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DISHARMONY, AS IT BEGAN

Communalism and Indian Princely States: Travancore, Baroda and Hyderabad In The 1930s By Dick Kooiman, Manohar, Rs 500

Dick Kooiman writes, “The distinctive characteristic of the phenomenon called communalism is the belief that a group of people, because they have one ascriptive identity in common (religion or language), also share common interests in all other fields...Under British Indian colonialism the religious definition of community became so dominant that in common discourse communalism has become more or less synonymous with communalism of the religious variety”.

Kooiman draws from contemporary sources to show that the harmful impact of communalism in its different guises was more pronounced in British India than in the Indian states. In the latter there was occasional militancy, but Hindu-Muslim riots were not so frequent and much less serious than in the directly administered provinces. Efforts to come to grips with the communal problem have to take into account the historical circumstance that shaped its emergence.

This book tries to understand the communal problem. Apart from exploring the historical background to inter-religious relations, it also studies indirectly ruled princely states, particularly in the decades immediately before independence. The thrust is on the growth of communalism in the princely states and the impact of government measures like electoral arrangements and federal schemes on religious identities.

According to one theory, with the gradual introduction of the divisive system of election and other policies based on simple majority rule, communal conflicts became progressively frequent in the princely states as well. The government’s policy to provide religious communities with separate electorates has often been cited as a powerful factor in the emergence of communalism. Kooiman points out that the distribution of political privilege along religious lines has divided people into mutually exclusive, often hostile, groups.

Communalism was rampant in the states of Hyderabad and Travancore even before independence. The manifestations of communalism in the new state of Kerala, according to Kooiman, may be viewed as a continuation of the tension and conflicts that have plagued Kerala, especially the part that comprised Travancore, for much longer. Some scholars contend that Kerala’s politics should be understood as an extension of the politics of caste and religion.

A Muslim oligarchy ruled Hyderabad. Although Muslims far outnumbered Hindus there, the social divergences with their explosive potential were already present in Hyderabad. Whereas in Travancore communal rivalries emerged from within as part of local developments — Hindus versus the Syrian Christian Church was a major factor — the communal fire in Hyderabad was largely inflamed from outside since the Thirties.

According to Kooiman, there was considerable activity of Hindu communal forces in Hyderabad with Arya Samaj and the Hindu Mahasabha taking the lead with their “aggressive mobilization” of the Hindu majority both inside and outside the state. Of course, Hindu leaders and intellectuals had to resist the conversion of their co-religionists. After Hyderabad’s integration into the Indian Union, many members of the Muslim entrepreneurial and bureaucratic middle class migrated to Pakistan, much as elsewhere.

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