The first war of Indian independence posed the first major challenge to the spiralling edifice of the British authority. The British government was caught with surprise when they saw city after city getting slipped away from their extent of influence.  The revolt was soon ruthlessly suppressed by the usual brutality of “The Great Britain”. After the victory,  British mandarins sat together to fathom the reasons responsible for the initial successes of the revolt.

One thing which instantly caught their attention was the unfettered participation of Muslim masses and aristocracy.  They quickly realized that India, which was considered as the jewel in the crown of the British Empire , could be effectively administered with less obstacles if they somehow manage to pit minority community i.e. Muslims, against the majority community i.e. Hindus. Thus was conceptually born the greatest masterpiece of English diplomacy:  “Divide and Rule”.

 In order to gain the support of the Muslim masses, government started patronising Muslim intellectuals. Due respect and position was granted to the likes of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who had remained loyal to the government during the heady days of 1857-58. The work of Sir Syed was responsible for the surge of new age Muslim intellectuals, who were critical of nationalism in general and Indian National Congress in particular, and had vehement pro – British sentiments. They were seriously critical and suspicious of any effort which was anti-British.  So, by creating a western-educated Muslim intelligentsia, which was strongly pro-British and critical of the alleged Hindu dominance and hegemony, British government, succeeded in the first phase of their newly adopted “Divide and Rule” policy. The second phase followed soon.

 Then came the eventful year of 1905.  Feared by an unprecedented rise in nationalist feelings among the masses of Bengal, and a dangerous surge in revolutionary activities in Bengal, British government decided in favour of the partition of Bengal.  Difficulties posed in the path of efficient administration of Bengal were cited as the sole reason for partition. But reality was that by creating a state where Muslims would be in majority, government tried to win loyalties of the beneficiaries of the proposed East Bengal.

 Everything went according to the will of government. While Hindus were incensed over the partition, majority of Muslims supported it open heartedly.  The seeds of separatism were sowed on the day Bengal was partitioned on the basis of religion. But the events that followed were more appalling.

 Daunted by the “attitude” of majority community and convinced about the futility of expecting any “fair-play” by Hindus, a delegation led by Sir Aga Khan met Lord Minto, the Viceroy, in Shimla in 1906. The delegation explained to him that Muslims were inappropriately represented in Legislature in proportion to their population as well as in proportion to the services rendered by them to the British Empire. Viceroy Lord Minto assured them that very soon steps in this regard would be taken and adequate representation to Muslims would be assured.  Soon after the success of Shimla Conference, Muslim League, the political party of Muslims which in 1947 proved to be responsible for the partition of our country, was formed in Dacca under the leadership of Sir Aga Khan. The sole motive of League was to cultivate pro-British feelings among the Muslims and to keep them aloof from the influence of  any kind of nationalist wave.

The natural corollary of “Divide and Rule’, which may be construed as the third and final phase, was realised, when under the garb of Legislative reforms, in the name of Minto-Morley reforms, separate reservation for Muslims was announced by government in 1909.  This was a turning point in the history of India. Now, Muslims were even more vocal in their opposition of any nationalist effort which could potentially embarrass the authority of government. Also, they began to think that their welfare lied with government and not with Congress – the main representative of masses which was predominantly Hindu. This attitude of gaining patronage by opposing Congress continued till 1947.

 Then, in 1916, came the Lucknow session of Congress. It was quite remarkable for two reasons: a) the beleaguered extremist leaders of Congress, who were expelled after the great split of 1907, were allowed to re-enter Congress; b) Congress agreed to the communal representation awarded to Muslims in 1909 by the Minto-Morley reforms. Clauses of the League-Congress agreement were decisive as well as divisive.  Leaders such as Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya, who were regarded as the champions of the philosophy of Hindutva, opposed it openly.

But, Congress in the name of getting support of Muslim League for independence movement succumbed to their shrewd agenda. The honeymoon of League-Congress soon ended after the horrors of Mopla riots where 10,000 Hindus were slaughtered by fanatics and accession of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in Turkey, which resulted in the natural death of the cause of Khilafaah movement – a movement greatly espoused by liberals including Gandhiji in hope that it would help in creating a joint and secular united front against the Britishers.  Everyone including Congress and League failed utterly, except government.

 As if the communal representation for Muslims was not sufficient, British government in order to contain the nationalist sentiments after Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) of 1930-32, decided to extend this time tested policy of communal representation to other minorities as well as to the depressed classes of Hindus.  The Communal Award of 1934 was again a masterstroke of government which gave them what they needed: a divided nationalist opinion.  Dividing Hindus on the basis of creed and not the welfare of scheduled caste was, yet again, a motive for this hasty step. Government again got succeeded in their motives, while a united front against them was again divided by this farce of reservation.

 Our country got divided in 1947. That was nothing but a natural culmination of the communal reservation of 1909.  The present step of awarding 4.5 per cent reservation to minorities (read Muslims) should be considered in this historical perspective by the intelligentsia and political parties of this country. Thinking that communal representation may lead to division is not communalism but history that too of our very own country.

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Shekhar Sengar

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