The history of Hindu-Muslim animosity is quite old now: and at the very least, it can be traced from the era of British rule in India. One common perception about the origin of this phenomenon is that the animosity took place due to the British policy of “Divide and Rule”. The reasoning behind this perception is that the British authorities had a clear idea that they could rule India only by dividing the Indian people along different religious, ethnic and caste lines – and definitely, they were successful in their tactic.
This perception acquires a particularly interesting form in Pakistan: that it was the British who watered a seed of hatred between these two religious communities, but, at the same, the attitude of the Indian National Congress towards Muslims was also not conducive to trust between communities.
Meanwhile, the perception common on the Indian side is that it was the Two-Nation Theory that generated hatred between Hindus and Muslims because, according to this theory – traced at least as far back as Sir Syed Ahmed Khan – Hindus and Muslims were two distinct nations who could not live together. It is not often that people holding this perspective remember how Sir Syed was the same person who once said, “India is a beautiful bride and Hindus and Muslims are her two eyes. If one of them is lost, this beautiful bride will become ugly.” But after the Hindi-Urdu language controversy emerged, Sir Syed changed his stance about Hindu-Muslim unity.
The Two-Nation Theory was further supported by the All India Muslim League (AIML), because it negated the position of the Indian National Congress (INC) to speak for one India.
Perhaps it is time to face the possibility that both the theories are problematic. In the first instance, it is not easy to explain how a nation is built on a specific religion, irrespective of focusing on geography, ethnicity, culture and other markers of identity. On the other had, the One-Nation Theory was flawed too – in the sense that it denied too much of India’s communal diversity in its effort to fit them all into a single nation.
The Two-Nation Theory was eventually supported by liberal leaders from the Muslim community, like Mr. M.A. Jinnah, who was declared an ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’ in 1916. But, later on, Mr. Jinnah went on to base his politics on a very different conception. “Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literary traditions. They neither intermarry nor eat together, and indeed they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions.”
Both the theories, one supported by INC and one by AIML, led to the partition of India in which more than a million people were lynched and killed, but the animosity between the two major religions of South Asia is not over yet.
Some observers were tempted to see a turning point in the ideology of RSS and BJP in Mohan Bhagwat’s speech
What was communal hostility within British colonial India turned into animosity between two countries, India and Pakistan, but the number of Muslims living in India today is larger than those living in Pakistan, and unfortunately, the narrative of communal bigotry is alive and well – especially in India.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, commonly known as RSS, is the main Hindu extremist organization that has not only remained involved in lynching Muslims and demolition of Muslim mosques and other religious places, but also played a role in shaping Indian politics by violent means. The assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, one Nathuram Godse, had also remained a member of RSS. Though Godse was hanged in 1949, the RSS extremist ideology is still continued in the shape of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s BJP, who has been working against the interests of Muslims through passing the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, revoking the special status granted to Jammu & Kashmir, and so on.
On the one hand, recent immigrant Muslims of India were vividly marginalized by not granting them Indian citizenship as that was granted to immigrants belonging to other religions; and on the other, the current RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said in a speech delivered on the 4th of July, 2021, that “We are in a democracy. There can’t be dominance of Hindus or Muslims. There can only be dominance of Indians. If a Hindu says that no Muslim should live here, then the person is not Hindu.”
Bhagwat further said “Hindu-Muslim unity is misleading as they are not different, but one. DNA of all Indians is same, irrespective of religion.”
Some observers were tempted to see a turning point in the ideology of RSS and BJP. After all, it seemed as if the RSS chief was talking in favour of the Muslim minority. But, for me, this was merely a political trap and nothing else, because for giving a political statement, a political leader, especially the populist one, always focuses on timing and the venue. The context is important: Bhagwat said this at an event organized by Muslim Rashtriya Manch, a unit of the RSS. It means he was directly addressing the Muslims; therefore, it must be seen as political maneuvering. Otherwise, the ideology of RSS remains completely based on an anti-Muslim narrative, which is only gaining in strength.
Despite such odds, it will certainly be a welcome moment if any major political party of India comes ahead to diminish the Hindu-Muslim animosity and bring about an atmosphere of peace and harmony between two major religious communities in India. This would be in the interests of India, at least if we define that country based on the democratic and secular norms written into the Indian constitution.