Some Reflections on the Last 100 Years. By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan


Having been born in 1925, I have personally witnessed almost a whole century of the history of the Indian subcontinent. The last 100 years was a period of momentous developments for this part of the world. This period saw the emergence of many ‘towering’ personalities, but in terms of helping the people of the region progress on constructive lines and in a positive way, they, by and large, miserably failed.
In the early 20th century, the Khilafat Movement took India by storm. Many ‘big’ Muslim leaders were behind it—people like Mohammad Ali, Shaukat Ali, Abul Kalam Azad, and so on. In the period between the two world wars, when the movement was at its peak, it seemed that this movement had completely shaken the entire country. But the end result of the movement was one big zero. This was because it was based simply on emotionalism, so much so that its zealous leaders had no inkling that the movement for the restoration of the Ottoman Caliph in Turkey that they were so passionately spearheading in India had died out ten years earlier, in Turkey itself, the very epicentre of the movement! The secularism of the Turkish leaders, on the one hand, and the growing appeal of nationalism among the Arabs, on the other, gave a final burial to the Ottoman Caliphate. In such a situation, the movement for the restoration of the Ottoman Caliphate was as pointless as trying to bring a dead man back to life, as people who had the vision to see things at that time well knew.
It is simply astoundingly incomprehensible that while the headquarters of the Ottoman Caliphate was Turkey and that it included much of the Arab world, the movement for its restoration was launched in far-off India, which had no link with it at all, whether politically or geographically. But this is precisely what happened, and the Muslims of the country made immense sacrifices of their lives and wealth for the movement. Had they sacrificed all this for their own constructive progress instead, it would have helped improve their conditions greatly.
Even more strange than this is that the hugely popular leaders of the Khilafat Movement seemed to have no idea that an international political institution like the Ottoman Caliphate could not be established simply through thunderous speeches and emotionally-driven writings. An institution of this sort always comes into being through historical causes and factors. History is like a bank. A community or people who have stored their assets in the ‘bank of history’ alone are in a position to withdraw cash from it. A community that lacks the vision or insight into things will get nothing from this ‘bank’.
The establishment of the Turkish Caliphate was no sudden event. Rather, the Turks had, over a period of centuries, developed a political ‘asset’ in the ‘bank of history’, which Turk leaders then ‘encashed’—in the form of the Ottoman Caliphate. But the ‘assets’ that the Ottoman Turks had stored in the ‘bank of history’ dried up towards the end of the 19th century. And so, very naturally, the Ottoman Caliphate collapsed.
From Syed Jamaluddin Afghani (d. 1897) to Abul Kalam Azad (d. 1958), dozens of great Muslim personalities egged Muslims on to sacrifice their lives and wealth in the name of the protection of the Caliphate. They should have known that this was not simply a matter of protecting a political tradition. It was about ushering in a new history. An institution like the Ottoman Caliphate could be established only when, as a result of long efforts, Muslims had been able to accumulate enough ‘assets’ in the ‘bank of history’ that were needed for establishing an international political institution. In the absence of this, to spearhead a movement to establish an international political institution like the Ottoman Caliphate was like expecting a rocky, barren patch of ground to magically transform itself into a lush garden!
Several other movements also emerged at the time of the movement for independence from British rule. Of these, two are of particular relevance in the context of our discussion: the movement for Hindu revival, and what can be called a movement for Muslim revivalism. Gauging from their fiery leaders, these movements still appear to be very influential. But in terms of their results, they produced nothing of value at all. In fact, their results were completely counter-productive. A clear example of this is that, under Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the movement for Muslim revival succeeded in achieving its goal of a separate state for Muslims in 1947. But this ‘success’ was, in every sense, absolutely unreal. Those parts of India that became Pakistan were, even before the creation of Pakistan, for all practical purposes, ‘Pakistan’—Muslim-majority regions. The contribution of the leaders of this Muslim revivalist movement was only to give the name ‘Pakistan’ to the territories that were formerly known as ‘Muslim-majority parts of India’. The futility of this movement of theirs was further driven home when, in 1971, what Mr. Jinnah had lamented was a ‘truncated Pakistan’ was further truncated with the emergence of Bangladesh, with Pakistan being further weakened.
There were many ‘big’ names associated with the Hindu revivalist movement—Moonje, Savarkar, Hedgewar, Golwalkar, etc.. Many big organizations emerged from this movement—for instance, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, which won considerable support among the Hindus. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which emerged from the RSS, is today a powerful political party in India. Over the years, the BJP has ruled several states and even had a spell in power at the Centre. But, according to Hindu commentators themselves, it has been unable to steer the country in the direction of construction and progress.
Partitioning India on the basis of religion in the hope that this would solve the Hindu-Muslim problem proved to be no solution at all. Looked at from all angles, including the religious, this was a totally destructive approach, the result of destructive politics.
Examined from the religious, or specifically Islamic, point of view, the Partition had no justification at all. Islam is a universal religion. It addresses the whole of humanity. It is not a mere philosophy. Rather, it is a missionary and revolutionary religion. And this means that it seeks its constant expansion. It is based on expansion, not contraction. It seeks to bring all peoples within its ambit, not to create insurmountable walls between Muslims and non-Muslims by manufacturing a fictitious ‘two-nation theory’, the theory that Muslims and non-Muslims are two entirely separate and opposing nations—which is Pakistan’s official ideology.
Yet, despite this, the movement for the Partition of India gathered apace, and the majority of the country’s Muslims lent it their support. In their unthinking emotionalism, the supporters of this movement declared, ‘What Does Pakistan Mean? [It Means] There is No God But Allah!’ But the fact is that the Pakistan movement was an entirely communal, and not a religious, movement. It had nothing whatsoever to do, directly or indirectly, with bearing witness that there is no god but God, the testimony to faith in Islam.
India was partitioned in the name of solving the Hindu-Muslim problem, but its natural consequence was to only further worsen the conflict between Hindus and Muslims. Prior to the Partition, this conflict was between two communities. Following the Partition, it was transformed into a conflict between two established states. And as a result, the conflict grew much worse than it was ever thought possible in pre-Partition times.
The Partition led to the creation of artificial boundaries that totally cut off all links between the territories on both sides of the border. Hardly any communications were now possible. Long-established trade routes were suddenly closed. The two countries that came into being with the Partition diverted their precious resources to put each other down. At international meetings, their primary concern was to attack and condemn each other and to hurt each other’s interests. They went to war on several occasions, and then they launched a mutually-destructive nuclear arms race, which was tantamount to economic suicide for both. Neither India nor Pakistan could afford the cost of this mad nuclear race. They were willing to accept the domination of other powers over them so that, with their help, they could seek to decimate each other. But under no condition, it seemed, were they willing to reconcile.
Even today, the basic situation remains unchanged. The entire South Asian region is extremely volatile. This has taken a major toll on prospects for constructive and meaningful progress in the region. I am an incurable optimist, but the situation is really so bad that I think that my optimism is no longer based on known realities, but, instead, on a basic law of this world—that no matter how long the night may be, the morning is sure to dawn.
I am almost 90 years old. I have now no hope that I will remain alive to see any new future for the Indian subcontinent. Yet, there are some things that I wish to share which I feel are essential for a new, constructive beginning for our part of the world.
I believe that India, Bangladesh and Pakistan must form a joint federation. Under such a federation, the independence of these three states will remain fully preserved, although their mutual relations will be relaxed. For instance, visa-free travel should be allowed between these countries, as, for instance, is the case with various Arab countries or in the European Community. Free trade between these countries should be allowed, as well as trade, educational and cultural exchanges.
It is true that these three countries have certain bilateral problems that have been lingering unresolved for decades. This is a destructive situation for all of them. This issue must definitely be addressed. They cannot remain ignored any longer. The general approach in this case must be to solve such problems on the basis of acceptance of the status quo.
Because of their current policies vis-à-vis each other, these countries spend much of their precious economic resources on war preparations. As a result, the entire region continues to remain characterized by horrific economic and educational backwardness. This situation warrants an immediate solution. The race towards destruction that these countries have been participating in must be replaced by a race towards constructive progress.
A major reason for the mutually destructive policies that these countries have been following ever since their freedom from Britain is ‘religious politics’. What is today called ‘religious politics’ is simply the politics of power and pelf in the guise of religion.
Someone has very rightly said, ‘Politics is the art of the possible.’ In the present conditions, the only feasible politics is what is called ‘secular politics’. This is to say that, in the given circumstances, the state or political activities must focus only on those aspects that are of common, secular or worldly concern—for instance, promoting literacy, economic development, proper use of natural resources, ensuring high-quality infrastructural facilities, establishing peace, and so on. As regards the religious sphere, every religious group should have the freedom to freely act on the teachings of its faith, provided that their religious activities do not become a problem for others. On the condition that they remain within peaceful limits, every person should enjoy religious freedom.
(This essay is based on translation of extracts from Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s Urdu book, Hind-Pak Diary.)

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