August 8, 2014


The reasons for the rise of communal-ism and the formation of the Muslim League were many.

After the Revolt of 1857, the British followed the well-proven policy of “divide and rule”. Their purpose was to keep themselves in power by causing disagreements within various sections who might otherwise unite against the rulers. On the one hand, they appeased the Princes and the Zamindars, and on the other, they sowed the seeds of disunity between the Hindus and the Muslims. For over three decades after the Revolt, the Muslims were treated with suspicion by the British. They held them guilty of the Revolt of 1857. In fact, the Muslims were suppressed systematically. In the army their recruitment was limited. Even civilian offices were denied to them. Gradually, the entire scene began to change. As the Congress movement gained force, Government’s hatred towards the Hindus also grew. The Government wished to keep Muslims aloof from the Congress. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and Theodore Beck, the first Principal of the Mohammedan College at Aligarh, tried to convince the Muslims that “the Congress was Hindu Organisation which should be avoided at all cost”. Henceforth more and more Muslim young men looked to the British for the protection of their interests against the Hindu majority. Partition of Bengal was a clear example of an application of the policy of divide and rule.  Many Muslims disliked the loyalist policies pursued by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. Badruddin Tyabji presided over the Congress Session at Chennai in 1887.

Islam in India during the first seventy years of the 19th century had almost declared a war against the Western education. While children of the Hindus went to schools run by Government or Christian missionaries, Muslims kept away from Western education. This widened the gap between the two communities. Later, as a result of the efforts of Syed Ahmad Khan and Tyabji, the Muslim also took to the new learning. But even now they were going too slowly as compared to the other communities—the Hindus, the Christians and the Parsis. Government jobs or jobs connected with medicine, law or education required special training which was lacking in their case. That led to the growth of communalism in India.

GENERAL ECONOMIC BACKWARDNESS OF THE COUNTRY: The British were exploiting India’s economic            resources by a variety of means. The industrial progress was very slow. As a result, unemployment and poverty increased tremendously. There was an intense competition for jobs. Farsighted Indians knew that only Independence could liberate India of its economic   ailment. But many others thought of such soft options as reservation of jobs for various communities or castes. There was real economic distress out of which communal sentiments had begun to grow.
BANEFUL IMPACT OF COMMUNAL INSTRUCTION IN HISTORY: The History textbooks contained material which encouraged religious intolerance. The British authors told the Muslims that they were the descendants of the Turks and the Mughals who had captured India from the Hindus. This offended the Hindu mind. Their immediate reaction was: “If the Muslims ruled for 700 years before the British, the Hindus ruled at least for 2500 years before the Muslims.” The British historians also gave a detailed account of the cruelty inflicted by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subjects. Such lessons in the textbooks naturally caused communal hatred. Some of the novels, magazines and poetic dramas had also poisoned the political life of the nation.

THE RADICAL NATIONALISTS GAVE THEIR NATIONALISM A RELIGIOUS TINGE: The radical nationalists drew inspiration from traditional Hinduism. Tilak started the celebration of the Ganapati festival. To rouse people to acts of heroism, he revived the memory of Shivaji’s battles against the Mughal empire. Bipin Chandra regarded Shri Krishna as “India’s Soul”. None of these leaders was communal or sectarian in his outlook. Tilak, for instance, believed that children should be taught to forgive and forget the differences in each other’s faith. But the British officials worked cleverly, often in a dishonest way, to foment Hindu-Muslim controversy. Because of this, many Muslim leaders kept aloof from the national movement and even supported communal forces.

SIR SYED AHMAD KHAN AND THE ALIGARH MOVEMENT: To begin with Sir Syed (1817-1898) was a progressive nationalist. He referred to the Hindus and Muslims as “the two eyes of the beautiful Bride that was India”. He said: “We inhabit the same land.” But in the eighties of the 19th century, Sir 5yed was totally a changed man. He advised the Muslims not to join the Congress. He went so far as to start a counter-organisation (United Indian Patriotic Association) in 1888 with the help of Raja Shiv Prasad of Benaras. Sir Syed feared that when British withdrew, the Hindus would play a dominant role in political, economic and social affairs of the land. Sir Syed founded a school at Aligarh which in 1875 developed into the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College. Later, it grew into a University. Sir Syed’s objectives in establishing the College were: (i) to popularise scientifip and Western learning among the Muslims, and (ii) to promote loyalty towards the rulers and win their favour. Mr. Beck, the Principal of the College, convinced Sir Syed that success of the Congress meant suppression of the Muslims. This College became the centre of a movement, popularly known as the Aligarh Movement. The theme of the Movement was “loyalty, approval and support of Government”.


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