The following has been extracted from the book, ‘Claiming Citizenship and Nation: Muslim Politics and State Building in North India, 1947-1986’, by Aishwarya Pandit.

 

VOTE BANKS AND
THE POLITICS OF
CONVENIENCE

The Uttar Pradesh government’s attitude to Muslims soon led to a confrontation with the centre. The central government was concerned about the state’s attitude towards Muslims, and it constantly tried to call it to account. But at the end of the day, the centre’s criticism was not backed by sanctions, like constables chiding while having to turn a blind eye when the recalcitrant refused to obey. Why this was the case poses an important question.

G.B. Pant stood firm against the centre’s control over the states. In the Constituent Assembly, Pant had warned that ‘if it is hoped that the provinces will be made to cooperate against their own will by means of central legislation, then the hope is unlikely to materialise’. Other state Congressmen shared his views, resisting the centre’s interference into UP’s affairs at a time when centre-state relations were under strain over many issues, notably not only the language question, but also land reforms, agricultural taxes, minority representation and evacuee property. All these differences were given an added edge by clashes between powerful personalities at the centre and at state level, who sought to establish their various but overlapping spheres of authority and influence in the new India. The state of affairs of the UP Congress was heading towards a crisis in the 1950s, as competition between party and the government grew, and as the refusal of the UP Congress leaders (including Pant) to follow Nehru’s policy created problems between Delhi and Lucknow.

In the electoral arena, despite a strong will to root out Muslim leaders, the UP Congress was to follow the ‘politics of convenience’. In December 1947, the Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) passed a resolution which denied ‘the members of the Muslim League the right to participate in Congress elections. It has been decided in elections to local cells, the Congress Committee and the Parliamentary Board, this policy must be kept in mind while issuing tickets’. This resolution had the explicit or implicit support of many Congressmen of the state, including Acharya Narendra Deo, Pant, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Algu Rai Shastri, Mohan Lal Gautam, Chandra Bhanu Gupta, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Muzaffar Hasan and Phool Singh. But whatever the resolution might have ordained, the realities of electoral politics, and the sheer size of the Muslim electorate, forced political parties, and the Congress in particular, to soften its stance.

Consider the case of Nawab and Begum Aizaz Rasul. Some Congressmen objected to these erstwhile Muslim League members being given Congress tickets. On 10 October 1951, D.N. Misra, President of the Nagar Congress Committee of Sandila, wrote:

 

The news that Shri Aizaz Rasul and Begum Rasul are going to be given party tickets for the next election have [sic] shocked the Congressmen of Sandila town. For eventful ten years, from 1937-47, Shri Aizaz Rasul and his Begum did all they could possibly do to propagate the doctrine of communal hatred and two-nation theory. The literature that was issued at the last General Election, not only in his constituency made a case for Pakistan, based on communal frenzy but most abominably vilified our national leaders, Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. They have changed almost five party labels.

 

Local Muslim Congressmen also denounced the cynical pragmatic considerations which had led to the nominations of the Rasuls. They saw it as a betrayal of their cause, and were furious at being ignored after long years of struggle as party faithfuls. Wahajat Ali, a lawyer, in charge of Muslim Mass Contacts in 1938-9 from Nusrat Manzil, Hardoi district, on 20 February 1952, complained to Nehru that Nawab Aizaz Rasul was known to be a Muslim Leaguer and yet he had been rewarded with a ticket. As organizer of the so-called ‘day of deliverance’ in 1940, and the General Secretary of the Provincial Muslim League from 1946 to 47, he had actively campaigned against the Congress. Not only had Rasul championed the cause of Pakistan and the two-nation theory, he had denigrated Congress ideals with a missionary zeal. An opponent of zamindari abolition, Rasul was a champion floor crosser, having changed sides no less than five times within 5 years, from the National Agriculturist Party, to the Muslim League, and the Janta party, the Independents and Democratic wings. The District Commissioner of Lucknow had charged him with misappropriating funds, and every manner of financial irregularity and short credits. Despite Rasul being known to be thoroughly unreliable, political exigencies and the size and concentration of the Muslim electorate, had persuaded the Congress High Command to pick him.

Centre-state tensions arose over the choice of party candidates especially those accused of having played a role in the communal riots before and following partition. In Bengal, B.C. Roy, the premier was backing the candidature of Khuda Bux, while Nehru opposed it as he cited top-level intelligence report which revealed that Bux had a role in the 1946 communal riots. Some had income tax investigations against them. In Assam, Nehru made it clear to the then premier Bishnuram Medhi that:

 

communal Muslims should not be set up on behalf of the Congress. There may be a rare case of a person who was earlier communal and now has more or less convinced you that he is not communal in this respect. You may, if you like, accept him. But the mere fact is that a person joining the Congress a month ago after a long career in communal politics does not entitle him to stand as the Congress candidate. I prefer a communal minded Muslims to stand as an independent candidate and we will not oppose him.

 

This suggests that while Nehru was concerned about the quality of the candidates standing on Congress tickets; he was ready to forgo this requirement in cases where political exigencies demanded that a Muslim even if he had a communal past be put up as the Congress candidate.

Meanwhile from Bhopal reports came in that the anti-Nawab trend had turned into anti-Muslim trend and local Congress President had pro-Mahasabha and pro-Jan Sangh leanings. In Punjab there was intense anti-Muslim propaganda among the Akalis and RSS and there was a real possibility that the Congress might not get a majority there. In the 1948 panchayat elections in UP, reports suggested that reactionary and communal elements would be successful. The anti-Muslim trend was not confined to UP alone, it had spread all over north India especially months before the first general elections. There was a demand from a section or other factions of the Congress that Muslims should not be given tickets and their backgrounds be checked thoroughly. Allegations against Nehru appeasing Muslims found a voice in B.R. Ambedkar, his former colleague and Law Minister who resigned on 10 October 1951. Ambedkar remarked,

 

what is the position of Scheduled Castes today? From where I see it, it is the same as before. The same old tyranny, the same old oppression and the same discrimination which existed before exists in the worse form. I can refer to hundreds of cases from Delhi and adjoining areas with woes of tales of oppression at the hands of caste Hindus and against whom police refused to file complaints and render them any help. Compare the concern of the government with safeguarding Muslims. The PM’s government whole time and attention is devoted to the protection of Muslims. What I want to know is that is it only the Muslims who need protection? Are the SC, ST, Christians not in need of protection.

 

Coming from Ambedkar this was a strong statement and a vindication of a sorts of what the Hindu right and a section of Congressmen had all along been saying that Nehru was only interested in Muslim minorities, ignoring aspirations of other communities and even other minorities.

The first general elections of 1952 were a crucial watershed for Uttar Pradesh. The elections were the party’s first serious attempt, as AICC papers show, to woo and win support from specific group of voters. Party spokesman made indirect references to ‘vote banks’, and to the party’s need to cultivate them. In 1951, an AICC circular to party leaders warned of Muslim dissatisfaction and the imperative to keep them within Congress:

 

Adequate representation should be given to minorities, such as Muslims and Christians, in organisational, social and other public utility agencies…The partition of the country is the net outcome of an unfortunate series of events which had left their indelible mark on our mental feelings and have influenced considerably our thought processes. Naturally, the minorities today may find it rather difficult to overcome the form of psychosis which conditioned their mind as a necessary sequel to tragic occurrences in India. All forms of propaganda were resorted by opposition parties to wean them away from the Congress. A reliable Congressman pointed out that amongst a total number of over 400 delegates from a province, there were only five or six Muslims and even the oldest Congress Muslims had failed to get elected…We should try to read the situation very carefully and make attempts to draw Muslims and other minorities closer to us and make social contacts before they fall prey to the manoeuvrings of the anti-Congress elements.

 

The Assembly elections in Moradabad, Rampur, Bijnor and the districts of Rohilkhand division, where Muslims were more than 20 per cent, show that Muslims voted for the Congress in 1952. But this result was never repeated again in the decades that followed and the question here is why this was the case. In Moradabad district, where Muslims were 37.3 per cent of the population, the results were particularly revealing. Christians and Sikhs had only a nominal presence. Moradabad was a predominantly rural district, with just over 20 per cent living in towns. In the 1952 elections, Congress won all 11 Assembly seats from Moradabad. Although the Jan Sangh managed to get 4.8 per cent of the vote, it did not win a single seat and the Socialists, with 14.8 per cent share of votes, also got no seats. In the next elections, in 1957, however, this picture changed dramatically. Congress won only six out of 11 seats in Moradabad district. The party’s vote share dropped to just over 38 per cent. By contrast, the Jan Sangh’s vote share had increased by 10.6 per cent and that of the Praja Socialists by 19.1 per cent. By the 1962 elections, Congress was reduced to winning only four out of the 11 seats, and its vote share had plummeted to 25 per cent, while Jan Sangh’s share had risen to 20.9 per cent. Similar trends could be seen in Rampur, Bijnor, Shahjahanpur and the districts of Rohilkhand division, all of which had a large Muslim presence.

Of course, it was not only Muslims who voted for the Congress; nor was the Congress alone in seeking to win Muslim votes. On 11 December 1951, The Leader claimed that all parties were wooing Muslim voters, noting that ‘the Muslims of Lucknow were a substantial proportion of the city’s population and were receiving special attention from political parties’.

After the 1952 elections, the trend grew more widespread, as parties such as the PSP and the KMPP also began to distribute tickets to Muslims in Muslim areas. Smaller parties had also begun to observe that the size of the Muslim population and their concentration in towns made them a potent electoral force. As the AICC learnt from local informants, in municipal elections, disillusioned Congressmen had even supported candidates from the Jan Sangh to try to break the Muslim hold over the municipality. In some cases, Muslims contested as independents and in others on tickets of the Communist Party or Republican Party of India. Muslims with Congress tickets fell in number. As Wilkinson had noted, that Muslim voters recognized that they were in good position to profit in states where there is a high degree of party fractionalization. In UP, this was certainly the case, in the late 1950s because parties other than the Congress were in the fray and actively wooing Muslims. In a related development, Muslim representation as members of the Congress in the UP Assembly began rapidly to decline, as Table 2.2 shows:

 

Table 2.2 Muslim representation in Congress (number of seats/430)

Year

1952       40

1957       27

1962       24

1967       16

Source: Iqbal A. Ansari, Political Representation of Muslims in India 1952–2004, New Delhi: Manak Publications, 2006, p. 287.

 

From independence until the fourth general elections, historians have argued that the UP Congress remained a pillar of support for Congress at the centre. Uttar Pradesh had the largest electorate of any state in the country which, in 1952, returned 81 out of 86 seats for the Congress to the Lok Sabha, the Congress polled 53 per cent of all votes, while the Socialists polled 12.9 per cent and the Krishak Majdoor Praja Party only 4.9 per cent of votes in 1952 and, as we have seen, won no seats. The Socialists, until 1948 a major force within the provincial Congress, had parted ways with the Congress over the issue of the compensation to zamindars. Similarly, the KMPP was composed of ex-Congressmen, notably Archarya Kripalani and Rafi Ahmad Kidwai, who had quit in 1951 after Tandon’s election as the Congress President. Similar splits were noticed in states such as West Bengal and Andhra. Clearly the 1952 landslide victory of the Congress was in part due to a fragmented opposition, and the inability of the KMPP or the Socialists convincingly to show how their agenda was different from that of the Congress. But the superficially persuasive argument stressed by Steven Wilkinson among others that Muslims continued to stick to the Congress for security must be qualified: there was a growing sense among Muslims that the Congress had failed to protect them and that Congressmen, at the local level, had joined with communal parties against them. This made Muslim allegiance to the Congress uncertain after 1952.

In 1952, however, Congress dominance remained unchallenged electorally. Right-wing parties such as the Hindu Mahasabha polled a tiny fraction of the vote (1.9 per cent) and the Ramrajya Parishad, polled only 3.5 per cent of votes and they too failed to win a single seat. The scale of its victory in Uttar Pradesh was greater than in any other state, followed by Bihar, where the Congress won 45.8 per cent of all votes. In the 1957 and 1962 elections, despite the aggressive opposition of the Socialists, the Congress party again registered a convincing victory in Uttar Pradesh. Congress remained the dominant party in both the Lok Sabha and the Legislative Assembly in UP, but its vote share and its seats dwindled at the state level after 1952. This trend was particularly evident in areas where the Muslim population was sizeable. A briefest glance at the polling figures challenges the common assumption that Muslims of Uttar Pradesh were a secure vote bank for the Congress throughout the period. On the contrary, it seems clear that the UP Congress’s relationship with Muslim voters was constantly changing throughout the period in response to the slow emergence of other political outfits and other voices willing to represent ‘Muslim interests’.

This relationship was fraught with challenges and distrust in the 1970s as Muslims accused the Congress of altering minority character of Aligarh Muslim University, rise of different organizations representing Muslims and Indira Gandhi alleged ‘soft Hindu stance’. It is obvious that by the 1970s emerging Hindu nationalism was competing for space in an area where Nehruvian secularism was sacrosanct. Hindu nationalism was no longer a taboo in Indian politics, its many strands and its leaders were now a formidable political force. By the 1970s and after Nehru’s death, there was a clear concern over the Congress party’s tacit encouragement of an independent minority identity around the protection of Muslim Personal Law, refusal to enact a UCC, and its refusal to heed to the sentiments of the Hindu majority. This created a groundswell of support and heightened Hindu sentiment across caste and class lines who felt angry about the party’s failure to address ‘Hindu concerns’ for instance the alleged increasing population of Muslims, failure to ban cow slaughter through legislation, state support to Muslim Personal Law, and the status quo over religious sites such as the Babri Masjid which the Hindus claimed had been forcibly taken from them.

 

The footnotes have been removed from the extract for the ease of reading. Another extract from the book will be published next Sunday.