An astonishing sleight of hand

Uday Balakrishnan | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on April 30, 2014

Across generations The Grand Old Party and its grand mythmaking V RAJU   -  THE HINDU

The Congress’ secularism has always been a hoax. Its record in both Independent and British India tells another story

This general election is perhaps the most communally charged one in India’s history. The Congress’s efforts to sustain the fiction that it is a secular party is no more convincing than the BJP’s insincere struggle to reinvent itself as a party accommodative of India’s religious diversity.

In the process, both parties are busy falsifying history as never before as conspirators in a relentless collective obfuscation of our past.

Our historians who should and do know better, but are unwilling to emerge from the closet, are most to blame.

We have from them elegant accounts of India after Gandhi, Gandhi before India and works extolling the Idea of India, but precious little on the real underlying causes of the Hindu-Muslim divide and the disastrous and very avoidable partition of India itself, the untidy consequences of which we are enduring to this day.

Partition, unsurprisingly, has almost entirely been laid at Jinnah’s door by most Indians. In a default acceptance of the ‘official’ version dissenting voices such as those of HM Seervai ( Partition of India: Legend and Reality) and Abul Kalam Azad ( India wins Freedom) among several others have been smothered.

Wrong claims

Independent India struggles with its recent history. Take the issue of minority, read Muslim, empowerment. The backwardness of the Muslims has been officially well documented since the late 19th Century. So few from that community in British India made it to school and still fewer saw the portals of a college or found jobs in government. Most Muslims lived in deep and numbing poverty and near absolute female illiteracy.

Predictably, to appeal to its Hindu support base in a communally structured electoral process, the Congress when it came to power in much of British India in 1937 had no programme for Muslim upliftment. Even in the Upper Provinces, where it was in control, it went back on a pre poll agreement and denied Jinnah and the Muslim League a share in governance claiming then, as now, that it was by itself inclusive party that had the interest of the Muslim community at heart.

Long before the Sachar Committee (2006), the Muslims themselves had been highlighting the community’s severe backwardness vociferously, not the least Sir Syed Ahmed Khan — the founder of the College that went on to become Aligarh Muslim University — and Jinnah as well.

The latter was, as records indicate, possibly the best bet for the whole of British India, including its Princely States, to emerge as a unified secular state which would acknowledge the general backwardness of Muslims and do something about it. It was only after he had been repeatedly spurned first by Gandhi and then by Nehru, that Jinnah made his pitch for a separate State.

Even that is now widely regarded as hard posturing for a better deal for the Muslims. Well known historianAyesha Jalal made this point eloquently sometime back in The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan.

Congress’ flawed approach

Presuming for a moment that no one else except Jinnah was responsible for the Partition, we have yet to get a credible reason why Maulana Azad’s plea to keep India one was ignored by Nehru and the Congress Party, which also suppressed other Muslim voices against a break up.

The Maulana was understandably bitter about that and stated as much in India Wins Freedom.

Though the Constituent Assembly debated the backwardness of the Muslims, reservations ended up as an essentially Hindu-focused initiative, never mind that the Muslim communities in most parts of India were no less backward than the historically discriminated Hindu castes.

Years after its release, the Sachar Committee Report remains a political balloon, very much up in the air with no one willing to bring it down and help a community to pull itself up from backwardness.

A primary cause for this is the Congress Party’s approach to India’s largest religious minority. From Mahatma Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi, the Congress party has been adept at appealing to the most retrograde sections of the Muslim community whether it was to promote the Khilafat movement — strongly opposed by Jinnah — or rush through a bill to nullify the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Shah Bano case.

We also need to recall that the founder of Jan Sangh and a leading member of the Hindu Mahasabha, Syama Prasad Mookerjee was a key minister in Nehru’s first cabinet.

Downplaying or suppressing reports of communal conflicts has been a cornerstone of Congress’s cover up strategy and one that the BJP has consistently and conveniently acquiesced to.

Amongst several others, the mass killings which followed the takeover of Hyderabad State by India in 1948 — over 50,000 Muslims lost their lives making it by far the single largest massacre of Muslims since independence — brought out by the still officially suppressed Pandit Sunderlal Committee report, to the communal riots of Ahmedabad (1969) and Nelli (1983), as well as the Sikh massacres of 1984, Congress governments have attempted to hide or downplay them all.

Complicit BJP

Unsurprisingly, the BJP — except in the case of the Sikh massacres of 1984 — is complicit by its quiet suppression of these mass killings under Congress watch -- simply by never inviting attention to any of them even when gravely provoked as it has been in the case of the 2002 Ahmedabad riots. This also explains why the BJP has so far not been able to hold power for any length of time — excluding the Vajpayee period and that too only as part of the coalition.

The fact is the Congress party has done a great job of appearing to be secular, while only thinly concealing its very Hindu underpinnings. Nehru might have protested, but he did nothing to stop a Hindu fanatic such as Purushottam Das Tandon from becoming President of the Congress nor did he dissuade President Rajendra Prasad from making a religiously loaded visit to Somnath.

If one looks at the origins of the Babri Masjid controversy, one can see a Congress hand behind it, not the least Rajiv Gandhi’s. The Congress has always been a party that stood by Hindus. Is it any surprise then that it has run the country for much of the period since 1947?

Sometime ago, a highly regarded Swedish academic of Pakistani origin, Professor Ishtiaq Ahmed concluded a talk at Bangalore’s Centre for Contemporary Studies — in which he was as hard on Pakistan as he was on Jinnah — by challenging his Indian counterparts to do likewise for India.

It is time we took up Professor Ahmed’s challenge and gave our people a more credible ‘warts and all’ account of our recent past.

George Orwell famously observed that ‘He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past’. The Congress assumed ownership of our history for a long time and controlled it with astonishing finesse. Recognising this will be a first step towards understanding our past through clearer lenses than the ones we have been made to wear so far.

The writer is a visiting scholar at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore

Published on April 30, 2014
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