A. G. Noorani 
(The Muslims of India are today a demoralised and confused people with an acute sense of having been wronged by history. They are leaderless; economically deprived; subjected to rampant discrimination by the State as well as private institutions in the spheres of endeavour that matter to a people – education, employment, housing – and to an unremitting hostility by very large sections of the police and the paramilitary police, ever since the partition of India in 1947 to this day…The community faces two dilemmas. To deny discrimination and pretend all is well is to fly in the face of facts. But agitation against discrimination arouses the very emotions that foster discrimination. The solution of the Muslim problem lies in a resolution of this dilemma by devising a form and context of agitation which heals old wounds and inflicts no new ones.
This resolution can be achieved by regarding discrimination as what it is: a problem of Indian democracy. – Author)
The Muslims of India are today a demoralised and confused people with an acute sense of having been wronged by history. They are leaderless; economically deprived; subjected to rampant discrimination by the State as well as private institutions in the spheres of endeavour that matter to a people – education, employment, housing – and to an unremitting hostility by very large sections of the police and the paramilitary police, ever since the partition of India in 1947 to this day.
Time has failed to serve as the traditional healer. Far from improving, the situation has deteriorated. (Vide the writer’s article “Muslims and the Police”; Frontline 12 and 2 December, 2014). Discrimination has recently reared its head even in sectors where it was not particularly noticeable earlier. Famous Muslim actors and writers with national appeal, across the religious divide, have been turned away by landlords in the national capital New Delhi as well as in the country’s financial capital, Mumbai (Bombay). The atmosphere deteriorated steeply after the RSS and its political wing, the BJP, demolished a mosque which ranked as heritage structure enjoying special legal protection – the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. Secularists denounced the heinous crime; but six years later the BJP was in power at the Centre in mid-1998. It has now become very respectable to India’s middle and upper classes.
It is that atmosphere and demolition of the Masjid which has spawned hostile discrimination as never before. The Sangh Parivar, as the duo are popularly known, discovered that its strategy of mobilisation of Hindus and marginalisation of Muslims works. Muslims do not realise this and have no strategy to counter it.
This is not a study of the economic and social conditions of the Muslims in India, disturbing as that is. There are official reports on it of varied quality. On 14 June 1983 a “High Power Panel on Minorities, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes & Other Weaker Sections” submitted its Report in 2 Volumes to the Government of India. Only one of its seven members was a Muslim, a politician from the ruling Congress party, Dr. Rafiq Zakaria, who served also as Secretary.
It is fair to mention that he did his best to ascertain the true state of affairs. In Chapter 2 on Methodology (p.7) the Report reveals, “As we feared, while considerable (though not complete in any way) data was forthcoming in respect of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for whom statutory provisions existed, no such data was available, except in vague, and general terms, in respect of the religious minorities. No Central Government Department or Public Sector Undertaking could enlighten us specifically as to the number of employees belonging to the minorities, nor the quantum of benefits they were deriving from economic activities. About the minorities, we were informed that as the authorities concerned were not required by law to maintain any data, they were unable to provide any data to us.” That the Panel “feared” that statistics in respect of “the religious minorities” (read: Muslims) would not be available reflects the clime in which it worked.
Next came the Report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities in May 2007. It was headed by a Chief Justice of India, Justice Ranganath Misra, who had performed deplorably in every institution he had served and became a Congress party politician. The data assembled is useful. The Report has a dissent by the Member-Secretary Asha Das, a former senior bureaucrat, which has statements one would expect only in the BJP circles. Lastly, we have the Prime Minister’s (Dr. Manmohanj Singh’s) High Level Committee for Preparation of a Report on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community of India. Its Report, submitted on 17 November 2006 contains a wealth of information. For the first time, the remit focussed on Muslims alone.
The standing of Muslims in national politics is accurately reflected in the results of all the general elections to the Lok Sabha (the directly elected lower House of Parliament) since 1952. The figures are : 1952 – 25; 1957 – 23; 1962 – 26; 1967 – 28; 1971 – 28; 1977 – 32; 1980 – 49; 1984 – 45; 1989 – 33; 1991 – 29; 1996 – 27; 1998 – 38; 1999 – 32; 2004 – 35; 2009 – 28; and 2014 – 22 which is an all time low. Muslims constitute 10.5 per cent of the population. In the 2014 Lok Sabha their representation is 4.2 per cent of the total membership which has varied from 489 in 1952 to 543 in 2014.1
It was this last election in 2014 which threw up Narendra Modi as the Prime Minister of India. Only a few months earlier, he had declared to Reuters for all to hear “I’m a born Hindu. Nothing is wrong. So, I’m a Hindu nationalist, so yes, you can say I’m a Hindu Nationalist because I am a born Hindu”.2
Modi and his party the BJP have successfully marginalised the Muslims politically and fostered an intra-Hindu debate. Muslims count for little. Surely, some introspection is due as to the causes of the decline and marginalisation. But introspection does not come naturally to Muslims. Charges of “betrayal”, unrealistic demands, and neglect of the political situation, with the opportunities it offers, are prominent.
There are 11 parliamentary constituencies in which Muslims constitute a majority – three of them fall in Kashmir, which is a special case by itself. In 34 other constituencies Muslims form above 25 per cent of the electorate; in 43, they are above 15 per cent of the electorate. Muslims do not have a single All-India leader or political party to guide them; perhaps just as well for it will lead to a backlash. Muslim leadership is organised State-wise, mostly in South India.
It is woefully apparent that these realities demand a political approach altogether different from that which the Muslims adopted with disastrous results since independence. They must learn from the past; not live in it. To begin with, only one para of the Resolution which the
All India Muslim League adopted at Lahore on 23 March 1940, has received attention; namely the one on the partition of India. Its operative part comprised three paras and they formed an integral whole.
After the preambular parts rejecting an All-India federation the Resolution said:
“Resolved that it is the considered view of this Session of the All-India Muslim League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the following basic principle, viz. that geographically contiguous units are demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial readjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India should be grouped to constitute ‘Independent States’ in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.”
“That adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards should be specifically provided in the constitution for minorities in these units and in the regions for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them and in other parts of India where the Mussalmans are in a minority.
Adequate, effective and mandatory safeguards shall be specifically provided in the constitution for them and other minorities for the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political, administrative and other rights and interests in consultation with them.
“This Session further authorises the Working Committee to frame a scheme of constitution in accordance with these basic principles, providing for the assumption finally by the respective regions of all powers such as defence, external affairs, communications, customs and such other matters as may be necessary.”3
Clearly, the para on constitutional safeguards for the minorities formed an integral part of the proposal for the partition of India. So, did the last para which envisaged “a scheme of Constitution” which provided for the assumption of sovereignty “finally”; that is at the end of an interim process during which the details are worked out by agreement. Indeed, the Resolution itself was to be implemented by agreement. Instead the partition of India and of Bengal and Punjab was rushed through by the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, at frenetic speed. Effective safeguards for the minorities fell by the way side.
Supporters of the Muslim League in the non-Muslim majority provinces, which comprise today’s India, did not imagine that they would be left forlorn. Begum Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah was a highly educated person. If she was shocked and confused on the announcement of the Partition Plan on 3 June 1947, one can well imagine what befell others: “Muslims were shocked and disturbed at this turn of events. The borders of Pakistan had never been clearly defined. Many in the rank and file of the Muslim League had continued to hope that some last minute agreement would ensure for them a position in an independent India without partition, and if partition came it should certainly mean the whole of Bengal and Punjab, and that in the Punjab, the line would be drawn just below Delhi where there was a 52 per cent overall majority of Muslims. For millions of persons like myself to whom Delhi was synonymous with Muslim culture, a Pakistan without Delhi was a body without a heart, and yet this is what was to happen. In Bengal, Calcutta, the main port and the lifeline for East Pakistan, was also to be lost, and there was no time to do anything about it. Events had got out of control and there was a Kafka-like atmosphere about the whole thing.
“Why the Quaid accepted what he himself had earlier rejected as a moth-eaten and truncated Pakistan, is the subject for a book in itself. Here it suffices to say that he did accept it.
Minorities in India seem to have been left to their fate – no provision or agreement had been reached as to what would become of them. It was the Muslim minority in India who had led the movement for Pakistan, but when Pakistan came into being they were left behind.”4
On 22 July 1947 the Partition Council met with the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, in the Chair, Mohammed Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan represented the future Government of Pakistan, Vallabhbhai Patel and Rajendra Prasad represented ‘the future Government of India.’ Baldev Singh represented the Sikhs. A Joint Communiqué recorded: “Both the Congress and the Muslim League have given assurances of fair and equitable treatment to the minorities after the transfer of power. The two future governments re-affirm these assurances. It is their intention to safeguard the legitimate interests of all citizens irrespective of religion, caste, or sex. In the exercise of their normal civic rights, all citizens will be regarded as equal, and both the governments will assure to all people within their territories the exercise of liberties such as freedom of speech, the right to form associations, the right to worship in their own way, and the protection of their language and culture. Both the governments further undertake that there shall be no discrimination against those who before 15 August may have been political opponents.” This promise of “assurances” fell far short of a formal binding agreement.
A most revealing and instructive encounter between Jinnah and a delegation of the Coorg Muslims at 10 Aurangzeb Road, New Delhi on 25 July, bears quotation in extenso: “Muslims in India have nothing to be afraid of. They will still be several crores in number. They have made many sacrifices along with the Muslims of the majority provinces. It is as a result of the sacrifices made by all of them in India that we have been able to achieve Pakistan. While the Mussalmans of the majority provinces will be in a position to wield authority and power and mould their destinies according to their genius, the Mussalmans in India have yet to go through a number of ordeals, sufferings, and sacrifices. Their future will remain dark for some years to come and thick clouds will be hanging over them. The only way out for them will be to become much more active, much more courageous, and work harder than ever before. Trusting in God they should always be up and doing and go forward undeterred by the discouraging circumstances around them.
‘What they need first is the correct leadership. If they could find men who are possessed of high ideals and sterling character and men who could understand their difficulties and men who are above board, it will be some consolation to start with. What you have to do is to maintain your identity and your individuality in the first instance. You can adapt yourselves to the changing circumstances and environment, without sacrificing your identity and individuality… You must also avoid occasions of conflict with the majority community and show by dint of your merit and intellectual capacity that you cannot be ignored under any circumstances.
“As regards your loyalty, you cannot but be loyal to your country.
Just as I want every Hindu in Pakistan to be loyal to Pakistan, so do
I want every Muslim in India to be loyal to India. There is no other alternative.
“You can be useful citizens of you country in two ways by becoming (i) educationally forward and (ii) economically sound, and thereby making yourselves indispensable to the country. To achieve this you have to devote much of your attention to the education of your young men and see that they are well equipped. You should prepare them for technical and professional careers… While you make progress educationally, you should at the same time continue your business activities so that you are economically strong. Without this you will not be able to keep pace with the march of events… Worse coming to worst, you will have a homeland in Pakistan which will give you a shelter whenever you need it. What is more, there will be adjustments between the two countries and there will be territorial safeguards for the protection of minorities on either side. All that you have got to do so is to find the correct leadership in
India, which will guide you and take you through your ordeals smoothly without involving you in a conflict with the powers that be and provide opportunities for you to develop educationally and economically. … So long as I am alive, I shall watch with great interest, care, and anxiety your struggles in India, your interests, and your future. I shall pray that God may come to your succour in times of your difficulties and be with you to lead you to prosperity and happiness. Your sacrifices in the making of Pakistan are great. How can we ever forget them or forget you? You and your sacrifices will always be in my thoughts and feeling. May God be with you. Goodbye.”5 That was inspiring; but not helpful.
Earlier, when the Council of the All India Muslim league met on 9 June 1947, at the Imperial Hotel in New Delhi to accept the Partition Plan, Jinnah was questioned by members from UP, Bombay, Orissa, and Bengal about the fate of the Muslim minority in India. In reply to these questions, “Mr. Jinnah said that he could disclose nothing beyond his personal opinion that the safeguarding of the rights of Muslims minorities would depend upon the future relations between Hindustan and Pakistan.”6
This brings us to the third part of the Lahore Resolution – the detailed scheme for the partition of India. On 23 December 1940 Sir Abdullah Haroon submitted his Report to Jinnah as “Chairman, Foreign Sub-Committee” of the League. Unfortunately it went beyond the Lahore Resolution to include the princely States with special mention of Hyderabad. Transfer of population was not overlooked.
But, it contained a precious nugget in para 16 which read: “The Lahore resolution of the League does not look forward to the proposed regional states assuming immediately as they are formed, powers of defence, external affairs, customs etc. This argues that there should be a transitional stage during which these powers should be exercised by some agency common to them all. Such a common co-ordinating agency would be necessary even independent of the above consideration, for under the third principle of the resolution, it will be impossible to implement effectively the provision of safeguards for minorities without some organic relationship subsisting between the states under the Hindu influence. A federation is not to the taste of the Muslims, because they fear that the Hindus will, on the strength of their majority, dominate the Muslims. But since some common arrangement is essential to the fulfilment of the provisions of the resolution, an agreed formula has to be devised whereby the Muslims shall have the control at the Centre on terms of perfect equality with the Non-Muslims.” This agency would have solved Jinnah’s dilemma of old.
A realist, Jinnah had warned the Lucknow session of the League in October 1937 that, “all safeguards and settlements would be a scrap of paper, unless they are backed by power”. He said at the Aligarh Muslim
Students’ Union on 5 February 1938 “The only hope for minorities is to organize themselves and secure a definite share in power to safeguard their rights and interests. Without such power no Constitution can work successfully in India”.
Sir Abdullah realized that the Lahore Resolution’s para on the minorities would be of no avail unless the last para was fleshed out to provide what Prof. Reginald Coupland called an agency centre in which Muslims would have a voice; two sovereign states linked by such an agency to assure minority rights.7
However, even after the partition, there was a ray of hope that Pakistan and India would sign a binding international agreement embodying a Charter of Rights for the Minorities. This important episode, of abiding relevance, is neglected in studies on the partition. The Charter was the brainchild of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy. His hurried account does scant justice to the promise and its failure. “While staying with Mahatma Gandhi I busied myself drawing up a charter of minority rights which would be useful for the Muslims in India and for the Hindus in Pakistan.
During this period I was travelling continuously between Delhi, Lahore, Karachi and Calcutta. After discussing the matter with Mahatma Gandhi I approached Jinnah for his opinion and approval. His immediate reaction was that I should get the acceptance of the Indian leaders. Mahatmaji agreed to my draft as did Pandit Nehru and Sardar Patel. When I again saw Jinnah he wanted the written acceptance of Mahatma Gandhi before he would consider it, although he agreed that such a charter would be a useful document. Mahatma Gandhi thereupon endorsed my draft which, to the best of my recollection, was to the effect that he agreed with the draft, though he considered it somewhat prolix, but doubted that Jinnah sincerely meant to abide by it.”
“I made the mistake of showing the (pencilled) endorsement of Gandhiji to Jinnah who flared upon seeing it; he refused to consider the document and handed it back to me. The next day Jinnah wanted the document back and said he wanted particularly to see the endorsement of Mahatma Gandhi. I could see that if Jinnah had the document in his possession he would work himself up into a tearing rage and start another feud with Mahatma Gandhi which would destroy all hope of any agreement on this important issue and might further complicate matters between India and Pakistan and increased the tension that already existed between the two leaders. I begged leave of Jinnah not to hand over the document to him and left Karachi. For this Jinnah never forgave me.”8
The Memoirs were published in 2009. Earlier in 2001, Volume 69 of Jinnah Papers was published which brought to light10 the correspondence on this matter. It began with Suhrawardy’s letter to Jinnah from Palace Hotel in Karachi dated 8 October 1947 the day he met Jinnah and unwisely showed him Gandhi’s pencilled comments which were unnecessary and offensive. He also enclosed a draft Declaration on minority rights. Gandhi also wrote to Jinnah, on 11 October 1947 suggesting amendments. On 18 October, Jinnah wrote to Suhrawardy to ask for the “first draft” with Gandhi’s offensive remarks in pencil.
Subrawardy replied on 28 October to claim, falsely in order to save the project, that it had been “destroyed”. Jinnah rejected the proposal. Gandhi’s performance, Suhrawardy’s maladroit performance and Jinnah’s angry response killed a worthwhile proposal. Neither he nor Jawaharlal Nehru proposed another draft.
On 14-15 December 1947, the All-India Muslim League met in a session in Karachi to split the body with Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan and all others settled in Pakistan insisting that there must be a Muslim League in India as well. All the top leaders from India opposed it bar a pliant non-entity from Madras, Mohammed Ismail, who became “Quaide-Millat” in India after the leadership was thrust on him. To this day the Muslim League is confined to Tamil Nadu and Kerala where a charismatic leader took up the challenge. The League is a strong force in Kerala today.
The proceedings at Karachi on 14-15 October 1947 reflected the divide. Jinnah addressed the Council and said: “There must be a Muslim league in Hindustan. If you are thinking of anything else, you are finished. If you want to wind up the League you can do so; but I think it would be a great mistake. I know there is an attempt, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad and others are trying to break the identity of Muslims in India. Do not allow it. Do not do it.”
Hussain Imam then moved his amendment: “In the resolution, … in place of the All-India Muslim League, there shall be separate League organisations for Pakistan and the Indian Union”, the word “shall” should be replaced by “may”. He pointedly said, “People here do not know the difficulties the Muslims are facing in India. They should be left free to decide their future according to the circumstances.” No one supported him.
Speaking next, Suhrawardy added: “I oppose this resolution. I am amongst those who had proposed some time ago that the League should be split. So, some might be surprised at my opposition. But before we split, my concern is to do something practical about the protection of minorities. I say when our objective is achieved, then why should we not organize ourselves in such a manner that the minorities are given the opportunity, on a national basis, to join us in the same organisation? If you do that in Pakistan, it would help us in the Indian Union. If you form a national body here it would strengthen the hands of Nehru and Gandhi. The AICC passed a very good resolution. We should also have passed a similar resolution.”11 It was a wise suggestion but it was rejected out of hand.
However radical the change in the situation may be, it is given to few to reflect on the change and adopt a course suited to the changed conditions. This, the League leaders in India’s Constituent Assembly refused to do. Worse still, as will be pointed out presently, nearly half a century later, lessons of the follies of Muslim members of the Constituent Assembly have still not been learnt.
On 8 August 1947 Sardar Patel presented to the Assembly, as Chairman of its Advisory Committee on Minorities, Fundamental Rights, etc., its Report on Minority Rights. It discarded separate electorates but provided for reservation of seats on the basis of joint electorates. The Assembly adopted these recommendations on 27 and 28 August, 1947; the Muslim League’s leaders pressing for separate electorates, including Chudhuri Khaliquzzaman.
In May 1949, however, the issue was reopened, Patel presented another Report to the Assembly on 11 May 1949 dropping the reservation of seats for Muslims, “the conditions having vastly changed” since August 1947; a proposition hard to contest. Patel said that at that time “the effect of partition was not fully comprehended or appreciated”. Some of the Muslim leaders had also revised their opinion. Not all though. True to his Karachi mandate Mohammad Ismail of Madras stuck to separate electorates. Z. H. Lari opposed them. It reflects the clime that a member, H. V. Kamath stooped to ask “Why did you demand Pakistan?” Nawab Mohammed Ismail of Meerut, a born statesman, Tajammul Husain, Begum Aizaz Rasul, Naziruddin Ahmad and Maulana Hasrat Mohani agreed with Lari. Muhammad Saadullah wanted reservations for a limited period. Patel, by no means, a votary of minority rights was provoked by the Leaguers from the South to deliver some home truths. “I doubt whether there has been any change in their attitude to bring forward such an amendment even now after all this long reflection and experience of what has happened in this country.
But I know this that they have got a mandate from the Muslim League to move this amendment. I feel sorry for them. This is not a place today for acting on mandates. This is a place today to act on your conscience and to act for the good of the country. For a community to think that its interests are different from that of the country in which it lives, is a great mistake. Assuming that we agreed today to the reservations of seats, I would consider myself to be the greatest enemy of the Muslim community because of the consequences of the step in a secular and democratic State. Assume that you have separate electorates on a communal basis. Will you ever find a place in any of the Ministries in the Provinces or in the Centre? You have a separate interest. Here in a Ministry or a Government based on joint responsibility, where people who do not trust us or who do not trust the majority, cannot obviously come into the Government itself. Accordingly, you will have no share in the Government. You will exclude yourselves and remain perpetually in a minority. Then, what advantage will you gain?”12 His motion was adopted on 26 May 1949.
On both counts, Patel was right. The two Leaguers from the South, Muhammad Ismail and B. Pocker, knew that the situation in fact had changed radically. They sought to build their Constituency in Madras.
Fundamentally, as Dr. B. R. Ambedkar pointed out, separate electorates isolate the minorities and isolation is the worst thing that can happen to any minority. They will return the faithful to the legislature; but they will not share power. Patel’s logic was irrefutable. Yet, nearly 65 years later, a Muslim politician accused the Muslim leaders of “betrayal”. In this, he exposed an outlook that was akin to that of the Leaguers of 1947.
The harsh reality that escapes is that as the fact of the partition seeped into the minds of the people and the bitterness increased from 1947 to 1949. As Nehru’s biographer Sarvepalli Gopal recorded, “In performing this duty, his first as the leader of free people, Nehru could not rely on the unqualified support of his Cabinet. Some of the members, such as Azad, John Matthai, [Rafi Ahmed] Kidwai and Amrit Kaur, were with him, but they carried little influence with the masses. The old stalwarts of the Congress, however, such as Patel and Rajendra Prasad with the backing of the leader of the Hindu Mahasabha, Syama Prasad Mookerjee, believed not so much in a theocratic state as in a state which symbolised the interest of the Hindu majority. Patel assumed that Muslim officials, even if they had opted for India, were bound to be disloyal and should be dismissed; and to him the Muslims in India were hostages to be held as security for the fair treatment of Hindus in Pakistan. He, therefore, resisted Nehru’s efforts to reserve certain residential areas in Delhi for Muslims and to employ Muslims to deal with Muslim refugees. Even more non-secular in outlook than Patel was Rajendra Prasad, the meek follower of Gandhi but untouched in any real sense by the spirit of Gandhi’s teachings. One-sided action, he wrote to his Prime Minister, could not bring the desired results but would in fact lead to the most undesirable and unexpected consequences. There was no use in bringing in the army to protect the Muslim citizens of Delhi if the Hindus and Sikhs were expelled from the cities of Pakistan.”13
Nehru chided Mohanlal Saxena, Minister for Rehabilitation, who had ordered the sealing of Muslim shops in Delhi and the United Provinces: “All of us seem to be getting infected with the refugee mentality or, worse still, the RSS mentality”.14
In a confidential note to Cabinet Ministers on 12 September 1947, Nehru asked, are we “to encourage trends which will lead to the progressive elimination of the Muslim population from India, or are we to consolidate, make secure and absorb as full citizens the Muslim who remain in India? That, again, involves our conception of India; is it going to be, as it has been in a large measure, a kind of composite state where there is complete cultural freedom for various groups, but at the same time a strong political unity, or do we wish to make it, as certain elements appear to desire, definitely a Hindu or a non-Muslim state? If the Hindus think in terms of any domination, cultural or otherwise, over others, this would not only be against our own repeated professions, but would naturally displease other and smaller minorities in India”.15
Nehru’s letter to G. B. Pant on 17 April 1950, was a crie de coeur: “I have felt for a long time that the whole atmosphere of the U.P. has been changing for the worse from the communal point of view. Indeed the U.P. is becoming almost a foreign land for me. I do not fit in there. The U.P. Congress Committee, with which I have been associated for 35 years, now function in a manner which amazes me. Its voice is not the voice of the Congress I have known, but something which I have opposed for the greater part of my life”.16 Patel was all for getting the Muslims out of Delhi and for preventing the return to their homes of Muslims who had fled to Pakistan in panic. There was no curb on the traffic then. At a meeting of the Emergency Committee of the Cabinet Patel said that “there was bound to be trouble if as a result of these Muslims not moving out, it proved impossible to accommodate non-Muslim refugees coming from the West”.17 Nehru was warned on 4 May 1948 that “reports have reached me of considerable discontent both amongst the public in general, and refugees, in particular, in regard to our failure to prevent the inflow of Muslims from Pakistan.18
It was always “the people’s” opinion which he claimed to represent even in this incredible refrain to Nehru on 2 September 1947 “People are openly clamouring as to why Muslims are allowed to go about in peace openly in the streets of Delhi and other towns”. He carefully left the alternative unsaid; only to pose another question: “why there are any Muslims at all in the police and the civil administration, and are indulging in similar other demands”.19 Elementary human rights were to be denied, apparently.
Nehru’s Note for the Cabinet on the Delhi disturbances dated 18 September 1947 was emphatic on the right to return. “As soon as normality is restored arrangements should be made for Muslim residents of Delhi, who are at present in various camps, to return to their houses in Delhi city. To begin with, security arrangements should be made in those areas of Delhi city where such Muslim residents reside. … It should be clearly understood that the houses vacated by Muslim evacuees continue to belong to them and that ownership and property in them cannot pass to another.”20
Patel would have none of it, as he wrote to Nehru on 4 May 1948: “Reports have reached me of considerable discontent both amongst the public, in general, and refugees, in particular, in regard to our failure to prevent the inflow of Muslims from Pakistan”.21 This flew in the face of a Cabinet decision as Nehru reminded Patel on 2 March 1948: “You will remember that we came to the conclusion two or three months ago that the areas in Delhi city which are now predominantly Muslim should be reserved for Muslims”.22
By December 1948 Patel was demanding that “a part of East Pakistan be carved out and handed over to India for rehabilitation of refugees”.23
The limit was reached in a staggering suggestion to Nehru on 15 October Nehru replied on 27 October : “You suggest that we might have to consider giving a clear indication to the Pakistan Government that if this immigration continues we would have no alternative left except to send out Muslims from West Bengal in equal numbers.
“It is perfectly true that this continuing migration is a tremendous problem for us and I cannot suggest an obvious remedy. It is largely due to deteriorating economic conditions and the Pakistan Government is hardly capable of improving these conditions. But I am quite clear in my mind that any suggestion about Muslims being sent from West Bengal to East Bengal would lead to disastrous consequences. Even an indication of this would injure our case very greatly without in the least affording us relief from the migration.
“A suggestion of this kind was made some time back by Bidhan Roy [Chief Minister of West Bengal] and I wrote to him rather strongly on the subject. I felt that such an idea would completely put an end to a stand we have taken as a secular state and it would create communal trouble all over India and the great gain to us of the Hyderabad affair would vanish. Every Muslim in India would feel an alien and in effect we would have established a Hindu State. Our world position, which is high at present, would suffer irretrievably. Every action that we have taken in the past, every declaration that we have made will be judged from a new standpoint and we shall be condemned and isolated. Our enemies would of course say that they were right, throughout, our friends will remain silent in a shame-faced way. All kinds of new problems and difficulties would arise and the consequences in every direction will be bad. Then again how would one pick out Muslims, who are undoubtedly citizens of India, to be sent to East Bengal? None of them will want to go voluntarily and we would have to employ force. Neither international nor domestic law could justify this pushing out of our own citizens to a foreign country which does not want them.”24
The suggestion had also figured in a long considered letter of 19 October 1948 which covers 5 pages of Vol. 7 of SPC (p. 258-262): “I am beginning to wonder whether a clear indication to the Pakistan Government that, if this immigration continues on account of deterioration of conditions in East Bengal, we would have no alternative except to send out Muslims from West Bengal in equal numbers, would not goad them into some salutary action”. That such a hideous thought should cross his mind at all is amazing. How were the victims of his wrath to be selected en bloc from the border areas? If so, which? Or were they to be selected by drawing lots?
Apart from Baldev Singh and Rajendra Prasad, Chief Ministers like G. B. Pant (U.P), Ravi Shankar Shukla (Central Provinces) and B.C. Roy (West Bengal) shared his outlook and joined the drive to exclude Muslims from the services. “The sooner we issue instructions to Provincial Governments to take action for disowning the Muslim element (in the Special Army Constabulary) for disarming the Muslim element, the better” Patel wrote to Defence Minister Baldev Singh on 7 October 1947 (SPC; Vol. 4, p. 518). Such moves, during the immediate aftermath of the partition did not stop. They persisted long after, despite Nehru’s repealed protests to the Chief Ministers, and account for the sad conditions now. This was the hopeless clime in which the 1947 decision was revised in 1949.
Two utterances reveal the durability of the poison. “The Hindu majority is clean hearted and fair-minded. I cannot say the same about the majority of the Indian Muslims”, Morarji Desai said at the National Democratic Convention in New Delhi on 29 November 1964.25 He became Deputy Prime Minister in 1967 and PM in 1977.
“Wherever there are Muslims, they do not want to live with others (who practice different faiths). Instead of living peacefully they want to preach and propagate their religion by creating fear and terror in the minds of others”, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said at a public meeting in Panaji on 12 April 2002; only a month after the Gujarat pogrom.26
In this ambience Nehru battled almost alone. The Muslim leaders of the day did not realise that very many, if not most, in the Congress had more in common with Patel than with Nehru. Secularism lived on borrowed time. It was losing steam. The fact that the ideology has managed to survive is a testimony to Nehru’s efforts; its battered state, to Patel’s success. Sadly in this battle, Nehru received little help from the Muslim leaders. Their strategy was exclusively to demand redress of Muslim grievances to the neglect of a wider struggle for the secular ideal.
Like the Khan Bahadurs of the British era, there emerged the tribe of “Sarkari Musalmans” more royalist than the king. To make matters worse, Muslim leaders who had pledged loyalty to India wended their way to Pakistan in search of richer pastures – Khaliquzzaman, Husain Imam and Z. H. Lari who was leader of the Opposition in the U.P. Assembly even as late as in 1950.
An utterly demoralised community received little help from one who once aspired to be “Imam-ul-Hind”. Maulana Azad simply failed to rise to the occasion. A demoralized and confused community was his to lead. He spoke to it, in a much acclaimed oration albeit foolishly, at the Jama Masjid, on 23 October 1947 in the language of taunt and reproach (‘I hailed you; you cut off my tongue’). Nothing came of the Indian Union Muslim Conference at Lucknow, over which he presided, on 27 December 1947; Azad withdrew from an active role in Muslim politics and confined himself to imparting advice and exerting sound influence on the Cabinet and on the Congress till his death.
He did not follow up the advice he gave at Lucknow in 1947. “All communal organizations must be liquidated. Even the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-i-Hind, whose main function has been to guide the Muslims in the cultural and religious spheres, but which entered the political field in the cause of Indian nationalism, will have to cease its political activities now that India has achieved liberation.” He declared that any political organization of the Muslims and, for that matter, of any other community – howsoever nationalist and progressive its outlook – would be harmful to the interest of Muslims and the country as a whole and could not be tolerated in the changed circumstances of the country.
Azad observed however, that there could be no objection to the functioning in the country of communal organizations which confined their activities to religion and culture alone, and kept themselves scrupulously aloof from political squabbles. He said that the responsibility of those who participated in the conference would not end with the taking of decisions to dissolve all communal bodies and joining non-communal, political, and progressive organizations. They had also to devise a machinery in order to make their decisions operative. A non-communal committee should be formed to change the prevailing atmosphere in the country in the light of the decisions of the conference. No mechanism was devised; no committee or organisation was set-up. Azad made no efforts to implement this resolve. As ever, he prescribed lessons for lesser mortals to follow. He was no leader.
The Muslim leadership, such as it was, was depleted after the exodus to Pakistan and traumatised not only after partition but, shortly thereafter, by the armed invasion of Hyderabad followed by the massacre of Muslims in the State. It did not realise that time was fast running out and the secular credo was itself on the defensive. The politicians stuck to their old grooves and remain stuck to this day.
Meanwhile, on 21 October 1951, the Mahasabha leader and acolyte of V. D. Savarkar, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee set up the Bharatiya Jan Sangh as the political front of the RSS. (Dissolved in 1977, it reviewed itself as the Bharatiya Janata Party on 5 April 1980). 1961 saw two landmark events. In February Jabalpur erupted into a Jan Sangh instigated riot in which Muslims suffered.
A Union Home Ministry Review (in monograph) prepared in June 1968 for the National Integration Council recorded: “From 1954 to 1960 there was a clear and consistent downward trend, 1960 being a remarkably good year with only 26 communal incidents in the whole country. This trend was sharply reversed in 1961. The increase was, however, largely in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. There was a substantial fall during the next two years indicating stabilisation of the situation. 1964 was an abnormal year when largely as a repercussion of serious communal riots in East Pakistan there was large scale communal violence in West Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. There was no marked rise in communal incidents in other parts of the country. Because of the two conflicts with Pakistan, there was serious apprehension of communal trouble in 1965, but most parts of the country remained on the whole peaceful; it was only in Maharashtra and particularly in and around Poona that there was a very large number of incidents mostly involving loss of property; the incidents followed a case of sacrilege and had no connection with the Indo-Pak conflict. In 1966 the number of incidents fell, but it was still relatively high and therefore, a matter of concern. The special feature of incidents in 1966 was that Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra which had earlier been relatively free from communal trouble (except the Poona incidents of 1965), indicated persistent tension. The deterioration in communal relations noticed in 1966 continued in 1967, the most serious outbreak of violence being in Ranchi where 155 lives were lost in week-long disturbances. There was a marked rise in incidents in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh as compared to 1966.” In 2015, over fifty years later, communal riots break out; always with Muslims at the receiving end and always with police apathy if not connivance.
Note the Review’s tacit acceptance of the view, held alike by Nehru and Jinnah, that the communal atmosphere and, therefore, the lot of the minorities, depended on relations between India and Pakistan.
The other major event in 1961 was the Muslim Convention held in New Delhi on 11 and 12 June on the initiative of Dr. Syed Mahmud, a Congressman and a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru. It evoked a howl of protest. “Muslims should suffer in silence and should not even be allowed to cry out in pain?” he asked. In 1964 Muslims in riot-torn Sambalpur met, not to demand redress, but to send cables to the U.N.
Security Council “telling them that Kashmir’s accession to India is irrevocable”.
In December 1947, Vallabhbhai Patel had made support to India’s stand on Kashmir a loyalty test for Muslims, including Maulana Azad. It was “nationalistic” for Muslims to meet to voice their support to India on Kashmir; it was “communal” of them to demand redress for the wrongs inflicted on them. Dr. Syed Mahmud broke this pattern. On 18 May 1961 the Congress Working Committee met and approved of this statement which said “some of us did not like the idea as we also not approve of a convention held on a sectional basis.”
Nearly 600 Muslims petitioned, including G. M. Sadiq of Kashmir’s National Conference who became Chief Minister in 1964. Dr. Syed Mahmud also convened the All India Muslim Consultative Convention at Lucknow on 8 August 1964, which setup the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat.
Chief among its Aims and Objects were: “(1) To bring about better understanding and promote unity amongst the various communities and sections inhabiting the country, especially Hindus, Muslims, Harijans, Christians, Sikhs, Parsees, Buddhists, Jains, etc; (2) To organize meetings, seminars, symposiums in various parts of the country in order to promote communal harmony and goodwill; (3) To enlist the support of the members of all communities for the full implementation of the secular ideals of the Constitution of India, that is, the ideals of neutrality and non-discrimination by the state on grounds of religion, caste, creed, and colour; (4) To endeavour and bring nearer to each other all the Muslim and non-Muslim organizations working for the uplift of the communities and the country.”
The Mushawarat drifted away from these aims and has declined over the years into irrelevance. The Times of London carried an excellent report in its issue of 10 August 1964. “As with the last such Muslim Convention, which was held in Delhi just three years ago, this meeting is consequent upon outbreaks of murderous violence against Muslims In 1961, it was the small outbreak in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, which occasioned the Muslim Convention. This year the massacres at Rourkela and Jamshedpur and the riots in Calcutta induced the community leaders to foregather again to express their confusion, helplessness, and despair.
“The situation of the Muslims in India has sensibly worsened in the past three years, and those in Lucknow this weekend may well feel their helplessness increase when they consider what little impression the complaints and hopes they registered three years ago have had. The chief cause of this deteriorating position of the Muslims is no doubt the strong swell of nationalism in India in recent years, which in north India has had its undercurrents of Hindu nationalism; but as deep a factor is the nature of the Muslim community itself, and this is well projected in the Lucknow meeting, where the elderly predominate and devouts take the leading role. … One of the speakers in Lucknow spoke bitterly of the ‘selfishness and opportunism’ of those well-established Muslims who deny that injustice or discrimination is being felt by the community as a whole. The Indian Muslims, like the American Negroes, have their ‘Uncle Toms’”.
“Underlying all such sharp fears is the feeling among the Muslims that more and more their place in India is at the back of the queue, and that their turn at the front never comes. The backwardness of the community in education accounts undoubtedly for much of the Muslim under-representation in government services. … It is distressing to find the conviction among well-placed Indian Muslims that British firms here are among the worst in their reluctance to give employment to Muslims.
Inquiry suggests that this impression may have its origin in a minute circulated not long after partition by the late Mr. Patel, the Minister for Home Affairs, advising British firms to send Muslim applicants to their Pakistan branches; but with force and some evidence some Muslims here maintain that that policy is still applied by British houses”.
“For the outsider the most disturbing change has been that in the public attitude to Muslims and to secularism. The government, under Mr. Lal Bahadur Shastri’s leadership as under Mr. Nehru’s, stand still adamantly for secularism and the equal rights of all citizens. But there has been a change in the public philosophy on this score, subtle but unmistakable.”
Bold as was the move it also set up a pattern – mobilise for redressal of grievances and mobilise Muslims alone to the neglect of others who supported them, worse mobilise under the leadership of “the elderly” and “devout”. This is not a record of such experiment. In 1968 Dr. A. J. Faridi set up the U.P. Muslim Majlis as a political party. In 1972 the All India Muslim Personal Law Board was set up. It had been hijacked at the outset for his own ends by the Bohra chief and now functions as a body dominated by venerable dinosaurs opposed to change. On 18 August 1973 Shaikh Abdullah led a delegation of Muslims to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and plead for removal of grievances. When the locks of the Babri Masjid were opened, on 1 February 1968, the Muslim leaders treated it as a Muslim issue rather than a national one concerning the enforcement of the law of the lands – the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958. The Muslim community seethed with resentment at the gross injustices it had suffered, dimly aware of the games that were being played out in secret. Muslim politicians chose mindlessly to pursue the course on which they had embarked since 1948 – mobilization of Muslims “to assert Muslims’ rights; ventilation of Muslims’ grievances, agitation for Muslims’ protection against wrongs. Ironically and typically they could not work together even in adversity
In truth, every wrong, every act of injustice done to a Muslim – or for that matter, any other citizen – is an Indian lapse from Indian ideals, for Indians to set right, cutting across the religious divide. The Babri Masjid question was pre-eminently a national question. As it happens, the highest quality of research on its various aspects – historical, archaeological, or other – was accomplished by scholars of high eminence who were not Muslims: Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, Sushil Srivastava, Sarvepalli Gopal, and Neeladri Bhattachartya, to name a few. Muslims blissfully played into the hands of the RSS-BJP combine. The Muslim body, they set up split in December 1988, predictably, with both wings gliding into oblivion.
In 1994 another issue came to the fore; namely reservation in public employment and education. On 8 May 1999 was launched a “Movement for Empowerment of Muslims”. One of its resolutions reveals the mindset. “Urges the Government and various political parties to take serious note of the sharp and continuous decline of Muslim representation in Parliament and State legislatures in the last fifty years, which makes a mockery of the assurances extended to the community in the Constituent Assembly. Urges the government to take all necessary steps to secure for Muslims a proportionate share of seats in Parliament, State Legislatures, Panchayats, and other local bodies. Urges the government to use its discretionary powers to nominate adequate number of Muslims to various commissions, committees, panels, boards, tribunals, and other collective administrative and regulatory bodies.”
An Establishment ready and willing to accept such demands would not have allowed a situation to arise in which such demands needed to be voiced. Its support rested on the Hindu vote. A community which had played its cards well would have stood on its own feet compelling the Establishment – to share power. Power is not conferred or begged for; it is grabbed and won by one’s own strength. Muslims have been at a total loss on how to acquire political clout and strength.
On 16 November 1968 at Lucknow two powerful Muslim bodies the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen of Telengana and the Indian Union Muslim League of Kerala decided to form, along with two non-entities of U.P., the Milli Jamhoori Mahaz. It was doomed to failure and failed it did. Meanwhile, South India forged ahead. The Muslim League is a member of the ruling coalition in Kerala. Under the leadership of Asaaduddi Owaisi, M.P. the Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen consolidated its base in Hyderabad and other places in Telengana, made a splash in Maharashtra, and bids fair to spread north.
A barrister of Lincoln’s Inn, the polished and assertive Owaisi overshadows the political skills and discourse of every Muslim leader since independence. A critical political commentator Rajdeep Sardesai explains the phenomenon which is sure to acquire strength in the days ahead. “In a sense, the rise of Owaisi is an indictment of the so-called national parties who claim to represent Muslim interests under the guise of secularism. Each of these parties stands accused of promoting vote bank politics while seemingly bringing little real benefit to the minorities.
The Sachar committee report has graphically brought out how the social and economic conditions of Muslims have remained well behind their counterparts. At a recent meeting at Aligarh Muslim University a young student told me: “Why should we vote for the Samajwadi Party which could not protect us in Muzaffarnagar, or a Congress which allowed Muslim youth to be falsely accused as terrorists when they were in power in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh?” It was a telling remark, one which reflects just why an Owaisi with his unapologetic defence of the community’s interests has suddenly become an attractive option for some.
“Like it or not, the Gujarat 2002 riots still haunt the average Muslim mind: Most Muslims are convinced that the then Modi government failed, deliberately or otherwise, to stop the violence. Second, the Muslim interlocutors chosen by the PM are seen to lack credibility within the community: Most of them are seen as ‘rent-seekers’ who are using their proximity to power for self-aggrandisement, not for genuinely benefitting the wider population.
“Third, the Sangh parivar still continues to send out mixed messages that only reinforces traditional suspicions. While the PM speaks of the Constitution being his only dharma, he has still been unable to fully rein in Sangh affiliates and individual MPs who speak the language of hate and bigotry.
“Last week, a communal flashpoint in Ballabgarh in BJP-ruled Haryana saw the displacement of many Muslim families. Ballabgarh is just around 40 km from Delhi. Maybe a reach out to the affected, victims could be a more effective response than a photo op at 7 RCR?”27
Owaisi symbolises the wreck of “the Congress system”. The Congress betrayed the Muslims at every turn. Its Muslim members have been proved to be Uncle Toms. Not one of the Muslim ministers resigned on the demolition of the Babri Masjid; prominent among them were Salman Khurshid and Ghulam Nabi Azad; both rank opportunists. The others are no better as they have to nurse their non-Muslim constituency.
Are the Muslims then doomed to isolation, even if it be a magnificent one? It will carry them nowhere. Here a few steps are being suggested in the hope that better ones might come in response. One is the establishment of a body like the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples (NAACP) in the United States. It comprised the blacks as well as the whites and waged effective battles. Its forte was documentation and honest commitment.
Next comes an organised effort by Muslim institutes to prepare carefully reasoned and thoroughly documented studies on pressing issues by Muslim as well as non-Muslim scholars – on arbitrary arrests, malicious prosecutions; riots and their aftermath of neglect; education; employment, public and private; and housing.
These studies can be used to brief MPs and media persons who are receptive to such ideas and can be relied on to support the causes. Seminars and conferences can highlight the issues. The entire process must cut across the religious and political divide.
A uniform policy can neglect regional problems; for example Assam has a Muslim leadership which has acquired salience. There need be no federal link but informal and organised contacts will be necessary to resolve All-India issues concerning Muslims.
The community faces two dilemmas. To deny discrimination and pretend all is well is to fly in the face of facts. But agitation against discrimination arouses the very emotions that foster discrimination.
The solution of the Muslim problem lies in a resolution of this dilemma by devising a form and context of agitation which heals old wounds and inflicts no new ones. This resolution can be achieved by regarding discrimination as what it is: a problem of Indian democracy. This is best done by associating men of goodwill of all communities in the task of making a success of Indian secularism.
The other dilemma is a political one. No political party can risk being seen as “pro-Muslim”. How do the Muslims then acquire a share in power which only the majority community can yield. Here is a lesson from Turkey in a report by Tim Arango in The International New York Times of 9 June 2015: “Mr. Erdogan’s party was defeated largely because secular Turks, environmentalists, women and urban intellectuals – the crowd that dominated the antigovernment protests in 2013 – rallied to the side of the People’s Democratic Party, or H.D.P., a largely Kurdish bloc. The party was once defined solely by its push for Kurdish rights, but in this election it was able to expand its constituency enough to clear the legal threshold, 10 percent of the vote, to qualify for representation in Parliament. By winning nearly 13 percent on Sunday,28 the party exceeded expectations, and was one of the main reasons the A.K.P. lost its legislative majority.29
“While the H.D.P. gave voice to disaffected liberals, its performance also marked a watershed in Turkish political history by putting the Kurds, an ethnic minority that has faced oppression and waged a bloody insurgency against the Turkish state for nearly 30 years, in the position of political power brokers.
“Ms. Aydintasbas, the columnist and commentator, described the Kurdish party and its liberal allies as, ‘a rainbow coalition of the far left,’ and likened it to the Syriza party in Greece, the leftist party that defeated that country’s political establishment and won power last year.
‘People voted for the H.D.P. because somehow they liked the message, of living together’, she said”
The HDP remained Kurdish, but by a new agenda won national acceptance, Muslim parties can stick to their agenda, yet reach out to others by espousing national issues consistently, loud and clear. In the process they forge patiently a “united front” in each State, if not, indeed nationally and acquire clout. Also, Muslims should be encouraged actively to participate in labour, students’ and women’s movements as also in NGOs.
In prison, I heard a poet declaim: “Aashian banaoonga, main ab hare ek shakh par/ kya meri zid men baghban, sara chaman mitae ga?”
(I shall build a nest on every branch/Can the gardener destroy the entire garden to spite me?)
- Zeeshan Sheikh; Indian Express; 17 May 2014
- Indian Express; 13 July 2013.
- Resolutions of All-India Muslim league from December 1938 to March 1940, published by Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, M.A. (Oxon), M.L.A., Barrister-at-Law, Honorary Secretary, All-India Muslim League, Delhi, pp. 47-8
- Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy; Oxford University Press, Karachi; p. 59
- Vide the writer’s article Jinnah and the Muslims of India; Criterion; Vol 3, No. 4; October-December 2008
- An Intelligence Bureau Report; Vide the writer’s book Jinnah and Tilak; Oxford University Press, Karachi; p. 245
- Vide the writer’s article The Haroon Report; Criterion; Vol. 3, No. 4; October-December 2008
- Mohammed H.R. Talukdar (Ed.) Memoirs of Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy; Oxford University Press, Karachi; p. 109
- First Series
- For the texts vide the writer’s compilation The Muslims of India – A Documentary Record; Oxford University Press, New Delhi; 2003, pp. 55-60
- Constituent Assembly Debates; 26 May 1949; Vol. 8, p. 350
- Gopal; Nehru; Volume 2, pages 15-16
- ibid, page 77
- Gopal and Uma Iyengar (Eds.) The Essential Writings of Jawaharlal Nehru; oxford University Press, 2003; Volume I, page 165
- ibid, page 181
- Vazira Fazita-Yacoobali Zamindar; The Long Partition; Oxford University Press, Karachi; 2008; p. 39. A Work of high quality based on the archives
- Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, vol. 6, p. 319
- SPC; Vol. 4; p. 318
- ; p. 342
- SPC; Vol. 6; p 319
- ; p. 261
- Chopra, p. 271
- SPC, Vol. 7, pp. 670-671
- The Hindustan Times; 30 November 1964
- Neena Vyas; The Hindu; 13 April 2002
- Race Course Road, the PM’s residence; Hindustan Times; 12 June 2015
- 7 June 2015
- 7 June