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True colours of communalism

True colours of communalism

Author: Sandeep B
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: April 2, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/166686/True-colours-of-communalism.html

While the Muslim League demanded and got a separate country, the Hindu Mahasabha was reprimanded for fighting against this very demand of dividing India

In A Secular Agenda, Mr Arun Shourie captures the essence of Indian secularism in just a line: "Indian secularism consists of branding others communal." In an India modeled on a secularism that grew in Nehru's garden, the term 'communal' and its variants are designer profanities exercised against anybody remotely espousing genuine Hindu causes.

While this term has been the de rigueur in public discourse over 60 years, it gloriously flourishes in the poll season. Instead of promising the betterment of India, our politicians promise to deliver non-communalism!

A study of this term's semantic change over time is both revealing and urgent for anybody interested in rescuing the almost rowdy state public discourse in India has descended to.

After briefly investigating its origins in various dictionaries, the term 'communal' yields these meanings:

* For or by a group rather than individuals

* Relating to a small administrative district or community

* Of or for the or a community, for the common use

* Participated in, shared, or used in common by members of a group or community 'Communalism' yields these meanings:

* Principle of communal organisation of society

* The practice of communal living and common ownership

These definitions are rather straightforward and politically neutral. More significantly, its meaning has remained unaltered over its 200-year old history. Which is why the Western world is unable to comprehend how this innocent term can take on a pejorative connotation. It is near-impossible to find Westerners writing about Indian politics/society that uses this word. Instead, they use more violent substitutes like "fundamentalist," "militant" and "fascist" to typically describe protests by Hindus. This delightful status quo only suits the secular media, which has abandoned such nuisances as fact-checking and research.

However, there is a special meaning for the term in the Indian context. But this meaning is largely substantive, with its roots in the British colonial policy of giving community-based representation in recruitment and allotment of seats in representative assemblies. Clearly, the term in itself had no deprecatory significance.

Hindu nationalists, however, objected to this policy because it took the religious community, not the nation as the operative unit. But the Lucknow Pact of 1916 saw the Indian National Congress succumb to what came to be labeled as the "communal electorate." The (misguided) motivation behind this capitulation was the Congress Party's illusion that this acceptance would convince the Muslim League to join the freedom struggle. Subsequent events demonstrated just the opposite culminating in the creation of Pakistan. But the Lucknow Pact witnessed just the birth pangs of a turgid monster.

The true genesis of communalism lies in an obscure document called the Pirpur Report. This report was published in 1938 and lists Muslim "grievances" as under:

* Being insulted by the singing of the idolatrous anthem Vande Mataram

* Not recognising Urdu as a national link-language

* Mahatma Gandhi's appeals against cow slaughter

But the most crucial portion of this report concerns how it viewed the Indian National Congress' concept of nationalism. The report alleged that the Congress Party's nationalism was based on the establishment of a state "in which other nationalities and communities have only secondary rights. The Muslims think that no tyranny is as great as the tyranny of the majority."

However, history differs. In its time, the Muslim League was communalism-incarnate, demanding a communal electorate, communal representation, communal job quotas, and finally got a whole new nation. This eerily resembles today's vote-banks. Additionally, this demand came at a time when the Congress Party pusillanimously conceded every outrageous demand in the hope of drawing the Muslim League into the freedom struggle.

The main opposition to communalism ensued from the Hindu Mahasabha, and not the Congress Party. In several ways, the present-day Hindutva movement is the product of this struggle against communalism. The Hindu Mahasabha's manifesto was to abolish communalism and make India a democracy without separate electorate or communal quotas. However, the Congress defended its compromise with communalism by assuming symmetry between the Muslim League and the Mahasabha. The irony can't be harsher: While the Muslim League demanded - and got - separateness, the Hindu Mahasabha was reprimanded for fighting against this very demand for separatism.

Post-independence, Nehru fettered his version of secularism on the separatist reasoning of "tyranny of the majority" and inaugurated the perversion of the term 'communal'. This reasoning is the true edifice of all secularist discourse. As a result, 'communal' today means the exact opposite of what it originally meant.


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