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Planting Communalism

Based on and excerpted from "India Today" by R. Palme Dutt, People's Publishing House, Bombay, 1949 and "Kashmir Politics and Imperialist Manoeuvres; 1846-1980" by N.N. Raina, Patriot Publishers, New Delhi, 1988

A British officer under the assumed name of "Carnaticus" wrote in the Asiatic Review that: "Divide et impera should be the motto of our Indian administration, whether political, civil or military."  That was in 1821. The great upheaval of 1857 transformed this early idea into an active British policy of creating divisions between the two largest religious communities in India.

Major Basu, in his famous historical work, Rise of Christian Power in India, has quoted Lt. Col. Coke, the Commandant of Moradabad: “Our endeavour should be uphold in full force the – for us fortunate  -- separation, which exists between the different religions and races, not to endeavour to amalgamate them. ‘Divide et impera’ should be the principle of the India government.”

That was middle of the nineteenth century. In the later period the British were more circumspect in the language they used. For instance, John Strachey showed greater finesse when he wrote: “The existence, side by side, of these hostile elements is one of the strong points in our political position in India.” Again: “The better classes of Mohammadans are a source to us of strength and not of weakness. They constitute a comparatively small but energetic minority of the population, whose political interests are identified with ours.”

As early as 1890, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan made a proposal for the modification of electoral requirements of property and education in favour of Muslims, and other privileges. The Muslim Herald condemned this approach as something which was sure to “poison the social life of districts and villages, and make a hell of India.” Obviously the author had prophetic insight into the India reality.

In 1906 a 35-man Muslim deputation led by Sultan Muhammad Shah Agha Khan met Lord Minto, the Viceroy, and on behalf of “… the undersigned nobles, jagirdars, taluqdars, lawyers, zamindars, merchants and others representing a large body of the Muhammadan subjects of His Majesty the King Emperor” demanded separate electorates with some privileges. Lord Minto replied: “You justly claim that your position should be estimated not on your numerical strength but in respect to the political importance of your community, and the services it has rendered to the empire. I am entirely in accord with you.”

A British official wrote to the Viceroy, Lord Minto : “I must send Your Excellency a line to say that a very, very big thing has happened today. A work of statesmanship that will affect India and Indian history for many a long year. It is nothing less than the pulling back of 62 millions of people (Muslims) from joining the ranks of the seditious opposition (Congress)".
                                            (Lady Minto, India, Minto and Morley, 1934 p. 47).

Prior to this a deputation of Muslim leaders had visited Lord Curzon, the Viceroy. It is known that in organising this deputation Mr. Archbold, principal of the Aligarh College had taken a leading part.

The idea of separate electorates is known to have originated with Lord Dufferin and Mr. Beck, the Englishman who was the principal of Aligarh College, soon after the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885. Montagu-Chelmsford adopted communal electorate system from 1919 onwards.

Mohammad Ali, in his presidential address to the Indian National Congress, in 1923 revealed that the Muslim deputation was a “command performance.” This is corroborated by reference in a letter that Lord Morley wrote to Lord Minto at the end of 1906: “I won’t follow you again into your Mohammadan dispute. Only I respectfully remind you once more that it was your early speech about their extra claims that first started the M (Moslem) hare.”

That Moslems had serious fears of being swamped by the overwhelming majority under the joint electoral system is not suggested by the actual results of elections in local bodies in early years. Even in 1910 in the United Provinces 189 Muslims and 445 Hindus were returned in the District Board elections; 310 Muslims and 562 Hindus were returned in the municipalities. Muslims formed only 14 per cent of the electorate.

The All India Muslim League was founded in 1906, soon after the Muslim deputation to Lord Minto already referred to. Four years later J. Ramsay MacDonald, the labour party leader, who had not till then become apostate to Socialism wrote about the same event: “The All India Muslim League was founded on December 30, 1906. The political successes which have rewarded the efforts of the League … have been so singular as to give support to a suspicion that sinister influences have been at work, that the Mohammadan leaders were inspired by certain Anglo-India officials, and that these officials pulled wires at Simla and in London, and of malice afterthought sowed discord between the Hindu and Mohammadan communities by showing the Mihammadans special favours.”

It probably was not an accident that the Hindu Mahasabha also was founded about the same time, forming as it did a sort of strategic complement to the League. One recalls the concern of the British Home Secretary, Hamilton, conveyed to Curzon in a letter in 1899 “I think the real danger to our rule in India not now, but say 50 years hence, is the gradual adoption of Western agitation and organisation....The method to counter this threat....If we could break the Hindu educated party into two sections holding widely different views, we should, by such a division, strengthen our position against the subtle and continuous attack which the spread of education makes on our present system of government."

Presumably “Hindu educated party” refers to the Indian National Congress. This subtle process of organised disruption was carried further in the early twenties by furthering diversionary movements like Shudhi and Tabligh.  These were sponsored respectively by the Arya Samaj and the Ahmadias— followers of Mirza Mahmood Ahmad of Qadian, or Mirzais. Mirza Mahmood and Mirza Bashir Alimad were known to have enjoyed British patronage. Sir Mohammad Zafrullah Khan was the best known among them, and rose to be the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, even though orthodox Muslims regard Ahmadias as heretics.

In 1926 Lord Olivier, who had held the office of Secretary of State for India, and consequently knew the government activities from inside, wrote a letter to the Times (London): “No one with close acquaintance with India leaders will be prepared to deny that on the whole there is a predominant bias in British officialism (sic) in India in favour of the Muslim community .. largely as a makeweight against Hindu nationalism.”

The purpose of driving a wedge between the two communities was most sharply shown, not only by the establishment of separate electorates and representation, but by giving specially privileged representations to the Muslims. A most elaborate system of weightage was devised. Thus to become an elector under Morley-Minto Reforms, the Moslem had to pay an income tax on an income of 3,000 rupees a year, the non-Muslim on an income of 300,000 rupees; or the Muslim graduate was required to have three years’ standing, the non-Muslim to have thirty years’ standing.

The system was successfully extended and elaborated in the subsequent constitutional schemes and reached the climax in the 1935 Constitution. By the 1935 Act separate representation was provided, not only for the Moslems, but for the Sikhs, the Anglo-Indians, the Indian Christians, and the Depressed Classes, as well as for Europeans, Landholders, Commerce and Industry, etc. In the Federal Assembly, out of 250 seats, 82, or one-third, were reserved for the Moslems, representing under one-fourth of the population, while the “general seats” for the overwhelming majority of the population were cut down to two-fifths, and out of those 19 were reserved for the “scheduled castes” (depressed classes). Such was the apothesis of electoral gerrymandering devised by imperialism.

The effect of this electoral policy, expressing a corresponding policy in the whole administrative field, was to give the sharpest possible stimulus to communal antagonism.

After the fading out of the Khilafat Movement, (1920-22) communal bitterness started becoming manifest, and the phenomenon of communal riots became part of the Indian political scene. The frequency and ferocity of these started increasing, and through this mechanism the lumpen elements, with influential support in the background, began to seize the initiative in channelising political trends. The riot that broke out in Cawnpore in 1927 was unprecedented in ferocity. A well known freedom fighter Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi was stabbed to death during the riot while trying to quell it. The process continued, and only kept on shifting from province to province, from city to city or town, mostly in Northern India, Hyderabad State and Bombay.

During the year 1930 the annual session of the A.I. Muslim League took place at Allahabad. Here Sir Mohammed Iqbal, for the first time, advocated the setting up of an autonomous Muslim state within India, as the goal for Indian Muslims to strive for.  However, at the Round Table Conference in London the same year the Muslim leaders stuck merely to Mr. Jinnah's 14 Points, which did not envisage any Partition of India.

While the Round Table Conference was in session in London, an unknown student at Cambridge, one Choudhary Rahmat Ali, put forth the idea of a separate state of Pakistan to be set up under the benign patronage of the British, who did not hesitate recommending his scheme to the Muslim leaders assembled there. But the Muslim leaders did not show much interest. Even Mr. M.A, Jinnah described Mr. Rahmat Ali as an irresponsible person, and his plan a “crazy scheme”. This did not, however, discourage the British bureaucrats who were obviously sponsoring the idea through the mouth of an unknown Muslim. When the Joint Select Committee of the British Parliament on Indian Constitutional Reforms met, Sir Reginald Craddock, its Chairman, took the initiative to draw attention to Mr. Rahmat Ali's scheme. The record goes :

"Question 9598 - Sir Reginald Craddock: I will pass on. If any of the delegates or the witnesses would like to answer. Will they tell me whether there is a scheme for the federation of provinces under the name of Pakistan?

Answer for 9598 - Abdullah Yusuf Ali C.B.E.: As far as I know it is only a student's scheme; no responsible people put it forward.

Sir ReginaId Craddock: They have not so far, but as you say, you advance very quickly in India, and it may be when those students grow up, it will be put forward. That scheme must be in the minds of the people anyhow.

Mr. Zafrullah Khan: What is the question?

Sir Reginald Craddock: I wanted to know whether the witnesses had acquaintance with a scheme, which was drawn up for what is called Pakistan.

Mr. Zafrullah Khan: We have already had the reply that it was a student’s scheme and there is nothing in it. What is the further question?

Question 9599 - Mr. Isac Foot: What is Pakistan ?

Answer 9599 - Mr. Zafrullah Khan: So far as we have considered it we have considered it chimerical and impracticable. It means the Federation of certain provinces.

Question 9600 - Sir Reginald Craddock: I have received communications about the proposals of forming certain Muslim states under the name of Pakistan.

Answer 9600 - Dr. Khalifa Shujauddin: Perhaps it will be enough to say that no such scheme has been considered by any representative gentleman or association so far."    
                                                                                                   (Minutes of Evidence before Joint Committee 1932-33)

The British Government later drew up on its own a federal constitution for India known as the Government of India Act of 1935. The first part of the constitution concerned the Indian states i.e., the autonomous federal units. The second part concerned the central government controlling the whole country. Princely states also were to be represented in the Federal Assembly, forty per cent of its membership being assigned to them.  The franchise was restricted by educational and property requirements, so that only about 11 per cent of the electorate would be entitled to vote.

In 1937, the first  part of this constitution came into operation after a general election held in 1936 in the British administered part of the country. The Muslim League was not able to form a ministry in any of the eleven provinces that comprised British India-net even in Bengal or Punjab, or the North Western Frontier Province. The Congress got a majority in seven major provinces, including the N.W.F.P. This was a signal for the Muslim League to accentuate communal frenzy by all possible means, including riots, to cause and deepen the estrangement of the Muslims from the national mainstream. With all the levers of power still in British hands, and their placemen in every community at their beck and call, it was not difficult to achieve the necessary degree of disruption in the country. Their achievement is a historical fact, and this has been the single most potent negative factor in an otherwise colossal liberation wave of the past several decades  in the sub-continent. An important milestone of this disruptionist strategy was the 1940 session of the All India Muslim League at Lahore.

It was in this session that a demand for the partition of India into several states was formally made for the first time.  It could certainly not be a sheer coincidence that Chaudhery Rahmat Ali surfaced again about this time. He came out with a publication: Millat of Islam and the Menace of Indianism. This publication made out a case for the break up of India, and setting up of three sovereign Muslim states :

1. Pakistan in the North-west,
2. Bang-i-Islam in the east, and
3. Osmanistan (i.e., Nizam's state) in the south.

Two years later, in 1942 he came out with another pamphlet entitled Millat and the Mission, published not without significance, at Cambridge again, in 1944. It takes one's breath away today to find a heading in this pamphlet, viz, Avoid Minoritism, with its elucidation that after partition there should be no minorities in the divided parts. This can be easily recognised as the guiding theory of the partition riots in August 1947.

While our national leaders were totally taken aback by the calamity, as one might by a destructive earthquake or a cyclone, one can guess the diabolical overtones of what the West Punjab Governor, Sir Francis Mudic, desperately wrote to Jinnah several weeks after the partition : “I am telling everyone that I don't care how the Sikhs get across the border, the great thing is to get rid of them as soon as possible. There is still little sign of 3 lakh Sikhs in Lyallpur moving, but in the end they too will have to go.” In setting Lyallpur ablaze by this provocation Sir Francis was applying the same principle as the one, i.e., "Avoid Minoritism", expounded by the mysterious Chaudhery Rahmat Ali, in 1942. Incidentally, the timing of its publication at Cambridge coincided with the expected meeting between Gandhiji and Mohammad Ali Jinnah to settle the communal problem, and thus pave the way for the independence of the country.

It was not only Mudic who remembered the principle when he found the Sikhs in Lyallpur still reluctant to move; it was the numerous commissioners, D.C.'s, police commissioners and their many allies who had made meticulous preparations -- unsuspected by our national leaders -- for the unprecedented communal carnage and bestiality just when the Mountbatten  Award started being implemented.