Historical perspective of Communalism in India

  • Communalism became a political force only after 1937.
  • It’s a modern ideology like nationalism, which emerged in British India along with nationalism.
  • It was not an inevitable product of Indian history though it definitely borrows some elements of the past, like religious diversity. Hence communalism should not be seen as restoring the past, because it was absent in the past. Its social roots and its socio-economic, political interests (objectives) are modern.
  • Communal consciousness emerged like nationalism as a consequence of modern politics based on people, i.e. modern politics based on notion of popular sovereignty, popular participation of people and politics based on mobilization of public opinion.
  • Communalism is not a legacy of medieval India, but it is a particular view of medieval history, where the view itself is based on communal ideology.

For example, politics of medieval period was based on relations between the upper ruling classes, but not between the ruling class and people. In medieval India, if there was any communal politics, it was the activities of the leaders but not of the masses. The isolated events of communal politics in medieval India had much more to do with territorial wars rather than seeing the society is made up of separate nations of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In fact, in medieval India, these communities didn’t form separate nations and they didn’t even form a distinct homogenous community except for some religious purposes. They were no sharply separate interests of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. In fact the conditions of the Hindus, Muslims and the Sikhs were the same. Socially, culturally and economically these Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs equally belong to any regional society and to common divisions between communities based on religion. The real division was because of linguistic regional groups. This reality on division based on linguistic regional factors is clearly evident when Bengali Muslims of East Pakistan declared that they had no linguistic, cultural, economic and political affinity with the Punjabi dominant West Pakistan. In north India, for example in Medieval times, social groupings were formed at the village level or a group of villagers on the basis of caste with Muslims serving in practice as another caste.

  • In historical India, even the bond of religion between members of a given religious group existed as the sentimental level rather than in terms of specific objectives.
  • Communal nationalism also didn’t exist in India. The communalists failed to represent national interests and in fact didn’t even represent the interests of their own communities. Many times, political activity of these communalists were harmful to their own communities. The very idea of considering Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs as separate communities is itself wrong because such groups were not really present in Indian society. The grouping itself was created to spread communalism.
  • The advent of modernism in India following the entry of Europeans led to new social, economic and political institutions and realities. There was inability of Indian people to grasp these new realities. Hence, compelling them to understand these new realities in terms of familiar traditional identities based on region, religion, language etc. The developing contradiction between colonialism and the Indian people along with the formation of new social classes made it necessary to look for wider identities. The inability of the Indian people to identify such wider categories of identity made them fall back on pre-modern categories of self identity, based on religion, region and caste and hence leading to the slow emergence of communal consciousness.
  • Communalism was not anti-imperialism or nationalism which is a consciousness based on a real conflict, but represents a distorted reflection of the real conflict. It has historical roots to the extent of presence of religious diversities in India, but making this diversity the basis of political organization, mobilization is development of the false consciousness in modern India unlike the true consciousness of nationalism which also developed in modern India.
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