Growth of Communalism

Growth of Communalism in India

Along with the growth of nationalism the communal feeling also got stronger towards late 19th century and early 20th century. Communalism soon became one of the biggest threats to national movement and the unity of the people in India.

Definition and Stages of Communalism

Communalism is basically an ideology on which communal politics is based. Communalism believes that the people of different religions have different interests in political and economic matters. Communalism or communal ideology consists of three basic elements or stages, one following the other.

Communal Nationalism - First, it is the belief that people who follow the same religion have common secular interests, that is, common political, economic, social and cultural interests.

Liberal Communalism - The second element of communal ideology rests on the notion that in multi-religious society like India, the secular interests, that is the social, cultural, economic and political interests, of the followers of one religion are dissimilar and divergent from the interests of the followers of another.

Extreme Communalism - The third stage of communalism is reached when the interests of the followers of different religions or of different communities are seen to be mutually incompatible, antagonistic and hostile.

Communalism in India

Thus, the communalist asserts the third stage that Hindus and Muslims cannot have common secular interests, that their secular interests are bound to be opposed to each other.

It was also at this stage that both the Muslim and Hindu communalists put forward the theory that Muslims and Hindus constituted separate nations whose mutual antagonism was permanent and irresolvable.

Most of the communalists before 1937 the Hindu Mahasabha, the Muslim League, the All Brothers after 1925, M.A. Jinnah, Madan Mohan Malaviya, Lajpat Rai, and N.C. Kelkar after 1922 functioned within a liberal communal framework. However, after 1937 they increasingly veered towards extreme communalism.

Reasons for Growth of Communalism in India

Socio-economic Reasons

  • As a result of underdevelopment due to colonial policies, there was lack of industrial development.
  • Thus unemployment had become a major problems and there was intense competition for existing jobs.
  • Because of the economic backwardness of India and rampant unemployment, there was ample scope for the colonial government to use concessions, favours and reservations to fuel communal tendencies.
  • It was easy for those desperately searching for jobs to fall prey to this colonial policy.
  • The British officials and the loyalist Muslim leaders incited the educated Muslims against the educated Hindus.

British Policy of Divide and Rule

  • Muslims were generally looked upon with suspicion initially, especially after the Wahabi and 1857 revolts, and were subjected to discrimination by the Government.
  • The introduction of English education had undermined Arabic and Persian learning which added further to the economic backwardness and exclusion of the Muslims from service.
  • After the 1870s, with signs of the emergence of Indian nationalism the Government reversed its policy of repression of Muslims.
  • Now the government decided to rally them behind it through concessions, reservations and favours, and used them against nationalist forces.
  • The Government used persons like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to counter the growing influence of the Congress.

Communalism in History Writing

  • Initially imperialist historians and later some chauvinist Indian historians adopted the communal interpretation of Indian history.
  • They portrayed the ancient phase as the Hindu phase and the medieval phase as the Muslim phase.
  • The conflicts of ruling classes during the medieval phase were distorted and exaggerated as Hindu-Muslim conflicts.
  • It was in the interest of the British to refuse to acknowledge the notion of a composite culture in India.

Side-effects of socio-religious reform movements

  • Reform movements such as Wahabi Movement among Muslims and Shuddhi among Hindus with their militant overtones made the role of religion more vulnerable to communalism.
  • Reforms, at times, were seen as a process of insulating one community from the influence of another religious community.

Side-effects of militant nationalism

  • The early nationalists made conscious efforts to remove minority fears. E.g. the decision of the Congress not to raise socio-religious questions in its forums.
  • In 1889, the Congress decided not to take up any issue opposed by the Muslims.
  • Later, with the coming of militant nationalism, a distinct Hindu nationalist tinge was palpable in the nationalist politics.
  • For instance, Tilak's Ganapati and Shivaji festivals and anti-cow slaughter campaigns created much suspicion.
  • Aurobindo's vision of an Aryanised world, Swadeshi Movement with elements like dips in the Ganga and revolutionary terrorism with oath-taking before goddesses were hardly likely to enthuse Muslims into these campaigns in a big way.
  • The communal element in the Lucknow Pact (1916) and the Khilafat agitation (1920-22) was too visible to be of insignificant consequences.

Communal Reaction by Majority community

  • The minority communalism met with a reaction from the majority community
  • From the 1870s itself, many Zamindars and moneylenders began to give expression to anti-Muslim sentiments.
  • They went to an extent to declare that the British had liberated the land from Muslim tyranny and saved the Hindus from oppressive rule of Muslims.
  • Many organisations were set up to promote communal outlook such as the Hindu Mahasabha (established in 1915) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS established in 1925).

The Growth of communalism in India in 20th century

Partition of Bengal

  • The partition of Bengal (1905) may have started as an administrative measure, but actual motive behind this move was to convert BengaI into areas of Hindu majority and Muslim majority.
  • As the partition was in favor of Muslims they welcomed it, whereas the Hindu's were not in favor of it.
  • It was thus the result of the British desire to weaken the nationalism of Bengal and consolidate a Muslim block against it.

Formation of Muslim League

  • The partition scheme and the subsequent Swadeshi Movement were followed by the formation of the All India Muslim League towards the end of 1906, with official patronage.
  • It consisted of a group of big Zamindars, ex-bureaucrats and other upper class Muslims, like Aga Khan, the Nawab of Dacca and Nawab Mosin-ul-Mulk.
  • Its motive was to thwart the young Muslims from going over to the Congress, and thereby into the nationalist fold.
  • The Muslim League was formed as purely a loyalist body whose only job was to look up to the government for favour and patronage. And they were not disappointed.


  • The declaration of separate-electorates in the legislative bodies in 1909, as a part of the Morley-Minto reforms is a major landmark in the history of communalism.
  • Separate electorates meant grouping of constituencies, voters and elected candidates on the basis of religion.
  • In practical terms it meant introducing Muslims constituencies, Muslim voters and Muslim candidates.
  • It also meant that non-Muslim voter could vote for a Muslim candidate.
  • The election campaign and politicisation was thus strictly confined within the walls of each religion.
  • All this was to have disastrous consequences.

Lucknow Pact

  • Lucknow Pact (1916) was an attempt made by the Indian organisations, namely the Congress and Muslim League, to arrive at a settlement.
  • The Congress conceded separate electorates as a temporary arrangement, in order to obtain Muslim League's support.

Khilafat issue

  • The Khilafat agitation was a product of a particular political climate where Indian nationalism and Pan-Islamism went hand in hand.
  • It witnessed Muslims' participation in the national movement at an unprecedented level.
  • However, communalism started making inroads into Indian politics and society, just after the withdrawal of the Non-Cooperation Movement

Jinnah's demands

  • The arrival of the Simon Commission and its near unanimous boycott by all sections of political opinion, once again provided an opportunity for unity.
  • A section of the Muslim League, under the leadership of Jinnah was willing to give up separate-electorates in favour of joint-electorates, if certain conditions were met.
  • Their demands were accepted by the Congress.
  • But its rejection in uncompromising terms by the Hindu Mahasabha in the All Party Conference (1928) complicated the matter.
  • The Nehru Report was rejected by the Muslim League as it did not incorporate all their demands.
  • It led to the estrangement of Jinnah who called it a 'Parting of the Ways' with the Congress.
  • He went back to the separate-electorates and formulated his famous fourteen points which became the text of the communal demands.

Towards a mass base

  • Soon this drifting apart was to reach a point of no return.
  • This was the starting point of communalism transforming into an irresistible mass force.
  • Post 1937 election and dismal performance of Muslim League, a massive campaign for the popularization of the League was launched by Jinnah.
  • The Muslim League actually broke out of its elite shell and began to acquire a mass character.
  • By 1940, all the communal demands were to pale into insignificance in front of the new demand-the demand for Pakistan, as a separate homeland for Muslims.

Demand for Pakistan

  • In 1940, at the Lahore session, Jinnah came up with the two-nation theory.
  • It said that Muslims were not a minority, they were a nation.
  • Hindus and Muslims, consisted of two nations, as they were different people economically, politically, socially, culturally and historically.
  • Therefore the Muslims of India should have a sovereign state for themselves. Hence lie proposal for Pakistan as a separate homeland for Muslims.
  • This demand was finally achieved in 1947.

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