Tag Archives: Equality Or Appeasement?

** Equality vs. Appeasement

Secularism degrades from equal treatment to appeasement

S. Gurumurthy – Organiser

WHILE people whose religions differed from that of the mainstream society were mostly eliminated in other civilisations, the record of ancient and medieval Hindu India was the other way round. It welcomed and protected the racially different Jews, Parsis and early Muslims, who came here as refugees fleeing from violent faiths [1].

Take the case of Jews who were butchered all over Christendom [2] and in Islamic nations [3]. In a book titled Indian Jews in Israel brought out by the Consulate of Israel in India in late 1960s, the Editor of the book says that on the formation of Israel, “while most of the others came to Israel driven by persecution, discrimination, murder and other attempts at total genocide, the Jews of India came because of their desire to participate in the building of the Third Jewish Commonwealth…….. Throughout their long sojourn in India, nowhere at no time were they subjected to intolerance, discrimination or persecution”.[4] This could happen in Hindu India only because, in the Hindu world view, all religions enjoyed nearly absolute freedom so considerable as to find no parallels in the West before recent times, according to Western scholars themselves. [5]

The change for the worse – exclusive Muslim politics and nationalists’ failure. But, in the early part of the 20th century, the situation in India changed dramatically. It ceased to be an issue of Hindu philosophical or social treatment of the ‘minority’ Muslim community. There was no change in the Hindu world view about Muslims or Islam. But with the rise in Islamic population and the Partition of Bengal, the Muslim psyche changed and the community turned combative and challenged the Hindus. This aggressive psyche transformed into Muslim political action unmatched by political response from Hindus as Hindus. This mismatch not only led to the Partition of India, but divided the Partitioned India also on communal lines. Here is that instructive story.

The Muslim League led by MA Jinnah was clear that it was a Muslim outfit and had no pretensions about what it wanted. It wanted a Muslim nation-state despite the fact that after Partition Jinnah spoke of secular Pakistan. The League’s campaign was for a theocratic Pakistan which it eventually became. All talk that Jinnah wanted a secular Pakistan is founded on Jinnah’s post-Partition bogus drama. “Had Jinnah campaigned for a liberal, secular Pakistan – and that too in competition with the secular Indian National Congress under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru – he would have certainly lost the leadership of the Pakistan Movement.” [6] This truthful testimony is from Muslim side. While the goal of the Muslim political action was clear and self-evident, the political response of the Congress failed to emphasise the common cultural ancestry that included Muslims. Instead it emphasised the need for Hindu-Muslim unity without countering the League’s ideology that Hindus and Muslims belonged to different cultures. While the League owned the exclusive invaders’ culture and rejected the inclusive and common ancestral culture, the Congress too owned the invaders in a bid to appease the Muslims. In the bargain Congress lost the nationalist ideology and yet could not get Muslims following. The ill-advised strategy of the Khilafat movement against the British by the Congress enabled the League to emphasise on the invaders’ identity as Muslim identity and destroy the sense of common culural ancestry.

Muslim [minority] appeasement – continuation of the pre-Partition psyche
The messy Hindu-Muslim unity discourse as a substitute for the ancestral cultural commonalty put the Congress, repeatedly accused by the League as a Hindu Party, continually on the defensive. It got obsessed with only how to undermine its Hindu character to demonstrate its trans-Hindu character. In the competition with the League to wean away and win the Muslim mind, the Congress ideology implicitly became the mirror reflection of the League’s itself, namely that the Hindus and Muslims were two distinct peoples and cultures, with its only addition of Hindu-Muslim unity. The Congress thus sacrificed the ideology inclusive nationalism and implicitly accepted the League exclusivism. So, repeatedly giving in to the political demands of the Muslim leadership became its only way of convincing the Muslims that the Congress was more interested in Muslims than the Muslim League itself. So it began, and once it began, it had to keep on, appeasing the Muslims ideologically just to demonstrate it was not Hindu in character. The idea was to secure their support to prevent the Partition of India, which, of course, it was destined to fail to and did. Had the Congress not sacrificed the nationalist plank to co-opt the Muslims in pre-Partition time, in the post Partition India at least, it would have instituted nationalist politics. But, the single point agenda of the Congress before freedom being to prove to the Muslims that it stood for Muslims, habit of conceding to the demands of Muslims show that the Congress stand for Muslim interest became integral part of the secular political culture and discourse of all parties even after the Partition. In the process, the historic fact that the Muslims and Hindus belong to common ancestry and culture was lost in the national discourse and even after Partition, the pre-Partition psyche began dominating national politics as secularism.

Pre-Partition psyche constitutionalised as post Partition minority rights
The continuation of pre-Partition mindset eventually got constitutionalised in shaping the exclusive minority rights as integral to secularism and became institutionalised as secular politics in free India. The Supreme Court of India itself admitted this fact in its famous judgement on minority rights in St Xavier’s case. The Supreme Court [ through Justice H.R. Khanna] traced the conceptual origin of the minority rights under Article 30 in the Constitution thus:
“75. Before we deal with the contentions advanced before us and the scope and ambit of Article 30 of the Constitution, it may be pertinent to refer to the historical background. ……… The closing years of British rule were marked by communal riots and dissensions. There was also a feeling of distrust and the demand was made by a section of the Muslims for separate homeland. This ultimately resulted in the Partition of the country. Those who led the fight for Independence of India always laid great stress on communal amity and accord. They wanted the establishment of a secular State wherein people belonging to different religions should have a feeling of equality and non-discrimination. Demand had also been made by a section of people belonging to various minority groups for reservation of seats and separate electorates. In order to bring about integration and fusion among different sections of population, the framers of the Constitution did away with separate electorates and introduced the system of joint electorates, so that every candidate in an election should have to look for the support of all sections of the citizens. Special safeguards were guaranteed for minorities and were made part of the Fundamental Rights with a view to instil a sense of confidence and security in the minorities. Those provisions were a kind of a Charter of rights for the minorities so that none might have the feeling that any section of the population consisted of first class citizens and others of second class citizens. The result was that the minorities gave up their claims for reservation of seats. Sardar Patel, who was the Chairman of the Advisory Committee dealing with the question of minorities, said in the course of his speech delivered on February 27, 1947:
“This Committee forms one of the most vital parts of the Constituent Assembly and one of the most difficult tasks that has to be done by it is the work of this Committee. Often you must have heard in various debates in British Parliament that have been held on this question recently and before when it has been claimed on behalf of the British Government that they have a special responsibility – a special obligation – for protection of the minorities. They claim to have more special interest than we have. It is for us to prove that it is a bogus claim, and that nobody can be more interested than us in India in the protection of our minorities. Our mission is to satisfy every interest and safeguard the interests of all minorities to their satisfaction” (The Framing of the India’s Constitution, B. Shiva Rao, Select Documents, Vol II p.66). It is in this context of that background that we should view the provisions of the Constitution contained in Articles 25 to 30. The object of Articles 25 to 30 was to preserve the rights or religious and linguistic minorities, to place them on a secure pedestal, and withdraw from the vicissitudes of political controversy. ……” [7]

The Supreme Court exposition has made it explicit that the Indian Constitution-making process was under the continued impact of pre-Partition psyche to provide special dispensation for minorities. Sardar Patel’s admission of psychological pressure for grant of special rights in the Constitution is a clear pointer. Result, the Constitution of India itself divided the people of India as majority – read Hindus with ordinary rights, and minorities – read Muslims with special rights which expanded to granting financial largesse also later. This distorted the meaning of secularism from equal and fair treatment to special treatment and appeasement of minorities – read Muslims. This was what Guruji had warned and fought against as we will see in the next part.

[1] Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs: http://www.jcpa.org/cjc/cjc-katz-f05.htm and The Parsis of India: Preservation of identity in Bombay city by Jesse S. Palsetia; Publisher: BRILL [2001]. ISBN:9004121145, 9789004121140 [pages 1-34 introduction]
[2] A calander of Jewish Persecution http://www.hearnow.org/caljp.html
[3] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Jews_in_Arab_lands_%28gen%29.html
[4] Indian Jews in Israel, edited and published by Reuven Dafai, Consul, on behalf of the Consulate of Israel, 50 Pedder Road, Cumballa Hill, Bombay.
[5] Article by Mehdi Hasan in New Statesman. http://www.newstatesman.com/international-politics/2010/07/india-secularism-state, quoting Max Weber
[6] Jinnah and Secular Pakistan: Setting the Records Straight. By Perves Hoodbhoy. Economic and Political Weekly 11 Aug 2007 p3301 http://www.scribd.com/Jinnah-and-Pakistan-as-an-Islamic-State-by-Pervez-Hoodbhoy/d/7065207
[7] AIR 1974 SC 1389 at 1413
[8] Religious Demography Centre for Policy Studies. Summary available athttp://www.esamskriti.com/essay-chapters/Religious-Demography-of-India-2.aspx