Till 1937 the communalists were liberal i.e. though they wanted safeguards for their religion they believed in a united country. But after 1937 it all changed extreme communalism which recognized that communities can’t live together had started. This form was becoming more popular among the lower classes of Hindus and Muslims. The extreme communalists had started mass movements to recognize their demands. They also targeted co-religionists in nationalist parties.
This extreme communalism was due to the popularity of the congress which gave it a majority in the 1937 elections. The landlord and Zamindari population in provinces felt that the congress would protect the tenants and they would face an existential crisis. Hence the Hindu zamindars went towards the Mahasabha and Muslims went to Muslim leagues. Both the parties for attracting the zamindars criticized the congress policies of tenant protection.
The other reason for the growth of communalism was the support given to it by colonial authorities. The British had failed to stop the nationalists so far. All other alternatives like right and left wings, linguistic and cultural differences, provincial differences, and even landlords couldn’t prove too effective against the congress.
So reluctantly they backed the Muslim league even though they hated its leader, Jinnah. WW-II also inflamed communalism as the Muslim league’s role became more important. The British refused to accept congress’s demands for freedom saying it didn’t represent Muslims. The league was treated as the sole spokesperson of the Muslims and given veto power over demands. The Hindu and Sikh communalists didn’t get any concessions from the British.
In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League and Mahasabha led campaigns on communal lines but both fared poorly. They realized that either they had to move towards mass-based programs or give up politics. The very logic of communal politics leads to a progression towards a more and more communal outlook. The constant demands and more and more concessions are needed to remain relevant. Hence liberal communalism turns to extreme form. The Muslim communalists took advantage of the congress’s limited contact with the Muslim masses for its purpose.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
M A Jinnah was initially secular and nationalist. He was influenced by Dadabhai Nauroji and acted as his secretary. He was opposed to the Muslim League when it was formed. He wanted joint electorates and advocated for them. He was called the Ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity by Sarojini Naidu. He later became progressively communal and joined the league. He moved towards extreme communalism to save himself from oblivion when Congress won elections in 1937. He first put forth the two-nation theory in 1940 at the Lahore session of the league.
Gowalkar and the RSS
The same trajectory was followed by Hindu Mahasabha and they too descended into an extreme form of communalism after 1937. Gowalkar who was the head of the RSS also blamed Congress for turning Hindus into servants of Muslims in India. He said that India couldn’t have Hindu Muslim unity and Hindus had to be dominant. This wasn’t condemned by congress leaders some of whom were succumbing to communalist pressure. Muslim riots and hate-mongering by Jinnah and other leaders led to a similar response from Hindu communalists.
The fault for communalism’s rise had to be up to some extent of congress leaders too. They had dealt with communal leaders treating them as representatives of their communities. When these leaders went on to become extreme communalists the congress couldn’t stop them effectively. Attempts made by the left and congress to wean the liberals into the communalists and pit them against the extreme elements had failed.
Aftermath of Communalism
However, as it turned out ideologies have future repercussions. The damage of Jinnah’s communal politics is faced even today by Pakistani Muslims. On the other hand, the secular ideology of congress has created harmonious conditions in India.
The ‘Pakistan Resolution’ was passed at the Lahore session of the Muslim League calling for “grouping of all geographically contiguous Muslim majority areas (mainly north-western and eastern India) into independent states in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign.