Origin and Growth of Communalism in British India,

(a) Hindu Revivalism

Some of the early nationalists believed that nationalism could be built only on a Hindu foundation. As pointed out by Sarvepalli Gopal, Hindu, revivalism found its voice in politics through the Arya Samaj, founded in 1875, with its assertion of superior qualities of Hinduism. The organization of cow protection leagues in large parts of North India in the late nineteenth century gave a fillip to Hindu communalism. The effort of organizations such as Arya Samaj was strengthened by the T heosophical movement led by Annie Besant from 1891. Besant identified herself with Hindu nationalists and expressed her ideas as follows: ‘The Indian work is first of all the revival, strengthening and uplifting of ancient religions. This has brought with it a new selfrespect, a pride in the past, a belief in the future and as an inevitable result, a great wave of patriotic life, the beginning of the rebuilding of a nation.’

(b) Rise of Muslims

Consciousness Islam on the other hand, to quote Sarvepalli Gopal again, was securing its articulation through the Aligarh movement. The British, by building the Aligarh college and backing Syed Ahmed Khan, had assisted the birth of a Muslim national party and Muslim political ideology. T he Wahabi movement had also created cleavage in Hindu–Muslim relations. The Wahabis wanted to take Islam to its pristine purity and to end the superstition which according to them had sapped its vitality. From the Wahabis to the Khilafatists, grassroots activism played a significant role in the politicization of Muslims.Muslim consciousness developed due to other reasons as well. The Bengal government’s order in the 1870s to replace Urdu by Hindi, and the Perso-Arabic script by Nagri script in the courts and offices created apprehension in the minds of the Muslim professional group.

(c) Divide and Rule

Policy of British T he object of the British was to check the development of a composite Indian identity, and to forestall attempts at consolidation and unification of Indians. T he British imperialism followed the policy of Divide and Rule. Bombay Governor Elphinstone wrote, ‘Divide at Impera was the old Roman motto and it should be ours.’ The British government lent legitimacy and prestige to communal ideology and politics despite the governance challenge that communal riots posed. The consequence of such sectarian approaches by all parties led to increasing animosity between Hindus and Muslims in northern India which had its fall out in other parts of India as well. The last decades of the nineteenth century was marked by a number of Hindu–Muslim riots. Even in south India, there was a major riot in Salem in July–August 1882. Elphinstone

(d) Cow Slaughter and Communal

Riots In July 1893, a dispute arose between Hindus and Muslims in Azamgarh district in the North-West Provinces. The riots that followed spread over a vast area, encompassing the United Provinces, Bihar, Gujarat and Bombay, claiming over a hundred lives. Gaurakshini Sabhas (cow protection leagues) were becoming more militant and there were reports of forcible interference with the sale or slaughter of cows. T he riots over cow-slaughter became frequent after 1893 and 15 major riots of this type broke out in the Punjab alone between 1883 and 1891. Cow protectionists in the Punjab, the activities of Gaurakshini Sabhas in the Central Provinces, the campaigners for the recognition of Devanagiri as official language in courts and government offices in the United Provinces were also involved in the Congress organization.

(e) Failure of Congress and Government to combat Communalism

T he Indian National Congress, despite its secular and nationalist claims was unable to prevent the involvement of its members in the activities of Hindu communal organisations. T his was a major factor in the Muslim distrust of the Congress. Congressmen’s participation in shuddhi and sangathan campaigns of the Arya Samaj further estranged Hindus and Muslims. The British government could have adopted measures to outlaw Cow Protection Associations or to arrest the rank communalists who were causing distrust among the people. But the British deliberately dodged the issue, as the identification of the Congressmen with revivalist and communal causes provoked anti-Congress feelings among Muslims in North India. The Secretary of State Hamilton considered the development a happy augury for he was earlier worried over the growing solidarity among various social and religious groups in the context of the foundation of the Indian National Congress. ‘One hardly knows what to wish for, unity of ideas and action would be very dangerous politically; divergence of ideas and collision are administratively troublesome. Of the two, the latter is the least risky, though it throws anxiety and responsibility upon those on the spot where the friction exists.’- Hamilton to the Viceroy Elgin

(f) Moves of the Congress

T hough many congress men had involvement in Hindu organisations like Arya Samaj, the Congress leadership was secular. When there was an attempt by some Congressmen to pass a resolution in the third session of the Indian National Congress, making cow killing a penal offence, the Congress leadership refused to entertain it. The Congress subsequently resolved that if any resolution affecting a particular class or community was objected to by the delegates representing that community, even though they were in minority, it would not be considered by the Congress.

(g) Role of Syed Ahmed Khan

Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh movement was initially supportive of the Congress. Soon he was converted to the thinking that in a country governed by Hindus, Muslims would be helpless, as they would be in a minority. However, there were Muslim leaders like Badruddin Tyabji, Rahmatullah Sayani in Mumbai, Nawab Syed Mohammed Bahadur in Chennai and A. Rasul in Bengal who supported the Congress. But the majority of Muslims in north India toed the line of Syed Ahmed, and preferred to support the British. The introduction of representative institutions and of open competition to government posts gave rise to apprehensions amongst Muslims and prompted Syed and his followers to work for close collaboration with the Government. By collaborating with the Government Syed Ahmed Khan hoped to secure for his community a bigger share than otherwise would be due according to the principles of number or merit. Sir Syed Ahmed khan T he foundation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 was an attempt to narrow the Hindu-Muslim divide and place the genuine grievances of all the communities in the country before the British. But Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and other Muslim leaders like Syed Ameer Ali, the first Indian to find a place in London Privy Council, projected the Congress as a representative body of only the Hindus. Of the seventy-two delegates attending the first session of the Congress only two were Muslims. Muslim leaders opposed the Congress tooth and nail on the plea that Muslims’ participation in it would create an unfavourable reaction among the rulers against their community.

(h) Religion in Local Body Elections

Democratic politics had the unintended effect of fostering communal tendencies. Local administrative bodies in the 1880s provided the scope for pursuing communal politics. Municipal councillors acquired vast powers of patronage which were used to build-up one’s political base. Hindus wresting the control of municipal boards from the Muslims and viceversa led to communalisation of local politics. Lal Chand, the principal spokesperson of the Punjab Hindu Sabha and later the leader of Arya Samaj, highlighted the extent to which some Municipalities were organised on communal lines: ‘The members of the Committee arrange themselves in two rows, around the presidential chair. On the left are seated the representatives of the banner of Islam and on the right the descendants of old Rishis of Aryavarta. By this arrangement the members are constantly reminded that they are not simply Municipal Councillors, but they are as Muhammedans versus Hindus and vice-versa….’. Lal Chand

(i) Week-kneed Policy of the Congress

At the dawn of twentieth century, during the Swadeshi Movement in Bengal (1905–06), Muslim supporters of the Swadeshi movement were condemned as “Congress touts.” The silence of the Congress and its refusal to deal with such elements frontally not only provided stimulus to communal politics but also demoralized and discouraged the nationalist Muslims. Hindu communalism had also gathered strength round this time. It derived its sustenance from the view that the history of Muslim rule in India was characterised by degradation of the Hindus through forcible conversion, imposition of jizya, strict application of the shariat and the destruction of the places of worship. History textbooks and literature based on the prejudiced views of British writers added fuel to such views. Hindu and Muslim Communalism were products of middle class infighting utterly divorced from the consciousness of the Hindu and Muslim masses. —Jawaharlal Nehru T he situation took a turn for the worst in the f irst decade of the twentieth century when political radicalism went hand in hand with religious conservatism. Tilak, Aurobindo Gosh and Lala Lajpat Rai aroused anti-colonial consciousness by using religious symbols, festivals and platforms. T he most aggravating factor was Tilak’s effort to mobilise Hindus through the Ganapati festival. T he Punjab Hindu Sabha founded in 1909 laid the foundation for Hindu communal ideology and politics. Lal Chand spared no efforts to condemn the Indian National Congress of pursuing a policy of appeasement towards Muslims.

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