welcomed Islam as a religion of deliverance and to gain human dignity. The theory of social liberation seems to be right for substantial reasons in Islamisation in India. Swami Vivekananda had rightly said:

The Mohammedan conquest of India came as a salvation to the downtrodden, to the poor. That is why one-fifth of our people have become Mohammedan. It was not the sword that did it all. It would be the height of madness to think that it was all the work of sword and fire.

But it does not mean force was not at all applied in Islamisation. However, the major role was played by the Sufi saints and Pirs in it. Nevertheless, wholesale Islamisation did not take place in India like Afghanistan, Persia and other countries perhaps due to the inherent strength of the Hindu philosophy in spite of its many drawbacks.

The advent of Islam produced tremendous reactions in India. Hinduism wanted to protect itself by going into its inner shells with stricter caste rules and regulations. But this hardly helped in preventing the egalitarian influence of Islam on Hindu society. The Bhakti movement was its product.

But living hundreds of years side by side, eating the same grain from the common fields, drinking the same water and inhaling the same air, the Hindu and Muslim societies and religions underwent profound changes. Islam of India today is not the same as what it was when it arrived. Hinduism also could not remain the same. Both the religions had influenced each other. There was some kind of assimilation between the two in spite of frequent clashes and mutual hostility. But unfortunately a composite Indian nation has failed to emerge assimilating the two major religions in India due to various factors which led ultimately to the partition of the country.

Dr Panchanan Saha’s new book, Hindu-Muslim Relations in a New Perspective, is projected on a large canvas from the advent of Islam—gradual Islamisation and its causes, conflict and assimilation, sprouting of the seeds of separation by the conscious British policy of divide-and-rule, Hindu-Muslim revivalism and the short-sighted policy of the Indian political leaders which ultimately led to the communal carnage and partition of India.

In the chapter, “Conflict and Assimilation”, Saha emphasises the role played by the Sufi saints, Bhakti movement as well as attempts of the Mughal Emperor, Akbar, and his great grandson, Dara Shiko, to help the process of reconciliation between the Hindus and Muslims. But unfortunately this process was not properly taken forward due to various factors, particularly the emergence of Wahhabism and Hindu-Muslim revivalism.

IN his analysis Saha has been seldom swayed by emotion; rather he has remained mostly faithful to rationalism. He holds that the causes of spread of separatism among the Muslims of India are to be found in the refusal of the already matured Hindu bourgeoisie in sharing power with the newly emerging Muslim bourgeoisie. Muslim bourgeoisie developed later due to their empathy to British rule and Western education.

Saha has sympathetically discussed the Fourteen Points of M.A. Jinnah in this direction and the rejection of the Congress to share power with the Muslim League in Uttar Pradesh after the elections of 1936 and to collaborate with Fazlul Haque in Bengal for forming a secular Ministry. It seems class interest played a more decisivie role in making this choice than the greater interest of the country.

There is a simplistic explanation of Hindu-Muslim cleavage by putting the sole responsibility on the British policy of divide-and-rule. But Saha appears to be correct when he cites Tagore—“The Satan cannot enter unless there is a hole to get in.” Tagore believed that division among Hindus and Muslims existed and the cunning British rulers utilised it to prolong their rule.

In his last chapter, entitled “Was Partition Inescapable?”, Saha has not traversed the beaten tracks of numerous scholars of partition. He has used substantial Pakistani literature on partition to prove his point.

There is an enigma why Gandhiji, in spite of opposing partition on the basis of religion tooth and nail, ultimately accepted it as a fait accompli. The Frontier Gandhi, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, lamented that they were thrown to the wolves. What went on behind-the-scenes is a mystery to this day.

It seems that the Hindu big bourgeoisie wanted an unchallenged market even in partitioned India. They seemed to think that a truncated Pakistan would not be viable. Whatever the reasons, it is evident that had the Indian leaders shown true sagacity and leadership free of class or emotional bias, there might have been a Confederation of India based on the Cabinet Mission’s Plan which the Congress initially accepted but subsequently refused to do so for reasons that are unknown. Hence it is not inappropriate to quote The Times of India:

It is legitimate to enquire who is responsible for this debacle. …. the parties concerned, the Congress, the British Government and the Muslim League, are all more or less responsible, although on the facts set forth, the Congress should get the first prize.

One could have expected that such a serious book should have remained free from printing and editorial errors.

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