Formation of Muslim League and start of communal politics

Formation of Muslim League and start of communal politics

This article deals with ‘ Formation of Muslim League and start of communal politics– UPSC.’ This is part of our series on ‘Modern History’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here


Mainstream Indian nationalism was growing under aegis of Indian National Congress but it failed to maintain its separation from blooming Hindu nationalism . This trend was first contested by Muslims.

How Muslims got unified ?

  1. By end of 19th century , Muslims were  by no means a homogeneous community . There were important differences  in position & composition in whole of India . But colonial authorities while defining indigenous society for administrative management ignored such demographic diversity  & finer distinctions in regional philosophical orientations of South Asian Islam were also ignored . An image of homogeneous religiopolitical community was conjured up. Muslim population also began to look themselves through colonial image of being unified  &  cohesive & segregated from the Hindus .
  2. Indian colonial census made religion its fundamental ethnographic category for classifying demographic & developmental data . Religion did no longer mean just a set of ideas but came to be identified with an aggregate of individuals united by formal official definition . Colonial knowledge of a redefined religion was incorporated into every structure that was created , every opportunity that it offered to colonial subjects – from educational facilities , public employment , representation in local self government bodies to legislative council

So far as All India Muslim politics was concerned , its leadership & main impetus came in late 19th century  from U.P. ( previously NW Province and Awadh) & to lesser extent from Bengal

Muslims in Bengal and North India : Differences

1 . Bengali Muslims

  • Highly fragmented group & vaguely united by a common allegiance to  essentials of Islamic faith
  • There was considerable economic difference within the community
Ashraf (Rich) Urban
Urdu speaking elites representing the foreign  culture & boosted of their foreign origin .
– They tried to preserve Awadh & Delhi court culture

Bengali Speaking Mofussil Landlords
– They were closer to Bengali speaking peasantry in their language , culture, manners & customs
Ajlaf (poor) Bengali speaking peasantry
– Mainly residing in the swampy low lying areas of east Bengal

But Issue was

  • Muslim community in Bengal unlike Hindus lacked a sizeable educated professional intermediary group which could close the hiatus between two sections of their population. Hence, a divide remained between  ajlafs & ashrafs
  % Muslim in govt jobs % Hindus in govt jobs
1871 5.1 41

Changes from early 19th century

  • Distinct Muslim culture started to develop at mass level through Islamic Reform Movements . These movements started to islamise & Arabicise the culture , language & daily habits of Muslim peasants by purging  whatever they thought to be unislamic . This gave lower Ajlaf a sense of social mobility & they could think of their mythical foreign origin. This certainly helped in political mobilization & strengthening their arguments of separate Muslim interests 

2. North Indian Muslims

  • Here situation was slightly different . This was centre of Mughal rule & Muslim elite constituted privileged minority which was gradually losing ground to Hindus
  • There were some large land magnates like Taluqdars of Awadh.  They were well represented in administrative jobs . But when Britishers changed official language to English from Persian , Muslims began to loose ground to Hindus who were able to adapt to situations fastly than Muslims
Year % Muslim in subordinate jobs % Hindus in subordinate jobs
1857 64 24
1886 46 50
1915 35 60

Polarization of Muslims in Bengal

  • Although in beginning Bengali Muslim elites demanded a fair field & not exclusive privileges . They gradually changed their position & in this they were encouraged by colonial bureaucracy . Government also endorsed the policy of political exigency of rallying the Muslims as a counterpoise against the rising tide of Indian nationalism which was predominantly Hindu in participation . This policy was finally institutionalised in the partition of Bengal
  • Earlier only urban elite was politically motivated & active but around 1905 in major towns of Bengal local Anjumans were formed in which close collaboration was formed between urban mass & Mullahs. These mullahs spread their message to villages & forged link between urban elite & rural masses .
  • Because of Hindu revivalism & cow protection movement, fault lines were reinforced in North India . These reached in Bengal & culminated in riots of Titagarh, Talla  by end of 19th century .
  • Social separation of two communities was further politicized by Swadeshi leaders by frequently using Hindu religious symbols & coercing Muslim peasants to observe boycott . Not all the Muslims were separatist or loyalist in beginning but Swadeshi movement soon put on them the unmistakable stamp of otherness
  • Elite  conflicts over jobs which were very scarce in moribund colonial Indian economy

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s Movement

  • Started a modernisation movement among the  muslims & founded for this purpose the Mohammedan Anglo Oriental College in Aligarh in 1875 because after revolt of 1857, he found deterioration of condition of Muslims 
  • His political philosophy revolved around the idea that Indian society was an aggregate of contending groups (Quams) brought together by a superior power which previously was Mughal emperor & now is Queen Victoria .The muslims as an ex ruling class were entitled to a separate position in authority & power in this new Cosmopolitan British empire . But for this they must educate themselves, acquire new skills which would empower them to assert themselves within new institutional setup of colonial india
  • His idea of being muslim was not opposed to idea of being Indian but he didn’t visualise India as a nation based on individual citizenship , for him it was a federation of qaums or ethnic communities based on common descent. it was here his philosophy differed with Congress which imagined India as a nation based on individual citizen’s rights
  • Sir Syed’s Aligarh college was a profoundly political enterprise to construct  &  consolidate among its muslim students the mentality of belonging to quam. Its curriculum  blended  Muslim theology with 19th century European empiricism that would prepare the new generation of Muslims for the advantage & opportunities of British rule
  • He started his career as champion of Hindu -Muslim unity but later changed his stance and said that Hindu & Muslims were not only two nations but two warring nations who could never lead a common political life . The Anglo-Indian administrators were quick to respond to these apprehensions & strove to divide a wedge between the Hindus & Muslims . The three English Principles of MAO College ie Beck, Morrison & Archbold gave  pro-British & Anti-Hindu bias to Aligarh Movement. Hence, it was through British support, above all, that ‘a man whose religious views were so unorthodox that the majority of his co-religionists branded him an infidel was raised up as the advocate of his community’
  • The other vehicle to spread Sir Syed’s message was Mohammedan Educational Conference which met every year since 1886 at different cities all over India . This was in direct opposition to Congress which he thought was an attempt to organise & consolidate the Hindu majority over Muslim minority . This majority phobia increased further because of cow killing riots in 1893 & hindu demand for legal ban on cow slaughter & Congress silence about it
  • However, Sir Sayyid’s leadership was never universally accepted in the north Indian Muslim community. The ulama certainly did not like his thrust towards westernisation.

(Note – The initial British support for Aligarh was due not so much to the need for a counterpoise against Congress-type nationalism (which was not yet much of a threat), but to official fears concerning certain other trends within Indian Islam—the so-called ‘fanaticism‘ and anti-foreign mentality preached by some religious leaders, which often seemed to find a ready response among what Peter Hardy has described as the ‘pre-industrial lower middle class of petty landholders, countrytown mullahs, teachers, booksellers, small shopkeepers, minor officials and skilled artisans men literate in the vernacular   quick to be seized by religious passion.’ )

Other points about Sir Syed

  • He reinterpreted Quran in the context of the modern thinking as he considered the holy book as the only authoritative text to materialize his goals. He called upon Muslims to forego their orthodoxy
  • Social reformer – he persistently opposed practices like polygamy, subordinate position of woman in Muslim society , raised voice in support of woman education , opposed purdah system

Before formation of Muslim League

Before the formation of Muslim league , number of organisations for the protection of Muslim interests were formed

1888 Syed Ahmad Khan formed United India Patriotic Organisation (UIPO)
– Lord Dufferin fearing that a Muslim has become President of Congress now Muslims will join congress called upon Sir Syed Ahmed khan to keep Muslims away from congress
– He formed United India Patriotic Organisation and influenced Muslims to join it rather than congress
1893 With the help of Principle of Aligarh College (Theodore Beck) , Sir Syed formed Anglo Indian Mohammedan Defence Organisation
1899 Urdu Defence Organisation was formed to defend Urdu

Formation of Muslim league

  • Because of reasons enumerated earlier – Bengali Muslims were coming closer to North Indian Muslims since 1899 , but events of 1906 brought them even closer
    • In Eastern Bengal , Lt Governor Bampfylde resigned & he was pro partition & pro muslim.  Since Boycott-Swadeshi movement was at its full momentum, there were chances that decision of partition would be reversed
    • In 1906 , SoS Lord Morley in his budget speech indicated representative government in India . This alarmed Muslim leaders across the board as they thought the new self government body would be swayed by Hindu majority
  • Shimla deputation (Oct 1906) with Lord Minto – petition drafted by Aligarh leaders  (No Bengali Leader was there in Deputation) depicted Muslims  as separate community with political interests different from those of Hindus & demanded their legitimate right to Proportional representation . Success of deputation was morale booster to muslim politics . 35 delegates at Shimla Deputation decided to organise the community for independent political action
  • Next annual meet of Mohammedan  Educational Conference was in Dec 1906 in Dacca . There was already a proposal from Nawab Salimullah of  Dacca about formation of a political party for Muslims . In the annual conference of MEC on 30dec 1906 All India Muslim league was formed with  its professed goal of
    1. Safeguarding political rights & interests of Muslims
    2. To preach loyalty to Muslims  towards British Government
    3. To further cause of inter communal amity
  • Three persons instrumental in formation of ML were
    1. Nawab of Dacca (Salimullah)
    2. Aga Khan  – First President
    3. Nawab Mohsin ul Mulk
  • Headquarters – Lucknow
  • Between 1907-1909 , Provincial Muslim league was formed in all major Provinces & they enjoyed liberty to frame their own constitutions . Its London branch was inaugurated in  1908 by Syed Amir Ali & it played significant role in shaping the constitutional reform of 1909 ie granting separate electorate for Muslims.  This  provided an official legitimacy to their minority status

Hindu Communal Parties

  • From 1870s – Hindu Zamindars , Landlords & other rich people began to arouse anti muslim feelings
  • They accepted the flawed history written by Britishers –  Medieval Period was muslim period & tyrannical
  • Save Hindu from Muslim cry
  • Hindi vs Urdu Controversy : These Hindu nationalists gave it communal touch by declaring Urdu to be language of Muslims & Hindi to be language of Hindus

1 . Punjab Hindu Sabha

  • Founded in 1909
  • Attacked Congress arguing that  Hindu & Muslims are separate nations
  • Hindu should team up with Britishers in their fight against Muslims
  • Leaders : LAL CHAND (declared he is Hindu first & Indian later) 

2. All India Hindu Mahasabha

  • First session held in 1915 under Presidentship of Maharaja of Kasim Bazaar
  • Remained overall a weak organisation (compared to ML) because greater weight of secular intelligentsia behind INC . Also Britishers gave lesser concessions to them compared to Muslim communalists When Muslim league was demanding Pakistan . They were demanding Akhand Hindustan
  • This attitude of Hindu Mahasabha hardened Muslim fundamentalists further

Main Leaders of All India Hindu Mahasabha

MM Malviya

  • Mohammedans & Christians are converting Hindus  from centuries – Majority of Muslims in India are  Hindus who converted to Islam
  • Muslims have larger representation than they fairly deserve – need to organise Hindus to counter that
  • Behind Shudhi & Sanghatan Movements
  • Since INC is political organisation , he tried to represent it as Socio-Cultural movement of Hindus

VD Savarkar

  • Came after 1938
  • Wanted to create Hindu Rashtra(nothing to do with Hindustan ) – Muslims can live here but as minorities

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