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Beyond Separatism

Usha Sanyal

By Mohammad Sajjad
Routledge, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 376, Rs. 995.00


In Muslim Politics in Bihar, Mohammad Sajjad, an assistant professor of history at Aligarh Muslim University, breaks new ground in a number of ways. First, addressing Bihar Muslim politics during the colonial period leading up to Partition, he shows that unlike U.P. and Bengal, its two neighbours (which, together with Punjab, have received most of the attention by historians of Partition), Bihar Muslims did not embrace the separatist message of the Muslim League until 1946, when in the wake of massive riots in Bihar the Muslim League made major electoral gains on the strength of the slogan ‘Islam in danger’. While support for separate electorates was weak among leading Bihar Muslim politicians, that for Congress and for composite nationalism—conceptualized as political unity with non-Muslim Indians combined with non-interference by the State in Muslim religio-cultural affairs—aimed at ending British rule in India was stronger through much of the early twentieth century. Second, Sajjad explores not only Bihar Muslim engagement with the Congress and the Muslim League, but also with the less well-known Muslim Independent Party (MIP), Imarat-e Shariah, and the All-India Momin Conference, whose politics were allied with the Congress. This background in turn explains the post-Independence politics of Bihari Muslims. In both the campaigns which they have waged between 1947 and the present—that for the recognition of Urdu as a second State language until the late 1980s, and the struggle for social justice and political power since the 1990s through the creation of new reservation policies which would benefit the most deprived among them—Bihar Muslims have participated fully in the democratic process in Independent India by mobilizing the masses for the attainment of their constitutionally guaranteed rights. The study thus seeks to challenge the idea that Indian Muslims bear ‘responsibility for the partition of India’ (p. xvi) by showing that in Bihar, Muslims had an antipathy to the Muslim League’s Two-Nation Theory and a strong preference for a united, pluralist anti-colonial struggle. Furthermore it argues that contrary to the perception of Indian Muslims as ‘isolationist’, they have been fully engaged with the language of Indian ‘constitutionalist, secular, pluralist democracy’ (p. xvi) after Independence. The book uses a number of Urdu sources which have not been explored before, including biographies, histories, the Urdu press, and works of fiction. The first four chapters of the book deal with the history of Bihar Muslim politics before 1947, and the last ...

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