Aligarh Movement


The official history of the Congress denies that Muslims were opposed to the Congress but many Congress leaders were loath to admit the truth. This hypocrisy on the part of the Congress has come to characterize its dealings with the Muslims thereafter. Even Gokhale remarked “that seventy million of Muslims were more or less hostile to national aspirations”. Ref Hoyland, Gokhale pg 160.

It also worth noting that SAK laid the foundation of the Annual Muslim Educational Conference in 1886, only a year after the establishment of the National Congress. This conference was held each year at different places in India exactly at the same time when the Congress held its sessions. Although its agenda was education it became a forum for the dissemination of Muslim public opinion.

The problem was the Muslim fear that they would be ill treated by the Hindus. R M Sayani, President of the Congress in 1896 made an elaborate analysis and proceeded to reply to each fear. The Congress started placating the Muslims as far as possible within its basic principles e.g. at Madras in 1887 when a Congress member gave notice urging a resolution on the prohibition of cow slaughter, there was hungama. In their wisdom the Congress decided that if any resolution affected any class or community was objected to it would not be considered by the Congress. Ref 'A Nation in Making' pg 108.

So in its attempt to involve Muslims the Congress surrendered the power of saying no and gave Muslims a veto that would culminate in partition later. It is a guilt complex that neither the Congress nor the Hindus have got rid off since then.

Till he died SAK never supported the Congress. His policy was carried forward by Nawab Mohsin-ul-Mulk. Another cause of estrangement was the campaign in Maharashtra against killing of cows. What complicated matters further was the Hindi Urdu controversy originating from a movement by the Hindus of Kashi in 1867 to replace Urdu by Hindi and the Arabic script by Nagari. It must be mentioned that a similar movement for the use of Hindi was started in Punjab by Swami Dayanand Saraswati. These movements convinced SAK that Hindus and Muslims could never join whole-heartedly together and the differences would only increase in the future.

I admire SAK for his understanding of Hindu Muslim relations. He was clear unlike the Congress leaders who went to any extent to appease Muslim sentiments. Nawab Mulk said “Although we do not have the power of the pen, our hands are still strong enough to wield the might of the sword”. Ref Muslim league pg 25.

If one were to look at the Aligarh Movement objectively SAK did a great job for his community. He played the role of social reformer, started the Aligarh University, urged the Muslims to adopt western education by learning English. He wanted Muslims to be educated first before they entered the national movement although it must be said that it was love for Brit rule and animosity for anything Hindu that probably were the deciding factors. He was keen to avoid any head on confrontation with the Brits. It would result in the Brits treating fellow Muslims in the same way, as they did post 1857.

I believe that his desire to increase education levels in the Muslim community were commendable. However, could he not have done that without making Hindus an object of hate. It comes to a more basic question, why is it that Muslims cannot live in peace with other communities? Do I have to hate another community for me to love my religion? Do I love Islam because of what it is or the hatred that it preaches of idol worshipers?

Some sympathizers of SAK have blamed the Brit Becker for his anti-Hindu and anti-Congress policy. That is again being charitable. Beck came to Aligarh in 1883 but SAK’s reactionary and progressive views can be traced much earlier as stated above. Also SAK was a strong personality to be influenced by anyone. Note that from 1883 to 1898 i.e. when SAK died, Becker was the pivot round whom Muslim politics involved.

It would not be out of place to mention that SAK’s policy towards the Hindus and Congress had the approval of almost all Muslim leaders. Inspite of the efforts made by Gandhi to win over the hearts of the Muslims through the Khilafat Movement, Muhammad Ali a nationalist leader of the Indian Muslims and close associate of Gandhi said in 1923, “Reviewing the actions of a bygone generation today when it is easier to be wise after the event, I must confess I still think the attitude of SAK was eminently wise, and much as I wish that some things which he said should have been left unsaid, I am constrained to admit that no well-wisher of Muslims nor of India as a whole, could have followed a different course in leading the Muslims”.

The policy of favoring the Muslims as a counterpoise against the Hindus was gradually adopted by the Brits after 1880-1890s. Commenting on absenteeism of Muslims from the Congress Viceroy Lord Dufferin said, "this division of religious feeling is to our advantage”. It is not strange, therefore, that the principle of separate representation for the Muslims was adopted by the Indian Councils Act of 1892.

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