Nehru’s Word: On Hindu and Muslim communalism

In this article published in 'The Tribune' on Nov 30, 1933, Nehru explains the fundamentals of communalism, differences between minority & majority communalism, and how both are anti-national

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Mridula Mukherjee

The past fortnight has been witness to some of the most outrageous, extreme and virulent forms of communal hate speech by so-called Hindu religious figures. The father of the nation was abused in unspeakable language, brazen calls were made for ethnic cleansing of one minority community, and another minority community was targeted on the occasion of its most important festival. These actions have received due publicity in international forums as well, making us hang our heads in shame as Indians.

In this context, we bring to you the first part of an article published by Jawaharlal Nehru in The Tribune on 30 November 1933 in response to criticism of certain remarks he had made on Hindu communalists and the Hindu Mahasabha. In this extraordinarily prescient and perceptive piece, Nehru explains the fundamentals of communalism, the differences between minority and majority communalism, and how both are pro-imperialist anti-national.


“My recent remarks on Hindu communalists and the Hindu Mahasabha have evidently touched a sensitive spot of many people and have produced strong reactions. For many days every morning the newspapers brought me a tonic in the shape of criticisms and condemnations and I must express my gratitude for these, to all who indulged in them.

It is not given to everybody to see himself as others see him, and since this privilege has been accorded to me and my numerous failings in education, upbringing, heredity, culture, as well as those for which I am personally responsible, pointed out to me gently, I must need feel grateful. I shall try to profit by the chiding I have received but I am afraid I have outgrown the age when the background of one’s thought and action can be easily changed.

In regard to my main contention, however, I confess that I am unrepentant and I still hold that the activities of Hindu communal organisations, including the Mahasabha, have been communal, anti-national and reactionary.

I have not hastened to reply to the criticisms because I thought it as well for excitement to cool so that we might consider the question dispassionately and without reference to personalities. It is a vital question for all of us Indians, and especially for those who from birth or choice are in the Hindu fold….

In regard to my main contention, however, I confess that I am unrepentant and I still hold that the activities of Hindu communal organisations, including the Mahasabha, have been communal, anti-national and reactionary. Of course, this cannot apply to all the members of these organisations; it can apply only to the majority group in them or the group that controls them.

Organisations also change their policies from time to time and what may be true today may not have been wholly true yesterday. So far as I have been able to gather, Hindu communal organisations, especially in the Punjab and in Sind, have been progressively becoming more narrowly communal and anti-national and politically reactionary.

I am told that this is a consequence of Muslim communalism and reactionary policy and I have been chided for not blaming Muslim communalists. I have already pointed out that it would have been entirely out of place for me, speaking to a Hindu audience, to draw attention to Muslim communalists and reactionaries. It would have been preaching to the converted, as the average Hindu is well aware of them.

It is far more difficult to see one’s own fault than to see the failings of others. I also hold that it serves little purpose, in the prevailing atmosphere of mutual suspicion, to preach to the other community, although of course, whenever necessity arises, facts must be faced and the truth stated.

“It must be remembered that the communalism of a majority community must of necessity bear a closer resemblance to nationalism than the communalism of a minority group.”

I do not think that the Muslim communal organisations, chief among whom are the Muslim All Parties Conference and the Muslim League, represent any large group of Muslims in India except in the sense that they exploit the prevailing communal sentiment. But the fact remains that they claim to speak for Muslims and no other organisation has so far risen which can successfully challenge that claim.

Their aggressively communal character gives them a pull over the large number of nationalist Muslims who merge themselves in the Congress. The leaders of these organisations are patently and intensely communal. That, from the very nature of things, one can understand.

But it is equally obvious that most of them are definitely anti-national and political reactionaries of the worst kind. Apparently, they do not even look forward to any common nation developing in India. At a meeting in the British House of Commons last year, the Aga Khan, Sir Mohammad Iqbal and Dr. Shafaat Ahmad Khan are reported (in The Statesman of December 31, 1932) to have laid stress on "the inherent impossibility of securing any merger of Hindu and Muslim, political or indeed social, interests”.

The speakers further pointed out "the impracticability of ever governing India through anything but a British agency”. These statements leave no loophole for nationalism or for Indian freedom, now or even in the remote future….

Essentially, this is an attitude of pure reaction— political, cultural, national, social. And it is not surprising that this should be so if one examines the membership of these organisations. Most of the leading members are government officials, ex-officials, ministers, would-be ministers, knights and title-holders, big landlords etc.

Their leader is the Aga Khan, the head of a wealthy religious group, who combines in himself, most remarkably, the feudal order and the politics and habits of the British ruling class, with which he has been intimately associated for many years….

Between progress and reaction, between those who struggle for freedom and those who are content with servitude, and even wish to prolong it, there is no meeting ground. And it is this political reaction which has stalked the land under cover of communalism and taken advantage of the fear of each community of the other. It is the fear complex that we have to deal with in these communal problems. Honest communalism is fear; false communalism is political reaction.

To some extent this fear is justified, or is at least understandable, in a minority community. We see this fear overshadowing the communal sky in India as a whole so far as Muslims are concerned; we see it as an equally potent force in the Punjab and Sind so far as the Hindus are concerned, and in the Punjab, the Sikhs.

I have written all this about the attitude of the Muslim communalist leaders not only to complete the picture but because it is a necessary preliminary to the understanding of the Hindu communal attitude. There is no essential difference between the two. But there was this difference that the Congress drew into its ranks most of the vital elements of Hindu society and it dominated the situation and thus circumstances did not permit the Hindu communalists to play an important role in politics.

The Hindu Mahasabha leaders largely confined themselves to criticising the Congress. When, however, there was a lull in Congress activities, automatically the Hindu communalists came more to the front and their attitude was frankly reactionary.

It must be remembered that the communalism of a majority community must of necessity bear a closer resemblance to nationalism than the communalism of a minority group. One of the best tests of its true nature is what relation it bears to the national struggle. If it is politically reactionary or lays stress on communal problems rather than national ones then it is obviously anti-national.”

(Selected and edited by Mridula Mukherjee, former Professor of History at JNU and former Director of Nehru Memorial Museum and Library)

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