The design and dissemination of Hindu-Muslim antagonism was the supreme accomplishment of the British imperial policy — “divide et impera” (divide and rule). It fermented religious animosities to assist prolonged British overlordship. It’s tragic finale was the Partition of the subcontinent in 1947.
The British were mortified in 1857 to see Hindus and Muslims fighting shoulder to shoulder. They undertook to ensure that this would never be repeated. “Divide et impera”, an old Roman dictum, became official British policy. An organised effort was launched for cultivating distinct self-perceptions among the two communities. When limited franchise was diffidently acceded by the British, they deliberately created siloised communal electorates. The kernels of discord were assiduously seeded; its effects soon became visible.
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University’s initial conception of India, was plaited with secular instincts. In 1883, at Patna, he stated: “My friends! This India of ours is populated by two famous communities: the Hindus and the Muslims. These two communities stand in the same relation to India in which the head and the heart stand in relation to the human body.” In 1884, in Gurdaspur, he reiterated: “O Hindus and Muslims! Do you belong to a country other than India? Do not you live on this soil and are not buried under it or cremated on its ghats? If you live and die on this land, then, bear in mind, that… all the Hindus, Muslims and Christians who live in this country are one nation.”
However, by 1888, divide et impera seemed to get hold of him. In Meerut, he stated: “The first of all is this: In whose hands shall the administration and the empire of India rest? Now, suppose that all English, and the whole English army were to leave India, taking with them all their cannon and their splendid weapons and everything, then who would be rulers of India? Is it possible that under these circumstances, two nations — the Mahomedans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down.”
Syed Ahmed Khan was in august company. The conceptual forerunner of the BJP-Hindu Mahasabha was on the same page. It’s leader, Bhai Parmanand, born in Jhelum, now in Pakistan, advocated a communal partition as far back as 1909. He said: “The territory beyond Sind should be united with Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province into a great Musalman kingdom. The Hindus of the region should come away, while at the same time Musalman in the rest of India should go and settle in this territory.”
His views were endorsed by the great patriot and the Lion of Punjab Lala Lajpat Rai, again from the Hindu Mahasabha. Writing in the Tribune in 1924, he stated: “Under my scheme, the Muslims will have four Muslim states: (1) The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier, Western Punjab, Sindh and Eastern Bengal. If there are compact Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India.”
Allama Iqbal, the author of Sare Jahan Se Accha Hindustan Hamara, in 1904, was also singing a different tune by 1930. In his presidential address to the 25th session of the Muslim League, he declared: “I would like to see the Punjab, the North-West Frontier Province, Sindh and Baluchistan amalgamate into a single state. Self-government within the British Empire or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated northwest Indian Muslim state appears to me the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of northwestern India.”
Iqbal was also in august company: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, addressing the 19th session of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 at Ahmedabad, said: “There are two antagonistic nations living side-by-side in India. Several infantile politicians commit the serious mistake in supposing that India is already welded into a harmonious nation, or that it could be welded thus for the mere wish to do so… India cannot be assumed today to be a unitarian and homogenous nation. On the contrary, there are two nations in the main: the Hindus and the Muslims, in India.”
Savarkar was also in august company. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, addressing the Lahore session of the Muslim League in 1940, stated: “It is a dream that the Hindus and Muslims can ever evolve a common nationality. Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs and literary traditions. They neither intermarry nor eat together, and indeed they belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.”
Savarkar in 1943 endorsed Jinnah’s philosophy: “I have no quarrel with Jinnah’s two-nation theory. We Hindus are a nation by ourselves and it is a historical fact that Hindus and Muslims are two nations.”
On September 3, 1939, Lord Linlithgow, the then Indian Viceroy declared war against the Axis powers on behalf of India without even a reference to Indian opinion. In protest, the Congress resigned from all the provincial governments that it had won in February 1937. They were replaced by Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha coalition governments. In 1942, in Sindh, Hindu Mahasabha members joined Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah’s Muslim League government. Savarkar ecstatically declared: “Witness the fact that only recently in Sind, the Sind Hindu Sabha, on invitation, had taken the responsibility of joining hands with the League. The same was repeated in 1943 in Bengal when Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Jana Sangh, the political predecessor of the BJP, became the finance minister in a ministry led by Fazalul Haq, the person personally chosen by Jinnah to present the split Lahore Resolution of 1940. The same was repeated in the North-West Frontier Province in 1943 when the Hindu Mahasabha leader Mehr Chand Khanna became the finance minister in a Muslim League government headed by Sardar Aurangzeb Khan.
Thus, it is evident that it is not the Congress but the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha and other such elements that were responsible for creating the atmosphere that culminated in the “ujara” — devastation — of 1947. The ideological predecessors of the current dispensation wanted that a religious partition go to its logical conclusion. Seventy-two years later, their progeny is trying to fulfil their dream through the Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens....