Assembly polls in Assam, Bengal have cast ominous shadows on our history, writes Ashutosh

The assembly elections in Assam and Bengal will go down in Indian history as dark shadows and their scars will haunt us for a long time. There has always been communal polarisation during elections and many elections have been won on that premise, but these elections are crossing the ‘Laxman Rekha’ which our founding fathers drew long before elections were fought.

It maybe that history is repeating itself and time has gone back to the pre-1947 situation, when one incident led to another and finally, India was no longer the Akhand Bharat that the leaders of the freedom struggle had envisaged: it was partitioned into two, resulting in a lot of bloodshed and misery that traumatised the whole civilisation. In the end, there was no Akhand Bharat but three different nations - India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The process of ‘otherisation’ is not new in the Indian context. One could say safely that Mohammad Ali Jinnah had perfected that art and his endeavours ended in the creation of a nation called Pakistan. Jinnah, who was once famously called the apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity, who was once the seen as the rising star of the nationalist movement, finally ended up as the leader of one community.

Jinnah might be remembered as the father of Pakistan but the wound that he gave the sub-continent will fester for long. His politics was dangerous and unfortunately, the same kind of politics is being pursued again. When leaders like Himanta Biswa Sarma and Suvendu Adhikari equate Muslims with Pakistan during their election campaign and refer to them as heirs of Babar and Aurangzeb, then it brings back old memories and a narrative that Hindus and Muslims are the two nations that can’t live together.

It is true that Jinnah was not the first one to propound this theory. Hindutva icon Savarkar had announced long before that the two religions could not coexist together and in this battle of nations, one had to vanquish the other and only then could peace prevail in the subcontinent. Even before Jinnah, Hindu leaders like Bhai Parmanand and Lala Lajpat Rai had hinted that this great land, to live in peace, should be divided. While one could dismiss their thoughts as emotional outbursts, Jinnah’s was a well-constructed thought process and ably supported by the state.

Jinnah was not alone in this endeavour. Before him, his mentor and the great philosopher, Mohammad Iqbal, had laid the foundation. It was Iqbal who cajoled Jinnah to take on the leadership of the Muslims in India. It is a tragedy that Iqbal who called Lord Ram, Imam-e-Hind, wrote to Jinnah that the problems of the Muslims could only be addressed by the Shariat law in a Muslim state. Then he said, “If such a thing is impossible in India, the only other alternative is a civil war which as a matter of fact has been going on for so some time in the shape of Hindu Muslim riots.” Jinnah did not disappoint his mentor. In the Lahore session of Muslim league in 1940, he announced to the world that Muslims should strive for their own independent nation.

Jinnah said that India was not a nation, it is a subcontinent composed of nationalities. His hypothesis was strongly supported by the then viceroy, Linlithgow. It is not a coincidence of history that it is presumed that Jinnah was being prompted by the British administration to keep the two communities divided though there is no proof to prove this argument but it is also a fact of history that Jinnah never admitted that the Congress was the representative of the whole of India.

In the latter part of his life, he, called the Congress a Hindu party and Gandhi, a Hindu leader. In the Lahore session in his presidential speech, he said, “Why does not Mr Gandhi honestly acknowledge that the Congress is a Hindu Congress, that he does not represent anybody except the solid body of Hindu people? Why should not Mr Gandhi be proud to say, I am a Hindu? ... I am not ashamed to say that I am a Mussalman. Why then this camouflage?”

Partition is a reality today. And it is also a reality that a section of Muslims led by Jinnah did not accept the leadership of the Congress and Gandhi, and believed that in independent India, they would be reduced to a permanent minority and would not enjoy the fruits of Independence as the majority community would. But it is also a reality that a large section of Muslims abhorred Jinnah’s two-nation theory.

In fact, in 1940, a week after the Lahore conference of Muslim League, the Azad Muslim Conference was organised in Delhi, in which more than a dozen Muslim organisations participated. The reputed newspaper, The Statesman, described it (the conference) as “the most representative gathering of the Muslims”. In his presidential address, Allah Baksh Soomro as quoted by Ishtiaq Ahmed in his book ‘Jinnah - His Successes, Failures and Role in History’, argued that “...mere change of religious faith did not change the national identity of people. He lamented that British were using Muslim League to prevent the liberation of India as one nation and one state.”

Today, it is argued in a section of the academia that Jinnah was not a bigot; he was a not a practising Muslim and he only used religion to create a Muslim state but what is forgotten is that a state created in the name of religion, unlike India, could not become a secular and modern democracy in the true sense. Despite Jinnah’s most quoted speech on August 11, 1947, that he wanted a secular state in which religious identities would dissolve into citizenry, Pakistan slipped into a failed state and in the pursuit of true Islam, it unleashed havoc on its citizens; sectarian violence became the dominant theme, minorities were crushed and terrorism traumatised its neighbours and victimised its own people.

When Suvendu Adhikari in his desperation calls Muslims ‘Pakistani’ and refers to the chief minister of Bengal as Begum Mamata, he is on a slippery track. When Himanta Biswa, the deputy Chief Minister of Assam, says that his party does not need the votes of Miya Bhais i.e., the Muslims who came from Bangladesh, then he is treading the same path as Jinnah. The BJP, to win elections in these two states, has relied heavily on the Hindu-Muslim divide. The kind of communal polarisation that it has done is mindboggling. Whether it gives them dividends is to be seen on May 2 when the results will be out, but enough seeds of hate have been sown.

Despite Jinnah’s madness, the Congress, led by Gandhi did not buy his argument. It refused to admit that the Congress was a Hindu party. It refused to accept Jinnah’s condition that the Congress could not nominate a Muslim candidate in the interim government in 1946. For the sake of power, it decided not to compromise on the national character of the Congress party. On this issue Gandhi, Nehru and the then president of the party, Azad were on the same page.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the top leadership of the country today. The theory, propounded by Jinnah that India is a land of many nationalities, is being endorsed, knowingly or unknowingly, when a national party does not stop its leaders from ‘othering’ Muslims. It’s a dangerous path. Elections will come and go, they will be won and lost, but once a nation diverts from its solemn path, then the road ahead leads to destruction and disintegration. There is no denying the fact that in its delusion to correct the mistakes of the past, the BJP wants to write a new history in Assam and West Bengal. But it should not forget what Marx had said: “Men make history, but they don’t make it just as they please”.

The writer is Editor,

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