July 19, 2020
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Riding Two Horses

A one-sided scholarly analysis of India's communal legacy

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Riding Two Horses
Legacy Of A Divided Nation
By Mushirul Hasan
Oxford University Press Pages: 383; Rs 495
IN Mushirul Hasan's view, the delinking of state and religion remains a "distant dream". Inter-community relations have steadily soured, but the liberal Muslim professor still finds scope for optimism. "The ebb and flow of Hindu nationalism will remain a vital factor in Indian politics. It will continue to tease and torment religious minorities, but the battle is not lost. The secular ground has been narrowed but it has not disappeared. The turf is sticky but surely negotiable." Does this not imply the minorities, particularly Muslims, must play a positive role in strengthening secularism? One looks in vain for some outspoken advice.

Hasan makes the sweeping remark that Nehru's secular ideas ran contrary not only to Jinnah's two-nation theory but to the thinking of some of his Congress colleagues who were a "mixed bag"—"Hindu nationalists", "traditionalists" and "Hindu communalists" masquerading as Congressmen. They paid lip-service to Congress ideals but nursed the vision of a Hindu nation! Hasan says Nehru was dismayed to find life-long comrades being swayed by "right reactions". But fails to substantiate the charge.

To suggest that some of Nehru's life-long comrades were really communalists like Jinnah is outrageous. Rajendra Prasad rejected Nehru's advice that he should not inaugurate the rebuilt Somnath temple. Does that make him a communalist? Congress chief Pattabhi Sitaramayya spoke at a Hindu Code Bill conference chaired by the Shankaracharya. Acharya Kripalani wanted Muslims to speak out against the Nizam of Hyderabad who had declared war on India. Charan Singh, G.B. Pant and B.G. Kher warned that a Hindu state would become inevitable if Muslims in India continued communal politics after Partition. In the author's view, Sardar Patel was the

worst offender. "To him India's Muslims were hostages to be held in security for the treatment of Hindus in Pakistan." As a reporter who regularly covered Patel's speeches before and after Partition, I never heard him make any such remark. He did say more than once that "Muslim brothers who want to go to Pakistan can do so and live in peace. I wish them well". Patel also said: "I believe in plainspeaking. I would like to ask Indian Muslims why they do not denounce Pakistan for invading Kashmir. You cannot ride two horses." To complaints that Patel was anti-Muslim, Gandhiji said: "I know the Sardar. His approach to the Hindu-Muslim question is different from mine and Nehru's. It is a travesty of truth to describe him as anti-Muslim." Rafiq Zakaria's new book disproves that Patel was anti-Muslim.

Hasan overlooks the background against which these 'anti-Muslim' remarks came. The nation had been just partitioned to fulfill Jinnah's vision of Pakistan. The vast majority of Muslims had rallied behind his Muslim League. Provocative speeches were made at the conference of the Mussalman-e-Hind held in Lucknow soon after Partition. The Statesman reported that the speeches reminded one of Muslim League rabble-rousing at its worst.

The book does not discuss the Pakistan-backed Islamic insurgency in Kashmir and the flight of over four lakh Kashmiri Pand-its, the biggest single communal tragedy since Partition. What are the implications of this grim episode for the future of secularism? Is not the continuous 'ethnic cleansing' in Kashmir worth mention in a scholarly book on the legacy of a divided nation?

Writing about the demolition of Babri Masjid, Hasan asks whether it marks the end of Indian secularism. "Will the votaries of Hindutva foist a Hindu rashtra upon India and reduce religious minorities to the status of second-class citizens?" The author can rest assured that this will not happen. The remarkable thing about the Ayodhya story is that the Muslim case has been forcefully articulated by politicians and intellectuals belonging to the majority community, in contrast to the deafening silence from their Muslim counterparts on the terrible fate that has befallen the Kashmiri Pandits.

The survival of Indian secularism after the bloody trauma of Partition, the secessionist Islamic terrorism in Kashmir, the eviction of Kashmiri Hindus from the Valley, the demolition of Babri Masjid and the bomb blasts in Bombay masterminded by Pakistan is no small thing. Speaking to Nehru, Andre Mal-raux said he was astonished by the inner strength and vitality of Hinduism. Malraux was not thinking of Hinduism in the narrow, religious sense but, as M.C. Chagla used to say, of the Hindu ethos of tolerance. That is our guarantee of survival despite external challenges and internal strains.

Indian secularism is not the gift or discovery of politicians but is innate in the Hindu heritage, a fact which minority and left-wing intellectuals refuse to acknowledge. Its preservation is not the obligation of Hindus alone.

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