History and Interpretation:Communalism and Problems of Historiography

Shaheryar Ali

There has been an interesting debate going on in the pages of PakTea House e-zine regarding Indian history. This debate is also at the heart of the “history wars” which are  going on in India and Pakistan. In Pakistan it has acquired a specific character because , a version of  communal historiography had to be adopted to built “Pakistani Nationalism”.

When a nation state was to be built on Muslim identity and Muslim separatism, it had to rely on a version of history which starts with Muslim invaders, all the debates in such form of history revolve around a particular community, in this case “Muslims”. It is supposed that somehow that community was always “separate”, “distinct” and somewhat independent of other people this community was living with. This type of history is just self-serving; it lives and thrives on a particular kind of politics. This communal or as thesedays its fashionable to call it “nationalist” politics, Hindu nationalist and Muslim nationalist politics. For this type of politics, history is just a tool to justify the contemporary politics with ancient events.

It therefore becomes important to demolish a historical structure, like Babri Mosque, as a symbol of “national revival”, correcting the “historical wrongs”, avenging the so called  Muslim colonialism. No one bothers , how many temples in India were demolished by Hindu rulers and how many mosques were demolished by Mujahid rulers. [Aurangzeb for example closed down the Shia Mosques in Hyderabad, and converted the main Imam bargahinto a horse stable, or Mahmood of Ghazni’s loot of mosques in Multan, which belonged to different sects]. Here Turkish invasion and Arab invasion of India becomes “Muslim Invasion”. The fact again finds no audience that Arabs fought along with locals against Turks in many towns.

This kind of history and politics is always monolithic, mythological, passionate, a-historical and in extreme cases anti-historical and absolutist. It sees every thing in black and white, all history in India as a perpetual struggle between Hindus and Muslims.  A case of mythological flight of Ideas, can be seen in Pakistan, where date of creation of Pakistan was debated amongst so-called historians, “Pakistan came into being , the day first Muslim landed in India [or converted]. This is the extreme mythological thinking, which defies knowledge, logic, rationalism, common sense. It’s this mentality by which every Muslim household in Dehli, Gujrat, Mysore becomes Pakistan, thus a target of violence for Hindu nationalists. The Indian Muslim who is killed , is a Pakistani. Than we listen to shouts of “Musalmano ke du isthan, Pakistan ya Qabristan.”

Extensions of this thought are visible in Pakistani Patriotism as well, As Jamil Alli says:

Pakistan ka sehri tha mein Pakistan se Pehle bhi—

This is the extreme a-historic and segregationist view of Pakistan. Sindh becomes “bab-ul-Islam”, owing to Arab imperialist invader Muhammed bin Qasim, equating Islam essentially with violence and conquest. The same mindset , ironically engages in passionate debate when Hindu right raises the question of invasions and forced conversions. Their mythological mindset doesn’t see the logical contradiction in their view of making Sindh “bab-ul-Islam” and than denying invasion related spread of Islam.

As this view is “segregationist” it doesn’t accept the Sufi thought, which is humanist and anti-communalist. In Pakistani text books, Wahdat-ul-wajood becomes heresy. Mysticism becomes “bidat”.

Depending on the modern sensibility of such communal mind set Pakistan becomes either a “Laboratory of Islam” or “Mumlikat e Khudadad”, “the divine state” or “Islam ka Qila”, “Fort of Islam”.

The communal historical tradition is extremely selective in its reading, it doesn’t adopts a critical view of the primary sources. As Romila Thapar , one of the most respected historian of India notes, that the “communal historiography” is essentially a “colonial historiography”.

“The colonial interpretation was carefully developed through the nineteenth century. By 1823, the History of British India written by James Mill was available and widely read. This was the hegemonic text in which Mill periodised Indian history into three periods – Hindu civilization, Muslim civilization and the British period. These were accepted largely without question and we have lived with this periodisation for almost two hundred years. Although it was challenged in the last fifty years by various historians writing on India, it is now being reinforced again”

Roma Thapar: History as Politics.

Dr Thaparcontinues, her analysis of communal historiography and later its utilization by Hindu and Moslem nationalists, or communalists. She asserts:

“These were religion-based national groups for whom the identity of an independent nation-state was to derive from the religion of the majority community in the proposed state. Religion-based nationalism, whether Hindu or Muslim, drew directly from the colonial interpretation of Indian history and catered to the ambitions of a section of the Indian middle-class.It projected imagined uniform, monolithic religious communities and gave them a political reality. There was an entwining of communal historiography and religious nationalism. Muslim nationalism aspired to and eventually succeeded in establishing Pakistan. Hindu nationalism is aspiring to make India into a Hindu Rashtra. The two-nation theory was essential to both the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha in the early twentieth century. It continues to be essential to the communal movements of today. These nationalisms were not primarily anti-colonial. They accepted the colonial views of the past and what they were opposed to was the other religious community”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

Liberal versions, of this communal mindset exist in both India and Pakistan, the disagreement with fanatics is merely aesthetic, and is representative of the “internal conflict” of the “middle class” base of this type of Nationalism. The liberal card is basically used in terms of “democracy”, “nationalism”, “cultural nationalism” and even “secularism”. Thus we see Hindutava becoming “secular” in name of “Indian nationalism or Hindu nationalism”. We see LK Advani’spassionate defence of Jinnah’s secularism. A farce in history is abuse of democracy in such debates where in discussions of pre-partition India , terms like Hindu majority and Moslem minority were created. The same issue of “religion based” majority are used in India and Pakistan, in issues eg repealing Hadood laws etc. All this is done in name of “Majority is democracy”. Thapar notes:

“The undermining of democracy today lies in insisting that Indian society is constituted of communities identified only by religion.Since in a democracy the wishes of the majority prevail, it is said that the Hindus being the majority community in terms of numbers, should determine public decisions. This of course makes a mockery of democracy, since a democratic majority is not a pre-determined majority and decisions can and do cut across identities of religion and other identities. It is also a refusal to concede that actually Indian society in the past had multiple identities – of caste and social hierarchy, of occupation, of language, of religious sect and of region. Religion was only one amongst these. The focus of each identity was dependent on the issue in question”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

So as we see that once again all of it can be narrowed down to “identity”. Using religion as “identity”, we have seen this basically was a British construction, and through the modernist it seeped into Indian middle class. No one tries to be critical and trace the history of social construction of “Hindu” and “Muslim” identities. Hindu and Muslim are considered “monolithic” groups, homogeneous and in perpetual conflict. A detailed historical analysis will reveal that both theseterms have no meaning at all, Hinduit self has been understood as different things, there was no “monolithic Hindu religion” or Hindu culture” in India. As Romila Thapar notes:

“Despite its initial geographic and ethnic meanings, the term Hindu finally settled as the name of a religion. It has been argued that the early religions of India were essentially religions of orthopraxy of conservative ritual practice, rather than orthodoxy, of conservative belief. Religion in India was a mosaic of juxtaposed cults and sects”


“There was no single label by which they described themselves and they were identified as Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakta, Lingayat and so on. Belief ranged from animism to the most sophisticated philosophy”

Same thing is true for Muslims, who in India were a very pluralistic thing. The Arabs, Turks, Afghan, etc, often with conflicting interest. Despite the colonial and communal interpretation of history, Majority of Indian Muslims were never outsiders, only elite section of Muslims could be traced to Afghan or Persian, or Arabic roots, majority of Muslims were converts whose interests remained same as their brothers in class. untilthe colonial times when Hindu and Muslim middle class were pushed into a struggle of survival in case of “colonial employments”.

Romila Thapar notes:

This view was further reinforced in the colonial theory that the Muslims of India were foreign and alien. The subject was treated as if Muslims were – one and all – migrants, all claiming descent from the Arabs, Turks, Afghans, Mongols and what have you, who settled in India. This may have held true for a fraction of the elite, but as we know the vast majority of Muslims was Hindus converted to Islam.The few claims to an origin beyond the frontiers of the sub-continent were more often claims to status rather than a statement of ethnic origins. The regional and linguistic variations among Muslims in India gave riseto many cultural and sectarian differences that militated against a uniform, monolithic religious community. Groups labelled as Hindu were also treated as if they were identical and conformed to a single, homogeneous culture”

Romila Thapar, History as Politics.

The religious identity, faded away in non elitist sections of society as Thapar notes:

“The conquest and the resistance were more frequently over territory, political power and status. Religion was not the dominating factor as is clear from studies of these epics. The fading away of formal religious boundaries was particularly evident in the non-elite sections of society – in effect, the majority of the people. But their religion was regarded as inferior and set aside, even by historians. What earlier historians failed to emphasize was that conversion is seldom a break with the previous way of life. It invariably carries many of the culture ways of the earlier identities”

How other identities are more important than the religious identity is once again described by Romila Thapar, explaining the phenomenon of conversions and refuting the Hidutuva’s myth of forcefulconversion, she explains how “class character” was base of such conversions and , this character never changed despite changing of religion:

But what is of interest is that where a caste converted, it generally retained its rules of marriage, custom and some rituals and continued to have professional relationships with Hindu castes. When weavers in some North Indian towns converted to Islam, they continued their earlier relationship with Hindu textile merchants. Prior to their conversion they were anyway regarded as low caste and the traders maintained a social distance, and this distance remained.

In defence of History, Romila Thapar

To be continued—–



Filed under History, India

33 responses to “History and Interpretation:Communalism and Problems of Historiography

  1. Dear Shaheryar Ali!!
    Once again you did a remarkable work as unciscovering the very important aspects with the true commitment.Hats off to you
    Shaheryar Ali.

    Keep Discovering The Truth which is very bitter and our people dont want to face it with their False Innocence .


  2. YLH

    This article frankly is as one sided as the Islamist “Pakistan as the Islamic theocracy” project.

    The real Pakistanis, the secularists who Hamza Alavi called the real heirs of Pakistani ideology, are caught in the middle of a foolish ideological war between two groups ie the “islamists” (adnan siddiqui types) and so called “leftists” (shaheryar Ali types). They keep de-constructing each other’s arguments.

    The problem is with reading history through an ideological lens instead of coming to terms with these events in terms of politics and group conflict.

    Then you have people like Haris Azhar who can’t respond to arguments (on other boards) but are votaries of divine knowledge which helps them determine truth.

    This is where the problem starts -when ideological “anti-imperialists” claim monopoly on the truth as ideological religio-fascists they claim to oppose.

    I for one refuse to entertain one sided views of all kinds as the truth. Truth is multi-layered and a conglomerate of views and perspectives. Pakistan’s “national mythology” mirrors India’s cherished national myths. Both are completely false nor does Muslim separatism or Muslim nationalism that created Pakistan need any historical justification beyond the circumstances that led to it.

    Impartial history- like the one written by the great Indian jurist and constitutional historian H M Seervai – makes plain the real facts of partition and they are as unflattering to the Congress types as they are to Mullah types who wish to conjure up an “islamic” justification for a national demand.

  3. YLH

    And other lie is that this is even remotely relevant to the so called “history debate” on this website.

    People who have opposed Shaheryar Ali here do not even remotely ascribe to a history that begins with Muslim invaders or champion Aurangzeb or Mahmud Ghaznavi.

    Infact some of these people attempt to define a primordial secular identity for Pakistan.

    Others still are not even interested in primordial identities for justification for a state which has physical boundaries.

    Thus this entire article does not contribute to the “debate” but merely makes a strawman fallacy and attempts to bring that strawman down.

    Sherry wishes that people conform to his narrow compartments. He is utterly unable to appreciate the diversity of views or entertain any view that does not conform to either his ordained leftist view or the islamist view.

    This is intolerance.

  4. PMA

    Ms. Romila Thapar’s thesis is convincing and Mr. Shaheryar Ali has edited it well to built his case.

    On one level, contention that Sub-continental India within its physical boundaries contains only one nation is just as bogus as was the “two nation theory”. The necessity of later arises only when claims are made in favor of the former.

    Based on geography alone, the sub-continent could be safely divided into at least seven to ten nation-states. And on ethnic-linguistic basis perhaps into twenty workable states. But the whole mess starts when claims are made in favor of the fallacy of ‘Indian nationalism’.

    But then again arguably number of denominators, including religion could be used to justify a certain nationhood. A land where religion plays a dominate role in personal and communal lives, religion based nationalism bound to be the outcome.

    Mr. Shaheryar’s beef is not with the history or its interpretation as such. He just does not want religion to be a basis of a nation-state. In that respect he is right. Now that Muslims of North-east and North-west of the continental India have respectively established their own countries, they should move away from the concept of religion based nationhood and concentrate on expanding the basis of their nationality.

  5. Aliarqam

    Good piece of work…explaining his concepts of history…Sherry and Balanced comments by PMA….

    I agree to your view that…in interpreting history most of us stand to the two extremes….
    History is not as described by Sibte Hasan or Aitizaz Ahsan

  6. YLH


    The word “pakistani” is not exclusive. A Hindu or a Christian born in Pakistan is a Pakistani. The problem is with the inability of both sides to view history in terms of group conflict. It is here that Pakistanis have failed to understand Jinnah’s 11th August speech and the 30 odd speeches that seek an inclusive national identity for Pakistan.

    I question the relevance of this to the debate you and I have been having with Sherry since neither you nor I ascribe to the views he claims to be de-constructed yet he claims in the first line of this essay that this has some relevance to the debate.

  7. YLH


    Sibte Hassan and Aitzaz Ahsan have the most balanced views of history when one considers that they reject the established myths of “progressive” and “reactionary” ideas.
    Also another major lacuna here is the attempt by Sherry to change the camp of the Sufis.

    Braelvis and Sufi of the region that is now Pakistan were wholeheartedly in the Muslim League campaign whereas the straitjacket of deobandis was hand inglove with so called “composite” nationalism camp.

    The reason why the latter became dominant in Pakistan was after Pakistan’s attempts to play with Islamic state because deobandis provided the doctrinal basis for law, the sufis and braelvis didn’t. Hence they receded.

  8. hayyer48

    How is that to be done? Speaking of India, (and I am sure there must be variations of the theme in Pakistan) there are nations contained within each separate sub caste and defining themselves through manufactured genealogies and mythologies.
    A correct or even workable definition of ‘nationality’ is a mare’s nest in the sub-continental context. The problem is now globalized with large migrant communities everywhere in the west speaking different languages following different faiths and of myriad colours and genes.
    The trend universally is towards ever narrower definitions of nation. Look at Wales and Scotland. We have far too much of the nationalities problem in India. There is a desire for political unity but not for union. ‘National Integration’ the much propagated slogan of free India has led only to a tiny deracinated super strata in the metropolitan towns. No one goes about trying to create a universal pan Indian blend. It is easier to do so in Pakistan I suppose but it wont be easy.

  9. YLH

    Alaistair Lamb was it who famously wrote that had it not been for a two nation idea which created the two dominant cultural discourses for India and Pakistan, the real trend would have been balkanization all over India.

    The “Hindu” and “Muslim” narrative created all India affinity between and across disparate sub- cultural groups.

    I know it is sacrilege to say it but India survives today because of it 85 percent majority which gives it a certain cultural character.

    In Pakistan the Muslim majority could have supplied the same unifying factor had the religion not been coopted by the state becoming a divisive force instead of a unifying one.

  10. hayyer48

    I haven’t come across that particular view of Alistair Lamb but it is an interesting perspective.
    India is undoubtedly a Hindu country. It was so and continues to be. Walter Lawrence of the ICS in his ‘The India we Served’ written (I think) around 1920 said the same thing, and he was almost an honorary Hindu. But the dominant discourse of India though inevitably based on a Hindu mindset is not that of the RSS though it continues to reflect a Brahminical way of thinking.
    In short, Brahminical atomism ensures that there are multiple discourses at play, always. Vis-a-vis Muslims, opinion has shifted from saying that they are all Pakistanis to a grudging acceptance that perhaps only some are.
    Indian opinion is not Pakistan centred; In fact Indians outside the North and West are rather fed up with what they see as Delhi’s obsession with Pakistan. In the atomistic discourse that subcontinental modes of thought inspire Indians spend their time arguing and agonizing over their issues that have no practical impact on their lives.
    National Integration the big catchword of yesteryear was directed towards linguistic and regional differences among Indians. That issue still remains but it no longer overshadows the discourse. Narratives of growth have replaced it.
    Alastair Lamb is quite wrong. The Muslim Hindu problem remains but it does not dominate. It is one of the many problems that India faces. And the ‘imagined’ standoff in some minds with Muslims does not in any way mask the other tensions. Rather India functions with all the tensions together and finds ways to carry on.

  11. YLH

    I actually wrote an article while back where I came to many of the conclusions that Thapar does. I have submitted slightly edited version to RR and hopefuly it will help Sherry see that his attempt to put it as a zero sum is not all that true.

  12. Excellent comments by all – add to it. we need to discuss and debate these issues for understanding things –

    YLH – your article will be published soon 🙂

  13. YLH


    Something as contentious as religio-cultural identity can only be useful if it is kept vague. India’s Hindu identity is vague in my opinion and therefore is a strong binding force.

    Pakistan’s Islamic identity does not work because it is too specific and too absolutist …hence it becomes divisive.

    Infact if you ask me, this is the reason Muslims can only accept a pork eating whisky drinking anglicized barrister as a leader despite his apparent irreligiousity but will never unite behind a religious figure like Azad or Madni or Thanvi.

  14. YLH

    The reference for Lamb is page 3 and page 4 of “introductory” of “incomplete partition”.

    “The two nation scheme, which is usually seen as the realisation of the vision of M.A.Jinnah, preserved a great deal of the political integrity of the Indian subcontinent which had emerged under British rule: it is thus foolish, as many Indian politicians still do, to deride it. The alternative, it is more than probable, would have been a Gadarene rush towards ‘Balkanization’.”

  15. YLH

    Infact the next line is even more enlightening:

    “Had it not been for the Kashmir problem, it is not difficult to argue, the achievement of the Two Nation concept might well have been greater, the creation out of the British Raj not so much of two new discrete dominions as a pair of twin dominions evolving towards each other instead of increasingly separate directions”

  16. sherryx

    Thanks for contributions.

  17. Hunainsaani

    We are sick of continous reference of Jinnah’s speech of august….
    If there is
    Pakistan Movement – jinnah = A piece of land where the feudal muslim elite can entertain their rule under the umbrella of anyone who let them play…
    Jinnah as a lawyer fought the case of these people very well….
    Why we are continously blaming the Mullahs …they never had got a chance to rule this country…though blessed with a chance to do the same in Afghanistan…and now they want the same here in Pakistan…it’s threatening for this elite…not we the common people…as for us…Is this really make some difference to rule by them or the fanatic Mullahs

  18. Hunainsaani

    It is the problem with PTH or YLH…every debate whether started with any point comes at the same…Jinnah speech of August….Seervai and pseudo-secularism…..

  19. PMA

    hayyer48: Being a Pakistani I mostly concern myself with issues facing Pakistan. I generally do not read much about post-1947 India and therefore would not be able to add much in that respect.

    Pakistan does not have the religious ‘cast system’ as defined in India, although there are many other socio-economic strata in the country. Pakistan west of Indus has strong tribal affinity structure. East of Indus, particularly in Punjab, ‘brathari system’ brings people together. As a polity Pakistan is still in its lower developmental stages.

    Ideologues on the left and right are trying to pull and push the society in their own respective directions. Rightists and Ultra-rightists want to establish their version of religion based political system. They do have presence on the ground and thus have been able to create havoc and even dangerous situation in Pakistan. On the other hand the leftists and particularly ultra-leftists have very little presence on the ground. Most so called leftist, if given the litmus test will not pass as Pakistan is mostly a conservative society.

    Major divisive forces is Pakistan are the ethnic-nationalism and religion. Since we do not have an over arching language like english as in the case of UK, we remain a divided nation. One would think that we are a 97% percent Muslim nation therefore religion could be a uniter, but it is not. Each religious school of thought wants to see its own supremacy. During the month of Moharrum we often kill members of our Shia minority. Ahmidia sect has been declared non-muslim. Hell we are unable to decide even our day of Eid. That is more of a reason why religion should be a personal matter and not a state matter. Yes we have all the potentials to be a strong and cohesive nation, but we are not.

    I hope I have addressed the points raised by you.

  20. YLH

    Hussain saani,

    This claim that you make my friend is disproved by the fact that feudals as a political group joined in at the very last moment of the Pakistan movement and that the Pakistan movement was the movement of the Muslim Salariat.

    If you read Romilla Thapar’s view above you will realize that the concept of communal nationalism was itself a bourgeoisie concept not a feudal one. It did not suit the feudal elite of Punjab etc because of the close alliance of feudal landlords of all communities in the Unionist Party. This is why Sikandar Hayat, sir fazli hussain and khizer hayat tiwana all stood tooth and nail against Muslim League and after 1944 Muslim League-communist Party alliance. It was only in 1945-1946 that Muslim feudals switched parties after realizing the overwhelming trend in Punjab.

    Your view has been rejected by historians both in India and the west. It so happened that the feudals of Punjab found it very easy to subvert the Salariat leadership after Jinnah’s death in cahoots with civil military bureaucracy because the salariat had no real indigenous base in West Pakistan.

  21. Hunainsaani
    PTH stands for the Pakistan that was conceived by its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah – a democratic and just republic where the state had no business to meddle with religion. Yes the majority was Muslim so it was obvious that they would have their freedoms but Jinnah also assured that the non-Muslims would enjoy their rights under the laws of the land. This is quite clear.

    The Mullahs – most of them – opposed Pakistan and called it Napakistan. It is on record. Once the country was created they started imposing their views on a polity that they never owned. Hypocrisy of the worst kind…

    Now if you call it a problem of PTH then I think we are ready to own this “problem”.

    Keep visiting –

  22. Majumdar

    The writing of any history is coloured by the ideological bent of the writer and the power (state/organisation/religion) he is representing. In that sense, official Indian history or Paki history or ML history is no difference.

    Shahryar babu obviously is a great admirer of Comrade Thapar so he sees her version of history as sacrosanct. But then if “class character was the base of conversion” as she claims why did not the entire Hindoo low class convert to egalitarian Islam?


    Your point regarding MAJ (pbuh)’s vision for an inclusive Pakistan is valid. But the question is what if the majority of Pakistan decide to ditch that vision and opt for a religion-based system, what do you do then?


  23. YLH

    Such a system would have to have its limits… Pakistan’s constitution has an immutable fundamental rights chapter… which no number of Islamic injunctions can override.

    Similarly it is a signatory to the Human Rights Charter… which it will have to implement ultimately whether the majority in Pakistan accepts it or not.

    Democracy must not be confused with the tyranny of the majority.

  24. hayyer48

    I did not mean to imply that Muslims in Pakistan have a caste system. I apologize if I gave that impression.
    My point was that subcontinental society is unable to get over a tendency to constant differentiate. In Indian Muslims the caste system makes itself evident by the divisions carried over by the converted classes. In UP for example the weavers are all Ansaris-no connection to the Ansar of Medina but going by that name nevertheless. Muslims of Rajput origin in present day Haryana were called Rangar and distinguished themselves as such. The biradiris that you mention continue to this day, even in India. Muslim Gujjar tribes and Rajputs Muslims cannot even vote for a single political party as a group, unless there is a Hindu offset, and even then it doesn’t work. The Ashraf/Ajlaf distinction is still in play.
    Even among Muslims claiming foreign origin there was and is, in India at least, a caste system, with Sayyids naturally claiming top spot. Ahmad Ali’s poignant novel’Twilight in Delhi’ set in early 2oth century Delhi shows how a Sayyid is unwilling to marry his daughter into a Mughal family because it is inferior. Ghalib himself took pride in his Mughal origins. I presumed that in Pakistan too, these ‘casteist’ tendencies persist. I know at least one family from UP whose members are all of dark brown hue but claim nevertheless that they have never married outside their extended Pathan family. Fake genealogies must be at work.
    I am aware of real differences between members and sects of one religious community. We have too many of them in India-and that was part of my argument on the difficulty of defining nationhood in the sub-continent. Thank you for your comments though.

    YLH:Thanks for the reference. The book is probably unavailable in India. I shall try to get it from abroad.
    Actually the two nation theory did not originate with Jinnah, or even Mohammad Ali at Cambridge in 1930. Two right wing Hindus, Savarkar and Lala Lajpat Rai enunciated it in the mid twenties. The rush to balkanization is only put off I think not cancelled. Good political management has staved it off in India and it almost worked in Kashmir, except for the blunders post 1983. If the RSS and the Sangh Parivar can be held off I have no doubt that the postponement will extend indefinitely. No doubt Pakistan’s problem is one of good political management. Kashmir has bedevilled relations from the start, but as I posted elsewhere on this site, if Kashmir did not exist, then perhaps some people would have invented it.
    I find your comment intriguing that Muslims cannot find leadership outside an irreligious personality like Jinnah. It is not commonly known that Azad was wildly popular on the basis of his Islamic discourse before 1920. He was in fact the first one to be called Qaid e Azam, losing the title soon thereafter when the Khilafat movement started.
    Indian Muslims also rejected Jinnah in favour of the Ali brothers, both profoundly religious, when they in alliance with Gandhi launched their Khilafat movement. Bacha Khan in the frontier was a popular leader with his land reforms and Sheikh Abdullah became a popular leader because of the sweetness of ‘qirat’ during ’tillawat’ of the Quran. He too had a leftist agenda but was firmly rooted in religion.
    Jinnah’s rise is a historical anomaly. He could overshadow everyone in the Congress and had no reason to bow and scrape before Gandhi, yet a party that claimed a secular agenda had no use for a secular Muslim or for secular politics.
    Had Liaqat Ali Khan not gone begging Jinnah after the failure of the Round Table Conferences to resume leadership of Indian Muslims and the Muslim League this great man would have remained a footnote in the history of the freedom movement.
    Gandhi sought to unite Muslims and Hindus on a religious discourse. It is perfectly possible however for them to combine as practicing believers of their faiths on a secular one, or on a platform of a shared agnosticism and cultural commonalities.

  25. YLH


    Another nuance…. Lala Lajpat Rai had actually called partition in the 1920s… Savarkar wanted the Hindu nation to dominate the Muslim nation and was opposed to partition (hence Hindu retribution against what they thought was Gandhi’s weakness in conceding Pakistan).

    Whatever little popularity Azad had was destroyed by the disastrous Khilafat movement that he and Ali brothers partook in …. infact, Khilafat movement destroyed the credibility of Mullahs in general because the Muslims in general came to believe that Mullahs would always be duped by Gandhi and company. Till then Jinnah was firmly in the Indian Nationalist camp so there was no question of Muslims choosing Jinnah over these religious divines at the time.

    I am afraid I can’t agree that Azad or Ali Brothers or Shaikh Abdullah won the kind of popularity Jinnah managed from 1937 onwards… Bacha Khan was popular with only a fraction of Pushtuns… Shaikh Abdullah was not the sole spokesman of even the Kashmiris … popular leader no doubt he was.

    Personally I don’t know of this “Quaid-e-Azam” title being given to Azad business… but the fact is that the kind of wide ranging electoral and political mobilization that Jinnah managed amongst the Muslims is unparalleled anywhere in the world in the 20th century.

    The point I was trying to make was that had Jinnah been religious… he would be a shia or a sunni or something else and would therefore be rejected.

  26. YLH


    anywhere in the Muslim world

  27. YLH

    “He could overshadow everyone in the Congress and had no reason to bow and scrape before Gandhi, yet a party that claimed a secular agenda had no use for a secular Muslim or for secular politics.”

    Well said. I am glad to see such realization in the land that has disowned Jinnah the secularist.

  28. Majumdar


    I am glad to see such realization in the land that has disowned Jinnah the secularist.

    It is a fact that increasingly the greatness of MAJ (pbuh) is being recognised in the country which disowned him.


  29. ds

    This entire debate as guys are calling it, has no purpose or relevance or is their any

    pls state

  30. PMA

    hayyer48: At the risk of moving too far from the subject of the original post, I would say that among Indian Muslims I too have seen the type of ‘caste system’ that you have mentioned. In Pakistan, however, since almost every one is Muslim, the ‘caste system’ is not religious in nature except when it comes to being so called ‘syed’. Even though Islam pronounces equality of mankind, this particular group somehow claims genealogical spiritual superiority over other Muslims! Outside Punjab most prevalent is the ‘tribal’ configuration. But even in Punjab the social ‘arrangement’ is somewhat different than what one finds among Indian Muslims. For instance in Punjab, you will find Kashmiri Brathary (Sharif brothers), Pathan Barathary (Imran Khan), Mian Brathary, Awan Brathary etc. etc. It is more of an ethnic/tribal configuration than religious one. In case of Pakistan every one claims to be ‘significant’ and divisions are more ethnicity based than ‘caste based’ as in India. So I would say that Pakistan has its share of divisive forces but they are different in nature than those encountered in India. If Pakistanis some how try to over come their ethnic biases and prejudices then may be they could also minimise their internal frictions and work together for the betterment of their country.

  31. hayyer 48

    PMA: You are absolutely right. I had some experience of the biradiris when I visited Pakistan some 17 years ago.
    The Kashmiri biradiri in Pakistan is composed of various sections not all of them Kashmiri. Nawaz Sharif’s family I believe actually hails from Poonch, and while Poonch has an ethnic Kashmiri group, Muslims there are divided into Pahari or Rajput, Gujjar and Kashmiri communities who vote separately.
    The Mirpuris also I think while claiming membership of the Kashmiri biradiri in the UK are actually Punjabis, with ofcourse the usual divisions.

  32. hayyer 48

    When Sheikh Abdullah split the Muslim Conference by setting up the National Confernce he was not the sole spokesman, so to speak, of Kashmiri Muslims. Nor was he really so right up to 1947. Surprisingly, after 1947 his stock rose surprisingly as the leaders of the Muslim Conference group migrated to Pakistan. He almost became a sole spokesman in Kashmir though not for the whole state. His popularity was phenomenal after his land reforms. It dipped only in 1975 after his accord with Indira Gandhi.
    Even Jinnah on his visit to Kashmir in 1945 could not compare though he drew a substantial attendance. The National Conference was forced to boycott him after he snubbed them.
    But I take your point that Jinnah did almost become the sole spokesman of Indian Muslims after the world war started. Even then I wonder if he had the kind of blind support that the Sheikh won, for a time, in Kashmir.

  33. ds

    Point proved….. everyone agreed ….??? right … go collect ur nobel prizes!!!!