Communalism in Post-Independent India

This is a short article on communalism in India for the UPSC exam. It is a social theme and a very pertinent one in today’s context. Communalism should be seen in the light of events taking place and making headlines in the country every day. Read on for insights on communalism in India for the IAS exam.

Communalism in India


  • The two nation theory supported by Muhammad Ali Jinnah and V.D. Savarkar was flawed, and history has proved this. For example, there is much in common between and Bengali Hindu and a Bengali Muslim, than a Bengali Hindu and a Punjabi Hindu who do not share the same closeness in cultural ties than the former. In the liberation of Bangladesh (1971) the Bengali Hindus and Muslims joined hands to oust the Muslims of West Pakistan. Communalism was expected to be dead after Independence, but it did not end. In the past 15 years for example, we have fortunately seen ebb in communalism in India with the exceptions of a few unfortunate incidents.
  • For J.L Nehru, the Hindu right wing was the biggest threat to India. This was contradictory to Sardar Patel’s opinion that Left Wing Extremism was a bigger threat to India. This doesn’t imply that the Left Wing wasn’t a threat to India according to Nehru- it merely implied that the priority with which Nehru attached towards curbing the right-wing organizations was higher, and for that of Patel, it was curbing Left Wing Extremism.
  • After the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, there was ebb in Hindu- right wing activities as they became defensive and the Government cracked down on such organizations, including banning the RSS and many leaders of the Hindutva forces were even arrested.
  • The 1961 Jabalpur riots came as a shock to the nation; this was something that caught the attention of the political establishment. This forced Nehru to re-think his strategy and plans – certain corrective measures were taken after this. In the 1970’s, communalism was under check, especially during the emergency period (1975-77).
  • In 1986, the doors of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya were opened which were closed since 1949. A group of Muslims formed the Babri Masjid Action Committee. This committee was headed by some Muslim theologians, supported by Muslim intellectuals and the general masses. This gave a big push to organizations like the VHP and the BJP, which was formed in 1982 out of the organization called Jan Sangh. The BJP and the VHP started campaigning for a grand Rama temple at Ayodhya. The first major riot took place at Meerut in 1987. The important thing to note here was that in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it wasn’t only communal groups that started proliferating, but state machinery was also communalized. 
  • The Times of India commented, “Here is a clear case of an organ of the state going out with cold-blooded calculation to raid and round up a whole group of citizens, whisk them away, shoot them while in custody, and then throw their bodies into the river.”
  • In 1989, riots took place in Bhagalpur. On 6th December 1992, the Babri Masjid was demolished. The Hindu hardliners blamed the Union Govt. headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao. The Rath Yatra which L.K. Advani had started in 1990, and culminated in the demolition of the mosque, is seen by many scholars as a mobilization of common Hindus- emotions were heightened in the name of Rama, and this led to large-scale bloodshed in many urban pockets.
  • But, the Gujarat riots of 2002 surprised and shocked many historians and sociologists because it brought a new trend which we did not see earlier: for example, out of 25 districts, almost 20 were under curfew during the Gujarat riots which means the entire state was disturbed for several days and weeks. In Gujarat, not only tribals, but also OBC’s and rural people were affected. This reflected a dangerous trend as until then, it was believed that communalism was an urban phenomenon- that it was amongst the upper caste and among certain sections of Hindus and Muslims. This trend reflected a challenge to the idea of India.
  • Even though we have had bitter experiences with respect to communal divide, however, it is widely evident that the people that make ‘India’ are largely secular and there isn’t a permanent divide between any communities. That proves the failure of the communal ideology that has time and again tried to infringe on the secularism in the country.
  • There is enormous scope for transformation due to our new generation, who are looking for jobs, better careers, and not identifying themselves with caste, religion and region. They are forward-looking and progressive. Hopefully, they would make a new India which would be free from all kinds of communal and caste conflicts, prejudices, hatred, and discriminations- this is not only possible through law but is possible only through positive collective efforts.
  • Many people blame a majoritarian communalism developing in many parts of the country as a direct result of the blatant appeasement policies of the Congress-led governments. Policies like a separate civil code for Muslims and Christians while secularising the marriage and civil laws for Hindus to the maximum extent cannot be seen like policies that a state which was ‘secular’ in the real sense of the word would have adopted.

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