Nehru's Word: His Analysis of Hindu, Muslim Communal Forces Still Valid

The Bharat Jodo Yatra, with its core slogan of “Nafrat Chodo, Bharat Jodo”, has drawn attention to the hate promoted by dominant political forces and the need to counter it at the mass level.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, addresses the AMU Convocation at Aligarh, 24 January 1948.
Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister, addresses the AMU Convocation at Aligarh, 24 January 1948.

Mridula Mukherjee

The Bharat Jodo Yatra, with its core slogan of “Nafrat Chodo, Bharat Jodo”, has drawn attention to the ‘nafrat’ or hate promoted by dominant political forces and the need to counter it at the mass level. Jawaharlal Nehru was among the first to present a detailed analysis of the origins and growth of communalism in India. His insights remain as relevant today. This week we bring to you the second part of the chapter titled “Communalism and Reaction” which he wrote in jail and which was published as part of An Autobiography in 1936:

Sir Valentine Chirol wrote in 1910: ‘It may be confidently asserted that never before have the Mohammadans of India as a whole identified their interests and their aspirations so closely with the consolidation and permanence of British rule.’

Political prophesies are dangerous. Within five years after Sir Valentine wrote, the Muslim intelligentsia was trying hard to range beside the Congress. Within a decade the Indian Muslims seemed to have outstripped the Congress and were actually giving the lead to it. Inevitably the new Muslim bourgeoisie was feeling more and more dissatisfied with existing conditions and was being drawn towards the nationalist movement.

The World War hastened the process, and as new leaders arose, the Aga Khan seemed to retire into the background. Even Aligarh College changed its tone, and among the new leaders the most dynamic were the Ali Brothers, both products of Aligarh. Doctor M. A. Ansari, Moulana Abul Kalam Azad, and a number of other bourgeois leaders now began to play an important part in the political affairs of the Muslims. So also, on a more moderate scale, Mr. M. A. Jinnah. Gandhiji swept most of these leaders (not Mr. Jinnah) and the Muslims generally into his non-co-operation movement, and they played a leading part in the events of 1919-23.

Then came the reaction, and communal and backward elements, both among the Hindus and the Muslims, began to emerge from their enforced retirement. It was a slow process, but it was a continuous one.

The Hindu Mahasabha for the first time assumed some prominence, chiefly because of the communal tension, but politically it could not make much impression on the Congress. The Muslim communal organisations were more successful in regaining some of their old prestige among the Muslim masses. Even so a very strong group of Muslim leaders remained throughout with the Congress.

The British Government meanwhile gave every encouragement to the Muslim communal leaders who were politically thoroughly reactionary. Noting the success of these reactionaries, the Hindu Mahasabha began to compete with them in reaction, thereby hoping to win the goodwill of the Government. Many of the progressive elements in the Mahasabha were driven out or left of their own accord, and it inclined more and more towards the upper middle classes, and especially the creditor and banker class.

The communal politicians on both sides, who were interminably arguing about percentages of seats in legislatures, thought only in terms of patronage which influence in Government gives. It was a struggle for jobs for the middle-class intelligentsia. There were obviously not enough jobs to go round, and so the Hindu and Muslim communalists quarrelled about them, the former on the defensive, for they had most of the existing jobs, the latter always wanting more and more.

Behind this struggle for jobs there was a much more important contest which was not exactly communal but which influenced the communal issue. On the whole the Hindus were, in the Punjab, Sind, and Bengal, the richer, creditor, urban class; the Muslims in these provinces were the poorer, debtor, rural class. The conflict between the two was therefore often economic, but it was always given a communal colouring. In recent months this has come out very prominently in the debates on various provincial bills for reducing the burden of rural debt, especially in the Punjab. The representatives of the Hindu Mahasabha have consistently opposed these measures and sided with the banker class.

The Hindu Mahasabha is always laying stress on its own irreproachable nationalism when it criticises Muslim communalism. That the Muslim organisations have shown themselves to be quite extraordinarily communal has been patent to everybody. The Mahasabha’s communalism has not been so obvious, as it masquerades under a nationalist cloak. The test comes when a national and democratic solution happens to injure upper-class Hindu interests, and in this test the Mahasabha has repeatedly failed.

But the most extraordinary exhibition of anti-nationalism and reaction, both on the part of Muslim and Hindu communalists, took place at the Round Table Conferences. The British Government had insisted on nominating only definitely communal Muslims, and these, under the leadership of the Aga Khan, actually went to the length of allying themselves with the most reactionary and, from the point of view not only of India but of all progressive groups, the most dangerous elements in British public life.

It was quite extraordinary to see the close association of the Aga Khan and his group with Lord Lloyd and his party. They went a step further, and made pacts with the representatives of the European Association and others at the R.T.C. This was very depressing, for this Association has been and is, in India, the stoutest and the most aggressive opponent of Indian freedom.

The Hindu Mahasabha delegates responded to this by demanding, especially in the Punjab, all manner of checks on freedom — safeguards in the interests of the British. They tried to outbid the Muslims in their attempts to offer co-operation to the British Government, and, without gaining anything, damned their own case and betrayed the cause of freedom. The Muslims had at least spoken with dignity, the Hindu communalists did not even possess this.

The outstanding fact seems to me how, on both sides, the communal leaders represent a small upper class reactionary group, and how these people exploit and take advantage of the religious passions of the masses for their own ends. On both sides every effort is made to suppress and avoid the consideration of economic issues. Soon the time will come when these issues can no longer be suppressed, and then, no doubt, the communal leaders on both sides will echo the Aga Khan’s warning of twenty years ago for the moderates to join hands in a common camp against radical tendencies. To some extent that is already evident, for however much the Hindu and Muslim communalists attack each other in public they co- operate in the Assembly and elsewhere in helping Government to pass reactionary measures.”

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