NEHRU

From, Autobiography by Nehru, 1936. (Allied Publishers, 1962, p.159)

 

[1926] But, personalities apart, the rise of the Nationalist Party, or some such party, was inevitable owing to the growing communal temper of the country. On the one side, there were the Muslim fears of a Hindu majority; on the other side, Hindu resentment at being bullied, as they conceived it, by the Muslims. Many a Hindu felt that there was too much of the stand-up-and-deliver about the Muslim attitude, too much of an attempt to extort special privileges with the threat of going over to the other side. Because of this, the Hindu Mahasabha rose to some importance, representing as it did Hindu nationalism, Hindu communalism opposing Muslim communalism. The aggressive activities of the Mahasabha acted on and stimulated still further this Muslim communalism, and so action and reaction went on, and in the process the communal temperature of the country went up. Essentially this was a question between the majority group in the country and a big minority. But, curiously enough, in some parts of the country the position was reversed. In the Punjab and Sind the Hindus as well as the Sikhs were in a minority, the Muslims in a majority; and these provincial minorities had as much fear of being crushed by a hostile majority in those provinces as the Muslims had in the whole of India. Or, to be more accurate, the middle-class job-seekers in each group were afraid of being ousted by the other group, and to some extent the holders of vested interests were afraid of radical changes affecting those interests.

 

From, Autobiography by Nehru (Allied Publishers, 1962, p.465)

 

But the Aga Khan or the British Government could not stop the inevitable drift of the Muslim bourgeoisie towards national­ism. 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 same 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 jabs, 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 m 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. The separation of Sind has been con­sistently opposed by them in the economic interests of a minority and against the declared wishes of the majority.

 

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 paint 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 Lard 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 co­operate in the Assembly and elsewhere in helping Government to pass reactionary measures. Ottawa was one of the links which brought the three together.

 

Meanwhile it is interesting to notice that the Aga Khan’s close association with the extreme Right wing of the Conserva­tive party continues. In October 1934 he was the guest of honour at the British Navy League dinner, at which Lord Lloyd presided, and he supported wholeheartedly the proposals for further strengthening the British Navv, which Lord Lloyd had made at the Bristol Conservative Conference. An Indian leader was thus so anxious about imperial defence and the safety of England that he wanted to go further in increasing British armaments than even Mr. Baldwin or the ‘National’ Government. Of course, this was all in the interest of peace.

The next month, in November 1934, it was reported that a film was privately shown in London, the object of which was to link the Muslim world in lasting friendship with the British Crown. We were informed that the guests of honour on this occasion were the Aga Khan and Lord Lloyd. It would seem that the Aga Khan and Lord Lloyd have become almost as inseparably united-two hearts that beat as one-in imperial affairs, as Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr. M. R. Jayakar are in our national politics. And it is worth noticing that, during these months when the two were so frequently communing with each other, Lord Lloyd was leading a bitter and unre­lenting attack on the official Conservative leadership and the National Government for their alleged weakness in giving too much to India.[1]

 

Latterly there has been an interesting development in the speeches and statements of some of the Muslim communal leaders. This has no real importance, but I doubt if many people think so, nevertheless it is significant of the men­tality of communalism, and a great deal of prominence has been given to it. Stress has been laid on the ‘Muslim nation’ in India, on ‘Muslim culture’ on the utter incompatibility of Hindu and Muslim ‘cultures’. The inevitable deduction from this is (although it is not put baldly) that the British must remain in India for ever and ever to hold the scales and mediate between the two ‘cultures’.

 

A few Hindu communal leaders think exactly on the same lines, with this difference, however, that they hope that being in a majority their brand of ‘culture’ will ultimately prevail.

 

Hindu and Muslim ‘cultures’ and the ‘Muslim nation’ - ­how these words open out fascinating vistas of past history and present and future speculation! The Muslim nation in India --a nation within a nation, and not even compact, but vague, spread out, indeterminate. Politically, the idea is absurd, economically it is fantastic; it is hardly worth considering. And yet it helps us a little to understand the mentality behind it. Some such separate and unmixable ‘nations’ existed together in the Middle Ages and afterwards. In the Constantinople of the early days of the Ottoman Sultans each such ‘nation’ lived separately and had a measure of autonomy - Latin Christians, Orthodox Christians, Jews, etc. This was the be­ginning of extra-territoriality which, in more recent times, became such a nightmare to many eastern countries. To talk of a ‘Muslim nation’, therefore, means that there is no nation at all but a religious bond; it means that no nation in the modern sense must be allowed to grow; it means that modern civilisation should be discarded and we should go back to the medieval ways; it means either autocratic government or a foreign government; it means, finally, just nothing at all except an emotional state of mind and a conscious or unconscious de­sire not to face realities, especially economic realities. Emotions have a way of upsetting logic, and we may not ignore them simply because they seem so unreasonable. But this idea of a Muslim nation is the figment of a few imaginations only, and, but for the publicity given to it by the Press, few people would have heard of it. And even if many people believed in it, it would still vanish at the touch of reality.

 

So also the ideas of Hindu and Muslim ‘culture’. The day of even national cultures is rapidly passing and the world is becoming one cultural unit. Nations may retain, and will retain for a long time much that is peculiar to them-language, habits, ways of thought, etc. -  but the machine age and science, with swift travel, constant supply of world news, radio, cinema, etc., will make them more and more uniform. No one can fight against this inevitable tendency, and only a world catastrophe which shatters modern civilisation can really check it. There are certainly many differences between the traditional Hindu and Muslim philosophies of life. But these differences are hardly noticeable when both of them are compared to the modern scientific and industrial outlook on life, for between this latter and the former two there is a vast gulf. The real struggle to-day in India is not between Hindu culture and Muslim culture, but between these two and the conquering scientific culture of modern civilisation. Those who are de­sirous of preserving ‘Muslim culture’, whatever that may be, need not worry about Hindu culture, but should withstand the giant from the West. I have no doubt, personally, that all efforts, Hindu or Muslim, to oppose modern scientific and in­dustrial civilisation are doomed to failure, and I shall watch this failure without regret. Our choice was unconsciously and involuntarily made when railways and the like came here. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan made his choice on behalf of the Indian Muslims when he started the Aligarh College. But none of us had really any choice in the matter, except the choice which a drowning man has to clutch at something which might save him.

 

But what is this ‘Muslim culture’? Is it a kind of racial memory of the great deeds of the Arabs, Persians, Turks, etc.? Or language? Or art and music? Or customs? I do not re­member any one referring to present-day Muslim art or Muslim music. The two languages which have influenced Muslim thought in India are Arabic and Persian, and especi­ally the latter. But the influence of Persian has no element of religion about it. The Persian language and many Persian customs and traditions came to India in the course of thou­sands of years and impressed themselves powerfully all over north India. Persia was the France of the East, sending its language and culture to all its neighbours. That is a common and a precious heritage for all of us in India.

 

Pride in the past achievements of Islamic races and countries is probably one of the strongest of Islamic bonds. Does any one grudge the Muslims this noble record of various races? No one can take it away from them so long as they choose to remember it and cherish it. As a matter of fact, this past record is also to a large extent a common heritage for all of us, perhaps because we feel as Asiatics a common bond uniting us against the aggression of Europe. I know that whenever I have read of the conflicts of the Arabs in Spain or during the Crusades, my sympathies have always been with them. I try to be impartial and objective, but, try as I will, the Asiatic in me influences my judgment when an Asiatic people are concerned.

 

I have tried hard to understand what this ‘Muslim culture’ is, but I confess that I have not succeeded. I find a tiny handful of middle-class Muslims as well as Hindus in north India in­fluenced by the Persian language and traditions. And looking to the masses the most obvious symbols of ‘Muslim. culture’ seem to be: a particular type of pyjamas, not too long and not too short, a particular way of shaving or clipping the mous­tache but allowing the beard to grow, and a Iota with a special kind of snout, just as the corresponding Hindu customs are the wearing of a dhoti, the possession of a topknot, and a Iota of a different kind. As a matter of fact, even these distinctions are largely urban and they tend to disappear. The Muslim peasantry and industrial workers are hardly distinguishable from the Hindu. The Muslim intelligentsia seldom sports a beard, though Aligarh still fancies a red Turkish cap with a fez (Turkish it is called, although Turkey will have none of it). Muslim women have taken to the sari and are emerging rather slowly from the purdah. My own tastes do not harmonise with some of those habits, and I do not fancy beards or moustaches or topknots, but I have no desire to impose my canons of taste on others, though I must confess, in regard to beards, that I rejoiced when Amanullah began to deal with them in sum­mary fashion in Kabul.

 

I must say that those Hindus and Muslims who are always looking backward, always clutching, at things which are slip­ping away from their grasp, are a singularly pathetic sight. I do not wish to damn the past or to reject it, for there is so much that is singularly beautiful in our past. That will endure I have no doubt. But it is not the beautiful that these people clutch at, but something that is seldom worth while and is often harmful.

 

In recent years Indian Muslims have had repeated shocks, and many of their deeply cherished notions have been shat­tered. Turkey, that champion of Islam, has not only ended the Khilafat, for which India put up such a brave fight in 1920, but has taken step, after step away from religion. In the new Turkish Constitution an article stated that Turkey was a Moslem State, but, lest there be any mistake, Kemal Pasha said in 1927: “The provision in the Constitution that Turkey is a Moslem State is a compromise destined to be done away with at the first opportunity.” And I believe he acted up to this hint later on. Egypt, though much more cautiously, is going the same way and keeping her politics quite apart from religion. So also the Arab countries, except Arabia itself, which is more backward. Persia is looking back to pre-Islamic days for her cultural inspiration. Everywhere religion recedes into the background and nationalism appears in aggressive garbs and behind nationalism other isms which talk in social and economic terms. What of the ‘Muslim nation’ and ‘Muslim culture’? Are they to be found in the future only in northern India, rejoicing under the benign rule of the British?

 

If progress consists in the individual taking a broader view of what constitutes politics, our communalists as well as our Government have deliberately and consistently aimed at the opposite of this - the narrowing of this view.

 

From,  Modern India, by NCERT, Dec. 1986, p.284-85

 

The minorities, particularly Muslims, felt what was perhaps an unreasonable fear of the majority... Many nationalists leaders realised this fully well later, Jawaharlal Nehru, for example, wrote in 1933 that: To some extent this fear is justified, or is at least understandable in a minority  community .... A special responsibility does attach to the Hindus in India both because they are the majority community and because economically and educationally they are more advanced. The (Hindu) Mahasabha, instead of discharging that responsibility, has acted in a manner which has undoubtedly increased the communalism of the Muslims and made them distrust the Hindus all the more .... One communalism does not end the other; each feeds on the other and both fatten.

 

In another article written in 1934, he advised: “We should therefore remove this fear complex and make the Muslim masses realise that they can have any protection that they really desire.” Even Jinnah accepted this at the time. In a speech in 1931 he said: “My position is that I would rather have a settlement even on the footing of separate electorates, hoping and trusting that when we work out new constitution and when both Hindus and Muslims get rid of distrust, suspicion and fears, and when they get their freedom, we would rise to the occasion and probably separate electorate will go sooner than most of us think.”

 

But most of the nationalist leaders would either not accept this view or in any case failed to act upon it at the time. On the one hand they were pressurized by the Hindu communalists, on the other they felt that since the fears of the minority were illusory and the communal leaders had no mass support, their demands could be safely rejected. This was a mistake. The result was that even a nationalist like Maulana Muhammad Ali complained that the nationalist leaders were willing to compromise with the British Government on the question of complete freedom but refused to conciliate their own communalists, Maulana Azad commented at that time: “The Muslims were fools to ask for safeguards, and the Hindus were greater fools to refuse them.” In any case, Muslim commu­nalism began to grow steadily after this. 

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[1] Recently a Council of some British peers and Indian Muslims has been formed to cement and further the union of these extreme reactionary elements.