Hindu and Muslim Communalism

Written by Jawaharlal Nehru | Published on: August 2, 2019

Excerpts from 'Who is Bharat Mata?'




Hindu and Muslim Communalism1
(From Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru: Volume Six)

With Independence Day right around the corner, the Indian Cultural Forum will be doing a series on the ideas that built India. From national movements to regional resistances, there have been multiple ideologies and leaders who’ve shaped the country’s desire for sovereignty and the post-Independence period. In the coming weeks we will attempt to bring together writing on many of these leaders and what legacies they have left us. As Independence Day approaches there will be a singular and deafening narrative built on hyper-nationalism. Instead, ICF will be publishing the many ideas, some contrary to each other, that actually lead to the formation of a free nation. 

‘Who is Bharat Mata, whose victory you wish?’ asked Jawaharlal Nehru—a leading light of the Indian freedom movement who would become the country’s first prime minister—at a public gathering in 1936. And then he explained: the mountains and rivers, forests and fields were of course dear to everyone, but what counted ultimately were ‘the people of India…spread out all over this vast land. Bharat Mata, Mother India, [is] essentially these millions of people, and victory to her [is] victory to these people.’

Edited by Purushottam Agrawal, '''Who is Bharat Mata?': On History, Culture and the Idea of India" is a collection of writings and speeches by and on Nehru. It shows us the mind—the ideology, born of experience, observation and deep study—behind Nehru's democratic and inclusive idea of India. It is a book of particular relevance at a time when "nationalism" and the slogan "Bharat Mata ki Jai" are being used to construct a militant and purely emotional idea of India that excludes millions of residents and citizens. The following is an excerpt from the chapter "The Idea and the Making of India".

…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.

The Simon Commission,2 as is well known, met with a widespread and almost unanimous boycott in India. Bhai Parmanandji,3 in his recent presidential address at Ajmer, says that this boycott was unfortunate for the Hindus, and he approvingly mentions that the Punjab Hindus (probably under his guidance) cooperated with the Commission. Thus Bhaiji is of opinion that, whatever the national aspect of the question might have been, it was desirable for the Hindus to cooperate with the British Government in order to gain some communal advantages. This is obviously an anti-national attitude. Even from the narrow communal point of view it is difficult to see its wisdom, or communal advantages can only be given at the expense of another community, and when both seek the favours of the ruling power, there is little chance of obtaining even a superficial advantage.

Bhaiji’s argument, repeatedly stated, is that the British Government is so strongly entrenched in India that it cannot be shaken by any popular movement and therefore it is folly to try to do so. The only alternative is to seek its favours. That is an argument which I can only characterise, with all respect to him, as wholly unworthy of any people however fallen they might be.

Bhaiji’s view is that the cry of Hindu-Muslim unity is a false cry and a wrong ideal to aim at because the power of gift is in the hands of the government. Granting this power of gift, every cry other than one of seeking the government’s favours is futile. And if the possibility of Hindu-Muslim cooperation and collaboration is ruled out,4 nationalism is also ruled out in the country-wide sense of the word. The inevitable consequence, and Bhaiji accepts this, is what the calls “Hindu nationalism”, which is but another name for Hindu communalism. What is the way to this? Cooperation with British imperialism. “I feel an impulse within me,” says Bhaiji in his presidential address, “that the Hindus would willingly cooperate with Great Britain if their status and responsible position as the premier community in India is recognised in the political institutions of new India.”

This attitude of trying to combine with the ruling power against another community or group is the natural and only policy which communalism can adopt. It fits in of course entirely with the wishes of the ruling power which can then play off one group against another. It was the policy which was adopted by the Muslim communalists with some apparent temporary advantages to themselves. It is the policy which the Hindu Mahasabha partly favoured from its earliest days but could not adopt wholeheartedly because of the pressure of nationalist Hindus, and which its leaders now seem to have definitely adopted.

Dr Moonje,5 presiding over the C.P. Hindu Conference on May 17, 1933 made it clear that “the Mahasabha never had any faith in the kind of noncooperation which Mahatma Gandhi has been preaching and practising. It believes in the eternal Sanatan Law of stimulus and response, namely, responsive cooperation. The Mahasabha holds that whatever may be the constitution of the legislatures, they should never be boycotted.” Dr. Moonje is an authority on Sanatan Law, but I hope it does not lay down that the response to a kick should be grovelling at the feet of him who kicks. This speech was made when a widespread national struggle was going on and there was unprecedented repression under the ordinance regime. I shall not discuss here the wisdom of stating, long before the British-made constitution had taken shape, that whatever happens they would work it. Was this not an invitation to the government to ignore the Mahasabha for in any event it would accept the new dispensation?

Dr Moonje himself went to the Round Table Conference in 1930, at the height of the civil disobedience movement, though in justice to him it must be stated that he had declared that he went in his individual capacity. Subsequently of course the Mahasabha took full part in the London conferences and committees.

Of the part taken by the Mahasabha representatives in these deliberations, especially by those from the Punjab and Sind, I wish only to say that it was a most painful one. Politically it was most reactionary and efforts were made to increase the reserved powers and safeguards of the British Government or the Governors in order to prevent the Muslim majorities in certain provinces from exercising effective power. The identical policy and argument of the Muslim communalists in regard to the whole of India were repeated by Hindu communalists in regard to certain provinces. But of course the special powers of Governors were not going to be confined to some provinces. They would inevitably apply to all the provinces. The reason for this reactionary attitude in both the cases was of course fear of the majority. Whatever the reason, this played entirely into the hands of the British Government.
[…]
Reality and Myth6

(From Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru: Volume Six)

Groups of upper class people try to cover up their own class interests by making it appear that they stand for the communal demands of religious minorities or majorities.

A critical examination of the various communal demands put forward on behalf of Hindus, Muslims or others reveals that they have nothing to do with the masses. At the most they deal with some jobs for a few of the unemployed intellectuals but it is obvious that the problem even of the unemployed middle class intellectuals cannot be solved by a redistribution of state jobs. There are far too many unemployed persons of the middle class to be absorbed in state or other services and their number is growing at a rapid pace. So far as the masses are concerned there is absolutely no reference to them or to their wants in the numerous demands put forward by communal organizations. Apparently the communalists do not consider them as worthy of attention. What is there, in the various communal formulae, in regard to the distress of the agriculturists, their rent or revenue or the staggering burden of debt that crushes them? Or in regard to the factory or railway or other workers who have to face continuous cuts in wages and a vanishing standard of living? Or the lower middle classes who, for want of employment and work, are sinking in the slough of despair? Heated arguments take place about seats in councils and separate and joint electorates and the separation of provinces which can affect or interest only a few. Is the starving peasant likely to be interested in this when hunger gnaws his stomach? But our communal friends take good care to avoid these real issues, for a solution of them might affect their own interests, and they try to divert people’s attention to entirely unreal and, from the mass point of view, trivial matters.

Communalism is essentially a hunt for favours from a third party—the ruling power. The communalist can only think in terms of a continuation of foreign domination and he tries to make the best of it for his own particular group. Delete the foreign power and the communal arguments and demands fall to the ground. Both the foreign power and the communalists, as representing some upper class groups, want no essential change of the political and economic structure; both are interested in the preservation and augmentation of their vested interests. Because of this, both cannot tackle the real economic problems which confront the country, for a solution of these would upset the present social structure and devest the vested interests. For both, this ostrichlike policy of ignoring real issues is bound to end in disaster. Facts and economic forces are more powerful than governments and empires and can only be ignored at peril.

Communalism thus becomes another name for political and social reaction and the British Government, being the citadel of this reaction in India, naturally throws its sheltering wings over a useful ally. Many a false trail is drawn to confuse the issue; we are told of Islamic culture and Hindu culture, of religion and old custom, of ancient glories and the like. But behind all this lies political and social reaction, and communalism must therefore be fought on all fronts and given no quarter. Because the inward nature of communalism has not been sufficiently realised, it has often sailed under false colours and taken in many an unwary person. It is an undoubted fact that many a Congressman has almost unconsciously partly succumbed to it and tried to reconcile his nationalism with this narrow and reactionary creed. A real appreciation of its true nature would demonstrate that there can be no common ground between the two. They belong to different species. It is time that Congressmen and others who have flirted with Hindu or Muslim or Sikh or any other communalism should understand this position and make their choice. No one can have it both ways, and the choice lies between political and social progress and stark reaction. An association with any form of communalism means the strengthening of the forces- of reaction and of British imperialism in India; it means opposition to social and economic changes and a toleration of the present terrible distress of our people; it means a blind ignoring of world forces and events.

What are communal organizations? They are not religious although they confine themselves to religious groups and exploit the name of religion. They are not cultural and have done nothing for culture although they talk bravely of a past culture. They are not ethical or moral groups for their teachings are singularly devoid of all ethics and morality. They are certainly not economic groupings for there is no economic link binding their members and they have no shadow of an economic programme. Some of them claim not to be political even. What then are they?
As a matter of fact they function politically and their demands are political, but calling themselves non-political, they avoid the real issues and only succeed in obstructing the path of others.

1. 27 November 1933. The Tribune, 30 November 1933. Reprinted in Recent Essays and Writings, (Allahabad, 1934), 47–61.
2. The Simon Commission was a group of 7 British MPs sent to India in 1928 to study constitutional reforms and make recommendations to the government.
3. Bhai Parmanand was an Indian nationalist and a prominent leader of the Hindu Mahasabha.
4. Bhai Parmanand stated that “we have reached a stage when the Congress with its theory of Swaraj through Hindu-Moslem unity and civil disobedience goes entirely out of the field.”
5. Another Mahasabha leader
6. Statement to the press, Allahabad, 5 January 1934. The Tribune, 8 January 1934. Reprinted in Recent Essays and Writings, (Allahabad, 1934), 72-81.

Courtesy: Indian Cultural Forum