For more than thirty years before British left India, Muslims faced the great dilemma due to differing attitudes of Hindu leadership within the main political Congress party . A few extremist Hindu leaders, outside Congress, advocated that Muslim rulers had exploited Hindus during eight hundred years of Muslim rule and India should aim to return to its ancient glory of a Hindu nation. Many political leaders within the Congress party, though not considered to be the hardliners, yet they felt uncomfortable with Muslim participation in the political process.
The Hindu Mahasabha leader Lala Lajpat Rai was among the first few leaders who demanded to bifurcate India separating the Muslim and non-Muslim populations.
He wrote in The Tribune of 14 December 1924, “Under my scheme, Muslims will have four Muslim States: The Pathan Province or the North-West Frontier; The Western Punjab, Sindh and Eastern Bengal. If there are small Muslim communities in any other part of India, sufficiently large to form a province, they should be similarly constituted. But it should be distinctly understood that this is not a united India. It means a clear partition of India into a Muslim India and a non-Muslim India.”
Many Muslim leaders including Mohammad Ali Jinnah, disenchanted by the attitude of Hindu leadership, joined the Muslim league. The two-nation theory was encouraged by leading intellectuals such as Allama Iqbal and the idea of a separate Muslim nation gained momentum and thus Pakistan was born on 14 August 1947.
The partition resulted in violent migration of millions of people across the borders resulting in killing of more than one million people.
Following the partition, democracy flourished in India, sound political institutions were established and the country made significant progress in many sectors. Industrial growth was encouraged and a few reputable educational institutions produced competent technical personnel.
Pakistan was not so lucky as it faced leadership struggle over the years which led to multiple coups by Military dictators. Yet, Pakistanis enjoyed better living standards, thanks to the fertile land of Punjab province and remittances from very large workforce who went to rich gulf states to work. In India, a very large section of population continued to live under extreme poverty.
Muslims in India failed to prosper after partition. As a large percentage of better educated Muslims in North India migrated to Pakistan, they became socio-economically weak and demoralised. Hindus were hostile to them as they blamed Muslims for partition.
Yet, the secular credentials of India had some strength and in general Muslims enjoyed freedom despite being discriminated at times. Regular communal riots also harmed them significantly, yet Muslims treated India as their motherland where they would live despite some difficulties.
In 1971, the Bengalis of East Pakistan, angered by the domination of leaders of West Pakistan sought a separate nation and India helped them in creating Bangladesh after the defeat of Pakistani army in East Pakistan.
In West Pakistan too, Muslim migrants from India faced discrimination from locals, in particular from Punjabis and Sindhis. They were called Muhajirs (immigrants) even after living in Pakistan for more than three decades.
This led to the foundation of Muhajir Qaumi Movement in 1984. Serious violence erupted for many years as MQM gained political strength and demanded equal rights for themselves. From 1992 to 1994, the MQM was the target of the Pakistan Army’s Operation Clean-up.
The period is regarded as the bloodiest period in Karachi’s history, with thousands of MQM workers and supporters killed or gone missing.
Indian Muslims felt disturbed by events in Pakistan and felt that their elders had made the right decision by not going to Pakistan.
However at the same time, the right wing Hindu political party BJP started gaining strength. It won its first two seats in the parliament in 1984. BJP leader LK Advani started a campaign to build the temple of Lord Rama at the site of Babri Mosque built by Moghul Emperor Babar in the north Indian city of Ayodhya.
Advani’s campaign led to heightened tension among Hindus and Muslims, resulting in widespread riots in many cities. Eventually, the mosque was demolished by Hindu extremists in 1992 and this was followed by violence against Muslims across the country, killing thousands of them. Encouraged by electoral victories, BJP continued to promote its Hindutva agenda, the call to make India a Hindu nation.
The secular Congress party was still strong and it won a few elections despite BJP giving tough fights. In the State of Gujrat, the BJP elected Narendra Modi as the chief Minister after winning the State election.
Modi took Hindu agenda to a new height as he allowed RSS leaders to mastermind the worst communal riots in Indian history in 2002. International Human Rights agencies and US government took notice of gross violation of human rights of the Muslim minority. US banned Narendra Modi under a law passed in 1998 that makes foreign officials responsible for “severe violations of religious freedom” ineligible for visas. Mr Modi is the only person ever denied a visa to the US under this provision.
In India however, Narendra Modi’s rise within BJP was surprising for many as he eclipsed many senior leaders to be chosen the leader of the party. He became the Prime Minister in 2014 following a landslide electoral win for BJP.
The Hindu Nationalist party officials and workers across India took liberty and launched fresh campaigns against Muslims at various fronts. They were beaten up and killed under various pretexts such as if a Muslim boy married a Hindu girl, calling it love Jihad. Muslims were regularly killed, often falsely blaming them for slaughtering cows, a sacred animal for Hindus.
The controversial Tilaq Bill was passed which would jail Muslim men for pronouncing Tilaq three times at one instant.
As BJP again led by Modi won the second term in 2019, anti-Muslim policies gained momentum. The state of Jammu & Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan was annexed through a parliamentary Act in August 2019, putting the Kashmir valley under oppressive military lockdown.
Finally India’s supreme court came up with the final verdict in favour of Hindus to build the Rama temple on the grounds of the raised Babri Masjid in December 2019.
A new Bill seeking fresh evidence of Indian citizenship excluded Muslims from any concession which would result in millions of Muslims stateless came into effect towards the end of 2019.
Even during Corona pandemic, Muslims were blamed for spreading the virus following a religious gathering in Delhi as a few of the attendees tested positive.
The hatred, intimidation and persecution of Muslims has become intolerable in India lately. As Muslims are feeling increasingly insecure, they now feel that Pakistan would have provided them secured future if their forefathers had migrated to Pakistan.
Some among intelligentsia advocate that if India was not divided in 1947, Muslims in India would be close to 40 percent of the population. Such a number would not allow Hindus to exploit Muslims, as they would be equal rivals and Muslims would have much stronger political representation, disallowing Hindu extremists to gain the upper hand.
I always held an opinion that the partition was in fact the division of Muslims into three nations which weakened Muslims and created a particularly difficult situation for Muslims in India. The debate is likely to continue in future as the crisis for Muslims is expected to worsen in India.