Essay

Parivar & Partition

Print edition : August 22, 2014

Noakhali, February 1947: Mahatma Gandhi, while opening a school for refugee children, handing over a new slate and a book to a boy. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Lala Lajpat Rai. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

V.D. Savarkar. Lala Lajpat Rai and V.D. Savarkar, both leaders of the Hindu Mahasabha, advocated a two-nation theory long before Mohammad Ali Jinnah pronounced it in 1939. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

January 1948: Food being provided to evacuees in camps immediately on their arrival in East Punjab. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

Bhagat Singh, who moved away from his mentor, Lala Lajpat Rai, as the latter became increasingly communal in his outlook. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

New Delhi, June 7, 1947: The historic conference at which Lord Mountbatten disclosed Britain's "partition" plan for India. (Left to right) Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Ismay, Adviser to the Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, and Jinnah. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

The lust for communal hegemony rendered impossible a sharing of power that could have preserved the precious unity of a great country. The Sangh Parivar and its sympathisers in the Congress bear a heavy responsibility for Partition.

“THE ease with which a larger number of Congressmen and women—small, big and bigger still—have walked into the RSS-BJP boat and sailed with it is not a matter of surprise. For, there has always been a certain affinity between the two. A large and influential section in the Congress sincerely believed even during the freedom struggle that the interests of Hindu Indians could not be sacrificed at the altar of a united Independent India. Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya and Lala Rajpat Rai had, for instance, actually broken away from the Congress and founded the Nationalist Party which contested elections against the Congress in the mid-Twenties. In both years, in the Forties, even Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was sometime accused of being soft on the Hindu Revanchists, who believed in and practised tit-for-tat in that turbulent and fateful period.”

Events have proved the validity of Prem Bhasin’s assessment in an article, in the Janata (Annual Number 1998), entitled “The Congress-BJP Duo”. The weekly was founded by Jayaprakash Narayan and has been edited by his devoted follower, Dr G.G. Parikh. The writer was one of a kind, and so is the editor, who renders selfless service to an institution for rural uplift. Prem Babu lived in Aligarh and was general secretary of the Praja Socialist Party. A man of modest means, he would carefully peruse all the national dailies, in English and Hindi, besides magazines at a public library. He was, in this writer’s opinion, far and away the most insightful and honest commentator on the political scene.

His assessment was all too true and bears recalling in any study of the partition of India, which beyond doubt, is one of the ten greatest tragedies in history. The seeds of divisive Hindu nationalism, as opposed to a unifying Indian nationalism, were sown in the 19th and early 20th century. By 1936, when Jawaharlal Nehru published his Autobiography, the virus had entered the Congress. “Many a Congressman was a communalist under his national cloak” (page 136). The Hindu Mahasabha’s communalism “masquerades under a nationalistic cloak” (page 467).

A few years later, on May 11, 1951, he told a meeting of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) that the “communalism of the majority is far more dangerous than the communalism of the minority”. He was certainly not condoning the latter. But, as he explained later (January 5, 1961), he refused to accept that one particular community was communal and not the other. “When minority communities are communal, you can see that and understand it. But the communalism of a majority is apt to be taken for nationalism.” Article V (c) of the Congress Constitution forbade members from joining “a communal organisation, the object or programme of which involves political activities, which, in the opinion of the Working Committee, are anti-national and in conflict with those of the Congress” (emphasis added, throughout). For long, Muslim Leaguers and Hindu Mahasabhaites were members of the Congress as well. In actual practice, it was the general secretary who was the arbiter of this clause.

An ably documented essay records the fate of this none too explicit ban. “On 11-16 December 1938, the CWC [Congress Working Committee] declared the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League as communal organisations and debarred elected members of Congress committees from serving on similar committees in the Mahasabha and the League. This decision, albeit adopted late in the campaign, led Provincial and District Congress Committees throughout India to ask whether they could exclude Hindu Mahasabhaites from the Congress organisation. In a remarkably convoluted interpretation relayed to these committees, J.B. Kripalani, Congress’ general secretary, ignored the views of provincial and district leaders that the very prestige and credibility of Congress would suffer if Congress members could still serve as members of Hindu Mahasabha organisations. Kripalani demurred and wrote to the secretary of the Bengal Provincial Congress Committee. ‘You must remember Article V (c) in the Constitution refers not to primary members of any communal organisation but to members of elected committees. There is therefore nothing in the Congress Constitution, even if the working committee named some organisations as communal in the sense contemplated by Article V (c), to prevent ordinary members of such organisation from being office holders in the Congress organisation.’” (Lt. Col. James E. Dillard; “The Failure of Nehru’s Mass Contacts Campaign and the Rise of Muslim Separatism”; Journal of South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Vol. XXXI; No. 2, Winter 2008, pages 65-66).

He demonstrates that Nehru’s campaign to secure Muslims’ membership of the Congress was sabotaged by Hindu communalists in the Congress. “Few Congress members shared Nehru’s enthusiasm.” His success would have ensured marginali s ation of those elements in the party; for instance, Vallabhbhai Patel, Kripalani and the likes. V.D. Savarkar was more open. He held that the Hindus “after many centuries of British and Muslim rule look forward to the establishment of a purely Hindu Raj” (page 53). Long before Mohammad Ali Jinnah pronounced his poisonous two-nation theory in 1939 and demanded a ruinous partition of India in 1940, the Mahasabha leaders Lala Lajpat Rai and Savarkar had openly advocated this very theory, while Lajpat Rai advocated the partition of India in 1924.

An erudite work by Chetan Bhatt of Goldsmith College, University of London, carefully documents the course of their political journey ( Hindu Nationalism : Origins , Ideologies and Modern Myths, Berg, Oxford; 2001). The writer is much indebted to this work which bears quotation at some length. Three figures in particular symbolised that fateful journey. Lala Lajpat Rai, V.D. Savarkar and Syama Prasad Mookerjee. Of them all, Lajpat Rai stood the tallest as a man of refinement and scholarship. The other two are unworthy of comparison to him; more so every single leader of the Sangh Parivar to this day. Lajpat Rai had his prejudices and commitments, but he had no communal hate, with which Savarkar, Mookerjee, as well as the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are richly endowed. Though a political opponent, he had very cordial relations with Jinnah, who paid a moving tribute to him on February 15, 1929, after his death as a result of a brutal assault by police lathis. This crime drove Bhagat Singh to avenge it by killing an English police officer, though he had moved away from his erstwhile mentor as Lajpat Rai became increasingly communal minded. In the Central Assembly, Jinnah attacked the British Ministers and demanded an independent inquiry.

Chetan Bhatt holds that “Lala Lajpat Rai’s (1865-1928) symbolic trajectory from the Brahmo Samaj to the Arya Samaj, thence variously into and out of Congress, his alignment with the ‘Extremist’ section of Congress and some revolutionary nationalist activities, and then his emergence as a key figure in both the pre-Savarkarite Hindu Mahasabha and the Hindu Sangathan movement is both evocative and characteristic of the shape of Hindu nationalism in this period. …

“In 1899, Lajpat Rai published an article for the Indian National Congress in the Hindustan Review in which he declared that ‘Hindus are a nation in themselves, because they represent civilisation all their own’. … In several key passages, Lajpat Rai expressed a series of gestatory ideas, many of which were to find their way virtually unchanged in Savarkar’s definitive Hindutva. …

“Lajpat Rai asserted a comprehensive definition of nationality: ‘Run on a few basal ( sic) principles in religion, on the community of a sacred language, and on the community of interests, the Hindus ought to foster the growth of a national sentiment which should be sufficiently strong to enable them to work for the common good in the different ways and according to the lights vouchsafed to each. Let us keep one ideal before us. Let our ideal be sufficiently high to cover all, sufficiently broad and extensive to include all, who take pride in a common name, a common ancestry, a common history, a common religion, a common language and a common future.”

Warning against sectarianism

The Hindu Mahasabha was founded in 1921 in opposition to the Congress’ policies on non-cooperation with the British and on the communal issue. Under Madan Mohan Malaviya, the Mahasabha “had made significant inroads into the machinery of the Congress”. Be it noted that Lajpat Rai had entered the Congress in 1901 despite his two-nation theory. Following his resignation from the Congress, he wrote a series of articles in 1924 for The Tribune, then of Lahore. They reflect intellectual honesty, freedom from cant and, despite the communal bent, a certain openness as well. They repay study. He wrote: “Mahatma Gandhi’s personality is to a certain extent a puzzle. In practice he is a liberal of liberals and a broad-minded humanitarian. He declares untouchability to be inhuman and is pledged to root it out, in spite of the fact that tens of millions of Hindus regard it as an essential part of their religion. In theory, on the other hand, he sometimes seems to be supporting narrow-mindedness, even superstitious sectarianism in some of its aspects. This has brought about a reaction, and has given a new life to those Pandits and Maulvis who, before his advent, were fast losing influence among their respective communities. The result is that within the last three or four years, Hindu sectarians have become more bigoted than they were ever before, and Muhammadan and Sikh sectarians still more so.

“Take, for example, the case of the North-West Frontier Province. In a village where the population is 99 per cent Muhammadan and only 1 per cent Hindu, the assertion by a Hindu of his right to carry his idol in procession along the streets of the village where many mosques are situated, would be an extremely foolish act. The assertion of the right of sacrificing cow by a Muslim in a place like Ayodhya, Mathura, Brindaban, or Haridwar would be of the same nature….

“The desire to seek religious sanction for the various items of the non-cooperation programme was another great blunder. It led directly to the revival of a sectarian zeal, and to the re-enthroning of influences and forces which were antagonistic to the idea of a united India. Non-cooperation, which was based on the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity, thus became one of the forces favouring disunity. Never before did I see educated Hindus, Mussalmans, and Sikhs attaching so great an importance to insignificant and petty things in the name of religion as they do now. Shastras and Shariats have been studied and requisitioned only to create an atmosphere of narrowness and bigotry. I have seen young Muslim gentlemen being vigorously attacked by Maulvis for daring to shave their beards, and all India saw the spectacle of a Muslim President attempting to stop the playing of instrumental music at an annual meeting of the National Congress. We have heard of many more amusing claims being put forward in the name of religion, which could never have been imagined before. The last four years, by the way, have brought into existence a legion of Maulanas, Pandits, and Gyanis whom no one had ever credited with any religious sanctity or spiritual prestige. …It is similarly a matter of pain to me to notice that some of the most broad-minded Hindus, who have travelled all over the world, should feel the necessity of observing any sort of untouchability towards Muhammadans. You cannot expect India to be ever politically united as a single nation, as long as there are Indians who believe that it is against their religion to drink water or eat food touched by a non-Hindu.”

He travelled widely and with an open mind. His visits to Turkey, Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine and Egypt completely disillusioned him about pan-Islamism. “I found it nowhere. Every country is busy with its own home problems, and they are sufficiently complicated and troublesome to keep them engaged all the time.

“In Palestine the Muslims are in an overwhelming majority over the Jews. Christian Europe is creating a strong and well - protected Ulster in Palestine, which leaves almost no hope of the Muslims ever regaining their lost position of supremacy. Everywhere one sees well-built and well-equipped colonies of Jews springing up, with their own highly efficient educational and philanthropic institutions, and with their equally efficient industrial concerns. They are fast buying lands of Muslims and Christians. Money is pouring in from America and Europe.”

He, however, went on to add what none, but none, of the Parivar’s leaders would bring himself to say. “What I have said about Pan-Islamism and the excess of communalism among the Mussalmans, should not be understood to imply that Hindus on their side have been quite inactive and innocent. But in their own way, Hindu revivalists have left nothing undone to create a strictly exclusive and aggressive communal feeling. Early in the eighties of the last century some of the Hindu religious leaders came to the conclusion that Hinduism was doomed unless it adopted the aggressive features of militant Islam and militant Christianity. The Arya Samaj is a kind of militant Hinduism. But the idea was by no means confined to the Arya Samaj. Swami Vivekanand and his gifted disciple Sister Nivedita, among others, were of the same mind. The articles which she wrote on aggressive Hinduism are the clearest evidence of that mentality.”

Lajpat Rai’s transformation

He had come to despair of any solution and the communal mindset possessed him completely, to Bhagat Singh’s revulsion. This is what Lajpat Rai wrote in The Tribune of December 14, 1924, after pouring scorn on efforts at communal rapprochement by devising safeguards for the Muslims. Bal Gangadhar Tilak endorsed the Lucknow Pact of 1916 between the Congress and the League. Lajpat Rai opposed it bitterly. In 1924 he propounded this solution : “I would suggest that a remedy should be sought by which the Muslims might get a decisive majority without trampling on the sensitiveness of the Hindus and the Sikhs. My suggestion is that the Punjab should be partitioned into two provinces, the Western Punjab with a large Muslim majority, to be a Muslim-governed Province; and the Eastern Punjab, with a large Hindu-Sikhs majority, to be a non-Muslim governed Province. I do not discuss Bengal. To me it is unimaginable that the rich and highly progressive and alive Hindus of Bengal will ever work out the Pact agreed to by Mr Das. I will make the same suggestion in their case, but if Bengal is prepared to accept Mr Das’s Pact, I have nothing to say. It is its own lookout.

“Maulana Hasrat Mohani has recently said that the Muslims will never agree to India’s having Dominion status under the British. What they aim at are separate Muslim States in India, united with Hindu States under a National Federal Government. He is also in favour of smaller States containing compact Hindu and Muslim populations. If communal representation with separate electorates is to be the rule, then Maulana Hasrat’s scheme as to smaller provinces seems to be the only workable proposition. Under my scheme the Muslims will have four Muslim states : (1) The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier, (2) Western Punjab, (3) Sindh, and (4) Eastern Bengal. If there are compact Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a Province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India.” This was the very first time that any leader of stature proposed the partition of India and made the idea respectable, in a sense.

Motital Nehru’s lament

Nor is that all. Lajpat Rai joined Malaviya in shedding his loftiness and playing politics of an unworthy kind in elections, as Motilal Nehru’s letter of December 2, 1926, to Jawaharlal records: “It was simply beyond me to meet the kind of propaganda started against me under the auspices of the Malaviya-Lala gang. Publicly I was denounced as an anti-Hindu and pro-Muhammedan, but privately almost every individual voter was told that I was a beef-eater in league with the Muhammedans to legalise cow slaughter in public places at all times….

“Communal hatred and heavy bribing of the voters was the order of the day. I am thoroughly disgusted and am now seriously thinking of retiring from public life. What is worrying me is how to occupy my time. I am waiting for the Congress Session at Gauhati and keeping mum in the meanwhile. The Malaviya-Lala gang aided by Birla’s money are making frantic efforts to capture the Congress. They will probably succeed as no counter effort is possible from our side. I shall probably make a public declaration after the Congress and with it resign my seat in the Assembly though I am still acclaimed as the leader of the strongest party in the country. We can do no possible good in the Assembly or the Councils with our present numbers and the kind of men we have. I fear there will soon be defections from our ranks, but apart from this it is impossible to achieve anything. As for work in the country, I can see nothing which I can take up with any chance of success. My National Union for Hindu-Muslim Unity is of course there, but in the present state of communal tension my voice will be a cry in the wilderness. I shall consult Gandhiji but as you know his hobbies do not interest me beyond a certain point” (Jawaharlal Nehru; A Bunch of Letters, Asia Publishing House, 1958, page 49-50).

Three features must be noted carefully. The twin vices of electoral corruption and defections came to the fore once elections were closely contested after the Government of India Act, 1919, two whole decades before I ndependence. Thirdly, even then, as now, corporate India supported the Hindu Right. Lastly, he found no resistance in the Congress to “the Malaviya-Lala gang”, significantly.

Savarkar’s support for Israel

In 1924 was published Savarkar’s Hindutva. Chetan Bhatt recalls an excellent assessment. The Italian scholar Marzia Casolari drew attention to Savarkar’s and the Hindu Mahasabha’s approval of Nazism. In 1939, Savarkar made comparisons between Indian Muslims and German Jews, “both the latter seen as an illegitimate presence in an organic nation and harbouring extra-national loyalties. In 1939, the Hindu Mahasabha also celebrated Germany’s solemn revival of Aryan culture, the glorification of the Swastika, her patronage of Vedic learning, and the ardent championship of the tradition of Indo-Germanic civilisation. Casolari has also demonstrated the active links between Nazi representatives in India and Savarkar and the Mahasabha. Similarly, as Christophe Jaffrelot has highlighted, the Nazi newspaper Volkischer Beobachter reported on Savarkar speeches in exchange for the promotion of Germany’s anti-semitic policies in Marathi periodicals. Apparently, this exchange resulted in Savarkar receiving a copy of Mein Kampf from Germany. In 1941, Savarkar also called for a ‘Pan-Hindu-Buddhistic alliance’ with Japan ‘to crush’ what he, in a characteristically paranoid vein, believed was a ‘Pan-Islamic alliance’ that was to invade India. Savarkar’s support for Jewish settlement in Palestine was also congruent with his view of Germany’s Jews, since Palestine was their ‘Fatherland and Holyland’, and militarily strong Israel was conceived by him as an anti-Islamic fortification against the Arab world” ( A Statement on the Jewish International Question). Casolari’s seminal essay was published in Economic & Political Weekly; January 22, 2000; pages 218-228. It was entitled “Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930’s : Archival Evidence”.

Dominant Hindu nation

Dr B.R. Ambedkar pointed out to a fundamental difference between the Parivar’s two-nation theory and Jinnah’s proposed partition; the Parivar was and is for dominance. “Mr Jinnah says India should be cut up into two, Pakistan and Hindustan, the Muslim nation to occupy Pakistan and the Hindu nation to occupy Hindustan. Mr Savarkar on the other hand insists that, although there are two nations in India, India shall not be divided into two parts, one for Muslims and the other for the Hindus; that the two nations shall dwell in one country and shall live under the mantle of one single Constitution. … Mr Savarkar will not allow the Muslim nation to be co-equal in authority with the Hindu nation. He wants the Hindu nation to be the dominant nation and the Muslim nation to be the servient nation” ( Pakistan or Partition India; page 131 and 133).

Savarkar’s acolyte Mookerjee spread his thesis with great zeal. (See Awake Hindustan, a collection of his speeches from 1940-1944; Calcutta.) The quotes that follow are drawn from this instructive compilation. Sample this: “The word ‘Hindu’ is used in the widest sense possible, and includes every son and every daughter of India who regards this land as their fatherland and professes a religion of Indian origin. From this point of view a Buddhist, a Jain, a Sikh are welcome to stand united under the banner of the Hindu Mahasabha for the common good of the country.” Thus, Muslims, Christians and Parsis were excluded. Mookerjee, like the Parivar of today, was out to avenge the “centuries of foreign [read, Muslim] rule” by imposing dominance. “We, Hindus, often forget that we ourselves constitute a nation. Centuries of servility have crushed our spirit of resistance and thirty crores of Hindus residing in India today falter and hesitate to designate themselves as Hindus. Our culture, our heritage have outlived ruthless onslaughts which have devastated our motherland century after century….

“Hindus must develop their race-consciousness, not with any narrow end in view but with a full determination to throw their lot in any world movement for the elevation of mankind. Centuries of political subjugation have destroyed our spirit of resistance and we dare not think ourselves as the inheritors of a free and proud race, who once ruled the destinies of this country and influenced the thought and culture of many peoples abroad. Revivalism and the spirit of revenge for past imagined wrongs have always inspired the Sangh Parivar.” He and his likes instilled a minority complex in the majority community.

Aware of the presence in the Congress of some kindred spirits he reached out to them. “Whatever differences the Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha may have between themselves, there is not the least doubt that the bulk of the followers and supporters of the Congress comes from Hindu community. Division among Hindus weakens our common cause and strengthens the hands of our enemies. Whatever our differences with the Congress may be, we may discover some means of common action in those spheres where the protection and advancement of Hindu interest will be promoted by both.”

Casteism kept good company with communalism. “Chaturvarnya—a social polity based on a fourfold division in accordance with the cultural level of the different strata of the population—is doubtless a Hindu ideal and caste represents social conditions prevailing in our country from ages past. But our ancient lawgivers realised the need of revising the social code according to the changing circumstances of succeeding epochs (yugarupanusaratah). Whatever be the cosmogonical, theological, anthropological, ethical or other explanation of caste, the distinction was not regarded as rigid by important schools of ancient and mediaeval Indian thought. Virtue (dharma), qualities and work (guna and karma) rather than birth, are often mentioned in our sacred texts as its basis. The Mahabharata proclaims that by good deeds (subhairacharitaih) even a Sudra becomes a Brahamana.” Comment on the phrase “even a Sudra” is unnecessary. M.S. Golwalkar held the same view.

This lust for communal hegemony, fostered by men like these, rendered impossible a sharing of power which could have preserved the precious unity of a great country. The Sangh Parivar and its sympathisers in the Congress bear a heavy responsibility for India’s partition. R.C. Majumdar, a historian not unfriendly to the Parivar, acknowledged “one important factor which was responsible to a very large extent for the emergence of the idea of partition of India on communal lines. This was the Hindu Mahasabha…” ( Struggle for Freedom; Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; page 611).

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