The muddy waters of communalism
Misra charged that the Muslims killed cows with impunity, called the Hindu gods and “rishis” names and did not allow the Hindus to take their gods out in processions
By banning the sale of cattle for slaughter throughout India, the Hindu communalists of the ruling Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) under Premier Narendra Modi are revealing their intention as to which way they will take secular India in future. To show its secular credentials, the secular opposition Congress party is leading the charge against this ban by holding “beef festivals” in which participants are served beef dishes as a mark of protest.
Consumption of beef has been a sensitive communal issue in India for centuries becausethe Hindus revere cow as holy whereas the Muslims slaughter it for food. By opposing this ban on beef, the Congress is trying to prove that it is not a communal party. This is not true because historically several Congressmen have been “practising communalists.” This may be surprising for many because in its history of over one hundred and thirty years since its foundation in 1885, Congress has successfully hidden its communal character in the garb of secularism by arguing that the composition of its party membership was extra-communal as it was open to people of all faiths and ethnicities and insists that its annual sessions were more “sacred” than the annual Hindu “Kumbha” religious festival. For a secular organisation, religion should be a personal and not public affair. There are instances when Congress flaunted Islamic religion from its platform to woo the Muslims to its fold. A leading Congressman Pandit Ayodhya Prasad is an example who had the verses of the Quran recited at a public meeting in Lucknow to win over the Muslims. At the same time, the relationship of the Congressite Hindu communalists with Muslims was of love-hate nature, at best. Sudhir Chandra’s scholarly research on this aspect has delved deep into the Hindi literature to expose the communal bias of the Hindu literati associated with secular Congress in its early years.
From the beginning, Congress was a Hindu-dominated party and Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s warning to the Muslims not to join it made it quite difficult to increase the Muslim membership of the party. To meet this challenge, the Congress purposely extended the hand of love and friendship to lure the Muslims. The strategy adopted was to propagate that India could only prosper if Hindus and Muslims joined hands together. Several interesting attempts in this regard are on the record. A prominent Congress writer Pratap Narain Misra (1856—94) wrote in an appeal that “Hindus and Musalmans are the two arms of Mother India… No one can be happy by chopping off the left arm with the right or the right arm with the left.” A Congress playwright Radha Charan Goswami (1859—1923) showed through a play “Budha Munha Munhase” that the Hindus and Muslims acted in unison in resisting the exploitation of the poorer sections of their communities in rural India.
Since the Indian National Congress was to be projected as the party which was acting as the vanguard of resistance to British colonialism with the combined strength of Hindu-Muslim unity, therefore, the Congress writers presented the Muslim rule as a much better rule than the British Raj. The argument adopted by these writers was that the Muslim rulers had kept the Indian wealth within the subcontinent whereas the British colonists were draining the wealth of India to England and as a result the food and cloth which was made available to the poorest under the Muslim rulers was difficult to get by under the “benevolent” colonial masters as one-fourth of the people suffered from starvation and the remaining three-fourths lived in a state of semi-starvation.
But these very Congress writers who sang paeans to Hindu-Muslim unity also spewed poison against the Muslims. They felt no qualm in reversing the roles by portraying the British as heroes and the Muslims as villains. In a Goswami play “Bharat Mein Yavan Raj”, a Hindu character Vamadev tells an Englishman: “Victory to Huzoor! Huzoor has saved us Hindustanis from the jaws of death. These Musalmans have for some centuries not permitted us any respite. Today the uprooting of their Raj has given us great happiness. May God ever perpetuate your Raj.” The same character then shamelessly thanks the British for saving the Aryans from the clutches of the Muslims while deliberately ignoring the fact that the very Aryans to whom the Hindus trace their origins were themselves foreigners in India.
The communalism of Congress’intellectuals was quite complex because on one hand they said that all people living in India were one Indian nation yet singled out Muslims as “aliens”, “foreigners” and “outsiders,” who could not be taken in the fold of the “Indian family.” In a candid statement, Misra clarified, “Hindustan belongs to us because we are Hindus… Hindustan can be made or marred as the Hindus are made or marred.” It was he, who popularised the mantra of “Hindi Hindu Hindustan.” Another Congressite communalist writer, Balkrishna Bhatt (1844—1914) criticised the British for appointing Syed Mahmud as a judge on the ground that “Syed Saheb would be considered an alien Musalman.” The most surprising differentiation which showed that the Muslims were not a part of the Indian nation was made by none other than the doyen of liberal Congressmen, Gopal Krishna Gokhale, who, while speaking on the Seditious Meetings Bill in October 1917, observed, “…the expected advantages are fully secured to the Mahomedans, the people of Bengal may also have their great grievance removed.” If one of the most liberal of the liberal Indians could not consider the Muslims of Bengal as a part of the people of Bengal, one can imagine to what extent the communal minded Indians whether Congressmen or non-Congressmen could go.
Misra, Goswami and other communal Congressmen repeatedly emphasised that the Muslim rulers oppressed the Hindus. Misra charged that the Muslims killed cows with impunity, called the Hindu gods and “rishis” names and did not allow the Hindus to take their gods out in processions. He further lamented that all this was done by Muslims who were “abominably impure mlechchhas” and in a fit of fury lambasted the “cowardly” Hindus as “eunuchs.” The texts of Goswami were quite venomous in their hatred towards the Muslims whom he described in 1883 as the haters of others’ religions and reminded them that it were the Muslim rulers such as Mahmud Ghaznavi, Muhammad Ghori, Aurangzeb and Nadir Shah who perpetually harassed the Hindus and later on their great and great-grand children continued the hereditary enmity. Two years later, he was more scathing as he branded the Muslims as strife-loving, quarrelsome,mischief–makers,who were piqued by the fact that the Hindus who were once their shoe-bearers had either been holding equal or superior positions under the British. In a yet another diatribe against the Muslims, Goswami said, “You were baptised with blood, and we with milk. The essence of your religion is discord, and that of ours peace… Finally, we implore the Musalmans once again to give up their Nadir Shahi temperament.”
These were the thoughts of educated secular Hindus of the Congress, whose works shaped public opinion. By highlighting the darker aspects of history, they did no honour to the cause of the already fragile communal harmony. This is one reason why the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity could never take root in British India. Time and again, either Muslims or Hindu nationalists are blamed for fanning the flames of communalism, it is time we revisit this controversyand admit that some of the secular Congressmen also dirty their hands in the muddy waters of communalism that turned into rivers of blood at the time of partition in 1947.