“Let all the world know that the Indian Muslims are not a minority, as the term is understood in European politics. Excepting these differences in religious creed, there is nothing that can distinguish a Hindu from a Muslim.” Rezaul Karim, a freedom fighter from Bengal, wrote these words in his popular book Pakisthan Examined with the Partition Schemes written in 1941 to convince Indian Muslims against the demand of Pakistan made by Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Muslim League.
It is a tragedy of the Indian history writing that while a lot of space has been given to Muslims supporting Muslim League, the Indian Muslims who fought for an United India against the divisive politics of Jinnah were either forgotten or remained at the margins of our history books. The popular historiography lands us into a belief that except for Maulana Abul Kalam Azad no other Indian Muslim leader was fighting against the partition of India. The truth is far from this misconstructed notion. Maulana Husain Ahmad Madni, Allah Bux Somroo, Khwaja Abdul Hamied and Allama Mashriqi were few of those popular leaders who were ready to take militant measures to stop the partition of India.
Rezaul Karim, born at Birbhum (West Bengal), was a natioanlist Bengali Muslim leader who devoted his life to fight against the communal divisive politics. Today, our textbooks do not mention his name as among the founder of the nation. Karim wrote extensively in Bengali and English throughout his life to inculcate feelings of nationalism and Hindu-Muslim unity among the Bengali Muslims. His bookFor India and Islam argued how Islam and Indian nationalism were not in contradiction. When Vande Mataram written by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay was universally accepted as a communal issue, Karim dared to write Bankimchandrar Nikat Musalmaner Rin, a Bengali essay defending Bankim’s writings as anti-colonial and not being anti-Muslim.
In 1940, after the Lahore Resolution was adopted by Muslim League Karim wrote Pakistan Examined with the Partition Schemes to counter the idea of Pakistan. Karim argued that the idea that Hindus and Muslims are two distinct nations was ahistorical. Neilesh Bose of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, writes, “Rezaul Karim developed a Bengali Muslim composite nationalism that aimed to connect religion, region and nation in the context of a subjunctive, possible future India.”
At the very outset of the book, Karim attacked the intentions of Muslim League leaders by saying, “Strange to say that all those persons who have always supported British imperialism in India, have become now the advocates of the Pakistan movement. But those Muslims who always supported the freedom movement of the country are almost to a man stoutly against this movement” He countered the argument that historically the region north of river Yamuna was distinct from other parts of India. Karim showed that from the times of Alexander till Mughals and the British Punjab and North West Frontier Provinces were part of India. In his view, if partitioning the land on the basis of religion was natural then it should have been done by medieval rulers. Instead, during medieval times Hindus and Muslims united behind rulers belonging to either religion.
Karim believed that the partition plan was nothing but a culmination of what started off as the partition of Bengal and separate electorates. For him the idea of global Muslims as citizens of one nation was fictitious. He wrote, “the belief that Moslims of the world are of one nation, is only a fiction, an imaginary ideal which was never realised in practice, and will never be done so. Moslims outside India disown us as their kith and kin, they hate us as foreigners, they neglect us because of our slavery, and if they are placed in power, they will subjugate us, humiliate us like foreign conqueror. Why should we then allow ourselves to be subjugated by a foreign Power on the ground that that power is a Moslim Power. Therefore our position in India is just the same as it is with the Hindus of the land. We belong to India, and we are one nation with the people of the land.”
Minority rights, in Karim’s view, were nothing but a tool to divide the nation. There could be several groups who would claim these minority rights thus, “minority protection in the ultimate analysis is not the protection of the Muslim interests ; it is the vivisection of India into various groups, sub-groups and parties so that any coherent action by the combined forces of the people will not be possible in India. Therefore minority interest does not mean Muslim interest. Minorities are always minorities; they can never be made majorities.”
Karim asked the Indian Muslims to rally behind a united India and reject divisive communal politics of Muslim League. He wrote:
“I take pride in India in all her past glories and honours. Robbed in splendour and dignity let our common mother regain once more her former freedom and majesty. Let India be our motherland in the truest sense of the term. All that grew on its broad bosom is our inheritance. Its Vedas, its Upanishads, its Rama, Sita, its Ramayana, and Mahabharat, its Krishna and Gita, its Asoka and Akbar, its Kalidas and Amir Khusru, its Aurangzeb and Dara, its Rana Pratap and Sitaram—all are our own inheritance. None of them is alien to us—Muslims, — or alien to our civilization and culture. Whatever is bad in it or whatever is good in it — all belongs to me. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis, Sikhs whatever community resides in India are brothers to me. With them I form one undivided nation and with them I fall and with them I rise. My fate has been linked up inseparably with the rest of India. Therefore we the Hindus and Moslims and other communities should stand before our Mother India in love and veneration and show respect to her. Our unhappy mother is in bondage and we should liberate her and make her free, happy and contented. Let us welcome the New India that is coming—the New India that is emerging out of the debris of one hundred and fifty years of foreign domination. Let us all salute our noble Mother India—not southern India and northern India, not Hindu India and Moslim India, but India as a whole, undivided India in its entirety—India the Universal mother of all civilization, and culture. Let us not partition our Motherland India, and cut to pieces the nerve-centre of her very existence. Let her remain one and undivided, and a single whole, so that we may call her children our own brothers, the bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. And there lies our salvation.”