At present, there have been successive spates of unprecedented show of concern for the perceived plight of the Muslims of India. Recently, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh most magnanimously announced that henceforth Muslims would have the first claim on the resources of the country. He even announced a 15-point programme for the welfare of minorities, which primarily mean Muslims.
The HRD Ministry, under the leadership of Arjun Singh, is ever eager to assist Muslim institutions in a number of ways. There is a separate ministry of minority affairs and a separate Minorities Commission to cater to the welfare of minorities, which euphemistically denote Muslims, though according to UN definition, the Muslims of India do not qualify for minority status, as they constitute more than ten per cent of the population of India. In spite of the bitter experience of the past, there is again talk of providing reservations to Muslims in services, educational institutions etc. The Andhra Pradesh government, notwithstanding the turning down of its earlier proposal for providing reservation to Muslim by the judiciary, has again come out with the same proposal in a manner that will evade adverse attention of the judiciary. The Tamil Nadu government has also issued an ordinance to provide 3.5 per cent reservation to Muslims. And now the Maratha strongman of Maharashtra, Sharad Pawar, is also reported to favour reservations for OBC Muslims! And on the top of all this, there is the Sachar Committee report that has come out with extraordinary recommendations for the uplift of Muslims who, according to the committee, are a most backward community. The government seems to be hell-bent on implementing the recommendations although they seem to be biased as the credibility of the Sachar Committee is questionable owing to their outright dismissal as ?inconsequential? of the demographically disturbing and security-wise dangerous massive infiltration of Bangaladeshi Muslims into North-East India.
There is no doubt that Muslims in general are a backward community. But then there are so many other communities in India, Gujjars, Mangs, Gonds, Korkus, Govaris etc., who are as backward, if not more, as Muslims. Why then so much of indulgence for Muslims only?
There are two intentions behind it: one, honest and the other dishonest. The dishonest intention is to create, bolster up and use Muslim vote-bank for electoral advantage; and the honest intention is to goad the Muslim into the national mainstream.
The pre-independence movement of the Muslim League for creation of a separate state of Pakistan generally alienated Muslim from the national mainstream, and that was working as an obstacle to the national movement. Therefore, the Indian National Congress, which spearheaded the national movement for independence, started wooing the Muslims in the hope that they would associate themselves with the national movement. Thus began the notorious ?appeasement? policy. M.K. Gandhi was it main architect. He was aware that the British wanted to divide Muslims from Hindus and thereby weaken or destroy the national movement for independence. He therefore wanted to win over Muslims for the national cause at any cost.
Unfortunately, Gandhiji'spolicy had an ominous start at the very outset. When Gandhiji arrived in India in 1915 after his historic struggle against racism in South Africa, a grand reception was arranged in his honour at Surat. M.A. Jinnah was one of the chief organisers of that reception. Gandhiji was very happy to have a Muslim leader in the national movement and in his talk, repeatedly said so. Gandhiji wanted to mock at the policy of ?divide-and-rule? of the British by highlighting the presence of a Muslim leader in the national movement. But his repeated reference to Jinnah as ?Muslim leader? irked him very much; for, at that time Jinnah looked upon himself, not as a sectarian Muslim leader, but as an Indian national leader. So he very much resented the diminution of his stature by Gandhiji and this marked the beginning of the end of his association with the national movement. Very possibly, Jinnah aspired to become national leader of the Congress after Tilak with whom he had excellent relations. But he was robbed of this opportunity, unwittingly though, by Gandhiji as, due to aura his African struggle gave him, the mantle of unquestioned leadership fell on his shoulders after Tilak. That must have widened the rift between Gandhiji and Jinnah. If he was a Muslim leader only, then Gandhiji was also a mere Hindu leader, he averred. Jinnah was not a particularly religious person; and he did not like the Khilafat movement of 1919-20 started by Gandhiji in the hope that thereby Muslims would be attracted towards the Congress. But the Khilafat movement turned out to be counter-productive, throwing the leadership of the Muslim masses into the hands of the fundamentalist and obscurantist mullahs and maulvis. Jinnah did not like the religion-based politics of Gandhiji and thought that Muslim interest would not be safe in the Hindu-majority India led by Gandhiji. These events alienated Jinnah completely from the Congress and Gandhiji and he swerved to work for Muslims only. The British must have played some role in this development but the primary responsibility for turning nationalist Jinnah into a communalist Jinnah must squarely rest with Gandhiji. The only excuse is that Gandhiji could not read the mind of Jinnah and Jinnah could not read the mind of Gandhiji.
So far as India is concerned, the continuing tragedy is that sizeable sections of Hindus, both Congress and non-Congress, continue to follow the same appeasement policy laid down by Gandhiji and Nehru.
The policy of appeasement, instead of quenching the ambitions of fundamentalist Muslims, led to incremental increase of their demands culminating ultimately into the demand for partition. Even then the appeasement of the Muslims that are left in India continues.
(To be continued)
(The author was Professor of Political Science, Elphinstone College, Mumbai and retired as the Director of State, Institute of Administrative Careers, Government of Maharashtra, Mumbai. He can be contacted at 113, Shivaji Nagar, Nagpur-440 010.)