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Plea for a Historical Perspective

Shri H.V. Seshadri has taken The Tragic Story of Partition to its fatal finale in 1947. Each of his chapters is packed with facts, insights, and interpretations such as make his book a substantial contribution to the large literature on this controversial subject. The only drawback in this otherwise well-documented study is the frequent absence of dates on which the books from which he has quoted were published, and the statements of leaders he has cited were made. Some of the statements credited to some national leaders leave the impression as if these leaders were able to see the precipice towards which our people were being pushed. Absence of dates on which these statements were made, helps in hiding the habit of our leaders to feel wise by hindsight.

We will not follow the trail of the tragedy farther than we have done. Our object in writing these review articles was to highlight the historical background against which this dismal drama was enacted in the last three decades preceding Partition. Congressmen in general and Communists in particular have joined hands with the residues of Islamic imperialism in propagating the Big Lie that Partition was provoked by ‘Hindu communalism which was not prepared to concede even the minimum democratic demands of the Muslim minority’, and which ‘vitiated the atmosphere by wave after wave of Hindu revivalism’. On the other hand, the facts of recorded history tell an entirely different story. These facts lead only to one conclusion, namely, that the demand for Pakistan was not a sudden development precipitated by ‘Hindu diehardism’. The seeds of that demand were always there in the Muslim psychology of separatism inspired by the ideology of Islam. What happened in the ‘twenties, the ‘thirties, and the ‘forties was that those seeds sprouted rather fast in an environment made favourable by the confusion and the cowardice prevailing in the nationalist ranks.

The Basic and the Big Mistake

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. The national leadership went on compromising the basic principles of nationalism till it landed itself in the trap of the Khilafat agitation. And the violence that followed that agitation frightened the national leadership out of its wits. After that, the Muslim League had only to threaten ‘dire consequences’ to make the national leadership shake in its skin, and appease ‘the Muslim minority’ at any cost.

The national leadership could have avoided this calamitous course by going to the sources of Muslim separatism and by identifying the spearheads of this separatism as residues of Islamic imperialism rather than as leaders of a bonafide minority. That needed a historical perspective which the national leadership either did not possess, or did not entertain when it was presented to it by the more perspective analysts of the situation. The need for a historical perspective is as great today as it was at that time because the same Muslim separatism is still rampant in the guise of new slogans, and the same residues of Islamic imperialism are rising again to stake their claims for unjust privileges and unequal power. Their ultimate aim is to restore the power of Islam in the India that has survived Partition. We will, therefore, end this series by providing the historical perspective as we see it so that the game of Islamic imperialism may be detected and defeated before it is too late.

The Foreign Fraternity

Wave after wave of Muslims from Islamized lands abroad had poured into India for several centuries in the wake of Islamic invasions. They were the swordsmen, missionaries, and minions of Islamic imperialism. Most of them had forced Hindu women into matrimony or concubinage and fathered a prolific progeny on them. Some of them had also taken to Hindu mores and manners to a certain extent, particularly in matters of song and dance and other modes of entertainment. But in spite of everything, they had remained a foreign fraternity in forcible occupation of a land which did not belong to them except by right of conquest, and which they never loved as their motherland. They had continued to despise and lord it over not only their Hindu subjects but also the native converts whom they had forced or lured into the fold of Islam. In fact, their contempt for the native converts was deeper than that for their Hindu subjects. They had all along looked down upon the native converts as Ajlaf (low-born) and Arzal (base-born) as compared to the Ashraf (exalted) which distinctive designation they had reserved for themselves.

Muslim rule in India was never a process of continuous expansion and consolidation. It broke down again and again, and was re-established every time by a fresh wave of Islamic invaders from abroad. But it fell down finally and completely in the first half of the 18th century, and could not be salvaged even by the invasions of Ahmad Shah Abdali whom the Ashraf had invited for putting down forces of national resurgence. Almost all parts of the country which had once been under Muslim rule passed under the sway of this or that Hindu power. The provincial Muslim dynasties like those at Lucknow and Hyderabad could save themselves from extinction only by entering into a subordinate alliance with the rising power of British imperialism. It was the power of British bayonets and not its own intrinsic strength which had preserved the privileged position of an alien Muslim minority in several parts of the country.

The Vijayanagara Empire had effectively prevented the percolation of a privileged Muslim class in large parts of South India. The Rajputs had never permitted this class to plant itself in Rajasthan, Bundelkhand, and Baghelkhand. Later on, the Marathas had taken care of this class in Maharashtra, Gujarat, Central India, and Orissa. The Sikhs had done the same in the Punjab, Kashmir, and the North-West Frontier Province. The Jats had taken care of it around its imperial seats at Agra and Delhi. Assam had all along remained out of its reach. It would have met the same fate in U.P., Bihar, Bengal, and the territories ruled by the Nizam but for the British intervention which gave it a new lease of life. It was in these provinces that the residues of Islamic imperialism regrouped themselves for a renewed bid not only for retaining their unjust privileges, but also for restoring Muslim power in the rest of India in course of time.

Hindus Could Have Wiped Out Islam

It is to be noted that the Hindu powers that had risen on the ruins of Muslim rule, had nowhere behaved like the Islamic barbarians of yester years. Hindu princes could have easily done away with the descendants of foreign adventurers as the latter’s forefathers had done earlier in the case of Hindu ruling classes. They could have easily brought back the native converts to the fold of the latter’s ancestral religion and culture. They could have also reclaimed and restored to their original architecture and use the thousands of mosques, mazars, khanqahs and palaces which had been built over the sites and, many a time, with the debris of demolished mandirs, monasteries, and other Hindu monuments.

That Hindu princes never did any of these things and that many of them gave employment to Muslim mercenaries in all positions, high and low, may go to their credit or discredit according to differing perceptions. But what cannot be gainsaid is that the residues of Islamic imperialism had no valid cause for complaint if Islam had been an alternate way of worship. The subsequent behaviour of the residues of Islamic imperialism in areas subdued by Indian nationalism, however, gave ample proof that, far from being an alternate way of worship, Islam was an imperialist ideology dressed up in religious verbiage. This was proved conclusively when the residues of Islamic imperialism in U.P., Bihar, and Bengal raised a hue and cry in defence of their unequal privileges, and their kinsmen elsewhere joined them with unconcealed enthusiasm.

Residues of Islamic Imperialism in Different Roles

To start with, the residues of Islamic imperialism, led by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in U.P. and Ameer Ali in Bengal, were very fond of stressing that they were a ‘race of conquerors’ who had enjoyed a ‘monopoly of power and wealth only a hundred years ago’. Their appeal to the British government was to recognize the ‘political importance’ of their class. The British response was positive for quite some time. The British imperialists were getting worried over the rising tide of Indian nationalism. Thus the residues of Islamic imperialism became parasitic upon British imperialism, and strengthened their position by gaining the Partition of Bengal and separate electorates.

But there was a limit beyond which even the British could not go in their game of patronising Muslim separatism. They had not only to keep in mind the power of Indian nationalism which had reached a high stage in the Swadeshi Movement, and the spread of revolutionary activities in several parts of the country. They had also to yield to Indian nationalism in the matter of languages of administration at the lower levels, and in recruitment to public services by competitive examinations. This was what the residues of Islamic imperialism found absolutely intolerable. The situation was further complicated by the involvement of Britain in some foreign policy moves which ran counter to the Pan-Islamic preoccupations of the residues of Islamic imperialism. For a while, the ‘race of conquerors’ found itself in a difficult predicament. The national movement was forging ahead in spite of their hostility to it. The British were finding it difficult to meet more of their demands at home and abroad.

It was at this critical juncture that the frustrated fraternity of foreign Muslims took a very strategic step. They started swearing by a solidarity with the native Muslims whom they had despised so far. They let loose on the native Muslims an army of mercenary Mullahs recruited, mostly from their own ranks. These Mullahs went about broadcasting the message that ‘Islam was in danger’, and that ‘Hindus were out to enslave and exploit the Muslim minority’. It was in this manner that the residues of Islamic imperialism managed to ‘merge’ themselves with the native converts, and to present themselves at the head of a strong phalanx pitted against whatever historical forces threatened their unjust privileges. Hitherto, the haughty Ashraf had stood strictly aloof from the abject Ajlaf and the despised Arzal. Now all of a sudden the latter became the former’s ‘brothers in faith’. This was a tremendous transformation of the political scene in the second decade of the 20th century.

And to top it all, the residues of Islamic imperialism started referring to themselves as ‘simple and straightforward fellows’ as compared to the Hindus whom they named as the ‘wily banias’. The rogues’ gallery played this act again and again, and succeeded in producing a dramatic effect, not only among the Muslim masses but also among the English-educated Hindu elite. The act was perfected over a period of time and played before larger and larger audiences with the help of an illiterate press controlled mostly by Hindu moneybags. A motley crowd of self-alienated but self-righteous Hindu politicians and scribes came forward to provide the applause. There was one note that became the refrain in the melancholy music which accompanied the act. The refrain that raised its pitch with the passing of every day, was that the Muslims had been deprived of an empire by the wily British, that the same British had suppressed and oppressed the Muslims in the aftermath of 1857, that the Muslims had been driven to become educationally backward and economically depressed in successive periods, and that the Hindu moneylenders in the countryside and the Hindu capitalists in the urban centres had been exploiting the Muslim peasants and workers.

The British were not impressed by this demonstration of ‘Muslim power’, or presentation of ‘Muslim poverty’. They went ahead with the annulment of the Partition of Bengal, and enlargement of competitive examinations for recruitment to public services. The Montague-Chemsford Report expressed serious doubts about the very concept of separate electorates. In the international arena, too, the British supported the dismemberment of Turkey. They knew it very well that though the residues of Islamic imperialism could produce a lot of sound and fury and also become a law and order problem in several parts of the country, they were incapable of mobilizing the nation as a whole. The British never attached more than a nuisance value to this noisy fraternity which had to be befriended or ignored according to the needs of British policy at any time.

It was the national leadership which was impressed by this mobilisation of the ‘Muslim masses’ and the pathos of ‘Muslim plight’. They accepted not only separate electorates but also weightages for the ‘Muslim minority’ in many provinces. They thought that they were beating the British at the latter’s own game. The cries of ‘Hindu-Muslim Bhai Bhai’ raised by Muslim mobs in the aftermath of the Lucknow Pact and during the Khilafat agitation, blinded them to the game which the residues of Islamic imperialism were playing. They gladly offered their backs for carrying the dead-weight of Pan-Islamism. The residues of Islamic imperialism, who had been parasitic on British imperialism so far, now started to feed and fatten upon Indian nationalism. All this fanned the flames of Islamic fanaticism. It also gave birth to a brand of negative nationalism whose only stock-in-trade was anti-British hysteria. The die was thus cast, and what followed in subsequent years was a mere unfoldment of the drama which had already been scripted by Lokamanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, and C.R, Das in all its salient features.

The Tragedy of National Leadership

In the event, the national leadership repeated the story of the proverbial convict whom the judge had sentenced either to eat a hundred onions or to take a hundred shoe-strokes. The convict started by eating onions which soon made him sick with tearful eyes and a flowing nose. Next he chose to be beaten by shoes which exercise also produced very soon an unbearable pain in his body. Thereafter, he alternated between eating onions and suffering shoe-strokes, till he had eaten a hundred onions and received a hundred shoe-strokes. In like manner, the national leadership alternated between resisting and conceding Muslim demands which went on increasing. Resistance led to street riots which made the leadership panicky. Concessions led to more demands which forced the leadership to have second thoughts. Finally, the leadership conceded Partition in order to avoid bloodshed. But it ended by having Partition as well as a large-scale bloodshed in which millions were killed, maimed, ruined, and rendered homeless. The bloodshed would have certainly been on a smaller scale if the national leadership had opted for a civil war in the face of Muslim intransigence. It is doubtful if the residues of Islamic imperialism were in a position to pick up the gauntlet without British help which was no more available.

Voices of Warning

Sri Aurobindo was the earliest to see a disastrous degeneration of national psychology, and sound a warning. Although he had retired from active politics several years earlier, his political perceptions had remained as sharp as ever. Speaking to a disciple on 18 April 1923, he had observed: ‘I am sorry they have made a fetish of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is no use ignoring facts; some day the Hindus may have to fight the Muslims and they must prepare for it. Hindu-Muslim unity should not mean the subjection of Hindus. Every time the mildness of the Hindu has given way. The best solution would be to allow the Hindus to organize themselves and Hindu-Muslim unity will take care of itself; it would automatically solve the problem. Otherwise, we are lulled into a false sense of satisfaction that we have solved the problem when in fact we have only shelved it.’1

A few months later, on 13 July 1923, a disciple had observed that ‘There is also the question of Hindu-Muslim unity which the non-violence school is trying to solve on the basis of their theory’. Sri Aurobindo had replied: ‘You can live amicably with a religion whose principle is toleration. But how is it possible to live with a religion whose principle is ‘I will not tolerate?’ How are you going to have unity with these people? Certainly Hindu-Muslim unity cannot be arrived at on the basis that Muslims will go on converting Hindus while Hindus shall not convert Mohammedans. You can’t build unity on such basis. Perhaps the only way of making the Mohammedans harmless is to make them lose their faith in their religion.’2

Sri Seshadri has cited the advice which Sarat Chandra Chatterjee had tendered to his people. He had written as follows in October, 1926: ‘Hindustan is the land of the Hindus. It is, therefore, the duty of the Hindus alone to liberate it from the shackles of foreign domination. Muslims are sitting with their faces turned towards Arabia or Turkey. Their heart is not in the land of Hindustan. But when it is not there, it is no use lamenting over it. We need not be unnerved by counting the heads of Muslims. Numbers are not the supreme truth in the world  In freedom’s battle in any country, do all the people of that country take part? When the Americans fought for their freedom, more than half the people of that country were with the British. In the Irish freedom struggle, how many were actually involved in it?  Right or wrong is not decided by the counting of heads. It is decided by the intensity of tapasya or the single-minded devotion to the cause. The problem before the Hindus is not to devise ways and means of bringing about an artificial unity. The problem before them in how to organise themselves.’3

Later on, the same line of Hindu consolidation was advocated by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. The Hindu Mahasabha under the leadership of Veer Savarkar gave the clarion call to Hinduize politics and militarize the Hindus. It was the only right response to the grave situation created by a series of surrenders made by the national leadership in the face of the Muslim League goondaism. But the national leadership not only ignored these seers, sages, statesmen, and patriots of unimpeachable integrity; it also branded them as ‘Hindu communalists’. That was a great sin. On the other hand, the same national leadership hugged to its bosom as ‘nationalist Muslims’ not only Islamic imperialists like Abdul Bari and Abul Kalam Azad but also Pan-Islamic conspirators and habitual embezzlers of public funds like the Ali Brothers. That was an unpardonable folly. The sin and the folly combined in due course to close every other option of the national leadership, and forced it into an abject surrender - acceptance of Partition.

Secularism: The New Smoke-Screen

The same sin and folly which the national leadership committed in the name of Hindu-Muslim unity in the years before Partition continue to be committed by all national political parties in the name of Secularism. Earlier, the residues of Islamic imperialism had acquired a veto on what could be called national; now they have acquired a veto on what could be called secular. Things have reached such a pass that no cause, no platform, no organization, and no political party can claim to be secular unless the residues of Islamic imperialism approve of it. Conversely, all causes, platforms, organizations, and political parties which do not countenance the claims of Islamic imperialism stand automatically condemned as ‘Hindu communalist’. This is the conditioned reflex which seems to have been planted permanently in the national psyche.

And the rogues’ gallery continues to play the same old act to which some more scenes have been added. The refrain now is that the ‘Muslim minority’ has not received its ‘fair share’ in the fruits of national development after the dawn of national independence, that the Muslims remain a ‘deprived and beleaguered minority’ inside democratic India, that the ‘life, property and honour’ of Muslims are in constant danger from ‘Hindu chauvinism’, and that a secular state in which the ‘Muslim minority is thus discriminated against and oppressed and threatened with genocide is a sham and a shame’. The line-up of grievances is so long and seems so impressive that even the most sceptical gets deceived. In any case, it provides good copy for Hindu scribes and scholars who spend most of their time in coffee shops but who nevertheless write so authoritatively on the socio-economic scene as if they had freshly arrived from a painstaking field study. And they also denounce as a ‘Hindu communalist’ any one who questions their credentials vi-a-vis this serious subject.

The Only Way Out: An Awakened Hindu Society

Hindu society by and large has become a poor society as a result of centuries of exploitation by Islamic and British imperialism. Unlike the Muslims and Christians in India, Hindu society has no patrons and financiers abroad and has to depend entirely on its own resources from inside its only homeland. The class which came to power on the strength of sacrifices made by Hindu society has turned its back on its benefactor, and continues to cultivate the sworn enemies of Hindu society in the name of Democracy and Secularism. Hindu society also suffers from a lack of leadership which can free it from the stranglehold of power-hungry politicians who divide it into smaller and smaller segments pitted against each other. Hindu-baiting has become a profitable profession for all sorts of penpushers. As a cumulative effect, Hindu society has lost its self-confidence, and has been thrown on the defensive by a variety of bullies and blackmailers. Such a society is in no shape to face the inroads of Islamic imperialism which remains as vicious today as it was in the years before Partition.

The first task before Hindu society is to recover its self-confidence. That can happen only if Hindu society re-awakens to its inimitable heritage - spiritual, cultural, and scientific - and stops treating totalitarian ideologies like Islam as anything other than falsehoods fattened by force and fraud. The rest will follow. A self-confident Hindu society will make a start by attaining the pride of place in its present-day homeland. It will assert itself as the nation rather than be treated condescendingly as one of several communities, or even as the majority community. Next, it will recover those parts of its ancestral homeland which have been lost to its enemies, as also those of its children who have been alienated from it in the past. Finally, it will hold its head high as the inheritor of a vast spiritual and cultural vision. A self-confident Hindu society alone can make its characteristic contributions to the present-day human society which is caught in the throes of an unprecedented spiritual and moral crisis.


  1. Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo recorded by A.B. Purani, Second Series, Pondicherry, 1974, p. 48. Emphasis added. 

  2. Ibid, p. 50. Emphasis added. 

  3. The Tragic Story of Partition, p. 252. Emphasis added.