It is a fact of history that Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a nationalist who opposed Islamist-mix in politics in 1920s, turned into an Islamist and also a separatist in late 1930s, and ultimately actualised Pakistan, all in less than a decade. This lightening development took place before the nationalist leadership could realise that it was not Jinnah who invented and forged the Islamist constituency that turned into an Islamic nation. By the time the shocked nationalist leadership could understand that it was the appeasement of Muslims by the national movement that had incubated as Islamist separatism, Pakistan had become a reality. Jinnah merely led the Islamic separatism which had already grown inside the Congress movement out of the Congress and turned it into a nation ultimately. This is the fact of history.
The history of Islamic separatism in pre-Partition India shortly told is this. The British genius identified the Hindus as the nationalist current exclusive to India and found that Muslims, who were mostly Hindu converts, vulnerable to separation from their mother society if their pan-Islamic consciousness is made to dominate over their umbilical ties with their parent society. So the English strategy was to separate the Muslims from the Hindus by emphasising how different they are in religion from the Hindus over looking how intimate they are in social and cultural terms with the Hindus. Many might now know that the Privy Council found in 1917 that the holy book of Kutchi Memon Muslims was not the Koran, but, a book called ?Dashavatara? in which nine avatars were common between Hindus and Kutchi Memon Muslims and for the Kutchi Memons, the tenth avatar was Ali! The Court also noticed that the Kutchi Memons were following the Hindu law of succession, not the Sharia. Like that the Malabar Muslims were following, not the Sharia law but the Hindu law of Marumakathayam. The ground level reality was that the Muslims belonged to the same caste as the Hindus, undertook the same vocation as the Hindus, spoke the same language as the Hindus, followed the same or similar customs as Hindus and even adopted the same civil laws on property as the Hindus in almost all parts of India. A Jat Muslim was closer to the Jat Hindu, Kurmi Muslim closer to the Kurmi Hindu, a Gujjar Muslim was closer to a Gujjar Hindu than to their Islamist counterparts elsewhere. The only area of difference was worship. So social integration being so dominant, it called for systematic efforts to emphasise religious differences, cut off the traditional links and create pan-Indian Islam. The British strategised to appease the Muslims and wean them away from the Hindus with the partition of Bengal and sowed the seeds of pan-Indian Islam and clearly succeeded. In this task, the rising Wahabi and the Tabligi Islamic models, which insisted that Muslims cut off the umbilical cord, greatly assisted the British strategists. And so did the Aligarh Muslim University-promoted intellectualism.
This led the Congress movement to respond by copying, not countering, the British strategy of Muslim appeasement. Mahatma Gandhi gambled with the Khilafat move to bring the Muslims and Hindus on the anti-British platform, but could not integrate the Muslims with the nationalist movement. So Khilafat finally proved to be an alliance of the nationalists and the Islamists and not integration of the Islamists with the nationalists. More, Khilafat became the founding thought for pan-Islamic identity and separatism that dominated the 1930s. So competitive appeasement by the British and the Congress movement created the separatist Islamic constituency for Jinnah to turn it into a nation. The cost of an exclusive Islamic nation out of the multi-religious Hindu society that included Islam as one of its constituencies had been undoubtedly high during Partition and it is now a permanent, recurring cost on the separated Pakistan and truncated India after partition. It is despite this bitter and painful experience that secular India seems to be repeating the very same fatal errors of the pre-Partition nationalists, namely appeasing the Muslims with separatist agenda, instead of integrating them with Hindus by emphasising the underlying unity. See how the disastrous pre-Partition theatre seems to be re-opening as the year 2007 dawns, six decades after the Partition theatre had closed.
?Make separate IITs and IIMs for them?. ?Construct separate 5000 Kendriya Vidyalayas, including 3000 residential ones, exclusively for them?. ?Grant two lakh separate scholarships for them?. For whom these demands are being made? Not for the out-castes of India kept in social isolation for centuries. Not for the tribals whom geography had isolated from the Rest. This is for Indian Muslims. In addition, the demand is more campuses of the Aligarh Muslim University which produced the Islamic separatist leaders who led the Partition movement. Not of the Jamia Milia Islamia University set up by nationalists under Gandhiji'sguidance which fought against Partition! Muslim MPs belonging to different parties handed over this separatist agenda to the Human Resources Development Ministry couple of months back. This move, the media reports, is sequel to the Sachar Committee report that was tabled before the Parliament in its last session.
Muslim-exclusive IITs and IIMs, Muslim-exclusive Kendriya Vidyalayas, Muslim-exclusive scholarships and banks and the rest exclusive to Muslims. Are such Muslim-exclusive institutions solutions for the problems of Muslims? Or being exclusive is the very cause of their problems? See how being exclusive has excluded the Muslims from the mainstream Indian paradigm. The Sachar Committee'sdescription of Muslim relation with the rest of the Indian society brings out how isolated are the Muslims as a community from the Rest. It says that the Muslims are not able to buy or get houses on rent in places of their choice. Their burqa, purdah, beard and topi which identify them only sets them apart in public domain, it points out. Even as the report harps on the isolation suffered by the community, it also, by a slip, unconsciously hints at the reason for its isolation. The clue lies in the panel'sremark that Muslims are unable to get admissions for their wards in regular mainstream? educational institutions. The report, thus, implicitly diagnoses the disease as isolation of the Muslims from the mainstream. But its prescriptions will not cure, but worsen the disease. That integration into the mainstream is the surest way to end isolation of Muslims is implicit in the panel'sreport. But the Sachar Committee prescribes more steps to isolate the Muslims?in fact institutionalised and legitimized separation and isolation.
Note the word ?mainstream? in the Sachar report. Had this word occurred in a BJP resolution the seculars would have screamed that it smuggles in ?Hinduisation?. The truth, which Sachar Committee admits unconsciously, is that mainstream national identity eludes Muslims, thus tacitly admitting that Muslim exclusivism does not square with national mainstream identity. No discourse is needed on what is national mainstream. A nation is a heritage rooted in geography and not just a Constitutional contract. Indian heritage is timeless. Secular India sees that ancient Indian heritage as Hindu and sectarian and not common for all. Secular India has imaged all ideas or symbols or literature or heroes and heroines of pre-Islamic India as Hindu and therefore, by definition, un-secular. And for the Islamists, it is, of course, un-Islamic. This is the genesis of Islamic exclusivism in India. There is nothing of ancient India which Islamic leadership in India will own or be proud of. Pakistan Parliament will celebrate Panini as its ancestor. But imagine secular India accepting a Valmiki or Vyasa, leave aside Rama and Krishna, as their ancestor. For Indonesian Muslims, Ramayana and Mahabharata are national epics. For the seculars they will be un-secular and, for the Islamists, un-Islamic! Arabic names are Islamic and Samskrit or Tamil names are un-Islamic. This is the source of Muslim exclusivism that invariably turns into separatism. .
See, in contrast, how, at the ground level, Muslims in India even now share their common bonds with the Hindu society, despite Khilafat, Jinnah, partition and Pakistan. The Sachar Committee admits that 39 per cent of the Muslims declared themselves as belonging to Hindu backward castes. This was in 1999-2000. The Muslim identification with the heritage of Hindu caste system seems to increasing by the day and NSSO says that 43 per cent Muslims declared themselves as backward castes in 2004-05. If they would identify with the heritage of caste, a not so good a part of their Hindu past according to the seculars, would they not identify with the better aspects of their parent society? If they could identify with caste would they not identify with Ramayana? They can and will. But Islamic leadership and secular parties will not allow them. Why? Simple. That will integrate them with their parent Hindu society and put an end to Muslim isolation. And with it will dissolve Muslim vote-banks. This will turn the seculars unemployed. That is why the secular anxiety to keep the Muslims distinct from their parent society in the name of minority identity. But as they separate and isolate the Muslims, let them be warned. All that culminated in the Partition of the country in 1947 in the end commenced only with things separate for Muslims. From separate universities to separate laws to separate electorates and finally to separate nation. So secular India must integrate, not separate and isolate the Muslims. The consequences of isolation are bad for the Muslims and for the nation. Do secular India and the secular parties and leaders realise that, by such efforts as the Sachar Committee and the distinct agenda including things and institutions exclusive to Muslims, they are actually replaying the pre-Partition appeasement politics in the name of secularism? The sooner they realise the better for the nation as well as the Muslims.
(The writer is a noted thinker and columnist.)