The first book is a collection of letters to and from Dr. M.A. Ansari; it also contains some statements issued by Dr. Ansari in his long political career and his addresses as chairman of the reception committee for the Delhi session of the Muslim League in 1918, president of the Indian National Congress at its Madras session in 1927, and chairman of the all-parties Muslim National Convention at Calcutta in 1928. Dr. Ansari was one of those national leaders who did not allow their religious faith and their association with the political life of their community to colour their nationalism. Even when he differed from the non-Muslim leaders of the national movement, he did not leave it. But in the histories of the national movement which have been written recently, and also in the official history of the Congress compiled by Dr. Pattabhi Sitaramayya as early as the mid-thirties, due attention has not been paid to the contribution of men like Hakim Ajmal Khan, Dr. Ansari, and Asaf Ali, the three great leaders produced by Delhi
The editor has done a national service by bringing these letters to the notice of those who did not have access to the Jamia Milia library where, according to a report in a New Delhi newspaper some years back, they were lying uncared for.
Dr. Ansari entered public life in 1912 and came into prominence when he led a medical mission to Turkey during the Turko-Italian war; he had become a· national figure by the time the noncooperation and Khilafat movement began. But this book contains only eight letters (seven by and one to Dr. Ansari) covering the period 1912-1920. Although his address as chairman of the reception committee for the all-India Muslim League session at Delhi in 1918 brings out the issues which were agitating the Muslims in that period, it does not reveal the thought processes of the leaders of the Indian Muslims in those days.
If the editor had gone beyond the Zakir Hussain (Jamia) library, he could have found some more material which would have helped the reader in knowing how Muslim .opinion gradually came close to the mainstream of national opinion and also the strands in Muslim thinking which later, in the twenties, led to the parting of ways; 1910-1919 was the period when gradually educated Muslims in North India turned away from the path charted out for them by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, till they came to accept Gandhiji as their leader in 1919-20; it was also the period when the ulema came out of their seminaries and became political leaders.
There are seven letters written by Dr. Ansari to Maulana Abdul Bari of Firangi Mahal, published in the Khatoot Number of the Naqoosh of Lahore (Volume Two), which give some idea of how the minds of men like Dr. Ansari were working in that period. Since the editor has included some letters in this volume which are not in the Zakir Hussain library, he could as well have included the Naqoosh letters for the benefit of readers who do not know Urdu. Then, Qazi Abdul Ghaffar says in the introduction to his Hayat-e-Ajmal that Dr. Ansari had prepared a long memorandum to help him in writing Hakim Ajmal Khan’s biography. In fact, Khan has quoted extensively from the memorandum, and these quotations show that the full text—written not for publication, but to help the author to understand the developments of the period—would provide quite useful material. With some effort it can be obtained from whoever has got Khan’s papers, and can be published as a separate book. (The most likely place where it can be found is Anjuman-Tarrqi-i Urdu, Aligarh or Hyderabad.)
The second book is based on Mushirul Hasan’s research and is a study of the relationship between the national movement and the politics of the leading Muslim organizations of the period 1916-28, showing how they came together and then drifted away. This is a ground covered by many writers, and Muslim politics of what is now called Uttar Pradesh has been extensively dealt with by many historians (Francis Robinson, for instance). But Hasan’s framework is different which enables him to throw new light even on developments about which much has been written earlier. He does not treat the Hindus and the Muslims as homogenous communities facing each other as two monoliths; instead, he tries to identify these groups in the two communities which took to communal politics and examines their interests and motivations, and the responses of the different sections of nationalist opinion to communal politics.
By its very nature nationalist opinion had to reflect an all-India consensus which had to take into account narrow sectarian and parochial demands; this was a task which entailed accommodation and reconciliation of various claims at different levels—all-India, provincial and local. This reviewer, as one interested in the subject, must concede the publisher’s claim that Hasan’s is the first study of its kind. While dealing with developments at the all-India level, he has gone into details at the provincial level as well, selecting three provinces for the purpose—U.P., Bengal and Punjab; while Muslims constituted the majority community in Punjab and Bengal, they were (and are) a minority in the country as a whole—which is one of the reasons why the leaders of U.P. Muslims (a minority in the province) came to acquire a dominant place in Indian Muslim politics, and not merely because, as Hasan says, they were more advanced, more prosperous and more influential than their co-religionists elsewhere in the country.
Hasan has made a telling point when he says that the conventional view about the Hindus and Muslims being antagonistic as a matter of course is as misleading as the argument that brahmins and non-brahmins were hostile entities in the then Madras Presidency. However, he points out by referring to the early history of the Indian National Congress and describing in detail the events of the period covered by him at the national level as also in particular in the three provinces he has chosen for his study, that in its anxiety to represent all Indians, the Congress, on the one hand, sought to slur over distinctions between different regions and between different social groups, and, on the other, accepted the view of the British administrators that the Muslims were a separate, distinct and monolithic group and sought to approach them as such. Hasan has shown that the Muslim reaction to the Congress differed from province to province and even from city to city, depending on their social and economic situation and political aspirations. His analysis brings out that the Indian Muslims were divided in their response to the Nehru report and that the view propounded by separatist historians that they were unanimous in their rejection of the report, cannot be sustained.
Despite their differences and distinguishing features, common allegiance to Islam and its symbols gave many Muslims from different provinces and from different social groups a sense of community. By its emphasis on such demands of elite groups as representation based on limited (property or educational) franchise and democratization of entry into services, the Congress hardly ever sought to promote common economic and political interests of the vast majority of the Indian people, interests which would have united the Hindus and Muslims; instead, it preferred a policy which found reflection in the Lucknow Pact, conceding in the process that the Muslims required special safeguards and concessions, and implying that their interests were different from those of the rest of the Indian people. In a letter to Dr. Ansari in 1939, contained in the first book, Motilal Nehru wrote that Hindu-Muslim unity could not be brought about by the methods pursued till then; he added, ‘this can only be done on an economic basis and in the course of the fight for freedom from the usurper.’ But the realization came too late and subsequent events which resulted in the 1947 Partition show that this realization was not shared by others in the national leadership.
Mushirul Hasan’s study is a major contribution to the effort to understand why and how the natural social processes bringing the Muslims and Hindus together were disrupted and the country moved towards Partition despite various moves for communal unity.
Girish Mathur is a senior journalist.