The Equation of Divide and Rule—Disjunction between the Hindus and the Muslims

The Beginning-

The conflict between the Hindus and the Muslims is very frequently seen in India today. Although, some people blame India’s political leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Mohammed Ali Jinnah for sowing the seeds of communal disharmony by partitioning India, they are entirely mistaken.

The seeds of unrest between the two communities were sown by the British rulers during those 200 years of colonization. With increasing freedom movements originating from each and every part of India, the British needed a tool to dilute the protests in the country. They did so by introducing the policy of ‘divide and rule’, and thus, for the first time, India encountered the concept of division based on religious orientations. Earlier, the Hindus, the Sikhs and the Muslims dwelled in harmony, but during colonization, the British became successful in implanting the idea of difference between different communities, and that each community should look out for itself. The master plan behind this was to ensure that the fragmented communities devoted attention to fighting each other, instead of devising a grand plan against the East India Company.

This bitter rivalry can be traced back to the British rule. It was very late that the communities realized the need to launch a unified struggle to overthrow the imperial rule. Even the final withdrawal of the imperial rule caused a political drift between the Hindus and the Muslims. The introduction of the Government of India Act in the year 1935 saw the new political division of India into Indian provinces and Princely states. The Government of India Act ensured the setting up of local governments with the provision of seats, with definite representatives from different religious groups. While the Sikhs had separate Sikh seats, the Muslims had separate Mohammedan seat and the Hindus filled the general seats. With the introduction of assigned seats for separate religious groups, the existing differences among the two communities developed a ferocious form, wherein it intensified into a power struggle.

The elections that followed this system saw a clear victory of the Hindu majority represented by the Indian National Congress party (a total of 707 seats), which was led by Jawaharlal Nehru. On the other hand, the Muslim majority party- the Muslim League led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah could only manage to secure 106 seats. The major concern of the Muslim League at that moment was the Muslim votes getting split among several other regional political parties. The Muslim population could not foresee the urgency to align their interests with that of the National Muslim majority party, and that added to Jinnah’s worries of India becoming a nation where the Muslims would face oppression by the Hindu majority. With Jinnah’s prediction being correct as violence against Muslims started breaking out in several parts of the country, he expressed his vulnerability and said that he could no longer trust the Hindu authority.

This was a turning point in the course of Indian religion politics as it was the first time Jinnah expressed his wish to separate himself and his religious community from the Hindu majority state. Finally, after Jinnah faced a defeat in the elections of 1945, he had put forth the idea of a separate nation in clear words. He made it very explicit and evident that the nation needed to be divided according to the religious majority in order to preserve the religious interests of the Muslims. He went to an extent to state with confidence that in the coming years, under such Hindu majority, Muslims would not be treated as humans but rather as slaves in a Hindu majority country.

Communal Riots-

The announcement for the need of a separate state sparked much debate and discourse within the country. Jinnah pleaded all Muslims to unify against the struggle of oppression by the Hindus. The situation became grave as communal riots broke out in parts of Bengal, Punjab and Kashmir. ‘The Great Calcutta Killings’ explicitly captures the gravity of the situation as it refers to the 1946 rally held in Calcutta, which bore witness to ferocious communal violence and mass killings. Several people lost their lives and the political landscape of India took a completely new turn which was painted with the blood of people in relation to the riots of Bengal and Punjab.

Today, the situation in India is even worse, and even though individuals are trying to bridge a gap between the two communities, politicians are trying their level best to highlight the difference by various means—by repetitively bringing up the Ayodhya conflict, the cow slaughtering issue, other issues and so on.

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