The True History of Muslim Secessionism in India

The True History of Muslim Secessionism in India

The 1857 mutiny is regarded as the first war of independence against British rule. What Prof. Sheshrao More postulates is otherwise. In a series of books written using painstaking research, Prof. More has attempted to present the real history of India. The author of numerous books in Marathi, some of which have been translated, Prof. More’s research finds that the 1857 ‘war of independence’ can more correctly be termed as a jihad.

Prof. More’s books include ‘Savarkarancha Buddhivaad: Ek Chikitsak Abhyas’Savarkaranche Rajkaran: Satya Ani Viparyas’, ‘Kashmir: Ek Shapit Nandanvan’ ‘1857 chi Jihad’, and ‘1947 Sali Congress ani Gandhijine Akhand Bharat Ka Nakarla’.

In 1857, since Muslims could not fight the war on their own, they sought the help of Hindus, which was politically exigent at the time. In fact, Dr. More postulates that each conflict in the history of the world reveals that alliances tend to be based on convenience and exigency rather than due to a shared philosophy or ideology.

In the book ‘1947 Sali Congress ani Gandhijine Akhand Bharat Ka Nakarla’ he researches the question of why Muslims were not made to leave India during partition when the partition was done on the basis of religion and why Muslims in India were given voting rights.

Partition involved the migration of  74,80,000 people from Pakistan to India (49,05,000 people from West Pakistan and 25,75,000 from East Pakistan). In both India and Pakistan, a total of 1,56,30,000 people had to be rehabilitated post partition.

The year 1820 saw the end of the Peshwai, 1857 witnessed the revolt or rather the jihad, 1885 was the year the Congress party was formed, 1916 was the year of the Lucknow agreement, 1920 was witness to the Khilafat movement, while 1935 was the game changing year when Jinnah re-entered the political arena.

At the time of British rule when India had around 24 Cr Hindus and just 6 Cr Muslims residing in the sub Continent, Hindus were more than willing to give proportional representation to Muslims, but Muslims were not content with this.

Dr More postulates that Hindu-Muslim equations and independence of India from British rule were intertwined issues. Narratives about Hindu-Muslim relations have often overlooked realities and attempted to present a rosy picture. It’s apparent that political correctness that forms the basis of India’s so-called secularism today has a history that dates back to partition and even earlier. All and any narratives that pushed the reality of the contentious Hindu-Muslim equations under the carpet were therefore propounded.

These narratives include the following five theories alternatively used at various times and by various thinkers:

1)    India was never meant to be one complete country as there was no universal culture, but rather is composed of a multitude of cultures and languages. Add the Aryan Invasion theory to this mix and the British had a brilliant formula whereby they propounded that the Congress party would become representative only when all religious groups joined it.

2)    Another theory postulated that there were never any problems between Hindus and Muslims. The two communities were said to have lived in harmony for centuries. Akbar was the epitome of secularism. (Dr. P.N. Oak’s book ‘Who Says Akbar Was Great’ contradicts this thesis.)

3)    A third hypothesis that has its roots in Communist thought claimed that religion was opium and hence did not matter. This later gave rise to Socialist thought. It was claimed that unless India freed herself from the shackles of religion, there would be no progress.

4)    Yet another explanation was that the basis of Hindu-Muslim strife is merely the effect of economics. Thinkers like Chittaranjan Das and even Subhash Chandra Bose propounded this theory.

5)    Nehru’s greed for power drove the ‘secular’ Jinnah towards the Muslim League.

Dr More’s research finds that none of the above theories correctly explains the actual state of affairs. After the mutiny of 1857, the British realized that the main threat to their rule in the sub Continent came from Muslims. The book ‘The Loyal Muhammadans of India’ with the alternate title ‘The Causes of the Indian Revolt’ has been written by Sayyid Ahmed Khan. The book aims to analyze the causes of the 1857 mutiny.

It is evident that Sayyid Ahmed Khan helped influence British policy in order to make it more pro-Muslim. Thus Urdu was promoted and the Aligarh Muslim University was established. Ironically, since Sayyid Ahmed Khan did not oppose English as a medium of instruction, the Ulemas of the time condemn him. Over time, due to his support of English, Sayyid Ahmed Khan began to be described as modern and the epithet ‘secular’ was added later to describe him. Sayyid Ahmed Khan however had stated “The Koran stands for the truth and there is no other true religion other than Islam.” Sayyid Ahmed Khan also opposed women’s education and supported polygamy as well as the practice of ‘burqa’.

After 1857, the Muslim community that had faced a leadership crisis found Sayyid Ahmed Khan suitable as a leader for filling the leadership vacuum. In a span of 40 pages, Prof. More presents information about Sayyid Ahmed Khan, for, according to Dr. More, this was the period when the seeds of Muslim secessionism were first sown.

Muslim secessionism continued to be a core belief and struggle of Muslim leaders. After Sayyid Ahmed Khan, Sayyad Amir Ali, who was highly educated and a judge, was another prominent leader known to share Sayyid Ahmed Khan’s views that the British were friends of Muslims while the Hindus were enemies. It was felt that the British were fellow ‘Kitabis’ and closer to Muslims than Hindus (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all believe in ‘the book’ or ‘Kitab’) as all other sins may be condoned but not the sin of multi-theism as Hinduism was/is perceived to be. The belief was that non-‘kitabi’ faiths had the option of either converting to ‘kitabi’ faiths or getting themselves killed.

Prof. More also states that the European Christian psyche was at least equally evangelical if not more, and the Spanish General Pizarro (also read this) who went to South America engaged in so much bloodshed and brutality that even Taimurlane or Khilji would be considered benign in comparison.

While many of the beliefs of Sayyid Ahmed Khan and Sayyad Amir Ali were identical, the latter believed that a separate Constitution for Muslims was essential. In 1877, Sayyad Amir Ali founded the Central National Mohameddan Association in Kolkota. In a year the Association had 53 branches. Sayyad Amir Ali was the Chairman of this Association for 25 years. Due to his belief that Muslim issues were different from those of Hindus, Sayyad Amir Ali did not participate in the activities of the Indian Association in Kolkota founded by Surendranath Banerji. Sayyad Amir Ali also refused to attend the Congress Convention held in Kolkota in 1886.

Sayyad Amir Ali helped strengthen the feeling of Muslim separatism. Although Muslims constituted around 5 Cr of the population vis-à-vis around 24 Cr Hindus, Sayyad Amir Ali was of the view that Muslims could not be treated as a minority community. In terms of religion, tradition, and goals, Muslims constituted a separate nation according to him. Sayyad Amir Ali wanted:

  • A separate electorate for Muslims
  • More representation
  • 50% representation in government.

Uniform citizenship was not acceptable to him.

A Committee under the leadership of another Muslim leader, Aga Khan (Sultan Mohammed Shah) approached Lord Minto with demands for giving Muslims greater representation and to consider them as a separate community.

Based on this, Prof. More concludes that the divide and rule policy did not originate with the British, but rather the seeds for ‘divide and rule’ were sown by the Muslim leadership in India.

On December 30, 1906, Nawab Vahar Ul Mulak chaired a Muslim Educational Conference. At the Conference, Nawab Salimullah presented the idea of establishing the Muslim League. Present at the Conference were Mohammad Ali Jouhar (who later in 1923 became the Congress President), Hakim Ajmal Khan (who later in 1921 became the Congress President) and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (who later in 1923 presided over the Congress special session). Notably, all of the 220 participants including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad voted in favor of the idea.

Briefly, from 1857 to 1908, the Muslim psyche showed the following:

1)    They knew opposing the British was not easy.

2)    They believed that Muslims needed to get along with the British in their own interest.

3)    However, they were aware that after the British left, Hindus would be in numerical majority and Muslims could possibly be at the mercy of Hindus.

4)    They were rulers and had always been victors.

5)    They had a separate entity and only Muslims together constitute a nation.

6)    While dealing with them, the British need to keep in mind that Muslims had a glorious history.

7)    Being different, they needed separate electorates.

Maulana Hali and Maulana Shibli, through their poetry, canvassed Pan-Islamism that preached:

  • Islam is not curtailed by geography.
  • Loyalty to the nation is a form of idol worship.
  • If nationalism is accepted, Islam will be destroyed.
  • Secularism that separates religion from state is unacceptable.
  • Embrace the Koran.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was inspired by Maulana Shibli and his teachings on Pan-Islamism. Being a great orator, he was far more effective than Maulana Shibli in achieving his goal of bringing all Ulemas under one umbrella. In a speech made in 1940 as a Congress President he maintained that he continued to hold the same beliefs he propounded between 1912 and 1916.

However, Mahatma Gandhi considered Maulana Azad as his adviser. Also, history lauded Maulana Azad and Dr. Muhammad Iqbal for opposing the British and equated this with nationalism, without taking account of the fact that although they opposed the British, they also vociferously advocated Muslim nationhood and Muslim secessionism. (Similarly, Tipu Sultan from the 18th century continues to be praised for battling the British despite his anti-Hindu stance.)

In 1914, Hindus and Muslims came together for the Lucknow Pact to ask the British to give self-rule to India. Muhammad Ali Jinnah joined the Muslim League in 1916, after being ‘persuaded’ by Maulana Mohammad Ali Jouhar and Sayyad Wazir Hussain. Prior to this, he was a member of the Congress and opposed the Muslim League’s separatism. Jinnah was considered modern and was westernized in thought and attire. He was not a religious Muslim. He had previously been a disciple of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. He had also previously been a lawyer for Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

However, it is apparent that his psyche was not different from the general Muslim psyche. In 1916, he put forth the following demands:

1)    Muslims be allowed to hold their own elections to elect their own representatives.

2)    One third of the seats in the cabinet must be reserved for Muslim ministers.

3)    In local legislative bodies, Muslims must get proportional representation as per population.

4)    If 75% of any community opposes any legislative body, then any legislation that affects this community cannot be discussed or debated by this legislative body.

The year 1914 was the beginning of World War I. In Turkey, British forces fought against the Caliphate (see this for more on the Ottoman Caliphate).

Mahatama Gandhi has often been accused of (further) opening the doors for Indian Muslims to develop loyalties with Muslims outside by encouraging them to participate in the Khilafat struggle. However, Prof. More claims that such transnational Pan-Islamism was a pre-existing condition and did not require inputs from Mahatma Gandhi, and that such transnational loyalty existed for 1300 years and originated when Muhammad Bin Quasim stepped on the Indian soil.

To the question as to why the response to the Khilafat movement was more radical in India than in Turkey or Islamabad, Prof. More opines that by nature and tradition, the majority of Hindus in India tend to be tolerant and inclusive, treating all faiths as equal and at that time, Hindus did not feel the need to study and understand other faiths before being tolerant of them and practicing peaceful co-existence. This, states Prof. More, made India a fertile ground for the spread of Pan-Islamism. When Muslim invaders ruled India even while Muslims were in minority, such rulers received help from Muslims outside the country and the Khalifa issued certificates honoring such invaders.

If Muhammad Ali Jinnah is described as a nationalist, Prof. More wonders why Jinnah did not attempt to change the above-mentioned Muslim psyche. Shouldn’t Jinnah have asked what linked the Khalifa and Indian politics?

On the contrary Muhammad Ali Jinnah stated that Muslims were not minorities but a separate nation by itself. Hamid Dalwai, a progressive Muslim social reformer had stated that Jinnah had always been a Muslim communal at heart. As is well known, the demand for Pakistan came from Jinnah for the first time in 1940.

Sawarkar’s ideology in the context of Muslim secessionism and Pan-Islamism:

The context of Muslim secessionism is of importance when studying Swantantrata Veer Savarkar’s Hindutva thesis. By Savarkar’s thesis, Hindutva is far broader than the Hindu religion or Hinduism per se. Savarkar states that when Europe was wild and uncivilized, India was an evolved civilization with Vedas and Upanishads. Sanskrit is a mother of almost all languages of the world and is also one of the most scientific languages. The Vedic philosophy is profound as well as exhaustive and speaks of world unity.

A Hindu, according to Savarkar must be defined in such a way that the definition should not be too broad to include unsuitable elements, nor must it be too narrow so as to leave out important elements that need to be included. Geographically describing the motherland as stretching from the river Sindhu to the Sindhu ocean, Savarkar states that all those who think of this land as their nation and also as the home to their religious places or places of faith–are Hindus.

Savarkar spelt out the definition that those dwelling outside India are not Hindus. Similarly, those whose religious sacred places and religious faith exist outside India are not Hindu. Savarkar’s definition of Hinduism is thus not pegged to any religious scripture, historical entity, race, or God. Scriptures are outside the boundaries of time, a religious persona’s glory fades, new ‘Gods’ are born or created, new deities and modes of worship are created, and there is no such thing as a pure race. All these aspects are changing goalposts. The Indian nation or land is however, unchangeable. Loving ones motherland is Hindutva for Savarkar.

Further, Savarkar stated that the nation and its ancient and rich culture would survive only if Hindus (as per his definition of Hindutva) are unified. When a person crosses the boundaries of Hindutva to think for all mankind, the person becomes a true Hindu.

Savarkar was also a strong opponent of casteism. In 1932, he built the Patit Pawan Mandir at Ratnagiri which was the first temple in India that offered unrestricted access for prayer to all castes from the Hindu community (also see Ref: Savarkar also supported reservations for lower castes for a limited period of time.

This article is loosely based on a Marathi article by Girish Dabke that appeared in the Diwal 2012 issue of the Marathi magazine ‘Kistrim’.