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Politics of Muslim minortism

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With the creation of Pakistan, Hindustan is not free of the communal question. The only way to make the country homogeneous is by arranging for an exchange of population

While presiding over the Muslim League Session in Lahore in March 1940, Mohammed Ali Jinnah declared that Muslims are not a minority but a nation by any definition. This was the crux of his two-nation theory which succeeded in his achieving a homeland for the Muslims. He had in mind a maximal migration of his community to the new homeland.

For those of them who could not possibly do so, he endorsed President Rajendra Prasad’s proposal that they could remain in India but as aliens on the basis of visas issued by the Government of India. In his words, “the Muslims in Hindustan will have the status of foreigners and, therefore, be subject to the same disability that a foreigner suffers from.” Jinnah reacted by observing that “the Muslims who are citizens of India today will, after Partition, cease to be citizens of Hindustan” and among his choices would be as proposed by Rajendra Prasad.

These contentions of the two leaders gave a burial to the concept of minority which had been propounded by reformist Sir Syed Ahmad Khan in the last quarter of the 19th century. He campaigned for separate nominations for the Muslims to the local self-Government institutions that were created by Viceroy Lord Ripon. In 1906, a delegation of 35 Muslim eminences, led by Sir Aga Khan, met Viceroy Minto and demanded separate electorates and reservation in Government jobs. Two months later, they established the All India Muslim League in order to follow up politically on their demands made to Lord Minto. The 1909 Morley-Minto Reforms implemented the demands.

Communal Award, 1932: Under the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, the Muslims obtained separate electorates. In 1916, under the Lucknow Pact signed by Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Jinnah’s Congress, had agreed to separate electorates as also weightage for Muslims on a scale higher than that provided under the Morley-Minto Reforms, both in the Central legislature as well as in provinces where they were in minority. The Pact of 1916 envisaged that Muslim representation across the country was about 30 per cent higher than their population.

For the Central Legislative Council, the percentage of Muslim representation was fixed at 33.3 per cent. After the conclusion of Gandhi-Irwin Pact in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi went to London to attend the second session of the Round Table Conference. He failed to secure an agreed solution of the communal problem. According to Constitutional Advisor V P Menon, the sole outcome of the second session was widening of the cleavage between the Congress and the minorities, especially the Muslim League. Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald announced the Communal Award on August 16, 1932. It provided for separate electorates for Muslims, Europeans, Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians and the depressed classes. The total Muslim representation across the country under the Award was much in excess of their proportionate population.

The Communal Award left the Muslims of Bengal and Punjab in a strong position. They not only retained separate electorates but were also disproportionately given more seats in the Provincial assemblies. Father of the Indian Constitution B R Ambedkar who comprehensively examined the Award and the Muslims at the Round Table Conference had claimed:-

(i) That their representatives in all the Provincial as well as in the Central Legislature should be elected by separate electorates.

(ii) That they should be allowed to retain the weightage in representation given to Muslim minorities in those provinces in which they were a minority in the population, and that in addition, they should be given in those Provinces where they were a majority such as the Punjab, Sind, North-West Frontier Province and Bengal, a guaranteed statutory majority of seats. The Award of His Majesty’s Government settled this dispute by the simple, rough and ready method of giving the Muslims all that they wanted, without caring for the Hindu opposition.

The Award is iniquitous in as much as it accorded unequal treatment to the Hindu and Muslim minorities. It granted the Muslim minorities in the Hindu Provinces the right of self-determination in the matter of electorates but it did not grant the same right to the Hindu minorities in Muslim Provinces.

In the Hindu Provinces, a Muslim minority was allowed to choose the kind of electorates it wanted and the Hindu majority was not permitted to have any say in that matter. But in the Muslim Provinces, it was the Muslim majority which was allowed to choose the kind of electorate it preferred; and the Hindu minority was not permitted to have any say in the same. Thus, the Muslims in the Muslim Provinces, having been given both statutory majority and separate electorates, the Award must be said to have imposed upon the Hindu minorities Muslim rule which they could neither alter nor influence.

This is what constitutes the fundamental wrong in the Communal Award. That this was a grave wrong must be admitted. For, it offends certain political principles which have now become axiomatic. As has been well said, “If in any state there is a body of men who possess unlimited political power, those over whom they rule can never be free. For, the one assured result of historical investigation is the lesson that uncontrolled power is invariably poisonous to those who possess it. They are always tempted to impose their canon of good upon others, and in the end, they assume that the good of the community depends upon the continuance of their power. Liberty always demands a limitation of political authority ……..”

In the course of the Round Table Conferences 1930 to 1932, the Muslims extracted the maximum concessions as a minority. As the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald gave what is known as the Communal Award, which met all the Muslim demands. The final outcome was, to a great extent, conditioned by the pleadings of the then Viceroy Lord Willingdon, who repeatedly emphasised that if the British wanted to safeguard their position in India, they had no option but to keep the Muslims satisfied, for they constituted the one reliable force in India on which the British could depend in stemming the rising tide of Indian nationalism.

The Communal Award, thus, represented a clear victory for the tactics adopted by founding member of the Unionist Party of the Punjab Fazl-i-Husain and helped to reinforce the traditional view of the dominant Muslim elite that their interests would be served better through friendship with Britain than aligning with Indian nationalism. Quoted from Pathway to Pakistan by Khaliq-uz-Zaman.

The concept of minority arose in Europe at the end of World War I when national territories were re-drawn and the population of a country came to be directed against its will by the war to another country so that the divided community needed safeguards to save it from ethnic extinction. In sharp contrast, the Indian Muslims forced Partition on their own demands based on the two-nation theory. Furthermore, even after Partition, a large section of the community preferred to remain in Hindustan out of their choice.

It so happened that at the command of Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru was made the Prime Minister although democratically, the Congress wanted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Nehru, therefore, needed to build his own base in the Congress. He chose the Muslims as one major segment of this base. In order to favour them, he resurrected the concept of minority and gave its members special privileges in the Constitution, especially through Articles 25 to 30. In the bargain, Article 14, which insisted on equality before the law, was violated and reduced the majority of Indians to an unequal and inferior status.

These sops of Nehru gave the Congress a free hand to appease the Muslim community in order to ensure votes. The climax of this pampering was reached by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he in effect declared 15 per cent of the country’s resources would first be assigned to the Muslims. The question that arose over Partition was the status of Muslims who would be left in Hindustan. The question that concerned the Hindus was: How far did the creation of Pakistan remove communal tension from Hindustan?

It must be admitted that by the creation of Pakistan, Hindustan is not free of the communal question. While Pakistan was made a homogeneous state by redrawing its boundaries, Hindustan remained a composite state. Musalmans are scattered all over Hindustan. The only way to make Hindustan homogeneous is to arrange for an exchange of population. Until that is done, even with the creation of Pakistan, the problem will remain in Hindustan as before and will continue to produce disharmony in the body politic of Hindustan.

– Prafull Goradia

(The writer is a well-known columnist and an author)

Courtesy: Daily Pioneer

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