Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Unscientific science of secularism

Balbir K Punj

What an irony! When the country is paying homage to Mahatma Gandhi on the 75th year of the historic Dandi Salt March, a text prescribed by Campus of Open Learning, Delhi University, holds him an accomplice in 'Hindu communalism' leading to Partition. That the text is authored by Zahoor Siddiqui, a Leftist, is a sufficient indication of the motive. Siddiqui feels that since Gandhi's theories on secularism were not 'scientific', their appeal was lost on the Muslim populace.

It perhaps suggests some great rational spirit and scientific temper amongst Muslims to which Gandhi failed to live up to! He botched up secularism with his political semantics moored in Hindu ethos. Thus, while the RSS was affirmatively 'Hindu communalist', Gandhi was equally so in a negative manner. For a Leftist, what could be a more convenient way of bailing out the Muslim League and the Communist Party of India which shared a symbiotic relationship in the run-up to the Partition?

No doubt, Gandhi remained a devout Hindu in his personal life. He even disowned his eldest son Hiralal Gandhi when he became a Muslim and assumed the name Abdullah. Gandhi was a quintessential and down-to-earth Indian. He often spoke of Ram Rajya though falling short of describing it in concrete terms. He openly criticised the misdeeds of the Christian missionaries.

But he also insisted that Hindus should recite the Quran, even though Muslims couldn't care less to read the Ramayan. He hyphenated Ishwar-Allah tero nam in the bhajan Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram. He frantically espoused the Khilafat cause that surprised even many Muslims.

He condoned the Moplah massacres; rationalised the assassination of Swami Shraddhanand by Abdul Rashid; withdrew Congress support from the Hyderabad Agitation (1938) waged by Hindus and Sikhs against a tyrant Nizam; he practically never opposed cow slaughter even after asserting that cow protection was more important to him than Independence; he undertook fast unto death at the height of Kashmir incursion (1948) to pressurise the Indian Government to release for Pakistan, the outstanding amount of 55 million sterling pounds.

He tried to stop Hindus and Sikhs from migrating to India from the inferno of western Punjab; and admonished the refugees taking shelter in mosques and houses evacuated by Muslims in Delhi. In short, he did everything to undermine the interests and security of Hindu community; demoralised the Hindu spirit; and crushed any attempt of Hindu assertion by emotional blackmailing.

Despite that, Hindus continued to hold him in the highest esteem. He was viewed as a demigod rather than a political leader. Gandhi took his Hindu support base for granted. But despite all his appeasing measures, he could not enlist the support of four per cent of Muslims. They remained aloof from the Congress. But they responded as one body to Jinnah's call of Ladke Lenge Pakistan (We shall wrest Pakistan through force). While nationalists (and rationalists) would view this fiasco as Muslim intransigence, Siddiqui suggests this was due to Gandhi's "unscientific secularism".

If by 'scientific' one means rationality, then the Muslim community in India presents a dismal scenario even today. It is well-known that Muslims, whether in Uttar Pradesh or West Bengal, avoid polio vaccines. To target Muslims in particular, televised appeals had to be phrased in politically correct language like: "Polio doesn't distinguish between caste, creed or religion." Actually it is neither caste nor religion, but one particular religion that is the problem. When Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and Sachin Tendulkar have failed in their appeals in the television promos, Shahrukh Khan had to be introduced so that Muslims could recognise one of theirs, and heed to his advice of getting vaccinated. It is another issue that the Muslim masses will still obey the ulema rather than Shahrukh, Salman, Javed or Shabana.

Now if by 'scientific' one means Marxism (since Marxists always claim their theory is scientific), one would be disappointed further. Although some eminent comrades have been Muslims, communism could hardly penetrate the Muslim masses. How else could one explain the complete annihilation of communists from Pakistan, when communists had provided Jinnah with all the intellectual arsenal he needed to justify its creation on the flimsy ground of right to self-determination? In the Marxist bastion of West Bengal, grants amounting to hundreds of crores of rupees are extended to madarsas. What a scientific act!

It is true that Gandhi fuelled Muslim intransigence. But it was by emboldening them through his appeasement rather than his Hindu political semantics. Muslims, deeply under the influence of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, kept aloof from the Congress even before Gandhi arrived on the scene. According to Sir Syed, "The Congress (movement) was, in reality, a civil war without arms" and he looked upon the party as a machinery devised by the Hindus to further their own interests at the cost of Muslims

Surendra Nath Banerji wrote, "The Mohammedan community, under the leadership of Sir Syed Ahmed, had held itself aloof from the Congress. They were working under the auspices of the Patriotic Association in direct opposition to the national movement. Our critics regarded the National Congress as a Hindu Congress, and the opposition papers described it as such. We were straining every nerve to secure the cooperation of our Mohammedan fellow-countrymen in this great national work. We sometimes paid the fares of Mohammedan delegates and offered them other facilities. Even Gokhale remarked in one of his letters, "Seventy million Mohammedans were more or less hostile to national aspirations" (The History and Culture of Indian People, RC Mazumdar, pp 315-316, Vol 10 [2]).

All leading Muslim institutions and personalities joined hands in their indignation against Indian National Congress. Resolutions condemning the Congress were passed by Muslims of Allahabad, Lucknow, Meerut, Lahore, Madras and other places. The Mohammedan Observer, The Victoria Paper, The Muslim Herald, The Rafiq-i-Hind and The Imperial Paper all spoke in one voice against the Indian National Congress. The Central National Mohammedan Association of Bengal, the Mohammedan Literary Society of Calcutta, the Anjuman-i-Islamia of Madras, the Dindigal Anjuman and the Mohammedan Central Association, Punjab denounced in the strongest possible terms the Congress aims and activities. Sir Syed himself set up United India Patriotic Association and Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental Defence Association to checkmate the success of the Congress (ibid, p 317).

The earlier leaders of the Congress (most of them barristers) were Anglophiles. Though sincerely patriotic, they were European in their outlook. They could understand each other only through the medium of English even when someone said, "I am an Indian!" Sir Syed was also an avowed Anglophile who wanted to extricate the Muslim community out of its medievalist orthodoxy. He was the first Indian Muslim to visit Europe. He urged the Muslims to follow the same line of development which was chalked out by Raja Rammohan Roy almost half a century before. In 1865, he founded the "Scientific Society" for translating useful English books on various subjects into Urdu and circulating them among the Muslims.

Yet we see an Anglophile Sir Syed opposing the Indian National Congress lorded over by 'Europeanised' Indians. Though Sir Syed was loosening the grip of orthodoxy from over the Muslim community, he was bolstering its alienation like never before. Was this an example of "scientific secularism"? He was the first to refer to two nationalities, Hindus and Muslims, in India. His policies materialised in the form of the birth of the Muslim League in 1906 in Dacca (Dhaka). That was almost a decade before Gandhi set foot on Indian soil in 1915. Muslims abhorred the Congress because they were not interested in living as equals in an independent country. They wanted not equality, but superiority, as prevailed during the Islamic ages in India.

(The writer, a Rajya Sabha MP, and the Convenor of BJP's Think Tank can be contacted at

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