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Lesser-Known Nation-Makers


Meher Fatima Hussain

CONTESTING COLONIALISM AND SEPARATISM: MUSLIMS OF MUZAFFARPUR SINCE 1857
By Mohammad Sajjad
Primus Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xvii 265, price not stated.

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 1 January 2015

The book probes the nationalist trajectory of what Mohammad Sajjad calls ‘the lesser-known nation-makers of Muzaffarpur’ of north Bihar.  Muslims of Muzaffarpur acquiring centre stage, within undivided and divided Bihar, in colonial and Independent India, places regional and community history objectively within the larger narrative of nation making that has remained a neglected area of study. The micro-study is essentially based on a vivid description of Muslim responses to nationalist developments and Muslim League politics in the region that Mohammad Sajjad argues as remaining just a marginal force (p. 11). It further delineates on the post-Partition challenges faced by the Muslims with the region ushering into conundrum of local, identity and caste politics in its conclusive chapters.  What makes this work interesting is that it stretches its research phase chronologically from the emergence of the region till contemporary times. It offers a cohesive understanding of major historical and political developments in Muzaffarpur to showcase the region’s uniqueness in responding to developments taking place in colonial India up to changes in recent times. Such narrative is important to link the vista of regional politics with the larger nationalist turf, thereby creating enough space to understand the connections and departures between the two. The author contests some major arguments of history, particularly built around Muslims’ monolithic response in favour of demand for a separate Muslim homeland along with shedding fresh light on engagements and predicaments of the Muslims. He weaves the region’s responses with a broader Muslim articulation in the province against operative colonial and communalist forces to further substantiate his arguments culled in favour of the community’s nationalist visions and endeavours. In several ways, Muslim responses were in tune with nationalist expositions, not only of support but also in initiatives. The language issue (Urdu being replaced by Nagri) did create tensions between communities but this was not to cause a sordid rift between Hindus and Muslims. The struggle for separation of Bihar from Bengal (eventually realized in 1912) was ranged more against Bengali bhadralok class, who gained most from dominance of Bihar in education and jobs. This tussle dominated early politics and emerges as an important example of Bihar’s uniqueness in forging Hindu-Muslim collaboration on matters of regional preference, with enthusiastic initiatives and collaboration coming from the Muslims. Even the idea of a separate state of Bihar was mooted for the first time by Murgh-e-Sulaiman, an Urdu daily of ...


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