The Congress-BJP connection

September 19, 2019

September 17 marked the 71st anniversary of the forced annexation in 1948 of the princely state of predominantly Hindu-populated but Muslim-ruled Hyderabad Deccan. The takeover was by the Indian...

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September 17 marked the 71st anniversary of the forced annexation in 1948 of the princely state of predominantly Hindu-populated but Muslim-ruled Hyderabad Deccan. The takeover was by the Indian state under a Congress Party central government.

On August 5, 2019 the disputed territory of predominantly Muslim Kashmir was annexed by the same Indian state – now ruled by the Hindutva-driven BJP.

Ostensibly, the Congress Party was/is a secular party. Yet a Hindu communal psyche is a principal formative influence on the Congress, and exerts decisive pressure at pivotal moments. Mr Jinnah recognized this reality at an early stage. He strengthened the Muslim League to safeguard Muslims against Hindu majoritarianism masked by secular pretensions. One – though not the only – reason for the lack of effective political challenge by Congress to the August 5 action is that a major Congress segment tacitly endorses the suppression of Muslim-majority Kashmir.

In 1948, the Congress covertly stoked ferment among Hindus in Hyderabad Deccan where, in general, communal harmony existed despite gross imbalances between the two communities. Eighty-five percent Hindus were ruled by a Muslim Nizam from about 14 percent Muslims, the rest comprising small minorities including Sikhs and Parsis. This lop-sidedness began about seven hundred years earlier and abided through successive sultanates of Delhi, the local Golconda Sultanate, the Mughal empire and the Asaf Jah dynasty which commenced in 1724. The seventh Nizam, Mir Osman Ali Khan who ruled from 1911 to 1948, maintained overall stability despite asymmetries.

The imminent end of British colonial rule made it inevitable that the paradox of numbers be confronted and reconciled. An additional hard fact was the location of the Deccan at the virtual centre of the new Indian state. Princely states also represented an anachronism in the emerging era of freedom from colonial rule and demands for democracy. The 565 princely states in 1947 comprised about 40 percent of the region’s area and contained about 23 percent of the region’s population. They ranged from tiny Phulra with 12,000 subjects (eventually merged with Pakistan) to large Hyderabad with over 16 million people living in an area about the size of Italy. Thirteen states acceded to Pakistan; 552 were absorbed by India.

Multiple factors made the Deccan transition the worst – the barely concealed anti-Muslim hostility of the Congress government in New Delhi; British disregard of treaty obligations ; false or wildly exaggerated charges of anti-Hindu violence inside the state; brutal disproportionate force during and after the invasion resulting in rape, looting , and massacres of Muslim women, children and men variously estimated at between 50,000 and 200,000.

The Sundarlal Commission set up to inquire into the killings unequivocally concluded that tens of thousands of innocent people perished in the military action and its spill-offs. The report was withheld for decades, only partially revealed, and the guilty never punished. The year 2019 marks about 30 years since the 1989 uprising in Kashmir during which about 70,000 Muslims have either disappeared or been killed with impunity. For 25 years, from 1989 to 2014, it was the Congress that shaped Indian policy and actions in Srinagar. In one sense, the BJP is merely following in the footsteps of the Congress – with larger RSS boots.

Many Western and South Asian scholars have written extensively on Hyderabad Deccan and the fallout from 1948. To name only a handful: Wilfred Cantwell-Smith , Karen Leonard , Zubaida Yazdani, Omar Khalidi, A G Noorani. The last-named scholar conducted meticulous research to produce ‘The Destruction of Hyderabad’ (Tulika Books, India, 2013). This is an excellent work of reference. It proves how strong and deep-rooted the animus against Muslims was even in the ‘secular’ Congress Party. The well-known rift between the Hindutva-minded Sardar Vallabhhai Patel, home minister from August 1947 until his demise in end-1950, and the more liberal PM Nehru persisted through the crisis of Hyderabad, with Nehru apparently reluctant to take military action.

Yet, as exposed in another book ‘Tragedy of Hyderabad’ by Mir Laiq Ali, Hyderabad’s last prime minister, even Nehru possessed inherently aggressive instincts. The author quotes the Indian PM telling him in April 1948 during a heated, unsuccessful phase of negotiating mutually acceptable terms for Hyderabad’s accession to India: “I shall reduce Hyderabad to smithereens”. Nehru preceded this outburst by also promising to tighten the on-going blockade of the land-locked state so that “Not even a blade of grass can enter Hyderabad”.

In Nehru’s own book ‘An Autobiography’ (1936), he conceded: “Many a Congressman was a communalist under his national cloak”. Patel did not even attempt to don a cloak. In January 1948 at a public meeting in Lucknow, this Congress veteran said: “I invite the RSS to join the Congress Party”. His attempt to formalize this invitation was later overruled by Nehru but the thought remained. Patel opposed the induction of Maulana Azad in the first Indian cabinet. He prevented the Muslim leader from visiting Hyderabad soon after annexation. He ignored desperate appeals to enforce safety for Hyderabadi Muslims facing extremist Hindu mobs.

Actively arranging for weapons to be supplied to Hindu extremists, both before and after the military invasion was a young Congress leader who eventually became Prime Minister in the 1990s. Narasimha Rao’s apathy and animosity became appallingly evident when, as PM, he permitted extremists to demolish Babri Masjid in 1992. Well before the BJP began its tenure in New Delhi, Congress governments introduced regressive laws to empower the Indian army’s unchecked use of violence in Kashmir.

An ambivalence characterised Hyderabad Deccan. Ruled by the world’s then-wealthiest man, and a feudal, elitist class, large numbers of both Hindus and Muslims were mired in poverty. Yet the Nizam was a generous host and patron of numerous poets, scholars, linguists and writers.

Osmania University sponsored translation into Urdu of the entire curriculum for medical doctors, engineers, scientists. Despite a historic weakness in collaboration with the British in contrast to Tipu Sultan’s brave defiance, and a confused, indecisive approach to the harsh realities of a post-1947 South Asia, there was also a profound desire to retain and sustain the pluralist identity of Deccan culture that had evolved over hundreds of years.

There is a convergence between the dismantling of the seamless fusion of cultures that made Hyderabad Deccan so unique – and now in 2019, the ominous intent to dilute and alter the syncretic Sufi lifestyle of Kashmiris by promoting Hinduization garbed in Indianization. Peaceful resistance can ultimately overcome the new threat.

The writer is a former senator and federal minister.

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