The seeds of discord
Meeta Rajivlochan

Identity and religion: Foundations of Anti-Islamism in India
by Amalendu Misra.
Sage Publications, New Delhi. Pages 262. Rs 295.

The conclusion of this book is that the government should ensure dialogue between the leaders of the Hindus and the Muslim to reduce hostility. Having been part of the conduct of such dialogues, I can say that confabulations have a limited value. There is always that one man, group or political party, which insists, often without basis, that it has been slighted and would therefore want to break someone else’s head, burn property and, in general, create nuisance. Whenever we allow him leeway, we pave the way for greater communal disharmony with everyone else feeling helpless while the town burns and the mortuary fills up.

We have sufficient evidence that most Indian administrators have the power to prevent lawlessness, so while people continue with their discussion about how bad the others are, at least it is ensured that only hot air is shed and not blood.

There is nothing in the book that Misra has written to warrant his conclusion, yet it has to be taken seriously, since it claims ancestry in the ideas of important academics like Bhiku Parekh, Sudipta Kaviraj, Thomas Pantham, Gurpreet Mahajan, Pushpesh Pant and others. If it also has their imprimatur, then one would have to begin thinking of a Da Vinci Code kind of secret society of academics for hating the Muslims, of which Misra’s book is only the first public articulation.

Misra’s book is the kind of tract that provides academic legitimacy to the communal arguments by the anti-Muslim ideologues of India. Most statements it makes are completely fantastic. There is much assertion without adequate information and virtually no effort to establish the context of ideas. And there is no effort to take into cognizance any information that says contrary to what Misra wants to establish. Pieces of statements by Vivekananda, Gandhi, Nehru and Savarkar tell us about the recognition in the writings of these men of the hostility between the two communities.

Misra tells us that India is a country dominated by the Hindus. The Muslims were hostile to this community during their rule and subsequently have been dominated. The Brahmins were completely dominated by the Muslim rulers; as such, Brahmin thinkers have been more hostile to Islam than have been members of the other castes.

Hindu nationalism could not emerge during the rule of Muslim kings because they controlled the power and military. Islam was an aggressive religion, which did not allow any other power to emerge. Some of the Hindus were attracted to Islam, even to the extent of getting converted, but Swami Vivekananda argues that Islam was just as dogmatic as Hinduism.

The greatness of Hinduism was its spiritual strength, that of the Muslims was their physical strength, says Misra. Therefore the best nationalism in India could have been one in which both qualities were married to each other. This was the message of Vivekananda’s Vedanta, he says. It was through Vedanta that the Muslims could be best integrated with the Hindus: the body of Islam and the mind of Vedanta.

Gandhi, Misra asserts, was responsible for laying the seeds of separatist aspirations among the Muslims. The source for this fantastic statement is Ved Mehta’s rather salacious book on Gandhi and his apostles. It’s another matter that the USP of Mehta’s eminently forgettable book was a description of all women whom Gandhi bedded, and Gandhi’s interaction with the Muslims is only tangential to Mehta’s concerns.

Without providing any fresh evidence, Misra argues "Gandhi had disparaging attitudes towards both Muslim rule and Islam in the historical process". So why was he so much more accommodating to the Muslim aspirations? Because, according to Misra, "although Islam is incompatible, one has to find ways to accommodate it in India, or else, given its past record, any denial would only end in further blood-shed".

Both Nehru and Savarkar noticed that many Indians had suffered at the hands of Islam, but since Muslims could not be removed from society, mechanism had to be found to integrate them with the increasingly Hindu dominated society. The only hitch was that Islam demanded an allegiance that transcended the nation and culture.

Given such intense, historically rooted hostility between the Hindus and the Muslims, Misra recommends that the state should get religious leaders of the two communities together for a dialogue.