George Santayan has said ?Progress far from consisting in change depends on retentiveness. Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.? Opposition to appeasement is basically rooted in the consciousness of the past when the British after 1857 had adopted the policy of ?divide and rule? and ?appeasement?, as the most potent instrument to further this policy.
After the first uprising of 1857, the British viewed every native with distrust and suspicion. Since there were many prominent Muslims who participated in the uprising and the fact that all the revolutionaries accepted the ageing and reluctant Mughal Bahadurshah as their leader, the British had every reason to view Muslims as source of greater trouble. This is the time when the British in order to ensure their survival decided to create a divide to prevent any repetition of Indians making common cause to rid of the imperial rule.
It is in line with this thinking that they decided to set up Hunter Commission in 1870, to study the ?Muslim problem?. The subsequent publicity given to the findings of the report with special emphasis on the discriminatory treatment of the Muslims by British is a subject that has never been analysed fully. The then British administration was neither a democratic set up accountable to the people of India, nor under any legal or moral obligation to establish equality among their subjects. In fact the entire history of British administration is marked by inequities. Yet they not only constituted a commission but secured a verdict against themselves. If we take note of subsequent developments then it becomes clear that the purpose of this whole exercise was to heighten sense of community that too a persecuted community among Muslims and give them a message that they have been in disfavour on account of their past behavior of joining national uprising but if they mend their ways that is adopt a loyal and communal line then they will become the favourites and will be able to serve the interest of the community more effectively.
In fact even before 1857, the British had started canvassing for adopting ?divide and rule? as imperial policy. Lt. Col. Coke, the Commandant of Moradabad had noted: ?Our endeavor should be to uphold in full force the separation, which exists between the different religions and races, not to endeavour to amalgamate them. ?Divide et impera? should be the principle of the India government.? That was middle of the nineteenth century. In the later period the British were more careful in the use of language like when John Strachey wrote: ?The existence, side by side, of these hostile elements is one of the strong points in our political position in India.? Again: ?The better classes of Mohammadans are a source to us of strength and not of weakness. They constitute a comparatively small but energetic minority of the population, whose political interests are identified with ours.?
Unfortunately the British succeeded in selling the idea of ?identity of interests? to a sizeable section of the Muslim elite. This culminated in 1906 when a 35 member Muslim deputation led by Agha Khan met Lord Minto, the Viceroy, on behalf of ?? the nobles, jagirdars, taluqdars, lawyers, zamindars, merchants and others representing a large body of the Muhammadan subjects of His Majesty the King Emperor? demanded separate electorates with some privileges. Lord Minto replied: ?You justly claim that your position should be estimated not on your numerical strength but in respect to the political importance of your community, and the services it has rendered to the empire. I am entirely in accord with you.?
Now this deputation in fact was a British stratagem to ensure that Muslims keep away from the national movement. The role of Mr. Archbold Principal of Aligarh College in organising the delegation and drafting the memorandum is now public knowledge. Maulana MA Jauhar made the position clear in his paper Hamdard on June 10, 1927 when he wrote ?If we follow the tradition of British journalists of wartime who always used to say ?now there is no harm in disclosing the fact because nothing is secret? we may also say ?it is not disadvantageous to disclose that the deputation was invited to visit Simla. Up to that time the Muslims were for example like that Irish prisoner who was facing trial in a court. The Judge asked him if he had any attorney to represent him. His answer was ?No my Lord, I do not have any attorney, but there are some of my friends sitting among the jury.? The Muslims also had some friends in the jury. But that juror by this time had whispered to the Muslims that the situation was changed and it was time they retain a legal advisor for themselves.?
The logical course was that these 35 deputationists of October 1906 became the leading stars of December 1906 conclave that gave birth to Muslim League with the declared objectives:
1. To inculcate among Muslims a feeling of loyalty to the government and to disabuse their minds of misunderstandings and misconceptions of its actions and intentions.
2. To protect and advance the political rights and interests of the Muslims of India and to represent their needs and aspirations to the government from time to time.
Right from the founding of Muslim League, to the demand of separate electorate or of representation based on political importance and finally to the Partition is history. But it is absolutely essential to point out that all these years by encouraging separatism and communalism the British were not promoting the well being of Muslim masses, they were merely doling out some crumbs of power to the Muslim elite to keep them aloof from national movement. The Muslim masses like their other compatriots kept labouring under oppressive imperial dispensation.
After Independence, India was driven by an overwhelming desire for political, social and economic transformation, and uppermost was the resolve to bridge the great religious divide. When we decided to replace the system of separate electorate by joint electorate the message was clear, no room for any claimant to be spokesman of the secular interest of any religious community. Constitution does not make India a federation of religious communities, but a nation whose constituent unit is Indian citizen, and the citizen has been ensured equality of status and opportunity, justice, social, economic and political and liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship and to promote among them all fraternity assuring dignity of the individual and unity of the nation.
A new chapter incorporated into the Constitution as Directive Principles of State Policy, places the responsibility on the government to ensure inter alia that the citizens, men and women equally, have the right to an adequate means of livelihood and to strive to minimise the inequalities in income, inequalities in status, facilities and opportunities not only among individuals but also amongst group of people residing in different areas or engaged in different vocations. These Directive Principles have been described as forerunner of the UN Convention on Right to Development as inalienable human rights.
In fact there can not be a better recipe to achieve the desired transformation of India into a strong and united nation than to translate this constitutional aspiration into reality. This requires not only commitment and hard work but a vision to see India as one indivisible unit and not an internally fractured geographical entity. The vision to see India as proud possessor of a cultural heritage that acknowledges and accepts truth and its various manifestations, and has the capacity to strengthen and enrich unity by means of diversity. The internal divisions accentuated by imperial rule are a reality, but to strengthen national unity is constitutional ambition.
Any government that abandons its constitutional duty to do general good (sarv hitay) and by word or action starts promoting specific or sectional interest not only violates the letter and spirit of the Constitution but ends up weakening the fabric of national unity. But in a democracy the ultimate duty to protect the nation is with the people who are sovereign and not with the wielders of power for a brief period. Today the government can choose to follow their imperial predecessors and appoint a Sachar on the lines of Hunter with the objective of promoting vote bank politics. In 1870 we were a subject people with no control over the government that succeeded in creating a communal divide, but in 2007 we, as people of free India can resolve to ensure that no Sachar will succeed to weaken our national unity. We are committed to ?justice for all? and hence no room for ?appeasement of few?. Whether it is economic backwardness, illiteracy or poverty or any other problem afflicting us, we shall find a solution and the starting point shall always be the last man, the Daridra Narayan. Our concern shall be the problem, our concern shall not be the religion, caste, sex or place of birth of the person suffering from the problem.
(The author is a senior BJP leader and a prominent political commentator.)