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An Erring Association of Nationalism and Religion Since Independence

By Garvit Shrivastava


There is a rising rate of communal and religious violence in India since the last  few years. The deeply ingrained yet unresolved question of who  a “real” Indian is has been the driving force behind this religious upheaval. In this essay, I’ll highlight that, despite the fact that secularism was a major topic of discussion after independence, nationalism is frequently associated with religion. I will be establishing that although secularism was a point of focus post-independence, when one thinks of nationalism, it is often linked with religion.


 Congress proclaimed independence from colonial control as a victory of centralism and nationalism. During the early decades of independence, the Congress-dominated Indian center was committed to a secular nationalist doctrine. It’s tempting to credit the Congress’ success in constructing a reasonably stable democratic system in India to its secular nationalism and centralism philosophy. However, given the events of the ensuing decades of independence, such a judgment seems to be a little premature. Since the mid-1970s, India’s trappings of democracy and secular nationalism have been unable to keep the center from coming under growing pressure from a slew of religious and communitarian groupings. (Bose and Jalal, 202) 

Iqbal’s nationalism – A misinterpreted idea 

Muhammad Iqbal, in his All-India Muslim League presidential address of 1930, demanded for a consolidated Muslim state for the best interest of India and Islam. For India, it meant stability and peace as a consequence of an internal power balance; for Islam, it meant a chance to shrug off the imprint that Arabian Imperialism imposed on it, to mobilize its law, education, and culture, and to bring them closer to their original spirit and the spirit of contemporary times. Although Muhammad Iqbal demanded a consolidated Muslim state, he wanted that state within India. His demand to have a separate Muslim state did not diminish his sense of nationalism for India. In fact, he goes on to say that North-West Indian Muslims will prove the best defenders of India against a foreign invasion. He further argues that if the premise that the Indian Muslim is entitled to full and free development on the basis of his own culture and tradition in his own Indian homelands is accepted as the foundation of a “permanent communal settlement”, he will be willing to risk everything for India’s freedom. This speech clearly establishes that just because one is practicing and devoted to a certain  religion does not decrease the sense of nationalism that the person holds. 

Who is a true Indian? 

There has been a feeling of resentment towards certain religions  being called Indians. M.S. Golwalkar in Ramchandra Guha, employs a very narrow definition of a nation, that persists even in contemporary times and is one of the primary problems towards not considering Muslims or  any other minority a true Indian. He argues that they were the Hindu predecessors who established ideals and traditions of love and loyalty towards the country. They are the ones who have given their lives in defense of the motherland’s purity and integrity. He continues to say that  history  provides an eloquent  testament to the fact that only the Hindu people have done  this. It signifies that as a child of this land, only Hindus have lived here. He rhetorically questions the Muslims and Christians whether they are grateful towards the Indian land and continues to answer that since there is a difference in the faith between Hindus and other religions, the spirit of love and devotion cannot be the same . This idea supports  Gyanendra Pandey’s argument wherein he points out that although Hindus have been divided into “Hindu Nationalists” and “Secular Nationalists”, Muslims were divided into “Nationalist Muslims” and “Muslims”. There has been a discontent in accepting Muslims as secular or nationalists.. Golwalkar puts forth his doubt towards the Muslims who did not leave India during the partition. He completely negates the idea that those Muslims who did not leave India are the ones who feel devoted to India and consider it their home land. Contrary to this, he argues that there is no surety that those  who did not leave have  no feeling of hostility towards Hindus. He also argues that creation of Pakistan was an act of Muslim aggression and that Muslims have from the very beginning desired to “convert and enslave” the entire  country. There are multiple fallacies on which Golwalkar’s arguments are based . First of all, his arguments clearly show an appeal to ignorance. His entire arguments show that he is looking towards the Muslims from a very narrow and one-sided perspective by focusing only on aggressiveness  and hatred. He completely ignores Muslim freedom fighters such as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Dr. Zakir Hussain, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, and many others. This hasty generalization by Golwalkar clearly shows a sense of personal bias and hatred towards the Muslims of India. 

Proving one’s nationality 

Building upon Gyanendra Pandey’s arguments that when a nation is formed, it is formed along with the minorities and it is the minorities that constitute the majority. Therefore, the  minorities are equally a very intrinsic part of the nation. His article, although  written in 1999, is very much relevant in contemporary  times especially post the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019. It has been highlighted that to earn citizenship , it is important to prove one’s loyalty towards the nation. Muslims time after time in history are forced to show their devotion and loyalty towards the country. To support this argument, Gyanendra Pandey highlights that every Indian Muslim was asked to understand and realize that if in future there would be a war between India and Pakistan, there should be no doubt while fighting for India. “Every Muslim in India will be forced to battle the Pakistani hordes, and each one should examine his heart now and determine whether or not to go to Pakistan”. Partition spawned plenty of notions about what would constitute appropriate evidence of Indian Muslims’ commitment to the country. Many urged for the Muslim League to be disbanded, as well as the abandonment of any demand that seemed to promote   “separatism,” such as calls for separate electorates or a guaranteed quota of parliamentary seats for Muslims. This persists even in contemporary politics wherein the Muslim league parties and leaders are often considered as Anti-national, even if they put forth certain problems with the policies. This also shows the conflict present in the present politics wherein a  Hindu political group, when raising  certain issues to promote Hinduism, is not questioned. However, if a Muslim political group raises their voice  for their rights, they are asked to prove their nationality. 

The movie, Manto, also portrays multiple events that highlight the fear that Muslims as well as Hindus carried for each other during the partition. In one of the scenes, a  man was suggested to go to Pakistan because Jinnah said that Pakistan is a Muslim nation. To this, he replies that the political leaders does not matter to him, for him his nation is the place where he lives where his livelihood is and he is loyal and devoted to that place. This scene highlights the sense of nationalism that people carry. For this person, it does not matter what India or what Pakistan is, for him his loyalty is where he lives and because that place is in India, his devotion is ultimately towards India. The idea of nationality depends upon the sense of belongingness and is independent of religion. During the time of partition, fear played an important role in deciding where a person belongs. Many Muslims, who although were devoted to India, but out of fear of being killed because of being Muslim, had to go to Pakistan. Manto himself leaves India out of the fear of getting killed being a Muslim and even while leaving he says “Hindustan Zindabaad”. There is this idea that persists that because Pakistan was formed as a Muslim state, no Muslim even the one who willingly stayed in India, is not loyal or devoted to India. 


In this article, I have analyzed  Muhammad Iqbal’s AIML speech, M.S. Golwalkar’s text from Ramchandra Guha, Gyanendra Pandey’s article “Can a Muslim be an India?” and movie Minto to argue that, even though one of the fundamentals post-independence was the sense of secularism, we , as a society, have miserably failed in accepting Muslims as Indians and time and again demanded proof for their loyalty and nationalism. By Muhammad Iqbal’s speech, I point out that although he demands for a separate Muslim state, he was loyal towards India and that devotion towards one’s religion does not diminish his nationalism. By Golwalkar’s text, I highlight the flawed arguments that have been surviving in the society since the partition. By Gyanendra Pandey’s text I highlight the contemporary relevance of the difference  between how a Hindu is considered a nationalist compared to Muslim. By the movie, Minto, I highlight the idea that although people felt loyal towards either of the nations, they had to leave because  of the religious violence and that religion rather than determining the loyalty, suppressed the true sense of nationalism. 

About the Author

The Author is a second-year law student at Jindal Global Law School. 

Image Source: Illustration by Chad Crowe []

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