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Communal Syndrome

Zoya Hasan

By Ratna Naidu
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 173, Rs. 60.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 5 March/April 1981

In her well-written book, The Com­munal Edge to Plural Societies, Ratna Naidu explores the social morphology of the communal question in India and Malaysia. She probes into the normative structure of communalism, the contextual differences between communalism and nationalism, and, most significantly, on the vastly different assumptions in the approaches of the political elites in the two countries. The book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter presents the framework of the study. The communal conflict in India and Malaysia is investigated in the framework of political economy and the frictions among communities derived from the positions occupied by groups in the process of growth and development. The second chapter amplifies the economic compulsions behind communalism and the third analyses the role of political processes in happening communal animo­sities. The fourth chapter lays bare the anatomy of a few selected riots in both countries. The final chapter discusses various policy choices open to the ad­ministration in dealing with communal antagonism in plural societies. Economic competition, cultural antipathy, religious animosity, and linguistic prejudice constitute the communal fabric of Indian and Malaysian society. But Naidu lays special stress on economic and political factors as the underlying causes of communal conflict. In Asia, the economic factors assumed inflammatory proportions, particularly because of the migration of large numbers of Indians and Chinese who retained their distinc­tive cultures. In Malaysia, for instance, Chinese replaced the Malays who were in control of the economy before the ad­vent of colonial power. The uneven development of regions and of some communities under British colonialism contributed to the heighten­ing of communal rivalry. In the disparate process of growth in India, Hindus domi­nated the high points of the empire like Calcutta, Bombay and Madras—while influential Muslim groups established themselves in Northern India which did not experience substantial industrial ex­pansion, but enjoyed pre-eminence in the pre-colonial period. In Malaysia, on the other hand, the colonial economy ousted Muslims from their vantage positions in trade and commerce. Naidu links the decline of Muslims with the twilight of feudalism. This is a valid proposition, in so far as the deve­lopment of capitalism under colonial auspices marked the emergence of new classes and groups who were capable of taking advantage of opportunities in the new power structure. Naidu further argues that the growing prosperity of powerful Hindu commercial classes enab­led them to ...

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