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Ambedkar Concluded That Savarkar & Jinnah Were In Agreement About Two-nation Theory: Historian
Author M Raisur Rahman provides historical perspective on what constitutes an Indian nation, nationalism at the time of Khan, and the emergence of the two-nation theory.
File image of Historian M Raisur Rahman.
As protests rage across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019, News18.com speaks to M Raisur Rahman, author of The Cambridge Companion to Sayyid Ahmad Khan, who has extensively researched the Indian independence movement and the role of Muslim luminaries in it.
The historian and faculty at United States-based Wake Forest University provides a historical perspective on the Indian nation, nationalism at the time of Khan, and the emergence of the two-nation theory. He also underscores the intrinsic association of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University with the freedom struggle, while students from these universities emerged as forerunners of the anti-CAA demonstrations.
Q: Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia are at the centre of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. How do you see the anger of the students, and Muslims in the country?
The way the students of Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI) and Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) have come out to lead the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019 is reflective of their dismay with the system as well as an effort to defend the country’s core constitutional values. The way this Act has made religion as the basis of citizenship, and not persecution or a concern for humanity, is questionable and problematic given the choice of countries and the targeted minority groups. If one notices, these protests arrived late as if the students waited for a while and, having found a void in leadership, they plunged into dissent.
Q: These student protests have met with a crackdown.
Well, such student protests must be understood within the larger world history of which India has been a leading example. From their fight against colonialism to the Emergency in the 1970s, student groups have voiced themselves in this way, giving directions to others. Today, these protests have outgrown these two campuses to engulf multiple university campuses as well as towns and cities across India. CAA also does not remain a Muslim question anymore but something that concerns people of different faiths and regions. Every citizen is entitled to peaceful protests. In fact, Mahatma Gandhi and his civil disobedience have made India a beacon of hope for others. To Martin Luther King Jr’s own acknowledgment, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the United States owed a lot to Gandhi’s non-violent approach.
Q: Tell us about the symbolism attached with the two universities: how their history haunts them in times of this citizenship row.
Both JMI and AMU have had a long history of association with India’s freedom struggle and partition. When Jamia Millia Islamia emerged out of the Aligarh Muslim University in 1920, among its founders were prominent nationalist figures such as Abul Kalam Azad, Mohammad Ali Jauhar, Dr MA Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Maulana Mahmud al-Hasan, Abdul Majeed Khwaja, and Dr Zakir Husain, not to mention the unstinted support this institution received from none other than Mahatma Gandhi.
No doubt, the Muslim League had a strong presence in pre-Independence AMU but Jawaharlal Nehru exhorted AMU students in 1948 to think of India’s future as a land of multiple faiths and Dr Zakir Husain, the vice-chancellor, invoked Aligarhians to act in a manner that would define the place of Muslims in India.
Both these iconic institutions embodied the larger India, despite maintaining a commitment to advance the cause of education among the Muslim youth, parallel to how Banaras Hindu University or colleges founded by Christian missionaries catered to their community needs. Unfortunately, there is an utter disregard of the rich contributions made by these universities and their surrounding historical contexts. Both JMI and AMU have given the country alumni and leaders of outstanding capabilities. In the contemporary political environment, both these universities are viewed as mere ‘Muslim’ institutions that belittles their historical and patriotic dimensions.
Q: There have been articles and opinions by people saying ‘Muhammad Ali Jinnah was right, and Nehru was not’, especially with the citizenship criterion being seen as based on religion. How do you view this?
An argument is being peddled that the citizenship amendment would not impact the Indian Muslim citizenry. But the fact that one minority group has been singled out does amount to a violation of the promises held by Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru that India would be a secular and democratic country as against Pakistan that gave credence to religious identity. Dr BR Ambedkar and the members of the Constituent Assembly enshrined that spirit in the Constitution of India. The idea of India has faced its own set of challenges from time to time. It may have eroded but I would stop short of calling it a victory of Jinnah over Nehru as far as the defenders of the Constitution ensure that the vision of the founding figures of the country remain intact. India’s democratic roots go far deeper and it is upon the people to continue to nurture it.
Q: The last session of Parliament had heated debates on the two-nation theory. The Congress brought up VD Savarkar for propounding the theory while the BJP pointed at the Congress and Muslim League for the partition. How do you see history and politics over it today?
There were many believers in the two-nation theory, way before the concept stirred the demand for Pakistan. In fact, Dr BR Ambedkar concluded that both Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Muhammad Ali Jinnah were in complete agreement about two separate nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other the Hindu nation.
Congress dispelled such notions and solidified an equal treatment of all under the Constitution. The debates that took place in Parliament over the two-nation theory in the last session is partial and selective but at the same time reflective of the political parties’ respective imaginings of what sort of India they would like to create.
Q: You’ve recently published a book on Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Could you also tell us about the way Khan imagined Hindus and Muslims, and his idea of nationalism prevalent in his times?
To understand Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s politics, one has to place it within the context of nineteenth-century India. History textbooks have repeatedly quoted him for how he viewed Hindus and Muslims as ‘the two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan’ early in his life.
Textbooks have then oversimplified the work he undertook to further the cause of education among the Muslims of India by saying that he remained no more the same Sir Syed, especially as he refused to participate in the Indian National Congress-led anti-colonial movements.
Sir Syed’s idea of nationalism was to bring forth the Muslims at par with their compatriots in education that would have prepared them to serve the nation better. In his detailed analysis of the revolt of 1857, Asbab-e-Baghawat-e-Hind (The Causes of the Revolt of India), he came to the realisation that Muslims had a lot to address in order to wrest themselves out of ignorance and victimisation at the hands of the British. To Sir Syed, his service to the nation lay in serving and uplifting his immediate community before they could join hands with their Hindu and Parsi compatriots to accomplish larger tasks. Unfortunately, Sir Syed passed away in 1898 before we could perceive how his politics would have unfolded in the early twentieth century.
Q: Despite the role of ulema in protesting the Partition, do you think Muslims at times feel the burden of having to their love for the country?
The Indian Muslims are as much of a stakeholder in the nation as anyone else is. When someone asks of them to go to Pakistan, it is either due to historical ignorance or due to a deep political bias and hatred. Such statements emanate from a false assumption that all Muslims wanted a separate homeland during the partition of India and all of them should have moved to Pakistan during and after Independence.
Q: And the fact is…
The fact of the matter is that when the Muhammad Ali Jinnah-led Muslim League raised the demand for Pakistan in 1940, it met with vehement ideological opposition from Maulana Abul Kalam Azad representing the Indian National Congress, among others. The role of the ulema such as Maulana Ubaidullah Sindhi and Mahmud al-Hasan, the principal of Darul Uloom Deoband in seeking azadi for India from the British by forging an international alliance in the 1910s is well documented in the Silk Letter Movement.
Going back to the nineteenth century, leaders like Badruddin Tyabji and Rahimtulla M Sayani of Bombay helped shape Congress politics in its early days. When Pakistan came into existence, a large number of people crossed over borders but a far greater number chose to remain in India for various reasons, including the fact that they preferred to live in a pluralistic India than a nation-state based on religious identity. The history of Muslim presence is so long in this land, spanning almost a millennium, that their being viewed as perpetual outsiders is outlandish in an era where people move to other countries and seek belonging in a matter of years or a decade or two. So to ask Indian Muslims more than seventy years after Partition to go to Pakistan is either rhetorical or devoid of a knowledge of history. To me, this is simply crass and oblivious of facts.
Q: Pakistan was not able to protect its minorities, and violated the Nehru-Liaquat pact. Why?
The Nehru-Liaquat Pact (later, Delhi Pact), signed by the two prime ministers on April 8, 1950, was an attempt to deal with the crisis emerging from the persecution of Hindu minorities in East Pakistan and its reprisals against Muslims in West Bengal. This pact assured the minorities on both sides a ‘complete equality of citizenship, irrespective of religion’.
It provided for prompt investigations of communal incidents, appropriate deterrent actions against the offenders, and punishment of officers for dereliction of their duty with the basic intent ‘to speed up the restoration of confidence among minorities in the two Bengals and Assam’. Nehru’s pacifism and an assumption of goodwill on the part of the Pakistani government met with severe criticisms and alternate solutions.
Syama Prasad Mukherjee of Hindu Mahasabha and a member of Nehru’s cabinet resigned, among others, and asked for a planned exchange of population. The current amendment seemingly picks it up where Mukherjee left off. To Nehru, a religion-based step would have violated the secular and democratic values he stood for and the spirit of the Constitution. While mounting criticisms made it difficult for Nehru who even contemplated resignation, the intent behind the pact to stop refugees from coming to West Bengal and Assam and rehabilitate them did not receive desired results as things got murkier. Liaquat Ali as a party to the pact was not as enthusiastic as Nehru who had initiated this entire agreement. Moreover, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan had its own compulsions, unlike India that had chosen to define itself by its pluralism and group rights. The deeper roots of Indian democracy kept this path alive, albeit with a chequered history, whereas Pakistan’s failure to protect its minorities may be attributed to a series of military coups, non-democratic governments, and changes in constitutions. Zia-ul-Haq’s favouritism of Islamist forces was another nail in the coffin.
Q: Home minister Amit Shah said this new law has been designed because Congress agreed on religion-based partition, and now with this amendment he aims to correct the wrongs of the past where Hindus were persecuted in Pakistan. How do you look at the situation where critics say Pakistan is defining our laws and intentions behind them?
For the sake of correction, no one party alone, including Congress or Gandhi, can be held singularly responsible for Partition. It was a far more complex phenomenon. Signing off on Partition did not mean that Gandhi was in unison with Jinnah. Such a statement ignores historical intricacies surrounding an issue that led to the largest mass migration in world history and it is apparent how it has continued to impact the sub-continental politics even today. A favourite ploy of the Hindutva politics is the emotive ‘correcting historical wrongs’. One must learn from history but one wrong, regardless of who committed that, cannot be atoned by another wrong. The most basic question is what kind of society we want to build which would be in the interest of all and not some, and one that would serve the nation’s best interests.
Q: How was the idea of Pakistan conceived and further shaped? How was that conception distinct from what we see as a nation today?
The idea of Pakistan was embedded in the two-nation theory that Jinnah espoused by which he viewed Hindus and Muslims as belonging to ‘two different religious philosophies, social customs and literary traditions’.
He further contended that they neither intermarry nor eat together, and belong to two different civilisations. To me, the biggest slipup in this formulation is the assumption of Hindus and Muslims as two separate monolithic groups, the same mistake that Hindutva politics has espoused. We all know how diverse Hindus and Muslims are internally in both India and Pakistan. In the world we live in today, a nation-state does not have to be uniform and homogenous and India’s diversity serves as a model for the world.
But within the seven years between 1940 and 1947, Jinnah and the Muslim League were able to mobilise masses that rose in support of the demand for Pakistan. By 1946, the Pakistan movement had gathered such momentum that it seemed implausible for even Mahatma Gandhi to bridge the growing mistrust between the two communities. As the British proposed to leave India, the actual process of partition and boundary making was a hurriedly done job.
Q: Some scholars have said that Pakistan never had space for composite nationalism.
Yes, Pakistan was created as an Islamic Republic for those Muslims who chose to cross over to the newly defined borders of East and West Pakistan. The demand for Pakistan was antagonistic to India’s long-cherished composite nationalism (muttahida qaumiyat) that Gandhi, Nehru, Maulana Azad, and Hussain Ahmed Madani vowed to protect. But one needs to read Jinnah’s opening address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan as well. Delivered on August 11, 1947, Jinnah in this speech affirmed religious freedom and an equal treatment of people of all caste and religious groups.
Q: There have been Indian leaders, like Arif Mohammad Khan, who blame the Indian Muslim leadership for fomenting Hindu nationalist sentiments and divisiveness. As minorities, how have Indian Muslim leaders articulated their demands that worked against them?
While Muslim leaders may be blamed for working in a fashion that may have been detrimental to their own interests at times, to say that they foment divisiveness and Hindu nationalist sentiments would be a stretch, as if it is a one-way traffic. The current protests initiated by the students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University have shown a deficiency of credible Indian Muslim leadership.
No doubt, students have taken up the mantle. On the other hand, this also presents a hope for the emergence of a new kind of leadership as a rupture from the past. An inherent problem of the Indian Muslim leadership has been the way most political parties have treated it with one or two token figures to lean on. A more traditional reliance on the orthodoxy has further blocked the prospects of Muslim leadership in all its variety. The Shah Bano controversy (1985) is a case in point that continues to haunt Muslim politics even today. If Muslims want to safeguard their own rights, they will have to stand up for the rights of the others, especially of the minorities and the marginalised such as the dalits and the adivasis and work in tandem with a cross-section of people
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