Hindu Nationalism and the Two Nation Theory

Parvez Mahmood explores the rise of rival but complementary communal nationalisms

Hindu Nationalism and the Two Nation Theory
Under colonial modernity, many in the Muslim intelligentsia began to see the Muslims of South Asia as a separate community and ultimately a separate nation. But the Two Nation Theory was driven just as much by the evolving perceptions of Hindu reformists and later, communal nationalists.

For an upper caste Hindu in the first half of the 19th century, when a Turko-Persian elite still held moral if not temporal authority, a “Muslim” meant someone attached to the court, or part of the nobility, or serving as a commander in the Army. The concept of local Indian converts to Islam - most likely from low castes or artisan professions - as a separate and equal nation was anathema, if not outrightly humiliating.

To place this article in correct perspective, the author reminds the reader that he is reviewing events from around a hundred years ago and not of the contemporary era. Social changes may have now blurred the distinctions that we will speak of here.

The Hindu populace in India had come to accept Turkish invaders, Persian nobility and Afghan adventurers as superiors or equals - because they were a different nation. These waves of conquerors were of a perceptively different ethnicity, language, appearance, attire and set of customs. Their strategic culture and martial capabilities were fairly different, too.

However, for the Brahmin to accept converted Muslims from his village or city neighbourhood as his equals when he “knew” them to be from lower castes was a far more difficult proposition. Today many Indian commentators continue to believe that the Muslims of the Indian Subcontinent are divided into castes as Ashraaf (the elite or the conquerors) and Ajlaaf (the commoners or the local converts). There was certainly such a division in the pre-1857 era, but it faded to the extent that few in Pakistan today are aware that it ever  existed. The Two Nation theory, therefore, was really about the local Muslim classes rising in education and economy as a whole and demanding equality, respect and recognition.

Maulana Hasrat Mohani and Dr B. R. Ambedkar

The modern Hindu reawakening in the Indian Subcontinent began in the early 19th century, though some might want to date it to rise of Shivaji in the late 17th century. The rise of a politicized Hinduism started with Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Dawarkanath Tagore (grandfather of the Noble laureate Rabindranath). It was a process that saw these reformers establishing a new syncretic and monotheistic religion called Brahmo Samaj. It sought to correct what they saw as social evils of Hinduism: including satti, child marriage, property rights for women, polygamy, the caste system, idol worship and even the concept of karma.

Raja Ram Mohan established a Hindu College at Calcutta in 1817, six decades before Sir Syed Ahmed Khan established the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh. Roy followed it up with a Anglo-Hindu school in 1822 and Vedanta College in 1826. These institutions followed a modern, Western-style curriculum. It was these educational institutions that elevated educated Hindus in Bengal in the fields of social and physical sciences. Thus started what is called the era of the Bengal Renaissance.

Lala Lajpat Rai of Punjab, Bal Gangadhar Tilak of Maharashtra and Bipin Chandra Pal of Bengal

In some of his speeches delivered in 1880s, Sir Syed is found warning the prominent Muslim landholders of UP that it was the Bengalis who were in a better position to win government jobs on open merit. In 1887 at Lucknow, addressing Muslim landlords, he said,
Now I take Mahomedans and the Hindus of our Province (UP) together, and ask whether they are able to compete with the Bengalis or not? Most certainly not.”

He obviously knew that the work initiated by Raja Ram Mohan and Dawarkanath Tagore a half century earlier had started bearing fruit. He was determined to emulate that path for the Muslims as well.

The progressive Hindu reawakening, unfortunately, would eventually pass on to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha in the early 20th century, planting seeds of a permanent communal rift.
Savarkar was implying that if Muslims demanded legal protection as a minority nation, they would have to “behave like a minority” – to take care of their rights but leave the running of the country to Hindus

In the emerging Hindu communal consciousness, having lived under Muslim rule as a subjugated and often persecuted community for eight centuries, the circumstances were now finally right for their emancipation. Not trusting Congress to protect Hindu political interests, Madan Mohan Malaviya formed a right wing Hindu nationalist party in 1905 called Hindu Sabha that crystallised as Hindu Mahasabha in 1921 with a saffron flag. Malaviya went on to establish Banaras Hindu University and campaigned for Hindu political unity and conversion of Muslims to Hinduism. Later the Mahasabha gathered more extremist partisans like Damodar Savarkar, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Lajpat Rai, K. B. Hedgewar and M.S. Golwalkar. Though the Mahasabha remained marginal in national politics, it inspired Hedgewar to establish the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925, the mother party of today’s ruling party in India and the organization whose members murdered Gandhi-ji. The current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi served in RSS for a very long time, where he got much of his worldview.

RSS did not participate in any anti-British activities. It is clear that the organization was formed, as noted by M. G. Chitkara in his 2004 book, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: National Upsurge, to “fight the Muslims” and as determined by Christophe Jaffrelot, in his 2010 book Religion, Caste, and Politics in India, “to propagate the ideology of Hindutva and to provide ‘new physical strength’ to the majority community”. It had become evident that RSS believed in a solution relying on force when it came to the “Muslim problem”. It was in response to the militant nature of the RSS that the Muslim League established the Muslim National Guards in 1931. It was these organizations, along with Sikh armed groups, that inspired much of bloodshed in the subsequent years.

D. Savarkar authored a book titled Hindutva, describing who qualifies to be a citizen of Hindustan. Detailing the “Essentials of Hindutva”, he writes (pp. 113),

That is why in the case of some of our Mohammedan and Christian countrymen who had originally been forcibly converted to a non-Hindu religion [...] a common Fatherland and [...] a common culture are not and cannot be recognized as Hindus. For, though, Hindustan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu, yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their holy lands are far off in Arabia or Palestine.”

He goes on to clarify that a Hindu, which to him is interchangeable with a citizen of India, “must address this land, this Sindhusthan, as his Holyland, as the land of his prophets and seers, of his godmen and gurus, the land of piety and pilgrimage.”

Hindu and Muslim mobs come face to face during the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat

Clearly, Savarkar was implying that since only people of Hindu faith could become citizens of a free India, the Muslims must settle in a separate land. This was a mirror image of the Muslim version of Two Nation Theory that advocated a division of the Indian Subcontinent on the basis of faith. Extremist Hindu organizations tried Shudhi or conversion of non-Hindus to Hinduism but seeing the impossibility of the task, they demanded expulsion of non-Hindus from India.

Ultimately, Savarkar came around to accepting Muslim states within a free Indian Subcontinent but reiterated:

“Minority is to be no justification for privilege and majority is to be no ground for penalty.”

Later, he accepted the Muslim demand for reserved seats according to their population. He stated that, “the constitution shall be such that the Hindu nation will be enabled to occupy a predominant position that is due to it and the Muslim nation made to live in the position of subordinate co-operation with the Hindu nation.”

In other words, Savarkar was implying that if Muslims demanded legal protection as a minority nation, they would have to “behave like a minority” – to take care of their rights but leave the running of the country to Hindus. The fear of being relegated to a second-rate minority was precisely the reason in the first place that led Muslim leaders to demand a separate homeland. Savarkar reinforced it by his logic.

V. D. Savarkar

This circular debate ultimately left no scope for compromise except that of the division of India on a communal basis.

The Hindu Mahasabha leader and one-time President of Congress, Lala Lajpat Rai, was a distinguished politician, philanthropist and businessman from Punjab. People of Pakistan know him through his Lakshmi Buildings in Lahore and Karachi, and the Ghulab Devi Chest Hospital that he constructed in honour of his mother who died of tuberculosis.

Lala Lajpat Rai, too, believed in a territorial separation of Hindus and Muslims due to their perceived incompatibility.

Writing in The Tribune of the 14th of December, 1924, he said,

Under my scheme the Muslims will have four Muslim States: (1) The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier; (2) Western Punjab (3) Sindh and (4) Eastern Bengal. If there are compact Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India.”

This was 16 years before the Muslim League adopted the Pakistan Resolution in Lahore, on the 23rd of March, 1940.

Dr B. R. Ambedkar, the father of Indian constitution, proved very perceptive of the problem in his 1940 book Pakistan or the Partition of India. He addressed the issue of the Two Nation Theory and came to some remarkable conclusions.
Lala Lajpat Rai believed in a territorial separation of Hindus and Muslims due to their perceived incompatibility

This author recommends that people in Pakistan and students of Pakistan history should read Ambedkar’s work - available on the internet - to understand the necessity of creating Pakistan. He writes,

If Islam and Hinduism keep Muslims and Hindus apart in the matter of their faith, they also prevent their social assimilation [...] With these social laws there can be no social assimilation and consequently no socialization of ways, modes and outlooks, no blunting of the edges and no modulation of age old angularities. Both Hinduism and Islam divide rather than bind people.”

Dr Ambedkar also arrived at the following conclusion:

“Strange as it may appear, Mr. Savarkar and Mr. Jinnah instead of being opposed to each other on the one nation versus two nations issue are in complete agreement about it. Both agree, not only agree but insist that there are two nations in India—one the Muslim nation and the other Hindu nation.”

This was what Sir Syed had been pointing to, half a century earlier. Ambedkar further said that the Hindus and Muslims have trodden parallel paths and that though they went in the same direction, yet they never travelled the same road.

For Ambedkar, Hindus and Muslims lived in separate worlds of their own. Hindus lived in villages and Muslims in towns in those provinces where the Hindus were in a majority, and vice versa. He added that wherever these two communities lived, they lived apart. He added, quite harshly, perhaps reflecting his own experiences as a member of the lowest castes, “No matter what the Hindus say, Hinduism is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity.”

There is no clearer description of Two Nation Theory than that given by Ambedkar. His incisive legal mind went to the heart of the issue and found that despite common genes, language and culture, there was no commonality between two communities who led parallel lives.

Finally, a word about those in the Indian Congress and its allied parties who thought that India should be kept united. They were a motley group including Muslim clergy, genuine socialists and secular nationalists, who failed to understand the realities of the street and refused to accepte the historical facts. They hoped that this unequal marriage will last once consummated. That was not to be. The people had moved away from each other, so that by the 1930s, a Partition of the Indian Subcontinent was a foregone conclusion.

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from PAF and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at parvezmahmood53@gmail.com

Parvez Mahmood retired as a Group Captain from the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and is now a software engineer. He lives in Islamabad and writes on social and historical issues. He can be reached at: parvezmahmood53@gmail.com