Legacy of Muslim Rule In India – Politics and Integration

The Muslim legacy of expansionism still resonates in their politics and their willingness to integrate with the rest of India.

Legacy of Muslim Rule In India – Politics and Integration

Medieval Legacy and Modern Politics

Whether Indian leaders accepted Partition willingly or not, they should have realised the necessity of clearly understanding the two-nation theory in all its aspects, in all its implications, at least in post-Partition years. Muslims were more or less clear about the policies that were to be followed in the newly established state of Pakistan. They pushed out the Hindu minority to the extent possible, broke most of the temples, and in course of time Pakistan was declared an Islamic State. Bangladesh also followed suit. But in residual India, no thought was given to the formulation of practicable policies of the newly independent State. The old mindsets continued. The policy of the Indian National Congress before Partition was alright. It appeased the Muslims to somehow save the country from division. But after the country was partitioned on Hindu-Muslim basis, a continuance of the old policy of appeasement showed bankruptcy of political acumen and a betrayal of the implicit trust reposed by the people in the Congress-in particular Jawaharlal Nehru. With all his knowledge of history, he could not understand Islam and its fundamentalism. It appeared that his lifelong contact with its followers and the bitter fruit of Partition had no lessons for him.

Nehru’s family tradition, political training and social intercourse1 made him (what was jocularly called) the greatest nationalist Muslim of India. It is said that he even felt small because of his Hindu lineage. He himself stated that by education he was an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim; he happened to be a Hindu only by the accident of birth. He mistook Indian nationalism as Hindu communalism, and this confusion has come to the Indian National Congress Party as an inheritance. For example in a public meeting in August 1947, he declared that:

“As long as I am at the helm of affairs India will not become a Hindu state. If they do not subscribe to my views and are not prepared to cooperate with me, I shall have no way except to resign from the Prime Ministership.”

Almost the same views were expressed in his letter to Dr. Kailash Nath Katju on 17 November, 1953. He wrote:

“What real Hinduism is may be a matter for each individual to decide, in practice the individual is certainly intolerant and is more narrow-minded than almost any person in any other country. The Muslim outlook may be, I think, often worse, but it does not make very much difference to the future of India.”2

 This assessment has proved to be incorrect. On 30 December, 1949, addressing a meeting under the auspices of the Secular Democratic Front at Farrukhabad, Pandit Nehru said that the talk of Hindu culture would injure India’s interests and would mean the ‘acceptance of the two-nation theory which the Congress had opposed tooth and nail’. Again, addressing the students at Lucknow University on 16 September, 1951, he said that the ideology of Hindu Dharma was completely out of tune with the present times, and if it took root in India, it would ‘smash the country to pieces’. Nehru’s pro-western, pro-Muslim leanings were very well-known. Hindus did not protest because they loved and respected Nehru. They had full faith in him.  Hindus did not even care because they thought they were in such a vast majority. Hindus did not make a noise because in the flush of freedom they remained, as usual, casual and indifferent to any future Muslim plans. But every society wants some security, some piece of land as its homeland under the sun. This law of human existence is supreme. Every country worth the name has some core element or force in it called the nation, which is its backbone and the source of all strength in it. Such a force in India is the Hindu force. This force has always been active in the day-to-day life of this nation, but has shown itself more markedly and spectacularly and has sprung into action with redoubled energy during the last few years. The rigmarole of language apart, India is a Hindu nation. As Dr. Copal Krishna observes,

“It seems to me that for a student of history and a man of long political experience, Nehru’s understanding of ethnic/religious plurality (of India) and its political pressures was amazingly shallow. His outraged reaction to displays of communal antagonism was aesthetic rather than thoughtful. To describe persistent mass group behaviour as ‘barbaric’ did not suggest any understanding of the behaviour itself.”3

The Muslims who stayed on in India after Partition did not take much time to discover that most policies of the Nehru Government were anti-Hindu. For them, it was a political windfall. Soon enough they asserted that they were being discriminated against by the dominant Hindu majority. Pre-Partition psychology and slogans reappeared. Hindus have a stake in India. This is the only country which they can call their own and for which they are prepared to make any sacrifice. Muslims have no such inhibitions. They can and do look outside as well. There is a tendency to explain Muslim communalism in terms of the intrigues of the British Government and failings of the Indian National Congress, but Muslim politics is not a passive product. It has its own aims, aspirations, ambitions and dynamism. It dreams of a pan-Islamic state which could go on expanding. On the one hand, the Muslim minority truly professes allegiance to India and on the other, and equally true, even after forty years of Independence, looks to Pakistan for directions. Pakistan on its part avows friendship with India and at the same time strives for a confederal alliance with the neighbouring Muslim States against India.4 The medieval concept of Dar-ul-Harb and Dar-ul-Islam has never ceased to be. According to Deoband Fatwas, even free India is a Dar-ul-Harb.5

After Partition, Pakistan solved its minority problem without much ado. But Indian leaders failed to do so. Contrary to the Benthamite doctrine of the greatest good of the greatest number, to Gandhiji the last man was his first concern. Even after the vivisection of the country, he remained more concerned with the ‘difficulties’ of the Muslim minority than anything else. Ram Gopal, while discussing the problem of Muslims before Partition, summarises the Hindu attitude contained in a resolution of V.D. Savarkar who proposed to secure the Muslim rights thus:

“When once the Hindu Mahasabha not only accepts but maintains the principles of ‘one man and one vote’ and the public services go by merit alone added to the fundamental rights and obligations to be shared by all citizen alike irrespective of any distinction of race or religion, any further mention of minority rights is on principle not only unnecessary but self-contradictory. Because it again introduces a consciousness of majority or minority on a communal basis.”6

In brief, the Muslim minority problem has continued and will continue also because of the fact that two theocratic states have been established in the east and west of India. With inspiration received from these two fundamentalist states, the Indian Muslim is prone to succumb to extra-territorial allurements. A Hindu cannot be a fundamentalist because there is nothing fundamental or obligatory in his socio-religious life, but be can be a fanatic, a greater fanatic than all, when the only country he loves and belongs to, is broken up and is threatened to be broken up again and again. This is Hindu backlash. And since Indian leaders have not only not been able to solve the Muslim minority problem in India, and talk in the same uncertain idiom in which they spoke in pre-Partition days, Hindu anger cannot but be fanned.

In this scenario, the Nehruvian Government continues to pursue the pre-Partition policies of the Indian National Congress. Actually, there is no minority problem in India; it is a Muslim problem. It is generally not realised that whenever there is mention of words like National Integration, National Mainstream, National Unity, Community Identity, Sectional Separatism, Minority Rights, Minority Commission, fundamentalism, secularism etc., we mainly think about only one thing – the Muslim problem in India. Minorities have been living in India from long past, minorities like Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians for example, but they have not posed a minority problem as such. They have always lived according to Indian cultural traditions and within the parameters of Indian national unity. But with the Muslims, the problem of their absorption into the Indian mainstream continues even after Partition.

National Integration

There are ethnic, religious and linguistic groups in all large countries of the world like America, Russia and China, and so also there are in India. But America and Russia never talk about national integration: at least they never make a fetish of it. As Copal Krishna in his series of articles on ‘Nation Building in Third World’, referred to above, has said,

“A modern state rests on the citizenship principle, where all the citizens, irrespective of any specificities of birth, occupation, religion, sex, etc., constitute the political community. Ideally, there are no majorities or minorities except on particular issues; people, of course, have interests, but these are pursued in harness with the general interest.”

But in India, the government arrogates to itself obligations which are better left to the society itself. National Integration is a fallacious conception. The very words imply that we are a disintegrated people who need to be united or integrated into a nation. At the same time, it is repeatedly asserted that there is a basic Indian unity in the midst of diversity. India undoubtedly presents a cultural peasantry of exuberant variety with an under-layer of basic unity. This unity, however, has its source and derives its strength not from political but from cultural sources. Regional languages, climate, dresses and food of the people may be different but most Indian ceremonies and festivals are associated with religion and culture. That is how they are common and sometimes similar throughout the country from Bengal to Kashmir and Kashmir to Kanya Kumari. Gods and Goddesses, festivals and ceremonies sometimes have different names in different parts of the country but they are the same and are celebrated with equal enthusiasm everywhere. But Indian Muslims who are mainly Hindu-converts, keep away from these. If Muslims of Indonesia can perform the Ramayana as a national cultural festival, why Indian Muslims cannot do it in India. It is not the Government-appointed National Integration Council but the people’s will alone that can bring about national integration.

Similar is the case with regard to minorities. There are minorities in all countries, but it is only in India that there is a Minorities Commission – emphasising thereby that minorities have problems here only. This by itself is an instigation to the minorities (read Muslims) to put forth all kinds of demands based on trumped-up grievances. Social cohesion has to be left to the society itself for healthy natural growth. The sooner the Government gives up the slogans of national integration and minorityism, the better for the country. Justice M.H. Beg, Chairman of the Minority Commission, rightly recommended winding up of the Commission.

In Muslim countries, the nature of the state is generally Islamic if not totally theocratic. Secularism is prevalent in most advanced countries of the world. India too is a secular country. The Indian state gives equal status to all religions. It means that people of all faiths can practise their religious rites with equal freedom and without interference from others or the state. Secularism should not be a tool for demanding privileges, asserting rights, claiming more jobs (in proportion to population, whether qualified or not) and ‘establishment of a minorities finance development corporation with an initial asset of Rs. 100 crore.’ Some political parties encourage such demands for gathering votes. All this makes India the only country in the world where ‘reservations in jobs’ and not merit counts, thus making small a country otherwise great. This is one side of the coin. The other is that ‘secularism’ in India is a stick to beat the majority community with, as it is an instrument for the appeasement of the minorities. For all practical purposes, secularism in India is very welcome to the Muslims. With Islamic regimes established to the east and west (Bangladesh and Pakistan), secularism means that the Muslim minority in India can have the cake and eat it too.

In this combination of national integration, minorityism, secularism and a common civil code, the most damaging to the Muslim interests is their resistance to the enactment of a common civil code. On the other hand, there is a lurking fear among many Muslims that national integration is a ploy to submerge their religious and cultural identity by tempting them into the national mainstream and placing them under a common civil code. That is what makes them so keen to stick to their Personal Law. On the face of it, it is very satisfying for Muslims to see that they have their own separate laws; that through them they are enabled to preserve their separate identity. In actual practice, separateness makes them different from others. Difference leads to inequality. Inequality can either make them a little superior or a little inferior to others. Being in a minority they cannot be superior in a democratic setup. In Muslim countries, non-Muslims are generally given an inferior status. In India Muslims on their own by insisting on preserving their personal law make themselves ‘lesser’ citizens. Once they realise that because of their Personal Law they cannot claim equality with other citizens, they will not come in the way of enactment of a common civil code.

An early warning against perpetuating the minority complex was sounded in a memorandum submitted to the Constituent Assembly’s committee on minorities by Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, a leading member of the Christian community. She said:

“The primary duty of the committee appointed to look into the problem of minorities is to suggest such ways and means as will help to eradicate the evil of separatism, rather than expedients and palliatives which might, in the long run, only contribute to its perpetuation.”

She added, ‘Privileges and safeguards really weaken those that demand them’. A distinguished member of another minority community, Muhammad Currimbhoy Chagla, wrote in his autobiography in 1973:

“I have often strongly disagreed with the government policy of constantly harping upon minorities, minority status and minority rights. It comes in the way of national unity and emphasises the differences between the majority community and minority. Of course, it may serve well as a vote-catching device to win Muslim votes, but I do not believe in sacrificing national interests in order to get temporary party benefits. Although the Directive Principles of the State enjoin a uniform civil code, the Government has refused to do anything about it on the plea that the minorities will resent any attempt at imposition.”

The false equation of secularism and minorityism of the Congress is repeated in the policies of the National Front Government.7

Politics of Minorityism

Whichever political party has been in power at the Centre during the last forty-three years, whosoever has been the Prime Minister – Nehru or Gandhis, Morarji Desai or V.P. Singh – the Nehruvian Congress culture has spared no effort to woo the Muslim minority. In this attempt, it was even decided to manipulate and distort our country’s history. The justification for rewriting Indian history, particularly medieval Indian history, from the ‘nationalist’ point of view, lay in the plea that British historians have deliberately distorted Indian history with a view to highlighting Hindu-Muslim differences. We have already discussed this allegation earlier in Chapter 2. The British rulers and their historians only took advantage of the prevailing situation. For example, Monstuart Elphinstone, a Governor of Bombay, suggested in his Minute dated 14 May 1859:

Divide et Impera was the old Roman motto, and it should be our’.

Given the circumstances, it would have been foolish of any imperialist power not to follow such a policy. But for achieving this aim there was no need for them to distort Indian history. British historians had just to reiterate what the Muslim chroniclers themselves had written about the ‘glorious achievements’ of their kings and conquerors. Their stories needed no proof: they stood confirmed by the hundreds of vandalised medieval monuments. The mistake lay with the misjudgement of our Congress-culture Government and the so-called secularist and Stalinist historians. They chose to treat history as a handmaid of politics to please the Muslim minority. They instructed their text-book writers to eschew mention of unpalatable historical facts like the destruction of temples and forced conversions by Muslims in history, language and social science. But perpetration of lies has proved counter-productive. It has encouraged Muslims to ask for proof as to when Babur or Aurangzeb broke this or that temple, knowing full well that such shrines were actually vandalised and razed.

As a consequence of all this, it is now being generally realised, though not admitted, that organisations like the National Integration Council and Minorities Commission are all there for appeasement rather than for grappling with the basic issues. It is now being felt that the best qualification for becoming a member of the National Integration Council is to be capable of denouncing Hindus and Hinduism. If minorities were suffering in India, Christians, Parsis, Jews too would have complained. But in our secular democracy not only are they feeling safe but also contributing their mite in the development of the country. The biggest joke is that it is the ‘largest minority’ of Muslims (75 million according to 1981 census) that feels unsafe. To please it the Government is coerced, history is falsified and Hindus castigated, and yet Muslims cannot be brought to join the national mainstream. They insist on having a separate identity with separate laws.

In a democracy, all citizens have equal rights. Words like majority and minority are out of place. The moment these words are uttered in the Indian context, they create the impression that minority is weak and helpless and majority strong and tyrannical. Institutions like the Minorities Commission and National Integration Council breed vested interests as they continue to harp upon real or imaginary minority grievances. That is probably why the late justice M.H. Beg recommended that the Minorities Commission should be done away with, but it suited the politicians not to do so. A fear psychosis is created vis-a-vis the Hindus, who although in majority, have not been known for possessing cohesion. It is well known that this fear is created by politicians who can go to any length to ensure their vote-banks. No leader has bothered to find out what effect the policy of appeasement of Muslims has on other sections of society.

The crux of the problem is the legacy of Muslim rule in India. Directly associated with it is the problem that the religion of the largest minority has certain peculiarities. It believes that there is one ‘chosen religion’ and one ‘chosen people’. In an Islamic state, no consideration is given to people of other faiths. Non-Muslims cannot construct a Christian church or a Hindu temple in Saudi Arabia or Iran, or say their prayers in public. During the month of Ramzan, no food is available to non-Muslims in hotels or restaurants, although fasting is compulsory only for the Muslims. After the conquest of Mecca, ‘a perpetual law was enacted (by Muhammad himself) that no unbeliever should dare to set his foot on the territory of the holy city.’8 Where Muslims rule, they may declare the state secular or Islamic, they may treat the minorities with dignity or as Zimmis, follow the Islamic laws or prohibit polygamy. No non-Muslim can demand anything from them. They consider it entirely their own business to do what they like to do in their own country. But elsewhere their demands know no limits.9

No wonder that in India Muslims want separate schools for their children and claim Urdu as their language. They want their Personal Law (which mainly means polygamy),10 and resist enactment of a uniform civil code for all. They are against family planning so that their population may grow unchecked. In short, in countries where Muslims are in a minority and the state is not Islamic, they insist on living an alienated, unintegrated and ‘superior’ life by agitating for concessions specified by their Islamic Shariat. No amount of falsification of history can humour them into living with others on terms of equality. Therefore Congress-culture politicians and pseudo-secularists should at least inform the minority whose cause they espouse, but to whom they never dare read a lecture, that secularism and fundamentalism are mutually exclusive, and that in the Indian secular state the Muslims cannot practise their fundamentalism. Furthermore, they can also be told that history can no longer be distorted, that it cannot be made the handmaid of politics, and that therefore they need to feel sorry if not actually repentant about the past misdeeds of Muslims.

Sometime back the East German Ambassador to Poland publicly apologised to the Poles for the ill-treatment meted out to them by Germans during the last war. Two years ago, the Japanese Government officially apologised to the Chinese Government for the atrocities committed by the Japanese on the Chinese population in the ’30s during the China-Japan war. Recently on 23/24 May, 1990, during a visit to South Korea, emperor Akihito of Japan apologised to South Koreans for the same reason. Nearer home, the Caste Hindus are doing their best to make amends for their alleged or actual ill-treatment of backward classes through administrative, legislative and ‘reservation’ methods. But such a gesture appears to be out of tune with Muslim culture and creed. Not that politicians of other communities are entirely selfless: no politicians are angles. Still, it is felt that the Muslim minority community, misguided by its leaders, thinks and works only for its own narrow interests. The interest of the country is not its concern because it is not an Islamic country. That is why there is a need to appeal to the Muslims to join the national ‘mainstream’. Indian Muslims were originally Hindus. As Hindus, they were part of the country’s social and political mainstream. Conversion to Islam wrenched them away from it because Islam and Islamic theology enjoin upon Muslims to keep separated and segregated from non-Muslims. To integrate is not their obligation. To strive for national integration is the duty of the Government and the Hindus. And so it has been through the centuries. It is significant that Bhakta saints of the medieval period who preached integration were all Hindus. Even Sant Kabir. It is they who preached that Hinduism is as good as Islam and vice versa. No Muslim Ulama or Sufi can say such a thing. No Muslim gives any other religion a status of equality with Islam. Such an assumption is against the tenets of his creed.

Therefore, ever since the appearance of Muslims in India, there has been a struggle between Muslim communalism and Hindu nationalism, to use the modern phraseology. Today on the side of Muslim communalists are Marxists, pseudo-secularists, progressives etc. They have chosen the safe side because they know that it is easy to decry Hindus and Hinduism but very unsafe to criticise Muslims or Islam. But the great pundits of modernity and secularism have exhausted their volleys. The Hindu is now regaining his self-respect dwarfed over centuries. His no-nonsense stance has made the secularists and progressives panicky. They have recently propounded a new theory. They say that while the fundamentalism of the majority community harms only that community, the communalism of the majority community harms the whole nation.11 The Hindu does not care to seek elaboration of such shiboleths. His watchword of Indianization, considered in certain circles to have anti-Muslim implications, asserts a staunch opposition to disintegration. India is on the march. It is not going communist, nor communalist. India is steadily going Indian. It is to be watched if Indian Muslim or Muslim Indian leadership will contribute to this endeavour or only continue to cherish and preserve the legacy of Muslim rule in India.

This excerpt is taken from The Legacy of Muslim Rule in India by  KS Lal and reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher, Voice of India.



1. Henry Sender, The Kashmiri Pandits: A Study of Cultural Choice, Oxford University Press, 1988. Also the review of this book by Ratan Watal in Express Magazine, 15 January, 1989.

2. India’s Minorities, Publications Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (New Delhi, 1948), pp. 1 ff.

3. Gopal Krishna, ‘Nation Building In Third World’, a series of four articles, Times of India, 26 to 29 December, 1988.

4. Speech by the Pakistan Army Chief at the Staff College at Quetta on 26.10.1988.

5. Fatawa-i-Deoband, Vol. II, p. 269 cited in Harsh Narain, op. cit., p. 44.

6. Ram Gopal, Indian Muslims: A Political History (1858-1947), pp. 264-65.

7. C.N.S. Raghavan, ‘Secularism or Minorityism’, in Statesman, 19.11.89.

8. Gibbon, op. cit., II, p. 685.

9. A news item in the The Statesman of Sunday, 6 August 1989, entitled ‘Muslims in Britain displaying militancy’ and datelined London, August 5, underscores the problem. It says that Muslims in Britain are displaying increasing militancy. ‘The Muslim community is demanding that its way of life be respected in Britain and instead of integration, many want separation’ They are concentrating on the right to have Muslim schools and official recognition for Islamic family laws which permit polygamy. These demands they placed before the Home Secretary Mr. Douglas Hurd while protesting against Salman Rushdie’s controversial novel Satanic Verses. That turned out to be an excuse or occasion to put claims quite unrelated to the book. Later reports indicate that they are striving to establish a non-territorial Muslim Kingdom in Britain.’

10. ‘The reason why the Muslims do not insist upon chopping off the hands of thieves and stoning adulterers to death is that the courts imparting justice are not Shariat courts. The Shariat law prescribes certain qualifications for the judges which the present judicial set-up does not fulfil- (A correspondent from Aligarh in a letter to the Editor, Times of India, 17.8.91). Of course for contracting four marriages no permission is required from non-Shariat Indian law-courts.

11. Professor Shaharyar in a Seminar at Aligarh as reported in Qaumi Awaz dated 23 November, 1989. And V.M. Tarkunde’s article Hindu Communalism in The Times of India of 30 May, 1990.

About Author: KS Lal

Kishori Saran Lal (1920–2002) was an Indian historian. He wrote many historical books, mainly on medieval India. He obtained his master's degree in 1941 at the University of Allahabad. In 1945 he obtained his D.Phil. with a dissertation on the history of the Khaljis. This dissertation formed the basis for his book "History of the Khaljis". He started his career as a Lecturer of History in the Allahabad University, though he served in this position only for a brief period. In 2001 he was appointed chairman of the Indian Council for Historical Research (ICHR).

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