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Allah Baksh versus Savarkar

By Anil Nauriya

Since many of the contrary voices, like those of Allah Baksh, represented the unifying tendency within India, their muffling has fed Hindutva.

SOON AFTER the assassination of the legendary Allah Baksh on May 14, 1943, a young Sikh in Lahore wrote an elementary biography of the murdered leader. The first part of the title of the book by Jagat Singh Bright was "India's Nationalist No 1". Today, 60 years after the killing, India barely remembers Allah Baksh and his resounding challenge to Muslim separatism through the Independent (or Azad) Muslims Conference that this Sind Premier organized in Delhi in April 1940, a month after the Muslim League passed its Partition resolution at Lahore. The Conference, presided over by Allah Baksh, shook up the British establishment.

Azad wrote: "The session was so impressive that even the British and the Anglo-Indian press, which normally tried to belittle the importance of nationalist Muslims, could not ignore it. They were compelled to acknowledge that this Conference proved that nationalist Muslims were not a negligible factor". This all-India Conference, which Nehru described in his `The Discovery of India' as "very representative and very successful" is today a forgotten event. The man who organised it may not even have existed so far as most of our historians are concerned. Instead, the portrait of V.D. Savarkar, who denied Indian nationalism in order to assert Hindu nationalism, hangs in the Central Hall of Parliament. Serious questions arise about contemporary political parties, including the Congress. What makes it possible for persons essentially opposed to its ideals to make a home in and flourish in the Congress, especially in the post-1969 years? There are both political and intellectual roots to this crisis. There was a time when it was the Congress which influenced its allies. Allah Baksh was not in the Congress. But his Ittehad or United Party in Sind was a close ally sympathetic to Congress programmes. His letter to the Viceroy after the Quit India Movement of 1942, protesting against Churchill's speech in the British Parliament, and returning his titles, was remembered even till the 1960s as one of the classic documents of Indian freedom. Gandhi and Nehru were in prison at the time. Subhas Bose went on radio to compliment Allah Baksh. As a result of Allah Baksh's letter he was dismissed from the Premiership of Sind even though he still had a majority in the Assembly. Ultimately, he lost his life upholding the concept of Indian nationalism.

Congress ideological alliances in recent decades are merely alliances to protect its electoral, legislative and parliamentary positions. The ideological factor is missing. The doyen of the Indian socialist movement, Acharya Narendra Deva, had anticipated this when he once chided the Congress for opening its doors to former members of the RSS and the Muslim League. The Jana Sangh and then the BJP alliances have also had electoral and legislative objects. But the Hindutva organisations have taken care to protect and even strengthen their ideological position as well. The recent BJP alliance with the BSP in Uttar Pradesh is being resented by saffron cadres precisely on the ground that a blank cheque has been given to Mayawati.

Alliances are necessary and are often made in politics. But if alliances made between a tradition that led the struggle for freedom and other traditions result in erasure of vital ideological positions this cannot but have consequences for the country. When Indira Gandhi's Congress faction came together with the CPI after 1969 the Union Education Ministry presently went to Nurul Hasan. Historiography was placed largely in the hands of well-intentioned but uni-dimensional historians analytically oriented towards the pre-independence CPI. The Congress-CPI alliance was probably necessary. But its impact on the intellectual front was not well worked out by the two sides and was skewed. These historians wrote in an age when they were tempted to assume that the Congress dominance would be there forever or, if replaced, would be replaced only by a formation in which the Left would play a major role. They, therefore, concerned themselves primarily with the vindication of the pre-Independence CPI, or variations upon this theme. Congress, including socialist, history — for example, the Congress and Congress Socialist role in creating and advancing the all-India peasant movements — went by default. Political training for Indian nationalism was neglected.

The Congress as an organisation hardly took note of what was happening with its own support. Today the effects of this can be noticed in the cultural sphere as well. Urdu poets like Saghar Nizami who stood up for India in the 1940s are largely forgotten. Other poets who backed sectarian movements are considered definitionally and pre-emptively progressive by virtue of their membership of the Progressive Writers' Association. Similarly, after 1989 when the Congress justly incorporated Ambedkar also into its ideological pantheon, it so forgot itself that famous Dalit leaders such as Juglal Chaudhury and Chaudhri Beharilal who had supported the Congress since the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1920 and who had repeatedly been imprisoned in the freedom movement were largely eliminated from national historical memory. While the Congress has been willing, even if by default, to erase its ideological heritage, the BJP has throughout not only protected its own but has also sought to build up a basis for it, albeit often a synthetic one.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Hamza Alavi circulated a paper seeking to furnish an explanation of the Pakistan movement as one reflecting primarily the perceptions and interests of "Muslim professionals and the salariat" of northern India. The thesis had an appreciable circulation. If scrutinised closely, it gives rise to several questions. From the point of view of the Muslims in India, their chief concerns apart from security of life and property, remain education and employment. So if the Alavi thesis were accepted, the Pakistan movement in northern India failed to solve the very problem for which it had received support in the 1940s.

Anglocentric writings, which were tied to British foreign policy and strategic objectives and continued to exercise influence in the South Asian former colonies, suffered from a dichotomy with respect to Indian nationalism. They critiqued Indian nationalism. But they did not adequately critique the Muslim separatism which evolved into Pakistani nationalism. The result was that most dissidents or opponents of Indian nationalism were glorified, while the Muslim opponents of Muslim separatism and of Pakistani nationalism were barely mentioned. These contrary voices, like those represented by Allah Baksh, were sought to be silenced, as were the subaltern and artisan voices among the Muslims. This was although the doubts expressed through these voices stood vindicated by history so far as the interests of Muslims within post-Partition India were concerned. These voices have also acquired a renewed resonance in the context of prospects for enhanced cooperation within South Asia. Indian scholarship, however, largely failed to challenge the Anglocentric dichotomy. This was partly because the dominant scholarship in India since the 1970s, being overly self-conscious about the specific line which the CPI took on Pakistan in the 1940s, could not decide whether to challenge or to reinforce the Anglocentric dichotomy. Even when it discussed these voices it could portray them only as victims of Indian nationalism. There were outstanding exceptions. Santimoy Ray's `Freedom Movement And Indian Muslims', published by People's Publishing House in 1979, had presented the relevant facts not only on this but also on considerable subaltern involvement in the national movement since 1919. But this work was not followed up in the same spirit.

Since many of the contrary voices, like those of Allah Baksh, represented the unifying tendency within India, their muffling has fed Hindutva. Savarkar's portrait now occupies the space created partly by this Anglocentric elimination.

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