Communalism and greed for political power are like iron and magnet. Mohammed Ali Jinnah is a good case study.
Jinnah returned to India in 1906 having become a Barrister. He was a secular, liberal nationalist then, a follower of Dadabhai Naoroji. He joined the Congress and opposed the Muslim League staunchly. Aga Khan, the first president of Muslim League, called Jinnah “our toughest opponent” and Sarojini Naidu gave him the title “Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity.”
When he entered the Central Legislative Council from Bombay as a Muslim member under the system of separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims, Jinnah became what historian Bipan Chandra calls “a communal nationalist.” Jinnah was still a member of the Congress but had stepped on to the slide of communalism. Once you are on the slide of communalism, the downward motion is quick and natural.
Yet as late as 1925, Jinnah could tell a young Muslim who claimed he was a Muslim first: “My boy, no, you are an Indian first and then a Muslim.” Jinnah was not at all a religious person at heart. By temperament he was secular. By faith, he was an atheist. (V D Savarkar was an atheist too.) But greed for power made him a communalist. He wanted to be the Prime Minister of independent India. If not India, then Pakistan.
In 1937-38, Jinnah understood the real potential of communalism as an easy route to political power. The liberal nationalist, the atheist, now started crying that Islam was in danger in India. “The High Command of the Congress is determined, absolutely determined, to crush all other communities and cultures in this country and establish Hindu raj in this country,” declaimed the atheist-turned-communalist.
The Hindu communalists did not fail to add fuel to the fire that was being lit. “We Hindus are (already) reduced to be veritable helots throughout our land,” proclaimed V D Savarkar in 1938. Soon the RSS Bible, We, was published highlighting the ominous risks run by the “Hindu National life.”
In addition to all this mounting hatred and mutual suspicion was the British desire and policy to “divide and rule.”
Then there were other vested interests like traders and landlords who found it apt to use the communal forces to secure their own interests. The Muslim landlords in West Punjab, for example, had much to gain by supporting the Muslim League. The Hindu zamindars, merchants and moneylenders in North and West India drifted to Hindu communal parties and groups for their own interests rather than the nation’s.
Personal interests are better taken care of when projected as the interests of a community, if not the nation itself.
Almost seven decades after we won Independence, we still hear talks of a particular religious community being in danger in the country and hence the need to rewrite the history of the country. The Union education minister has already approached certain historians of a particular hue for rewriting the history textbooks of NCERT. We are reminded of what happened when the BJP came to power earlier and Murli Manohar Joshi was the education minister.
Historian Bipan Chandra said in his classical work, India’s Struggle for Independence, “The communalists increasingly operated on the principle: the bigger the lie the better. They poured venom on the National Congress and Gandhiji...”
How many national heroes are going to have their faces blackened and how many theirs whitened by the new histories that will be written, we can wait and watch. Atheists have fought and killed for religions and villains have become heroes in the history of our species.