There is widespread belief among a certain section of intellectuals and historians – both Indian and abroad – that Sri Aurobindo was responsible for the partition of India and the consequent blood letting and other problems that followed. The reason given to justify this position is that Sri Aurobindo during his active political career stressed heavily on Hinduism and on Hindu nationalism and this provoked a natural and inevitable reaction among the Muslims; this reaction led ultimately to the formation of Pakistan. [extract]
Sri Aurobindo and the Hindu-Muslim problem
– By Prof. Kittu Reddy
One of the most serious and apparently intractable problems that the Indian subcontinent has been facing for the last century and more has been the Hindu-Muslim problem. This problem which surfaced in a big way at the beginning of the 20th century finally culminated in the formation of Pakistan in 1947. It was thought then by many – and that included most of the senior Congress leaders – that with the formation of Pakistan the Hindu-Muslim problem would ease and finally even cease to exist; it was believed that the Muslims of the subcontinent bound by Islam and having their own land would live in peace and harmony among themselves and with the rest of the world. But all these hopes have been belied. Time and experience has shown that the problem has taken a more acute form. It has led to four wars between India and Pakistan followed by the problem of low intensity conflict and terrorism. There are fears that it might even end up in a nuclear war with very serious consequences not only for the subcontinent but for the whole of humanity. The general feeling among the political thinkers of the world is that Pakistan is headed towards becoming a failed State and even disintegration.
There is widespread belief among a certain section of intellectuals and historians – both Indian and abroad – that Sri Aurobindo was responsible for the partition of India and the consequent blood letting and other problems that followed. The reason given to justify this position is that Sri Aurobindo during his active political career stressed heavily on Hinduism and on Hindu nationalism and this provoked a natural and inevitable reaction among the Muslims; this reaction led ultimately to the formation of Pakistan.
We shall in this article show firstly that this is totally contrary to the facts based on a total misunderstanding and deliberate misrepresentation of the position of Sri Aurobindo.
Secondly we shall show that if the leaders of the nation had followed the line advocated continuously by Sri Aurobindo – both in his active political career and even after he retired to Pondicherry – the partition of India may very well have been avoided.
Thirdly, Sri Aurobindo has proposed a solution to this ticklish problem which we shall spell out in this series of articles.
Sri Aurobindo’s first entry into politics was as a young student when he joined the Lotus and Dagger group in Cambridge. As he writes:
“The Indian students in London did once meet to form a secret society called romantically the Lotus and Dagger in which each member vowed to work for the liberation of India generally and to take some special work in furtherance of that end. Aurobindo did not form the society but he became a member along with his brothers. But the society was still-born”.
(CWSA, Vol. 36, Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings, p 32)
Later on, soon after his arrival in India in 1893, he wrote a series of articles in the Indu Prakash under the title ‘New Lamps for Old’. In these articles, he castigated the then Congress Party for adopting mendicant methods instead of the leonine approach for demanding total freedom from British rule. He writes:
“The public activity of Sri Aurobindo began with the writing of the articles in the Indu Prakash. These articles written at the instance of K. G. Deshpande, editor of the paper and Sri Aurobindo’s Cambridge friend, under the caption “New Lamps for Old” vehemently denounced the then congress policy of pray, petition and protest and called for a dynamic leadership based upon self-help and fearlessness. But this outspoken and irrefutable criticism was checked by the action of a Moderate leader who frightened the editor and thus prevented any full development of his ideas in the paper; he had to turn aside to generalities such as the necessity of extending the activities of the Congress beyond the circle of the bourgeois or middle class and calling into it the masses. Finally, Sri Aurobindo suspended all public activity of this kind and worked only in secret till 1905, but he contacted Tilak whom he regarded as the one possible leader for a revolutionary party and met him at the Ahmedabad Congress; there Tilak took him out of the pandal and talked to him for an hour in the grounds expressing his contempt for the reformist movement and explaining his own line of action in Maharashtra”.
(CWSA, Vol. 36, Autobiographical Notes and Other Writings, p 51)
Entry into Politics
However, his open and public activity started in 1906 soon after the Partition of Bengal.
One of the most important consequences of the Partition of Bengal was the advent of Sri Aurobindo in active politics. Sri Aurobindo was then in Baroda and was the Vice-Principal of the College; he left his comfortable job and moved to Calcutta and joined active politics. It was then that the Bengal National College was founded and he became its first Principal. He began writing editorials for “Bandemataram”, an English daily started by Bipin Chandra Pal, and by the end of the year was the paper’s chief editor. Sri Aurobindo stated that his first occupation “was to declare openly for complete and absolute independence as the aim of political action in India and to insist on this persistently in the pages of the journal”. He was the first politician in India who had the courage to do this in public and he was immediately successful. Bandemataram soon circulated through the country and became a powerful force in moulding its political thought.
Sri Aurobindo was perfectly aware of the Hindu-Muslim problem which was being exploited by the British Government, but his first priority was complete and absolute independence. Yet as we shall see, Sri Aurobindo warned the nation of the dangers of this problem even when he was in active politics.
It is interesting to note that Sri Aurobindo entered into active politics immediately after the Partition of Bengal. This is what he wrote about the partition: “This measure is no mere administrative proposal but a blow straight at the heart of the nation.”
This act by the Viceroy Lord Curzon was the first step in the British policy of divide and rule. In his own words, Lord Curzon on a tour of East Bengal, confessed that his “object in partitioning was not only to relieve the Bengali administration, but to create a Mohammedan province, where Islam could be predominant and its followers in ascendancy.” It thus provided an impetus to the religious divide and one of the results was the formation of the Muslim League in 1906.
During the next three years from 1906 to1909, Sri Aurobindo and his colleagues worked tirelessly towards a four point political agenda. That agenda may be summed up in the following words: Swaraj, Swadesh, Boycott and National Education. The Nationalist group of the Congress – as the group led by Sri Aurobindo and Tilak was named – got a resolution passed in the Calcutta Congress supporting this agenda, though in a diluted form.
Unfortunately at the next Congress session held at Surat in Gujarat, the moderate group of the Congress rejected these resolutions; this led to the split in the Congress.
Earlier, as a result of the strong popular reaction after the Partition of Bengal, Lord Curzon was replaced by Lord Minto as the Viceroy in November 1905; he was assisted by Lord Morley as the Secretary of State. It was at this time that the British Government came up with the Minto-Morley Reforms. These reforms were first proposed in 1906 but they were finally passed by the British Parliament in 1909. In 1906, even as the Boycott struggle was raging and was being crushed with a heavy hand, the Secretary of State Morley called in the moderate leaders for discussions on possible reforms of the Councils. By 1907, the moderate leaders were quivering with anticipation at the imminent reforms and by 1908 they were joyous at the Minto-Morley proposals; they expressed “deep and general satisfaction”, and praised “the high statesmanship which dictated this act of the Government”, and tendered “sincere and grateful thanks” personally to Morley and Minto. These reforms were officially known as the Government of India Act 1909. Its aim was specifically to see how the system of government could be better adapted to meet the requirements and promote the welfare of the different provinces without impairing its strength and unity. It attempted to enlarge the legislative councils and make them more representative. However, it would not be wrong to say that the Indian Councils Act was actually a farcical exercise in mass deception. It pompously introduced the principle of “elections”. What this amounted to was merely a minority of indirectly elected members in the Central Legislative Council and a majority of indirectly elected members in the Provincial Councils. The Councils themselves were allowed only some powers of discussion, putting of questions, and sponsoring of resolutions. These Councils had no control over administration or finance, let alone defence or foreign policy. The reforms were made with the express intent of isolating the growing nationalist movement. Lord Morley indeed explained this in a most telling manner to the House of Lords:
“There are three classes of people whom we have to consider in dealing with a scheme of this kind. There are the extremists who nurse fanatic dreams that some day they will drive us out of India.... The second group nourishes no hopes of this sort, but hope for autonomy or self-government of the colonial species and pattern. And then the third section of this classification asks for no more than to be admitted to co-operation in our administration. I believe the effect of the Reforms has been, is being, and will be to draw the second class, who hope for colonial autonomy, into the third class, who will be content with being admitted to a fair and full co-operation.
(Viscount Morley: Speech in the House of Lords, February 23, 1909)
In the system of election that was introduced most cynically, a separate electorate for the Muslims was brought in. But despite all the show of reforms, no real responsibility was handed over to the Indian people. In fact, Morley was quite clear as to what his objective was. He said:
“If I were attempting to set up a parliamentary system in India, or it could be said that this chapter of reforms led directly or indirectly to the establishment of a parliamentary system in India, I for one would have nothing to do with it.”
(Viscount Morley: Speech in the House of Lords, December 17, 1908)
But far more serious was the Anglo-Muslim rapprochement. According to historian M.N. Das: “the Viceroy’s philosophy, in terms of his advocacy of communal electorates, was to weaken Indian nationalism and in this objective he was singularly successful for when communal conservatism united with an apprehensive imperialism, still at its height, insurmountable obstacles arose to national unity and revolutionary programmes. This was the beginning of the tragedy of Indian nationalism.”
In a certain sense, it might be said that this was the first step in the formation of Pakistan almost four decades later.
It will not be out of place to mention that as a result of this Anglo-Muslim rapprochement, riots were often instigated by the British between the Hindus and Muslims.
There were two reactions to these riots. The moderate Congress leaders, having full faith in British justice appealed to the British to intervene and stop the riots. The other reaction was that of the Nationalist section of the Congress. They demanded that the Hindus should fight back. Here is an illustration from an article in the Bandemataram:
‘from all parts of East Bengal comes the terrible news of violation and threatened violence of women by budmashes. Bengal is then dead to all intents and purposes. Nowhere is the honour of women so much valued as in India. And as our people do not lift their finger or court death when seeing women violated before their eyes, they have morally ceased to exist. Long subjugation has crushed the soul and left the mere corpse. If Bengal has been seized with such a severe palsy as not to strike a blow even for the honour of our women, it is better for her people to be blotted from the earth than encumber it longer with their disgrace.’
(Bande Mataram of May 7, 1907)
As is well known, Sri Aurobindo was arrested in May 1908. After a detention of one year as an undertrial prisoner in the Alipur Jail, he came out in May, 1909, to find the Nationalist organization broken, its leaders scattered by imprisonment, deportation or self-imposed exile and the group itself still existent but dumb and dispirited and incapable of any strenuous action. For almost a year he strove single-handed as the sole remaining leader of the Nationalists in India to revive the movement. A few days after his release from jail, on the 30th of May 1909, Sri Aurobindo delivered his famous Uttarpara speech. This speech has been taken by many intellectuals and political thinkers as the expression of a strong communal bent of mind and is held responsible for the violent reaction of the Muslims. We shall deal with this aspect later.
He also began publishing at this time a weekly English paper, the Karmayogin, and a Bengali weekly, the Dharma.
What was the reaction of Sri Aurobindo to the Minto-Morley Reforms? It was in stark contrast to the position taken by the Moderate wing of the Congress party.
Here are three extracts from articles written by Sri Aurobindo on this burning issue in 1909. The intention to reproduce these extracts is to show clearly and without ambiguity that Sri Aurobindo warned of two serious dangers.
- The principle of electoral reservation for the Muslims which he felt would only increase the Hindu-Muslim divide
- and that he was opposed to the idea of Hindu Nationalism; instead he stressed on Indian Nationalism
Sri Aurobindo wrote in the Karmayogin on the 6th November 1909:
The question of separate representation for the Mahomedan community is one of those momentous issues raised in haste by a statesman unable to appreciate the forces with which he is dealing, which bear fruit no man expected and least of all the ill-advised Frankenstein who was first responsible for its creation...
...The Reform Scheme is the second act of insanity which has germinated from the unsound policy of the bureaucracy. It will cast all India into the melting pot and complete the work of the Partition. Our own attitude is clear. We will have no part or lot in reforms which give no popular majority, no substantive control, no opportunity for Indian capacity and statesmanship, no seed for Indian democratic expansion. We will not for a moment accept separate electorates or separate representation, not because we are opposed to a large Mohammedan influence in popular assemblies when they come but because we will be no party to a distinction which recognizes Hindu and Mohammedan as permanently separate political units and thus precludes the growth of a single and indivisible Indian nation. We oppose any such attempt at division whether it comes from an embarrassed Government seeking for political support or from an embittered Hindu community allowing the passions of the moment to obscure their vision of the future.”
(CWSA, Vol. 8, Karmayogin, pp 287-89)
What is it that emerges clearly from this comment?
First, with remarkable foresight, there is a clear warning of the possibility of Partition, as evidenced in this sentence: It will cast all India into the melting pot and complete the work of the Partition.
Second, he is for a nationalistic approach, neither pampering the Muslims nor the Hindus:
We will not for a moment accept separate electorates or separate representation, not because we are opposed to a large Mohammedan influence in popular assemblies when they come but because we will be no party to a distinction which recognises Hindu and Mohammedan as permanently separate political units and thus precludes the growth of a single and indivisible Indian nation. We oppose any such attempt at division whether it comes from an embarrassed Government seeking for political support or from an embittered Hindu community allowing the passions of the moment to obscure their vision of the future.”
(CWSA, Vol. 8, Karmayogin, p 289)
In another article written a few days later, he reiterates the point on Indian Nationalism.
Regarding the Hindu Muslim problem, he wrote:
“Of one thing we may be certain, that Hindu-Muslim unity cannot be effected by political adjustments or Congress flatteries. It must be sought deeper down in the heart and in the mind, for where the causes of disunion are there the remedies must be sought. We shall do well in trying to solve the problem to remember that misunderstanding is the most fruitful cause of our differences, that love compels love and that strength conciliates the strong. We must strive to remove the causes of misunderstanding by a better mutual knowledge and sympathy; we must extend the unfaltering love of the patriot to our Mussulman brother, remembering always that in him too Narayana dwells and to him too our Mother has given a permanent place in her bosom; but we must cease to approach him falsely or flatter out of a selfish weakness and cowardice. We believe this to be the only practical way of dealing with the difficulty. As a political question the Hindu-Muslim problem does not interest us at all, as a national problem it is of supreme importance. We shall make it a main part of our work to place Mohammed and Islam in a new light before our readers to spread juster views of Mohammedan history and civilization, to appreciate the Musulman’s place in our national development and the means of harmonising his communal life with our own, not ignoring the difficulties that stand in the way of the possibilities of brotherhood and mutual understanding. Intellectual sympathy can only draw together, the sympathy of the heart can alone unite. But the one is a good preparation for the other”.
(CWSA, Vol. 8, Karmayogin, p 31)
And finally here is an extract from another article written at about the same time where he points out the importance of Indian Nationalism.
But we do not understand Hindu nationalism as a possibility under modern conditions. Hindu nationalism had a meaning in the times of Shivaji and Ramdas, when the object of national revival was to overthrow a Mahomedan domination which, once tending to Indian unity and toleration, had become oppressive and disruptive. It was possible because India was then a world to itself and the existence of two geographical units entirely Hindu, Maharashtra and Rajputana, provided it with a basis. It was necessary because the misuse of their domination by the Mahomedan element was fatal to India’s future and had to be punished and corrected by the resurgence and domination of the Hindu. And because it was possible and necessary, it came into being. But under modern conditions India can only exist as a whole.
(CWSA, Vol. 8, Karmayogin, p 304)
Later in the same article, he explains the need for Indian Nationalism.
These things are therefore necessary to Indian nationality, geographical separateness, geographical compactness and a living national spirit. The first was always ours and made India a people apart from the earliest times. The second we have attained by British rule. The third has just sprung into existence.
But the country, the swadesh, which must be the base and fundament of our nationality, is India, a country where Mahomedan and Hindu live intermingled and side by side. What geographical base can a Hindu nationality possess? Maharashtra and Rajasthan are no longer separate geographical units but merely provincial divisions of a single country. The very first requisite of a Hindu nationalism is wanting. The Mahomedans base their separateness and their refusal to regard themselves as Indians first and Mahomedans afterwards on the existence of great Mahomedan nations to which they feel themselves more akin, in spite of our common birth and blood, than to us. Hindus have no such resource. For good or evil, they are bound to the soil and to the soil alone. They cannot deny their Mother, neither can they mutilate her. Our ideal therefore is an Indian Nationalism, largely Hindu in its spirit and traditions, because the Hindu made the land and the people and persists, by the greatness of his past, his civilisation and his culture and his invincible virility, in holding it, but wide enough also to include the Moslem and his culture and traditions and absorb them into itself. It is possible that the Mahomedan may not recognise the inevitable future and may prefer to throw himself into the opposite scale. If so, the Hindu, with what little Mahomedan help he may get, must win Swaraj both for himself and the Mahomedan in spite of that resistance. There is a sufficient force and manhood in us to do a greater and more difficult task than that, but we lack unity, brotherhood, intensity of single action among ourselves. It is to the creation of that unity, brotherhood and intensity that the Hindu Sabha should direct its whole efforts. Otherwise we must reject it as a disruptive and not a creative agency.
(CWSA, Vol. 8, Karmayogin, pp 305-06)
The message is clear:
1. Let us work as Indians, first and foremost and always for the independence and greatness of India.
2. The Hindu-Muslim problem cannot be solved by political adjustments and flatteries; what is needed is an understanding based on intellectual sympathy and a sympathy of the heart.
Withdrawal from Active Politics
Sri Aurobindo withdrew from active politics in 1910. But this did not mean, as it was then supposed, that he had retired into some height of spiritual experience devoid of any further interest in the world or in the fate of India. It could not mean that, for the very principle of his Yoga was not only to realise the Divine and attain to a complete spiritual consciousness, but also to take all life and all world activity into the scope of this spiritual consciousness and action and to base life on the Spirit and give it a spiritual meaning.
Thus from this point of view, he made certain observations or comments on the events taking place in India.
One of the events that took place in 1916 was the Lucknow Pact between the Congress party and the Muslim League.
This Pact stitched up in December 1916 was an agreement made by the Indian National Congress and the All-India Muslim League and adopted by the Congress at its Lucknow session on December 29 and by the League on December 31, 1916. The pact dealt both with the structure of the government of India and with the relation of the Hindu and Muslim communities. Four-fifths of the provincial and central legislatures were to be elected on a broad franchise, and half the executive council members, including those of the central executive council, were to be Indians elected by the councils themselves. Except for the provision for the central executive, these proposals were largely embodied in the Government of India Act of 1919.
The Congress also agreed to separate electorates for Muslims in provincial council elections. Apparently this pact was meant to pave the way for Hindu-Muslim cooperation and unity. It was believed by the leaders of the Congress party that with this political adjustment, the two communities would work harmoniously together. However, there are many others who are of the opinion that that this was a wrong step and was in fact the first step in creating a permanent division between the Hindus and Muslims. The later history of India amply proves this.
It is interesting to note that Mohammed Ali Jinnah who was later to be the founder of Pakistan opposed the idea of a separate electorate for the Muslims. In the words of Krishna Iyer: “He (Jinnah) opposed the Muslim League’s stand of favouring separate electorate for the Muslims and described it as a poisonous dose to divide the nation against itself. He collaborated with the Congress and actively worked against the Muslim communalists, calling them enemies of the nation. He had been much influenced by the speeches of Naoroji, Mehta and Gokhale whom he adored. Naoroji as Congress President had emphasised the need for a thorough union of all the people and pleaded with Hindus and Muslims to “sink or swim together”. “Without this union, all efforts will be in vain,” he added. Jinnah was in full agreement with this view. He deprecated the contrary separatist policy advocated by the League.”
We thus see that it was the Congress that in 1916 recognised the Muslims as a separate political entity.
This may be called the second step in giving the Muslims and the Muslim League a distinct political identity which inevitably sought for more power. This only increased the alienation of the Hindus and Muslims leading ultimately to the formation of Pakistan.
Here is an extract from a letter written by Sri Aurobindo regarding this Pact.
What has created the Hindu-Muslim split was not Swadeshi, but the acceptance of the communal principle by the Congress, (here Tilak made his great blunder), and the further attempt by the Khilafat movement to conciliate them and bring them in on wrong lines. The recognition of that communal principle at Lucknow made them permanently a separate political entity in India which ought never to have happened; the Khilafat affair made that separate political entity an organised separate political power. It was not Boycott, National Education, Swaraj (our platform) which made this tremendous division, how could it? Tilak, whom the Kripalani man blames along with me was responsible for it not by that, but by his support of the Lucknow affair – for the rest, Gandhi did it with the help of his Ali brothers.
(CWSA, Vol. 35, Letters on Himself and the Ashram, p 21)
We shall now take up the Khilafat movement. However before coming to that, let us take stock of the situation as it existed in 1920. It is evident that by this time the Hindu-Muslim problem had begun to take serious proportions. Aided and abetted by the British, the Muslim community was demanding more and more power for themselves at the cost of the Hindus and more importantly at the cost of the Indian nation. The concept of Indian nationhood was gradually receding from their mentality.
The question before the national leadership was to find a way to solve this acute problem.
There were two available options.
- Since the Muslims were the minority community, it was felt by some that the best way to harmony was to give the Muslims whatever they asked for. This was the line that the Congress party led by Gandhi took.
- The other approach was that we should stress on the Indian aspect rather than on the religious aspect. The Indian nation should be our first and only priority and all the rest could be dealt with under this umbrella. In other words let us be first, foremost and always Indians. This was the position taken by Sri Aurobindo.
We shall now see how the first position taken in regard to the Khilafat movement by Gandhi increased the differences between the Muslims and the rest of the nation.
The Khilafat Movement
Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, the Allies were loudly proclaiming their sympathy for smaller and weaker nations. Worried that Turkey might join the Germans in the War, the British government in order to win its support gave assurances of sympathetic treatment at the end of the war. The British Prime Minister, Lloyd George, declared on Jan. 5, 1918 that the Allies were “not fighting to deprive Turkey of the rich and renowned lands of Asia Minor and Thrace, which are predominantly Turkish in race”. And President Wilson too endorsed this view in his message to the American Congress. These specific assurances by leading statesmen of Allied countries led the Indian Muslims to believe that whatever happened in the war, the independence of Turkey and her territorial integrity so far at least as her Asiatic dominions were concerned would be maintained. But all these hopes were doomed to disappointment. After the end of the war Thrace was presented to Greece, and the Asiatic portions of the Turkish Empire were put under the control of England and France in the guise of Mandates. While Turkey was dispossessed of her homelands, her ruler, the Sultan, was deprived of all real authority even in the remaining dominions as he was placed under the authority of a High Commission appointed by the Allied Powers who really ruled the country. The Muslims of India regarded this as a great betrayal on the part of the British; a storm of indignation broke out and seething with rage, they yearned for bold action. This was the beginning of the Pan-Islamic movement and it gathered force in 1919.
The All India Muslim League led by the brothers Mohammad Ali and Shaukat Ali launched an agitation for the Khilafat Movement and they got the full support of Gandhi. In supporting the Khilafat Movement, Gandhi saw “an opportunity of uniting Hindus and Muslims as would not arise in another hundred years”. Little did he realise that this movement would only strengthen the Pan-Islamic movement and weaken the national movement.
On March 20, Gandhi recommended to the Congress that Non-Cooperation be adopted as the method to get the demands of the Khilafatists granted. He had also promised to get Swaraj in one year. In December 1920, the Congress at its Nagpur session unanimously accepted the recommendation. But right from the outset Gandhi made it clear that the Khilafat question was in his view more important and urgent than that of Swaraj. He wrote: “To the Musalmans, Swaraj means, as it must, India’s ability to deal effectively with the Khilafat question.... It is impossible not to sympathise with this attitude.... I would gladly ask for postponement of Swaraj activity if thereby we could advance the interest of the Khilafat.”
It is evident that this Khilafat Movement was a movement that had nothing to do with Indian Nationalism. It encouraged the Pan-Islamic sentiment and thus went against the very grain of Indian Nationalism. It accentuated the sentiments of the Muslims that they were Muslims first and Indians afterwards. The Pan-Islamic sentiment behind the Khilafat Movement was clearly indicated by the mass migration of Muslims from India to Afghanistan. This planned movement, known as hijrat, started in Sindh and gradually spread to the North West Frontier Province. It was estimated that in August 1920, nearly 18,000 people were on their way to Afghanistan. But unfortunately for the Khilafat Movement, the Afghan government, which was inspired more by national than Pan-Islamic sentiment, forbade the admission of the Indian Muhajirs into Afghanistan. This was a severe blow to the Khilafat Movement. Soon, the British Government arrested the Ali brothers. The Hindu-Muslim alliance, founded as it was on a momentary hostility towards the British, could not endure for long. After the arrest of the Ali brothers, Gandhi seized upon an incident at Chauri Chaura, a remote village in U.P., to call off the movement. Then, Turkey herself took the fateful decision to abolish the institution of Khilafat in March 1924. Mustapha Kemal, whose nationalist forces deposed the Sultan in November 1922, proclaimed Turkey a republic a year later and finally abolished the office of the Caliph in early March 1924. The Khilafat Movement in India thus died a natural death; but it had encouraged and succeeded in strengthening the Indian Muslims’ sense of separateness. This Turkish decision robbed the movement of its raison d’etre and the Khilafat Movement came to an end with the Muslims sinking to a state of utter despondency and helplessness. But the movement mobilised the Muslims politically at the grass-root level for the first time, and this experience came in handy later during the subsequent Pakistan movement. Since the Khilafat Movement was launched for the advancement of an Islamic cause, it helped strengthen their Islamic sensibilities and orientation and quickened their communal consciousness. This sense of separateness finally led to the formation of Pakistan.
It will be of interest to note the role of the Ali brothers in the Khilafat Movement. The Ali brothers in their speeches emphasized the fact that the interests of the Indian Muslims lay more with the Muslims everywhere in the world, whether in Tripoli or Algeria, rather than with Hindus in India. When there were rumours that the Amir of Afghanistan might invade India, Mohamed Ali said: “If the Afghans invade India to wage holy war, the Indian Muslims are not only bound to join them but also to fight the Hindus if they refuse to cooperate with them.” Gandhi also said: “I claim that with us both the Khilafat is the central fact; with Maulana Mohamed Ali because it is his religion, with me, because in laying down my life for the Khilafat, I ensure the safety of the cow, that is my religion, from the knife of the Muslim.” It is thus evident that the Hindu-Muslim split had been fostered and encouraged by the policies of the Congress. It also signalled the beginning of the policy of appeasement of the Muslims by the Congress party.
This is what Sri Aurobindo had to say:
“What has created the Hindu-Muslim split was not Swadeshi, but the acceptance of the communal principle by the Congress, (here Tilak made his great blunder), and the further attempt by the Khilafat movement to conciliate them and bring them in on wrong lines. The recognition of that communal principle at Lucknow made them permanently a separate political entity in India, which ought never to have happened; the Khilafat affair made that separate political entity an organised separate political power. It was not Swadeshi, Boycott, National Education, Swaraj (our platform) which made this tremendous division, how could it? Tilak …was responsible for it not by that, but by his support of the Lucknow affair – for the rest, Gandhi did it with the help of his Ali brothers”.
(CWSA, Vol. 35, Letters on Himself and the Ashram, p 21)
We thus see that it was Gandhi by his action in respect of the Khilafat movement endorsed the view of Muslim leaders that they were Muslims first and Indians afterwards, that their interests were more bound up with the fate of the Muslim world outside India than that of India herself. This was the natural consequence of trying to appease the Muslims in the name of the minority community.
- The partition of Bengal was the first step in creating politically the Hindu-Muslim divide.
- The Minto-Morley Reforms were a clear and distinct step in increasing this division. It must be noted that the first two steps were taken by the British Government.
- The acceptance of the communal principle by the Congress party was the next step in furthering the division. This time it was more serious as it was done from within,– the Congress party itself. In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “The recognition of that communal principle at Lucknow made them permanently a separate political entity in India, which ought never to have happened”.
- The Khilafat movement gave far greater power to the dividing forces and gave them permanence in the political landscape of India. Here again it was the Congress that was responsible in furthering the division. Was the formation the inevitable consequence of these actions? In the words of Sri Aurobindo: “the Khilafat affair made that separate political entity an organised separate political power”.
What are the lessons that we can learn from these?
Would it not have been better to completely ignore the Khilafat and concentrate on the Indian problem of getting freedom for India from the British rule?
Is it not evident that the more we try to appease the Muslim community or for that matter any other community within a nation, we are only encouraging divisive tendencies and thus inviting trouble?
Would it not be wise to look upon all Indians as Indians first and foremost; this does not mean that all other denomination whether of religion, region or sex need be suppressed; they can all exist and even seek for free expression and self-possession, but always within the larger unity – India. All these forces must subordinate themselves to the nation idea and concept – that is to say to the concept of India as the Motherland.
In the next article in the series, we will take up Hinduism in the light of Sri Aurobindo.