What do you understand by ‘Communalism’ in the Indian context? What are its stages? Critically analyse its growth and development in India. (250 W)

Mentor’s Comment:

The similar question has been asked in 2017 mains.

Distinguish between religiousness/religiosity and communalism giving one example of how the former has got transformed into the latter in independent India. (2017 mains)

The introduction should explain the meaning of communalism and how it happens in Indian society. Like often originate with the clashes between two religious groups based on the set ideology of their religion. It involves three elements: political communalism, differences in the religious beliefs, belief are completely incompatible, antagonist and hostile.

Next talk about the stages of communalism. First stage – rise of hindu, muslim, sikh etc as a nationalism, second stage liberal communalism i.e. it believed in communal politics but remain liberal in democratic, humanist and nationalist values. Third stage, extreme communalism had a fascist syndrome mandated for separate nation etc.

Further, talk about the growth and development of communalism in India in modern times.

Next, mention communalism in post independence etc. and bring conclusion.


Model Answer:

In the Indian sub-continent context, communalism has come to be associated  with tensions and clashes between different religious communities in various regions. Communalism is political trade in religion. It is an ideology on which communal politics is based. And communal violence are conjectural consequences of communal ideology. It is basically an ideology which consists of three elements:

  • A belief that people who follow the same religion have common secular interests e. they have same political, economic and social interests. So, here socio- political communalities arises.
  • A notion that, in a multi-religious society like India, these common secular interests of one religion are dissimilar and divergent from the interests of the follower of another religion.
  • The interests of the follower of the different religion or of different ‘communities’ are seen to be completely incompatible, antagonist and hostile.

Stages of Communalism:

  • First stage was rise of nationalist Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, etc. with only first element of communalism as discussed above.
    • Roots of this were led in later part of 19th century with Hindu revivalist movement like Shuddhi movement of Arya Samaj and Cow protection riots of 1892.
    • On the other hand movements like Faraizi movement started Haji Shariatullah in Bengal to bring the Bengali Muslims back on the true path of Islam, was one of the religious reform movement which had bearing on communalism in 19th
    • Later people like Syed Ahmed Khan, who despite of having scientific and rational approach, projected Indian Muslims as a separate community (qaum) having interest different from others.
  • Second stage was of Liberal Communalism, it believed in communal politics but liberal in democratic, humanist and nationalist values. It was basically before 1937. For example organisations like Hindu Mahasabha, Muslim League and personalities like A. Jinnah, M M Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai after 1920s
  • Third was the stage of Extreme Communalism, this had a fascist syndrome. It demanded for separate nation, based on fear and hatred. There was tendency to use violence of language, deed and behaviour. For example Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha after 1937.

Growth and Development of Communalism in India:

  • Communalism in India is result of the emergence of modern politics, which has its roots in partition of Bengal in 1905 and feature of separate electorate under Government of India Act, 1909.
  • Later, British government also appeased various communities through Communal Award in 1932, which faced strong resistance from Gandhi ji and others.
  • All these acts were done by the British government to appease Muslims and other communities, for their own political needs.
  • This feeling of communalism has deepened since then, fragmenting the Indian society and being a cause of unrest.
  • Communalism, started rooting deeply, as it was an expression of aspiration and interest of middle class for less opportunity.
  • It spread as a by-product of colonialism, economic stagnations and absence of modern institutions of education and health. These factors caused competition. Later on, spread of education to peasant and small landlords gave rise to new middle class. So, these people started demanding communal representation and this way, social base for communalism widened.
  • Middle class oscillated between anti-imperialism and communalism.

Communalism Post Independence:

  • Since Independence, India has been pursuing the ideal of nation-building based on secularism. Even after 71 years of independence, India is still burning under the fire of communalism.
  • In absence of Uniform Civil Code, there is still perception that all communities have divergent and contradictory interests. Consequently, community based pressure groups bargain for their own community. This competition, in turn, escalates to major conflicts.
  • Politicians try to turn these communities into vote banks and different communities become watertight compartments.
  • Along with this for the sake of vote bank, the policy of appeasement, selection of candidates on the basis of community, sect, sub-sect and caste, and flaring up religious sentiments at the time of elections, led to the rise of communalism.
  • These practices are still continued and the country is bearing heavy loss because of it.
  • Population, poverty, illiteracy and unemployment create a lot of compulsions, especially before younger generation.
  • That is why, many from younger generation, because of lack of right thinking, remain unemployed and in a state of poverty, get involved in the evil like communalism.
  • External elements (including non-state actors) also have a role in worsening the problem of communalism, and making it serious.
  • Thus incidents like Bhagalpur Riots, Aligarh Riots, 1984 Anti Sikh Riots, Migration of Kashmiri Pandits, Babri Masjid Demolition, Godhra of 2002, Muzaffarnagar, mob lynching and cow vigilantism are the testimony of existing communalism in India.

The solution of such problems cannot be one or two steps by government. Apart from legislative support, administrative efficiency and alertness with the help of modern tools and technology, the major onus lies on the citizens themselves by avoiding communal violence. Though its bit philosophical in nature, as it’s not a concrete solution, but the sustainable changes can be brought only by those steps.