In this article we will discuss about the Role of Muslim Politics in India’s Struggle for Independence.
Muslim politics played a very important part in India in country’s freedom struggle. The Muslims, from the very beginning, formed an important community in India along with vast the Hindu majority and no national problem could amicably be solved unless both the communities worked together in the spirit of mutual adjustment and understanding.
In 1857, the Britishers had taken power at least nominally from the Muslims and as such for a long time the former remained under the impression that the latter might try to get back their lost power. Accordingly the government did not follow policy of encouraging the Muslims. The result was that vast majority of the Muslims became socially, economically and culturally backward.
This attitude of the government, however, changed in 1871 when Sir William Hunter in his book. ‘The Indian Musalmans’ tried to stress that the Muslims were so weak that they could not rebel against powerful British empire. Moreover, as the time passed, the government also felt interested that the gap between the Hindus and the Muslims should narrow down.
In order to win over the Muslims, Principal Beck of Mohammadan Anglo-Oriental College, played a leading role and took initiative. He could convince Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, a leading Muslim leader, that the interests of the Muslims lay in supporting the government and siding with it, rather with than the nationalist.
Cross Invites Crescent:
Sir Syed Ahmed had all along been a nationalist and always pleaded that both the major communities i.e., the Hindus and the Muslims should work in unison. He quite often said, “If united we can support each-other. If not, the effect of one against the other would tend to the distinction and down fall of both.”
But under the influence of Beck, same Sir Syed Ahmed began to criticise the Congress as well as the Hindus parties. He now began to plead that if elections were held in India without any special safeguards for the Muslims, the result was bound to be permanent domination of the Hindus over the Muslims.
He also founded Indian Patriotic Association with the object of making it clear to the members of British Parliament that Congress wrongly claimed that whole Indian nation was behind it.
He also laid the foundation of Annual Muslim Education Conference in 1886. In 1893, he founded Mohammedan Defense Association of upper India, with Beck as one of its Secretaries.
The Association tried to convince British authorities that democratic system of government was most unsuited to India. In one of the communications the Association said, “It is imperative for the Britishers and Muslims to unite with a view to fighting these agitators and prevent the introduction of democratic form of government unsuited to the needs and genius of the country.”
Not only this but he also tried to bring about religious re-approachment between the Muslims and the Christians. In the words of Shah Din, “He tried to bring about a religious re-approachment between Mohammedans and Christians as he was fully aware that so long as religious antagonism, suspicion and distrust subsisted between the Cross and the Crescent, so long was it hopeless to expect either that the Indian Muslims should become loyally attached to the British rule or that their Christian rulers should on their part learn to regard them as loyal subjects and entitled as such to protection and patronge.”
He also founded M.A.O. College at Aligarh. Lord Lytton, while laying the foundation stone of this college said that aim of the college was to make the Musalmans of India worthy and useful subjects of British Crown.
He supported ilbert Bill and the principle of parity of justice between the English and the Indians. He then began to preach that India was yet not prepared for a popular form of government and that Congress movement was seditious one. According to him under the Congress rule the Muslims will not be much benefited.
The British government gradually began to feel that their future in India could be secure only if two great religious communities fought with each other and also that the government should side with the Muslims.
Sir John wrote in 1894, “The better class of Mohammedans are a source of strength to us and not of weakness. They constitute a comparatively small but energetic minority of population whose political interests are identical with ours, and under no circumstances would prefer Hindu domination over ours.”
Then came the partition of Bengal. Though Lord Curzon pleaded that the aim of partition of the province was to have administratively better control over it, yet in actual practice, according to many critics, it was reward, to the Muslims of their loyalty.
It was felt by the British government that once a Muslim dominated separate province was created, then the Muslims shall be happy and continue to extend their loyalty to the government.
It was, however, misfortune of British government that the plan had to be withdrawn. But it appears that the British government was determined to follow a policy by which two major Indian communities were made to fight with each-other.
The ball was set rolling by Mr. Archbold, Principal, Aligarh Government College. In a letter to Sir Agha Khan, he wrote that Colonel Dunlop Smith, Private Secretary to H.E., the Viceroy had written to him that His Excellency was agreeable to receive a Muslim deputation and that a formal request be made to that effect.
Archbold, however, suggested that such a letter should go under the signature of some representative Muslims and the deputationists should give an assurance of their loyalty to the government.
The deputation should also appreciate the decision of the government that India is to be taken on the path of self-government but should stress that if the principle of election was, introduced that was bound to very adversely effect the interests of minorities.
In order to protect the interests of the Muslims it was, therefore, essential and it should lay stress that either the principle of nomination or that of representation by religion should be introduced. A demand should also be made that some representation may also be given to the Zamindars. He even offered to prepare a draft of the memorandum to be submitted to the His Excellency.
Accordingly a deputation of the Muslims waited on Lord Minto which demanded representation on elected bodies for the Muslims.
The Viceroy in reply said, “I am firmly convinced as I believe you to be, that any electoral representation in India would be doomed to be mischievous failure which aimed at granting personal enfranchisement of the beliefs and traditions of the communities comprising the population of this continent.”
In this way demand for separate electorate was planned and fully met.
The Viceroy then wrote to the Secretary of State, Lord Morley that nothing short of a separate electorate will satisfy the Muslims of India. Morley was in the first instance not satisfied with the proposal made for separate electorate, but ultimately under Minto’s pressure he had to agree and ultimately the system of separate electorate was introduced under Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909.
In this way though the government simply accepted the demand of the Muslims to have separate electorate yet actually it engineered it and thus government sowed the seeds of differences between the two major Indian communities, which ultimately resulted in the partition of the country in 1947.