The Khilafat Movement (1919-1924) may be said to have begun on October 27, 1919, when the day was observed as Khilafat Day all over India. Within a year, Lokmanya Tilak, the tallest Congress leader passed away and Gandhi came to occupy the centre-stage of Indian politics. In the words of Dr. Ambedkar, the Khilafat Movement was “taken up by Mr. Gandhi with a tenacity and faith which must have surprised many Mahomedans themselves” (Pakistan or the Partition of India, B.R. Ambedkar, Thacker and Company Limited, 1945, p. 136). Not only did Gandhi support the Khilafat Movement, he also dragged the Congress behind him.
The attitude and behaviour of Muslim and Hindu leaders during the Khilafat Movement did not come upon suddenly. It was a continuation of a pattern that started after 1857. The Muslim gameplan from 1857 to 1919 that was executed with British help and aided by the gullibility of Hindu leaders. It needs to be understood if one has to make sense of the Khilafat Movement.
British policy and operative strategy
From serious academic discourse to school textbooks to popular cinema, the British policy with regards to Hindu-Muslim relations is described ad nauseum as being that of divide and rule. This narrative has become so deeply entrenched in the Hindu psyche that it is taken as established, self- evident raison d’etre for Hindu-Muslim antagonism. It is time to examine the merits of this argument. For a start, the maxim divide and rule is not a British invention. It is a translation of the Latin words divide et impera (lit. divide and conquer) used by the old Romans. The evidence that this was official British policy largely rests on the following statements (India in Bondage: Her Right to Freedom, Jabez T. Sunderland; R. Chatterjee, 1928, p. 268):
1. A British officer signing himself ‘Carnaticus’ wrote in the Asiatic Review of May 1821, “Divide et Impera should be the motto of our Indian administration, whether political, civil or military.”
2. About the time of the 1857 Uprising, Lt. Col. John Coke, Commandant at Moradabad wrote, “Our endeavour should be to 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 Indian government.”
3. Lord Elphinstone, Governor of Bombay, in a minute dated 14 May 1850 wrote, “Divide et impera was the old Roman motto and it should be ours.”
4. Eminent British Indian civilian and writer Sir John Strachey said, “The existence side by side of hostile creeds among the Indian people, is one of the strong points in our political position in India.
5. Gandhi informs us that A.O. Hume once confessed to him that the British Government was “sustained by the policy of Divide and Rule.”
There is nothing surprising if the British sustained their rule by taking advantage of the internal differences of their subjects. However, merely framing a policy is worthless if it is not accompanied by strategy. The so-called British policy of divide and rule was merely a place-holder for operative strategies. Merely mentioning the British policy without discussing the strategies adopted for its success is a sign of intellectual laziness.
Hindu-Muslim antagonism was not a creation of the British, it existed before they arrived. Of the four afore-mentioned statements, two clearly state that differences already existed. The fact that the slogan of Hindu-Muslim unity had to be coined in the freedom struggle implies that Hindus and Muslims were two separate entities whose unity was thought to be desirable.
Why were slogans of say, Hindu-Christian, Hindu-Parsi or Hindu-Jew unity not raised by the stalwarts of the freedom struggle? If British culpability was the primary reason for Hindu-Muslim antagonism, we should have witnessed Hindu-Muslim bonhomie after their departure. Also, what explains the antagonism between Muslims and their non-Muslim, non-Hindu neighbours in countries such as Thailand which were never ruled by the British? On British culpability, we shall consider the views of two leaders. One was VD Savarkar (1883-1966), the other was Dr BR Ambedkar (1891-1956).
In his 1939 Presidential speech to the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha, Savarkar indicted the third-party culpability theory thus, “...this theory of 'third party' constituted a Congress superstition... They always used to fancy that the Moslems, if left to themselves would never have indulged in any anti-national, ulterior, anti-Hindu designs... Thousands of Congressite Hindus are observed to have been duped in to this silliest of political superstitions. As if Muhammad Qasim, Ghaznavis, Ghoris, Allauddins, Aurangzebs were all instigated by the British, by this third party, to invade and lay waste Hindu India with a mad fanatical fury. As if the history of the last ten centuries of perpetual war between the Hindus and Moslems was an interpolation and a myth. As if the Alis or Mr. Jinnah or Sir Sikandar were mere school children to be spoiled with the offer of sugar pills by the British vagabonds in the class and persuaded to throw stones at the house of their neighbours. They say, ‘before the British came, Hindu-Moslem riots were a thing unheard of.’ Yes, but because, instead of riots, Hindu-Moslem wars were the order of the day” (Hindu Rashtra Darshan, V.D. Savarkar, Maharashtra Prantik Hindusabha, pp.57, 58).
Ambedkar on roots of Hindu-Muslim antagonism
In an extraordinarily insightful analysis of Hindu-Muslim antagonism, Ambedkar says, “The Hindus say that the British policy of divide and rule is the real cause of this failure (of Hindu-Muslim unity)... Time has come to discard this facile explanation so dear to the Hindus...it overlooks the fact that the policy of divide and rule, allowing that the British do resort to it, cannot succeed unless there are elements which make division possible, and further, if the policy succeeds for such a long time, it means that the elements which divide are more or less permanent and irreconcilable and are not transitory or superficial... what stands between the Hindus and Muslims is not a mere matter of difference, and that this antagonism is not to be attributed to material causes. It is spiritual in its character. It is formed by causes which take their origin in historical, religious, cultural and social antipathy; of which political antipathy is only a reflection... it is unnatural to expect this antipathy between Hindus and Moslems to give place to unity” (Pakistan or the Partition of India, ibid, pp.322-323). Clearly, it is time to shift focus from policy to strategy.
Muslim participation in freedom struggle
The Indian National Congress was formed on December 28, 1885, with British support, including that of Viceroy Lord Dufferin. Among its founders was British ex-civil servant Alan Octavian Hume. After 1890 British official support was withdrawn. Up to about 1905, Congress certainly took a loyal stand... Parallel with the Congress, was the revolutionary movement ... A notable feature of this movement was the near total absence of Muslims in it. The attendance of the Muslims in the Congress had dropped considerably after 1900 (The Khilafat Movement in India 1919-1924, A.C. Niemeijer, Martinus Nijhoff, 1972, p. 24-27).
The Muslims kept aloof from the Congress. Reporting on the first Congress session, The Times of India dated 5 February 1886 says, “Only one great race was conspicuous by its absence; the Mahomedans of India were not there. They remained steadfast in their habitual separation.” The propaganda of total boycott by the Muslims profoundly disturbed the Congress leaders (Source Material for A History of the Freedom Movement in India, Vol.2, 1885-1920, Bombay State, 1958, pp. 17, 22-23). When some Muslim delegates went to attend the second session in Calcutta (1886), they were told by other Muslims that “the Hindus are ahead of us. We are lagging behind them. We still want the patronage of the Government and shall gain nothing by joining them” (Source Material, ibid, p. 34).
The acceptance of Congress presidentship (Madras, 1888) by Muslim lawyer Badruddin Tayyabji was welcomed from the roof-tops. Tayyabji revealed his true colours in a letter written to Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan on 18 February 1888, “...Your objection to the Congress is that ‘it regards India as one Nation’. Now I am not aware of any one regarding the whole of India as one Nation...if you need my inaugural address, you will find it distinctly stated that there are numerous communities or nations in India with peculiar problems of their own...Take for example the example of the Legislative Councils. If the Mussalmans as a body do not like that the members should be elected they could easily change the proposition so as to suit their own interests. My policy, therefore, would be to act from within than from without (Source Material, ibid, pp. 72-73, emphasis not mine).
Apparently anxious to overcome Muslim aloofness, the Congress or to be more specific, Hume (and other British proxies) and Tayyabji (self-confessedly working from within) laid down the following formulations which ruled the Hindu psyche not only during the days of the Khilafat Movement but continue to do so to this day. It may be noted that Viceroy Lord Dufferin was instructing both the anti-Congressite Sir Sayyid Ahmed and Congressite Hume simultaneously at this point in time (Source Material, Vol. 2, p. 88).
1. Muslim participation is mandatory for a movement to be called ‘national’: In a letter dated October 17, 1888, to Hume, Tayyabji wrote, “... an overwhelming majority of Mahomedans is against the movement. If then, the Mussalman Community as a whole is against the Congress - rightly or wrongly does not matter - it follows that the movement ipso facto ceases to be a general or National Congress. If this is so it is deprived of a great deal of its power to do good” (Source Material, Vol. 2, p. 81).
2. Placate Muslims to win their support: In a letter dated January 22, 1888, to Tayyabji, Hume wrote, “if we are to succeed we must have a Mohamedan president and , that President must be yourself. It is believed that with you as the President, Syed Ahmed’s tirades will have no effect with the North of India Mahomedans” (Source Material, Vol. 2, p. 69).
3. Grant of Muslim ‘veto’ in public affairs: In a letter to Editor, Pioneer, Tayyabji described how he prevailed upon the Congress to embody the following rule in the Congress constitution, “In the case of the Mahomedan delegates unanimously or nearly unanimously objecting to the introduction of any subject or the passing of any resolution, such subject or resolution should be thereupon dropped” (Source Material, Vol. 2, p. 82).
4. Normalization and approval of pan-Islamist feeling: In a letter dated August 30, 1888, to Tayyabji, a British individual whose signature is illegible wrote, “If it (Congress) is National Institution, interest of all should be looked to and the Hindus ought to take an interest in their Mahomedan brethern. Only the Mahomedans who number over 50 million ought not to be indifferent to the fate of their co-religionists in other parts of the world. Let the National Congress at its next meeting say that it views with regret that Mahomedan brothers in India have cause to feel sorrow and shame on account of the way their co-religionists are treated in other parts of the world” (Source Material, Vol. 2, p. 74).
The Muslim-British nexus to put down the forces of Indian nationalism was no secret. The Muslims started demanding separate electorates and political representation disproportionate to their numbers. The British were too keen to play along. In their desperation to win over the Muslims in a ‘national’ front against the British, the Hindu leaders of the Congress acceded to this Muslim-British game and in fact gave more than what the Muslims demanded.
Referring to the address of the President of the 1907 Karachi session of the All India Muslim League (founded 30 December 1906), James Ramsay MacDonald (Labour Party co-founder and three- time Prime Minister of Britain) wrote, “The Moslem movement is inspired solely by considerations affecting itself...The Mohammedans take their stand upon the right of Mohammedanism to share in the Government of India...Numerical proportions do not satisfy them... They rank themselves as special allies with us in the Empire, and to their position in India they wish added influence in consideration of their importance as part of Pan-Islamism and their distinction as late rulers of the country... they have insisted upon an equality of representation (irrespective of population)... influences have been at work, that the Mohammedan leaders were inspired by certain Anglo-Indian officials, and that these officials pulled wires at Simla and in London and of malice aforethought sowed discord between the Hindu and the Mohammedan communities by showing the Mohammedans special favour... The Mohammedans received representation far in excess of their numbers, and they were granted a franchise far more liberal than that given to the Hindus (The Awakening of India, J. Ramsay MacDonald, Hodder and Stoughton, 1910, pp.280-284).
Divide and rule may have been policy, communal electorates and political representation to Muslims disproportionate to their numbers was the strategy (Sunderland, ibid, pp.270, 271).
Calibrated Muslim demands
For a critique of the “never-ending catalogue of Muslim demands”, the chapter on ‘Communal Aggression’ written by Ambedkar in his Pakistan or the Partition of India (pp. 239-261) deserves to be read in its original. “As per the Indian Councils Act (1892), the principle of separate representation for Muslims was for the first time introduced in the political constitution of India. As far back as 1888, Viceroy Lord Dufferin suggested that in India, representation in the Legislative Councils will have to be, not in the way representation is secured in England, but representation by interests (p.240).
“Though the suggestion of separate representation came from the British, the Muslims did not fail to appreciate the social value of separate political rights. In 1909 the Musalmans came to know that the next step in the reform of the Legislative Councils was contemplated. In a command performance, a Muslim delegation placed a set of demands before Viceroy Lord Minto. These were promptly accepted and the Muhammadans were given (1) the right to elect their representatives, (2) the right to elect their representatives by separate electorates, (3) the right to vote in the general electorates as well and (4) the right to weightage in representation (pp.242, 243).
“In October 1916, 19 members of the Imperial Legislative Council presented the Viceroy (Lord Chelmsford) a memorandum demanding (1) The extension of the principle of separate representation to the Punjab and the Central Provinces. (2) Fixing the numerical strength of the Muslim representatives in the Provincial and Imperial Legislative Councils. (3) Safeguards against legislation affecting Muslims, their religion and religious usages. The negotiations following upon these demands resulted in agreement between the Hindus and the Muslims which is known as the Lucknow Pact” (p.243).
The architect of the Lucknow Pact was none other than Lokmanya Tilak. The pact gave Muslims separate representation far in excess of their percentage in the population. The ratio was 340 percent in Central Provinces, 231 percent in Madras, 214 percent in United Provinces, 163 percent in Bombay and 268 percent in Bihar and Orissa (p.246).
Ambedkar further observes, “... (What is) noticeable among the Muslims is the spirit of exploiting the weaknesses of the Hindus. If the Hindus object to anything, the Muslim policy seems to be to insist upon it and give it up only when the Hindus show themselves ready to offer a price for it by giving the Muslims some other concessions (p.259).
Policy Turns into Doctrine
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From 1885 to 1919, the Hindu leaders of the Congress continued with their policy of trying to buy the loyalty of the Muslims with progressively better offers. Egged on by the British, the Muslims drove a hard bargain, solely keeping Muslim interests in mind. Before 1919, Hindu-Muslim unity was a well-intentioned if naive Congress policy to win freedom. After 1919, the policy became doctrine. No wonder, the emboldened Muslim leaders exploited the struggle for their pan-Islamist designs.