Muslim Politics
Shri Prakash
MUSLIMS AND INDIAN NATLONALISM by Uma Kaura Manohar Books,New Delhi, 1978, 315 pp., 50.00
July-August 1978, volume 3, No 1

This book is one among a number of recent publications dealing with various aspects of the origin and development of Muslim communal politics during the national movement. Many of these—for example, Sheila Sen’s work on Bengal, A.K. Gupta’s book on the N.W.F.P and Francis Robinson’s work on the growth of Muslim separatism in the United Provinces—deal not only with specific periods but only with given regions. Since Kaura sets out to explain ‘the emergence of the demand for India’s partition’ as such, one expects her to put forward a generalized conceptual framework that can demonstrate the in­evitability of the actual course of events rather than merely record their details. Before launching into any discursive comments, one has to reconstruct from the different chapters the author’s expla­nation for the reasons that gave rise to the demand for Pakistan. Kaura locates the genesis of Muslim communal politics in the fact that, in contrast to Punjab and U.P., where Muslims in comparison to their share in the population had a disproportionately large share of landed property, facilities for education and government jobs, in Bengal, ‘they were backward both economically and educa­tionally.’

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This fact was represented by the Hunter Commission as an index of the general state of Indian Muslims, and later used by the Muslim elite of U.P. ‘to wring concessions from the govern­ment’, as well as to appeal for ‘their community to keep aloof from the Cong­ress.’ Sir Syed’s vehement opposition to ‘the attempts at democratization by the Congress’ was rooted in his social posi­tion as a member of the Muslim aristocracy who wanted to ‘preserve their own privileged status as a minority.’

It was only by the beginning of the twentieth century that ‘there was a growing realization among the Muslims that they had to have a political realiza­tion of their own.’ The social reasons for this are virtually impossible to make out from Kaura’s book. She simply asserts that, in spite of ‘professed loya­lty’ to the British, and ‘their strong dislike for the Swadeshi movement’, the Muslims, ‘ever since the death of Sir Syed, were not as critical of the Congress as they used to be before.’ Not only this, ‘the younger generation of Muslims had even started thinking in terms of throwing in their lot with the Congress’. Why this should be so remains a mystery, and a crucial one since this attitude of the ‘younger Muslims’ was one of the key factors in forcing the Muslim leadership ‘still in the hands of landholders and members of the upper middle class’ to organize the Muslim League with the tacit blessings, if not the open invitation, of the colonial government. All the reasons cited by Kaura for the shift towards the Congress—‘the negative attitude of the government towards demands for the extension of separate electorates to local bodies and for more employment in vari­ous branches of public service’; the ‘annulment of the partition of Bengal’; the threat of dismemberment of the Tur­kish Khilafat—do not even raise the question whether there was or was not a change taking place in the internal social physiognomy of Muslim communalism that forced it to adopt a more militant posture first towards the colonial state and then towards the Congress.

In terms of its social basis, Kaura’s book pictures Muslim communalism as an entirely static entity. Her implicit explanations for why the ‘Muslims’ raised or broadened their demands at different periods of time are drawn together only from an observation of surface political events. The suspension of the civil dis­obedience movement in 1922, and the abolition of the Khilafat in 1924, made many Hindus and Muslims turn towards communalism. The desire of the Muslim League to revise the Lucknow Pact started off that complex and protracted process of negotiations between Muslim communal organizations, the Congress, the Hindu Mahasabha, the Sikhs and the colonial state, whose re­capitulation takes up more than three­ quarters of Kaura’s book. In these sec­tions there is hardly an attempt at gene­tic or causal explanation of events. Con­sequently, not merely the formulation of the demand for Pakistan, but factors which made for its realization, appear as a product of real-politik, of the calculations or miscalculations of adminis­trators and politicians. In this concep­tion of things history seems to be made not by the necessary actions of social forces but by the manipulative schemes of lawyers.

If we carefully sift the details, we can identify three factors which, in Kaura’s view, pushed the League towards ultima­tely adopting the demand for Pakistan in 1940. These were, the initial nature of the demands raised by the majority of Muslim organizations in the mid and late 1920’s, the inability of the Congress to satisfy these because of its repeated compromises with the Hindu Mahasabha and the personal ‘misjudgements’ of its leaders, and lastly the willingness of the colonial state to accede to ‘Muslim’ demands in smaller or greater measure at different points of time, in order to checkmate or nullify the Congress demand for an ever larger devolution of power.

The essence of the demands raised by different ‘Muslim’ organizations, and finally commonly agreed upon in Jinnah’s Fourteen Points, was the demand for a statutory provision which was most likely to produce a ‘Muslim’ legislative majority in Muslim majority provinces, the creation of additional provinces wherever possible, the grant of key powers to provincial governments, and finally a substantial presence for Muslims in any Federal Legislature. According to Kaura, the Communal Award ‘conceded most of the Muslim demands’. The inability of the League to get anywhere near a majority even in Muslim pro­vinces in the 1937 elections and the rebuff it got at the hands of the Congress hardened the League’s attitude and made it distrust any scheme for sharing power based on a competitive electoral system or a federation with a strong Centre. The outbreak of the war enabled the League to press its demands with greater effect, since the British Viceroy found this a useful ploy to postpone taking any decision on the Congress demand for greater devolution of power. Encouraged by the attitude of the State, Jinnah became more insistent in his demand that the British and the Congress both reco­gnize the League as the sole authoritative representative of the Muslim community Finally, taking the hint from Linlithgow’s demand that the Muslims formulate their demand more positively, and eschew any settlement with the Congress, the League adopted the Pakistan resolution. In Kaura’s own words, this process can be summed up by saying, ‘Thus the mistakes made by the Congress leadership, the frustration and bitterness of the League leadership, and the defensive diplomacy of a British Viceroy cumulatively resulted in the adoption of the demand for partition by an organization whose spokesmen had only a few years earlier dismissed it as a “students scheme” and “a chimera”.’

Kaura’s explanation can be faulted on several basic points. First of all, she nowhere identifies the social forces which, unlike the ‘constitutionalist’ landlords of the nineteenth century, were not only prepared to raise the demand for guaran­teed ‘Muslim’ political power but agitate for it. This is so because she does not even mention, far from explore, the distinction between constitutional, essen­tially pacifist ‘landlord’ Muslim commu­nalism relying basically on appeals to the State for concessions and the more vola­tile middle class communalism produced by the social crisis of educated Muslim youth and the disintegrating traditional Ulema, a crisis that deepened in the early twentieth century drawing new strata of communal intelligentsia to the political scene. Although we cannot go into this question here in any detail, one must remember that between 1917 and 1927 alone, the number of Muslims in educatio­nal institutions in British India rose from one and a half million to two and a half million. According to Peter Hardy’s figures, by 1921 the percentage of those literate in English among the Muslims was larger than the corresponding share for the Hindus. It was not only, as Kaura would have us believe, the Muslim ‘landlords and upper middle classes’ of U.P. and Punjab who wanted power. In fact, if we look at studies of landlord politics (e.g. P.D. Reeves, Landlords’ Response to Political Change in Agra and Oudh, 1921-1937 Ph.D. Thesis, Tasmania University), it becomes clear that the ques­tion for the Muslim landlords was essent­ially one of preserving the power that they already had in the face of the growing necessity for the colonial state to make concessions to other social strata. It was the new Muslim middle-classes for whom avenues of advancement were blocked, not only by Hindu middle classes, but by the constricted nature of the colonial economy and by the Muslim landlords themselves, who dominated the electoral scene on the basis of a high property franchise, which was loosened a little only in the 1935 Act. For them, it was a question of constantly expanding the spheres· of Muslim power and avenues of careers for themselves. It was also this educated section which played a key part in promoting the growth of Muslim Renaissance Movements that created a coherent ideology of a Muslim community Along with the Ulema, they created the diverse miasma of organizations which constituted the body politic of Muslim communalism, till the lessons of the 1937 elections forced them to unite behind the League to create a single unified party of Muslim communalism. The landlords who had left the League in 1918 joined it only in the late 1930’s when it had become apparent that on their own they stood nowhere in competitive electoral politics, and the growth of mass move­ments closer to the Congress, as well as the latter’s policy of tentative agrarian reforms, for example in U.P., plus the support it had within local commercial bourgeoisie who, through their moneylen­ding activities, were the bane of landlord property, drove them to collaborate with and join the League, now under the leadership of younger middle class pro­fessional politicians. (Cf. Shri Prakash, CPI, Communalism and the National Question in India, 1942 to 1949, JNU, CHS, M. Phil Seminar, unpublished.) None of these aspects even strikes the author.

If it was in the interest of these social forces to raise the demand for separate Muslim power, then what enabled them to succeed? Kaura’s answer is: the diplo­macy of the British Viceroy and the ‘mistakes’ of the Congress. It is clear that British diplomacy would have got no­where if the Congress had either flatly refused to agree or ignoring the Hindu Mahasabha had given some concessions to the Muslim leaders or succeeded in mobilizing the Muslim masess, i.e., peasants, against them. Kaura has little to say about the political strategy of the Congress, apart from bewailing its ‘misjudgements’ She nowhere points out that the reformist strategy of the Congress, a product of its own social character derived from a middle class base and a programme of capitalist development, made it inherently dependent on negotiations with the British, and ‘Hinduized’ mass propaganda to increase its influence. In the absence of a radical programme for peasant mobili­zation, the Congress had to rely on and accommodate a whole range of diverse ‘religious’ and moderate forms of struggle which could effectively popularize a middle class nationalism. Without such structural explanations, Kaura’s discourse remains a laborious narration of events rather than an analytical accounting of them.

Shri Prakash is a student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.