The applied smokescreen of secularism hinders one’s vision from both the historical perspective and the contemporary reality, of the Islamic behavior patterns. A study in the attitude of the secularists during the period from the early 1920s till the partition of India makes for a perfect microcosmic analysis of this fact. It was purely this optimist-to-death secularism contrary to hard realities that informed the national leadership in assessment of the so called ‘communal question’ and therefore the formation of their un-questionable ‘diagnosis’ and the ‘solution’ which can be summaries as follows:
1) It is the British that are alone to blame for creating and festering the ‘discord’ between Moslems and the rest of the Indians as part of their Divide and Rule strategy; neither the history of the ‘discord’ is any far-reaching nor are its origins inherent in anything to do with Islam and its intercourse with India
2) The mainstream psyche of Indian Moslems is patriotic & nationalistic, while the separatist element being nothing more than some misguided cranks without any popular backing
3) Without the Moslem support, the destiny of Indian movement is neither possible nor worth it, and therefore, an all out and continuous effort to secure the Moslem approval is a must and a prerequisite, for gaining which no sacrifice is too costly
When Gandhi returned empty handed and sullen faced from the futile second Round Table Conference in 1931, which yielded no result on the key “communal question”, Subhas Bose’s take on the chief reason of that failure was, that to counter the Moslem League ideologues Gandhi had failed to carry enough ‘Nationalist Moslems’ on his London entourage!
“One cannot help thinking what a change it would have made if the Mahatma had come to London with a full contingent of Nationalist representatives of Moslems and other minority communities…”, he wrote.
It never occurred to the leaders like Bose or Gandhi that rather than spending so much energy in futile bargaining with and appeasing the Moslem leaders, better to consolidate the genuine nationalists and counter the British from that strength.
Writes Sita Ram Goel:
“The basic and the big mistake made by the national leadership was that it could not conceive of a native nationalism which would march ahead under its own impetus even if the Muslims were reluctant to participate in it or remained hostile to it. The national leadership was all along in a hurry to bargain with the British on the basis of Hindu-Muslim unity, and consequently failed to give sufficient thought and attention to the consolidation of genuine nationalist forces. The residues of Islamic imperialism spotted this weakness of the national leadership very soon, and exploited it to the hilt. Their price for co-operation went on soaring in direct proportion to the nationalist solicitation for it.”
But there is more. The secularism of the national leadership, of which Bose was now an important participant, started equating the Hindus and the separatist Moslem leadership! Writing about a meeting of his with Gandhi before the Conference, Subhas Bose writes:
“I remarked (to Mahatma) that the Congress should only care for an agreement between Nationalist Hindus and Nationalist Moslems… and that the Congress need not bother what other anti-Nationalist elements thought or said…”
Notice the reference to “Nationalist Hindus and Nationalist Moslems”, out of compulsion, as if there was a body of Hindus that could be called not Nationalists! But such was the typical tendency of not being able to speak about the anti-national Muslim League without in the same breath reducing the Hindus to also some fictitious not-nationalist bogey. The reference here is to exclude the Hindu Sanghatanist organizations, which were carrying on the work on the lines of Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, Bankim Chandra, Lokmanya Tilak and Lajpat Rai. Such was the perversity of outlook and terminology already set in the Congress leadership by 1930s, that these people were now called “communal Hindus” while the secularists of Congress called the “nationalist Hindus”.
Elsewhere, the same attitude is on display when Bose introduces the Moslem leaders and the Hindu Leaders of Congress in the same breath:
“Within the Indian National Congress there is an important and influential Moslem group and this group has its representatives in the Congress Cabinet, that is, the Working Committee. In this group are Moulana Abul Kalam Azad of Calcutta, Dr. M. A. Ansari of Delhi, and Dr. Mohammed Alam of Lahore. Mr. Sherwani of Allahabad, Mr. Asaf Ali of Delhi and Mr. Khaliq-uz-zaman of Lucknow also belong to this group. Among the Hindu leaders of the Congress there are some who are more inclined towards the Hindu Mahasabha, for instance Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya of Benares and Mr. M. S. Aney of Berar.”
Throughout Bose’s writings and speeches he would allude to the Congress Hindus as the Nationalist Hindus and the likes of Hindu Mahasabha as communal, and every time equate them with the Muslim League. In fact it was during the Presidency of Subhas Bose that the Congress banned the dual membership of Congress and Mahasabha, so what if such eminent Congress leaders of past such as Pandit Malaviya and Lajpat Rai had been patrons and leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha!
Justifying that resolution in face of the fact that Congress before Gandhi was solidly led by none other than such very communal Hindus as Lajpat Rai and Pandit Malaviya, Bose later wrote a signed editorial in his Forward Bloc weekly on May 4, 1940 under the title of ‘Congress and Communal Organizations’.
“There was a time not long ago”, wrote Bose, “when prominent leaders of the Congress could be members and leaders of the communal organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League. In those days the communalism of such communal organizations was of a subdued character. Hence Lala Lajpat Rai could be a leader of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Ali Brothers could be the leaders of Muslim League. In Bengal, an ex-president of the Bengal Congress Provincial Committee and of the Bengal Provincial Conference, like Maulana Akram Khan, could be a leader of the Muslim League. But in recent times, the circumstances have changed. These communal organizations have become more communal than before. As a reaction to this, the Indian National Congress has put into its Constitution a clause to the effect that no member of a communal organization like the Hindu Mahasabha or the Muslim League can be a member of an elective committee of the Congress.”
Thus in Bose’s estimation Hindu Mahasabha was ‘communal’ and to be placed in the same bracket as the Moslem league, indeed he mentions Mahasabha before Muslim League every time he refers to the so called “communal organizations”.
But if one looked back at the history of both Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League, one cannot but conclude that there was no such significant change in their character as Bose seemed to have observed. If there was any change, it was in the character and leadership of the Congress itself and therefore its newfound outlook that considered Hindu Mahasabha communal! It was the change in the outlook of Congress itself by the advent of Gandhian secularism that now saw “Hindu Communalism” into what was earlier Indian Nationalism, and equated it now with the “Muslim Communalism” which in reality was nothing else but the same force that urged the revival of the Islamic Imperialism.
Noting this perversion in the Congress outlook as reflected in its altered terminology, Sita Ram Goel astutely observes:
“Hindu society had been reduced from the status of a nation to that of a religious community in the counting of heads which the British rulers described as their census operation. Nationalism was now increasingly being labelled as Hindu Communalism. A revaluation of the national resurgence could not lag far behind. It was soon stigmatised as Hindu Revivalism… This terminological swindle … was brought about by the combined efforts of the British imperialists and the residues of Islamic imperialism. They shared a problem in common. The problem was the rising tide of National Resurgence in the indigenous Hindu society… the use of a new terminology had far-reaching ideological consequences.”
In the same vein, Bose would continue to also display the delusional assessment of the ‘Nationalist Moslems’ too, typical to the Gandhian secularists. Recalling the same meeting with Gandhi as was referred before, Bose writes, “Dr. Ansari and some of the Nationalist Moslem leaders including Mr. Sherwani, …, said that if for any reason the Mahatma gave up the demand for a common electorate for both Hindus and Moslems and accepted the demand of the reactionaries for a separate electorate, …, they would oppose the reactionary Moslems and also the Mahatma”. But then retrospectively he records, albeit briefly and only in a footnote, his bafflement at the altered behaviour of the very same “Nationalist Moslems” after the Communal Award was granted, “…the attitude of the Nationalist Moslems in 1934 to the Prime Minister’s Communal Award is inexplicable!”
It was inexplicable to Bose only because he did not try to view the attitude of the Moslem leadership without the optimistic glasses of secularism. Otherwise, it would be evident to him that while his “Reactionary Moslems” were hard Jihadists, most of the so called “Nationalist Moslems” were also soft Jihadists differing from the former only in methods but not in the objectives. In their eagerness to embrace these soft Jihadists as the “Nationalist Moslems”, the secularists also always did a great disservice to the true Nationalist Moslems like the reverence-worthy Azeem Ullah and Ashfaq Ullah, who cared nothing to lay down their lives along with their Hindu comrades at the altar of the motherland in pure love for her; for secularist the chosen models of “Nationalists Moslem” are not they but the likes of Mawlana Abul Kalam Azad. Bose would later name a regiment in INA as Azad Regiment, in honour not of Chandrashekhar Azad, (lest one thought so), but of the Mawlana Azad. No Ashfaq nor Azeem Ullah.
It was but another culmination of such self-tied hands of the national leadership that the British Government in collaboration with Muslim leadership pushed through the so called Communal Award, which laid down for the upcoming assembly elections, besides the General seats, separate reserved electorates on the communal basis. In states where Moslem population was in a minority, the award ensured far greater number of seats than the numerical proportion of their population. Thus in the state of Bombay where their population was only 9.2% the seats reserved for them were more than twice the proportion, 30 out of 175. Likewise in UP, population 15.3% but seats 66/228; in Bihar-Orissa, population 10.8% but seats 42/175; in Madras, population 7.9% but seats 29/215; in Central Provinces, population 4.7% but seats 14/112, and so on, while in the states where Moslems were a numerical majority, i.e. Bengal and Punjab, a permanent reserved majority was ensured in the respective Assemblies. Sindh, hitherto a part of Bombay, was carved out as a separate state so it could enjoy its own Moslem majority government, which was ensured to it through a majority separate electorate (70.7% Moslem population, 34/60 seats). Only NWFP was a state which despite over 91% Moslem population left a respectable number of seats for the non-Moslems (14/50).
Despite all the posturing and lip service, this communal award was meekly accepted by the Congress, just like the partition later. And just like the partition which created a Moslem state but denied a Hindu state, in the matter of the communal electorate too it is only the Hindu electorate which Congress would pounce upon and treat as secular. The Congress President at the time was Subhas Chandra Bose, when on the basis of such Communal Award the state assemblies went to elections in 1937.
Congress, contesting primarily on the “Hindu” electorate, secured majority in seven out of eleven states. And for all their powerful and influential Nationalist Moslems in Congress, it was thrashed in the Moslem seats almost across all the states.
Savarkar, writing in a foreword to a book sometime in 1938, chastised Congress and Bose in following words:
“Congress Candidates are not ashamed of subscribing themselves as “Hindus” in the election season, that is, in that season they do not think communal to own themselves as Hindus. For, otherwise they would not be eligible to stand as candidates at all and get elected on Hindu votes!! But as soon as the elections are over and they have raised themselves to the posts in the Councils and in the Ministries on the strength of the Hindu votes, they disown their Hinduness, condemn the Hindu Organizations like Hindu Mahasabha as communal, while keep dancing attendance on the most fanatical and anti-national Moslem organizations as the Moslem League!”
“Witness for example, the instructions issued by the Bengal Congress inspired by Mr. Subhas Chandra Bose himself, that Congress Hindus in Bengal should not agitate against the so-called Communal Award; or the action of the Congress party in the Bengal legislature, which practically supported Mr. Fazlul Haq’s outrageous bill to reserve 60% of the services for the Moslems alone! Why, Mr. Sarat Chandra Bose (Subhas’ elder brother) and Congress party dared to betray Hindu interest in that treacherous fashion, only because the Hindu electorate, they were sure, would not take them to task!”
Such rising tide of utopian secularism disgusted many Hindus even within Congress. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee was one such staunch Hindu who was forced to abandon both his Congress leanings and his academic pursuits. Then the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, and having been twice elected to the assembly, once on the Congress ticket (1929), he was dismayed at the growing anti-Hindu tendencies and Muslim-placatory policies of Congress.
In 1937 election in Bengal, Congress emerged as the largest party though way short of majority. If Congress wanted, it could have easily formed a coalition government with Fazlul Haq’s KPP and Hindu Mahasabha to keep Muslim League out of power. Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, who had himself won as an independent, advised this course to Congress leaders as being the least evil. But, in their short-sightedness they spurned the idea, and instead actively helped Muslim League and Fazlul Haq’s KPP to come together and make a coalition government (a Congress wheeler-dealer close to Bose group, Nalini Ranjan Sarkar, was the anchor of this arrangement). This helped Muslim League consolidate Bengali Moslems under its own banner in a short time, just like congress support to Khilafat had done over a decade before.
Subhas Bose was then the national President of Congress and Sarat Bose the Bengal Congress (BPCC) President. Even within the Assembly, Congress under Bose brothers could have still played an important role in safeguarding the Hindu interests in face of the repressive anti-Hindu League-KPP government; and as we learn from Mookerjee’s diaries, he often approached Bose brothers for cooperation, but returned disappointed. Mookerjee at one place wrote, “(Congress) hesitates to oppose acts and bills, avowedly anti-Hindu and anti-national, lest it should be dubbed a communal body!!” (Dr. Anil Chandra Banerjee, “A phase in the life of Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee”, APILOSPM)
It is during this period that Mookerjee, who was not affiliated to any party for the last seven years, came in touch with Savarkar when the latter came in 1939 to Bengal for extensively touring all over the state, meeting Hindu intellectuals and leaders, addressing students and villagers; in short to exhort Bengali Hindus to reclaim that rightful place in the Indian Nationalism, that they once held, not a long time ago. Mookerjee later wrote that Savarkar was “greatly perturbed at the helpless position of Bengali Hindus whom the Congress failed to rouse and protect” and at how the “spirit of resistance against outrageously communal aggression was dying out.” (APILOSPM)
Mookerjee was greatly influenced by Savarkar and immediately joined Hindu Mahasabha. In a very short time Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal started taking shape of a force to reckon with, gaining important and renowned members of the Bengali Hindu intelligentsia as well as popular support. In December of the same year, it was in Calcutta that the annual All India convention took place and was a roaring success. Bengali Hindu was again finding his self-confidence and a voice through Mahasabha.
Subhas Bose did not like it. He feared that under Mookerjee Hindu Mahasabha would create in Bengal a body of popular support to rival Congress, and ‘communalize’ the politics! Dr. Mookerjee records in his diary that Bose met and told him that if he went about building Mahasabha as a political body in Bengal, “he (Subhas Bose) would see to it, BY FORCE IF NEED BE, that it was broken before it was really born!” (APILOSPM – emphasis added)
And Subhas Bose meant business!
Writing in his journal, in aftermath of a failed negotiation, Bose bitterly wrote a signed editorial in Forward Bloc on 30 March 1940 about Hindu Mahasabha in Bengal:
“The annual All-India Conference of the Hindu Mahasabha was held in Calcutta towards the close of the last year. As a conference it was a great success, and it afforded considerable satisfaction to the Mahasabha leaders who began to hope that their organization would forge ahead in Bengal. … It has come forward to play a political role and to make a bid for the political leadership of Bengal, or at least of the Hindus of Bengal, who have been the backbone of nationalism in this country. With a real Hindu Mahasabha we have no quarrel and no conflict. But with a political Hindu Mahasabha that seeks to replace the Congress in the public life of Bengal and for that purpose has already taken offensive against us, a fight is inevitable. The fight has just begun!”
The bitterness is not even guised. But some events that took place in the last three months must be mentioned.
First, in 1939 League-KPP government passed the Calcutta Municipal Bill, which reserved 46 out of 93 seats in the Corporation for the Moslem candidates alone. This massively disproportionate representation to Moslems, who formed only 28% of city population, was against any rhythm or reason, except that the powerful body of Calcutta Corporation and its resources must come under the Moslem control. Speaking in the assembly, Mookerjee opposed the bill saying that a 50% Moslem reservation in Corporation was an act of robbing the Hindus “who form 70% of the total population of Calcutta, 76% of total tax payers, and 80% of the eligible voters of the Corporate!” But as usual, despite the opposition as well as Congress lip service, the Bill was passed (No satyagraha, no hunger strike.) On this new basis the Calcutta Corporation elections were due to take place in the beginning of 1940.
Second, in the meanwhile, Subhas Bose was expelled from Congress in the shiniest democratic traditions of the party, having won the election to a second term of Presidendship against the Gandhi-backed candidate and then forced to resign by the hunger-strike of the Mahatma. In Bengal PCC, the role of his elder brother was also curtailed by the high command, and all other Bose loyalists were either purged or sidelined too.
The Corporation elections provided an opportunity for Bose to demonstrate to his rivals in Bengal Congress and high command, his strength and popularity by capturing the Corporation and becoming its Mayor; and it became for Bose a matter of prestige.
To improve the prospects of his Forward Bloc, Bose approached Mookerjee for an electoral tie up with Hindu Mahasabha. Mookerjee, driven by his urge to consolidate the Hindu vote in face of the communal reservation, responded positively. An agreement was worked out according to which both parties will contest an equal number of constituencies divided between the two parties as mutually agreed. They also agreed about the candidates and finalized the list, except for two particular constituencies on which names could not be agreed. A way was suggested and agreed that both parties should propose a panel of names to the other party, and the other party may pick up a name from it to be the joint candidate. Accordingly, Bose picked up one name from the panel submitted by Mahasabha, and that candidate was accepted. Likewise Mookerjee picked up one name from the panel submitted by Forward Bloc, but Bose would not accept it. Bose started insisting on one particular candidate, who was a notorious goon, to whose candidature it was impossible for Mahasabha to agree. For all the persuasion of Mookerjee, Bose would not abide by the agreement already made, and even threatened that the ‘Force was the ultimate argument’, and the Mahasabha-Forward Bloc pact broke down, having lasted for just nine days. This is one version of the story, as given by Prof. Balraj Madhok (“Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee”, Portrait of a Martyr, 1953). There is another version that gives a more complex agreement of candidate selection. But in any case, suffice to say that the agreement was short lived.
Bose came true on his words that he was not averse to using force and intimidation to put Mahasabha down. We now quote Prof. Balraj Madhok:
“Subhas Bose with the help of his favourite (the goon), decided to intimidate the Mahasabha by use of force. His men would break up all Mahasabha meetings and beat up the candidates… Dr. Mookerjee could not tolerate it. He got a meeting announced, to be addressed by him. As soon as he rose to speak, a stone hit him in his head, and he began to bleed profusely. This infuriated the audience, and they fell upon the goondas including the strong man of Subbhas Bose. They gave them a thorough beating. That put the end to their hooliganism (once and for all).”
Forward Bloc won 21 seats, Hindu Mahasabha 16 and Muslim League 18. Bose went over to Moslem League and entered in an understanding. Mookerjee’s plea not to do this which would surely place Calcutta Corporation in hands of Moslem League, when the nightmare of League rule in Bengal Assembly was in front of everyone, found no favours with Bose. Siddiqui, a Muslim Leaguer, became the Mayor and Subhas Bose just an alderman under him. The agreement with Mahasabha lasted mere 9 days and broke down on triffles, but with Muslim League Subhas Babu worked the Corporation till the end of his disappearance and after conceding to all League demands. He was criticised by one and all of the Hindu voice in Calcutta of “having betrayed the Hindu interests to League for merely becoming an alderman”.
Bose later wrote that he was more concerned about fighting the British members controlling the Corporation!
As we had said in the beginning, the smokescreen of secularism hinders one’s vision from both the historical perspective and the concurrent reality of the Islamic behavior patterns; and it blurs the vision of even the most talented, most well meaning, most patriotic, most sacrificing people.