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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Hindu-Muslim Unity – Lala Lajpat Rai

This is our fourth article of the series from the book ‘Prabodhan – Thoughts on Hindu Society’.

In the words of Dr. Saradindu Mukherji, editor of Prabodhan, ‘Lala Lajpat Rai’s piece on Hindu-Muslim relations show that in the colonial times the leadership of the country was neither constrained by political exigencies nor trying to be on the good books of all and sundry in the name of what is called, perhaps mistakenly, political correctness. Rai warned, “For God’s sake, don’t threaten us with Jehad. We have seen many Jehads ! For the last twelve hundred years we have heard that cry every day of our national existence. Yet Jehads have not succeeded in killing us, and God willing, no threat of Jehad will influence us by one hair’s breadth in our determination to live”.

This rare capacity to anticipate cataclysmic events has been rare among the Bharatiyas, specically the Hindus, and here is much that we could learn from them. 

Hindu-Muslim Unity1

The Hindu-Muslim problem is the problem of Bharat. We have heard and read much of Hindu-Muslim unity. It is always a matter of controversy between the Anglo-Indian and the nationalist. The former asserts and the latter denies the impossibility of Hindus and Muslims uniting together to form one nation.

The amount of unity or disunity existing at a particular moment is also always an issue. Yet it is a fact that from 1919 to the end of 1921 Hindus and Muslims of India were fairly united. It was during this period that for the first time in the history of Bharat a Kafir preached from the pulpit of the biggest and historically the most important and the most magnificent mosque of northern Bharat.2 It was during the same period that the Mlechhas fraternised with the Hindus on the occasion of their religious festivals. It is also a fact that the amount of unity, achieved in this short period, has since then melted down and for the last three years Hindus and Mussalmans have been at daggers drawn with each other to an extent never before known under British rule. All attempts to stem the tide have so far proved ineffectual. All efforts for finding a solution have been fruitless. It cannot be denied that at the moment of writing this the relations between the two communities are strained almost to the breaking point.

Communal riots and scuffles are of more frequent occurrence than ever before. Mutual distrust and suspicion have reached the nth point. Even in Congress circles, in spite of much hugging and cooing, the relations between the leaders of the two communities are not free from distrust and suspicion. Hindu-Muslim unity is always put in the forefront of the Congress programme, but so far the leaders have failed to successfully grapple with the situation and find out a suitable solution. The explanation is obvious. Either they have lost influence with the masses or they are not sincere. I cannot accept the latter alternative, and thus it is only the former that is left to us to adopt.

Before Mahatma Gandhi was released the whole country looked to the Yervada jail for the cure of the disease that had overtaken the body politic during his incarceration.All hopes were concentrated on one person, and that person being in jail, it was expected that his freedom would mean the freedom of the country from Hindu-Muslim quarrels. Both parties had faith in him. His leadership was acknowledged by all. There was not the least possible suspicion of his motives. He was the very personification of love, forbearance, trust and goodness. So it was believed that the “key to the Yervada jail” was the key to Hindu-Muslim unity. Providence in its own wisdom supplied that key and the Mahatma was released. It is now more than six months that he has been released. His health was very delicate when he was released, so delicate that he could not leave the hospital for about six weeks or so after his release. Yet with characteristic selflessness he immediately set himself to study the situation, to probe into the causes of this unhappy change. He left nothing unexplored. He met and heard the stories of both sides and also of those who professed to belong to no side. He made independent, enquiries and thought and meditated. Eventually, he issued a statement which, sweet, reasonable and highly conciliatory though it was, failed to satisfy anyone.4

When I say anyone, I exclude that class (a fairly large and influential body) for whom his word is law and who will not question anything he says. If any distinction were to be made between the amount of satisfaction the statement gave to the Hindus and the Muslims, it will not be wrong to say that it gave less satisfaction to the former than to the latter. There is, indeed, a general impression among the Hindus that in apportioning blame and responsibility he was not quite impartial. There are classes of Hindus (most influential, energetic and active) whom his statement mortally offended and who have not hesitated to retaliate with words and resolutions of protest and anger. Whatever one may think of its justifiability or otherwise, this represents a frame of mind which no one who is anxious to bring about lasting peace between the two communities can ignore.

The solution which the Mahatma suggested and the cure he prescribed have, I am afraid, appealed to none. Even his diagnosis is not so masterly as one had a right to expect from him. He has laid great stress on mere symptoms and has not gone deep into the underlying and predisposing causes. He had something to say about Mian Fazl-i-Husain5 and Swami Shraddhanand, but he did not go into the forces that went to make the one and the other. No one doubts his honesty of purpose, his deep love for all, his desire for peace and his anxiety to bring about such a complete unity between Hindus and Muslims as to make their united demand for Swarajya irresistible and to make Swarajya itself, when attained, durable and progressive. But with all this the document is rather disappointing, and the solution suggested is on the face of it superficial, though noble and magnanimous in appearance. The events of the last six months are enough evidence of its utter failure both as a palliative or as a curative remedy.

Yet amidst all these disappointments and disconcerting events and circumstances and in the midst of resulting chaos, there is one fact which emerges boldly and which gives hope to all well-wishers of Bharat. However divided Hindus and Muslims may be, however bitter their relations with each other, they are still united in their demand for Swarajya, in their opposition to the Government and in their hatred of the subjugation imposed upon them from without. It will stand to the eternal credit of Mahatma Gandhi that he has brought politics home to the masses of Bharat, that he has created a wonderful and never-to-be effaced awakening in them, and that he has produced a consciousness which marks the beginning of a real nationhood. With this solid and permanent achievement to the Mahatma’s credit, there is no reason to despair of the future. His statement may not be as satisfying as one would have wished it to be, but he is still at the wheel and is hopeful as ever of being able to lead us through to the desired goal. But the one essential condition of success is that there must be no ignoring of facts and no clinging to shibboleths blown away by the wind of experience. If he will apply his mind to the removal of the real causes of Hindu-Muslim disunity, and keep his mind open as to methods and means, he may yet succeed. Even if he does not, others may, given the right attitude, the right mind and the readiness to apply the right remedy.

After the above was written on board the ship during my voyage to Bharat, I have had further corroboration of statements made in what I have seen, read and observed since my landing at Bombay in September 1924. The two shocking news which I heard immediately on landing were about the Kohat tragedy and Mahatma Gandhi’s fast. The most disconcerting feature of the former was the total emigration of the Hindus from Kohat out of fear of further Muslim attacks. I am not at present prepared to assert what the respective liabilities of the communities were in regard to this tragedy, but I have no doubt in my mind that the Government has throughout shown such utter inefficiency and incompetency as stands unique in the history of British rule in Bharat. I am not very much enamoured of British rule, or for the matter of that of any foreign rule, and in spite of my great admiration for British character I have been a lifelong critic of the British administration. Yet I always believed that the one justification for British rule in Bharat was its ability to protect the minorities and to guarantee peace and security to them under any circumstances. The spectacle of a whole community of about 3,500 men, women and children marching away from their homes to distant places, under government transport arrangements and with government help, for fear of being annihilated by an infuriated majority is, however, a conclusive proof of the falsity of this belief, because it can only mean one of the two things—either the insincerity or the inefficiency of British officials, at least in the North-West Frontier Province.

I will assume here for the purposes of this argument that the Hindus of Kohat were in the first instance to blame, and that they had provoked the Mohammedans for a fatal attack on them; still it was the duty of the British Government to keep the Hindus in Kohat, to protect them from further molestation by the Mohammedans at any cost, to restore order and peace and then to proceed to try and punish the guilty persons. Practically what happened at Kohat was that the authorities considered themselves overpowered and incapable of granting the necessary security to the Hindus. We have often heard of lynch law. What is lynch law? It is nothing else but the prevention of the ordinary course of justice and the preventing of the authorities from proceeding according to law, Was not the happening at Kohat an illustration of the same tendency? The law demands that every accused person should be fully protected from molestation by the accusers, until a court had found him guilty and sentenced him legally. Assuming that the Hindus of Kohat were in the position of accused persons, it was the duty of the Government to arrest them and keep them in safe custody until they could be placed before a court of justice and regularly tried. Even assuming that the Hindus wanted to go away for fear of their lives, it was the duty of the Government to dissuade them, and provide sufficient military security to enable them to stay in their homes. No one wants to leave his home and property in the way the Kohat Hindus did, unless he felt that his life was no longer safe. This particular incident has disclosed a new phase of the communal strife which should be particularly noted by those who want to patch up and create an appearance of unity without going to the root of the problem.

As regards Mahatma Gandhi’s fast, it is an open secret that the desecration of Hindu temples, one after another, at Amethi, Gulbarga, Kohat and other places, and the tragedy of Kohat gave him such a shock that he considered it his duty to undergo a penance for his misunderstanding and mishandling the Hindu-Muslim situation during the last three years. For the first time he felt miserable at the thought that he, who had striven his best to obtain Hindu cooperation for the saving of the Mohammedan “temple” Khilafat, had to see desecration of Hindu temples by tens, in most cases without any provocation, at the hands of Mohammedans. The sense of helplessness and disappointment generated by this shock impelled him to impose a purificatory penance of twenty-one days’ fast on him, in the hope that whilst he purified himself of any sin that he might have committed unconsciously he would be able to create an atmosphere which might give opportunities of improving Hindu- Muslim relations.6 My first feeling was one of disapproval. On reaching Delhi, however, I felt that the impulse which forced him to take the vow could not perhaps be satisfied otherwise.

Similar was my feeling about the Unity Conference.7 I don’t think the Unity Conference has solved the problem or could possibly solve it, but on the whole it has been useful in paving the way for the right understanding of the problem with its various complications and implications. Mahatma Gandhi is now resolved to devote the best part of his energies, time and attention to the solution of this problem. From the bottom of my heart I wish him success, but he will not succeed unless he devotes himself wholeheartedly to the understanding of the real causes that underlie the present situation, and scrupulously avoids proceeding on assumptions and presumptions engendered by affectionate relations with friends, and well- meaning but ineffectual professions of devotion on their part. He must adopt a scientific attitude towards this question and proceed by scientific methods to find out the root causes of trouble and its possible solutions.

I have resigned my position of leadership in the Congress in order to be free to express myself.8 I am going to speak the truth plainly and untrammelled by any delicate feeling about the responsibilities of leadership, and unaffected by what anyone might think of me. Anybody may criticise me, but I will not enter into controversies. I have considered it necessary to say all this before I start giving expression to my views on the subject.


In the discussions at the Unity Conference held at Delhi one thing struck me very forcibly. That was the fact that so many of the ablest and most patriotic Mohammedan young men as well as a few Hindus were obsessed with the idea of “absolute rights”. Time after time it was said that the Mohammedans had an inherent right to slaughter cow and that right could only be curtailed by their own voluntary sacrifice. It was on the basis of absolute right that draft resolutions had actually been prepared by a number of young men who counted among them some of the most brilliant and self-sacrificing workers in the Congress organization. And yet, as I have pointed out more than once, the idea of absolute rights is a fallacious one and has really no foundation in law. Pandit Motilal Nehru, the President, also took pains to explain the same point of view. I am not quite sure, however, that the explanations were quite satisfactory, and as the idea seems to me to be shared by a large number of men, I would like to deal with it at some length.

I contend that there is no such thing as an absolute right vested in any individual or in any community forming part of a nation; that all rights are relative; that no society can remain intact even for twenty-four hours on the basis of absolute rights; that the idea of absolute rights was exploded long ago, because it was found to be not only wrong in theory but pernicious in practice. I have no desire to encumber this paper with quotations from the writings of great thinkers and legislators of the West. The point seems to me to be so simple as not to require much labouring. All organic relations depend upon the mutual obligations of the members composing the organism. No part of the organism has any absolute right. Firstly, all the rights of an individual are subject to the equal rights of others, which fact creates duties and obligations on the part of the different members of a society towards each other. In a well-ordered social organism no one has a right to do anything which will unreasonably clash with the legal interests of anyone else. Nay, in order to secure goodwill and progress, the more, advanced members of a social organism have sometimes to go further and sacrifice their interests for the commonweal, or for the benefit of the other members of the community. The protection of the poor, solicitude for providing for the necessities of those who cannot look after themselves; the widows, the orphans, the blind, the lame, the aged, the minor, etc., all fall under this category.

There was a time in the history of Europe when great emphasis was laid on the rights of man. That was the time of the French Revolution. Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’9 was a typical reflection of the mentality of that generation. Within less than fifty years it was found that the theory was entirely fallacious and pernicious. Mazzini’s ‘Duties of Man’10 was a complete and convincing reply to Paine’s Rights of Man. The French Revolution was based on the rights of man. The American constitution makes the same attempt. In actual practice, however, the rights are subject to great limitations in both. Take, for example, the liberty of speech and the liberty of the press which are guaranteed by both the constitutions. Can anyone, in his senses, contend that either the French or the American Government is in the least deterred from curtailing these rights whenever it thinks it best in the interest of the nation to do so?

I happened to be in the United States during the war, and I saw with my own eyes how the so-called fundamental rights guaranteed to the people by the constitution were taken away by them under one pretence or another, either by Federal legislation or by the action of the Government. Everyone seems to have the right not to fight against his will. Yet during the Great War, this right was denied by all the several governments concerned and everywhere people were forced into the army against their will. Everybody knows what a great fight the conscientious objectors had to make against this curtailment of their so-called rights and the sufferings which they were made, in consequence, to undergo. An individual may have an absolute right to think what he wishes, but the moment it comes to the expression of the thought in speech and action, his right is hedged round by conditions and limitations. This is the legal and the constitutional aspect of the question.

As regards its ethical aspect, it is absolutely clear that it is nobler to emphasize duties rather than rights. People who insist on rights rather than duties become selfish, proud and self-centred. Those who emphasize duties are quite the reverse. The highest development of humanity and of the spirit of service requires greater emphasis being laid on duties than on rights. That is the teaching of almost all the great religions of the world if properly understood and rightly interpreted. That is the teaching of Buddha, Christ and Gandhi. It is also the lesson of actual day- to-day experience. It is certainly productive of infinitely greater good in a community if its members are inspired by the ideal of doing nothing which may be painful to other members, even if this means the denial to themselves of some of their so-called rights. Anyway, one thing is certain. No member of a society can be allowed to exercise his rights in such a way as to clash with the just rights of others. The two rights must be so adjusted and correlated that they might be exercised without doing injury to each other.

I was really astonished to find that some of these young men, who have been in the closest touch with Mahatma Gandhi, should have been found harping on this doctrine of rights, because, as already stated and as was pointed out at the Conference itself by Mr. Raja Gopalachari, his teaching is obviously based more on the doctrine of duties than on that of rights. I would advise my young countrymen to think over this question a little more deeply, to read the literature on the subject a little more carefully, and to free themselves from the obsession of this pernicious doctrine of rights. Unless this is done, there is no hope for unity in Bharat. We must always remember that we are a sort of polyglot nation, much less homogeneous than any of those European or Western nations who have had to fight for their freedom. Such a country can never win its freedom, or, having won freedom, can never maintain it unless the various communities composing its people are inspired more by the ideal of duties than of rights. No unity is possible if everyone insists on his pound of flesh, and without unity there is no freedom.


All those who aim at creating a united Bharat should remember that Bharat is a land of many faiths and many religions, that these faiths and religions, again, are divided into sections and sub-sections, that these sections and sub-sections practise numerous religious observances, ceremonials and rituals, and that some of these rituals and observances conflict with one another. It is impossible for any government to guarantee to all these religions, sections and sub-sections, full and complete freedom in the matter of the observance of all their rituals and ceremonials, especially when they are in conflict with one another. Some of these ceremonials and observances, moreover, are inhuman, cruel and immoral. To insist upon, and to emphasize, the right of every community, small or large, to a strict and full observance of all their religious rituals and ceremonials is, therefore, a clear impossibility, besides being directly opposed to the idea of a united Bharat. The British Government, in spite of their professions of religious neutrality, have, from time to time, interfered in the matter of religious practices; for example, they stopped by legislation the inhuman practices of sati and infanticide which Hindu orthodoxy contended was a part of its religion?

It is not my purpose here to enter into details, but a student of the religions of Bharat will easily be able to confirm my statement that the advent of British rule in Bharat, followed by a diffusion of western knowledge and western sciences and accompanied by a revival of the study of Sanskrit and Arabic, led to a number of religious reform movements being started, in order to purge the religions of Bharat of all such superstitions and excesses as had been engendered in them by centuries of ignorance and blind faith. In the light of their new knowledge, people found that many of the rites and ceremonials and observances practised in the name of a religion were not sanctioned by the scriptures of that religion and were opposed to the spirit of the founders and the early expounders of that faith. It cannot, however, be denied that there are communities in Bharat who still believe in the necessity and efficacy of various kinds of rites and ceremonials which are positively inhuman and immoral. Society cannot interfere with the beliefs of anyone, but no progressive society can allow such practices to be carried on with impunity even in the name of religion as are revolting to the sense of humanity and morality of the vast bulk of its members. Even allowing the largest possible liberty in the matter of religious observances, no nation can for all time tolerate such practices.

From a political point of view it is all the more necessary that religious differences be narrowed down. It is obvious that if everyone in Bharat is, as of right, entitled to practise, in the name of religion, whatever he believes to be a part of his faith, no unity is possible. The idea of a united Bharat demands that emphasis should be laid more on the points on which different religions agree than on the differences that divide them. The idea of a united Bharat necessarily demands, therefore, the rationalising of religion and religious practices to the farthest extent possible. The claim that everyone has a right to full and unrestricted observance of all that he believes to be a part of his religion cannot possibly stand the test of analysis. Not only is everyone’s right limited by the just rights of others, but insistence on the observance of conflicting ceremonials has to be actively discouraged and all such ideas based on false notions of religion as increase hatred, estrange one community from another, and create barriers between different communities and thus make communal consciousness more acute and bitter, have to be gradually eliminated.

Unfortunately for us even religious reform movements in Bharat have in some cases taken a wrong turn. They have brought into prominence the observance of very many rites and ceremonies which do not form an integral part of the religions concerned and have nothing to do with dharma. Communal consciousness, again, has come to be synonymous with the observance of such petty ceremonials as perpetuate differences and form a solid wall separating one community from another. The Arya Samaj, the Mohammedan reform movement and the Sikh reform movement all illustrate this tendency and it cannot be denied that Mahatma Gandhi himself and the Khilafat movement, of which he was the strongest pillar, have also accentuated this feeling.

Mahatma Gandhi’s personality is, to a certain extent, a puzzle. In practice he is a liberal of liberals and a broadminded humanitarian. He declares untouchability to be inhuman and is pledged to root it out in spite of the fact that tens of millions of Hindus regard it as an essential part of their religion. In theory, on the other hand, he sometimes seems to be supporting narrow mindedness, even superstitious sectarianism in some of its aspects. This has brought about a reaction and has given a new life to those Pandits and Maulvis who, before his advent, were fast losing influence among their respective communities. The result is that within the last three or four years, Hindu sectarians have become more bigoted, than they were ever before, and Mohammedan and Sikh sectarians still more so. The reactionaries amongst the followers of these religions have again come into power and are exercising a baneful influence in keeping the communities apart from each other, and in bringing into prominence very many petty observances practised in the name of religion, and calculated to divide instead of uniting the several communities.

I have no intention of offending anybody’s susceptibilities, but if the existing conditions are properly analysed it will be seen that sectarianism and narrow-minded bigotry have been very much strengthened within the last three years. The Khilafat movement has particularly strengthened it among the Mohammedans, and it has not been without its influence and reaction on the Hindus and Sikhs. We do not ignore the important part which communal representation under the Reforms Scheme has played in bringing into existence strong communal consciousness, thus making the relations between the two principal communities more acute and bitter than ever before, but our present concern is with this particular aspect of the matter.

If we really and honestly want a united Bharat, we, i.e. the different religious communities in this country, shall have to make a clear distinction between essentials and non -essentials in religion. Full religious freedom does not mean or imply full and unfettered liberty in the matter of observances and practices which affect the just rights of other communities or otherwise injure their feelings. The assertion of such a right, either individual or communal, and the belief that the British Government will enforce the practice of such a right, has done a great deal of mischief in Bharat. Take, for example, the case of the North-West Frontier Province. In a village where the population is 99 per cent Mohammedan and only 1 per cent Hindu, the assertion by a Hindu of his right to carry his idol in procession along the streets of the village where many mosques are situated would be an extremely foolish act. The assertion of the right of sacrificing cow by a Muslim in a place like Ajudhia, Mathura, Brindaban or Hardwar would be of the same nature.

Unhappily, the British rule has encouraged both Hindus and Mohammedans to assert such rights and to fight if they are denied. The philosophy of individualism and the idea of absolute religious freedom, both of which, as I have already pointed out, are wholly wrong and which in Bharat are at the present time directly traceable to British rule, have taken such a firm root in the minds of Indians that they are playing a havoc in all phases of our national life; and consequently the first step towards the creation of a real national life, would be a widespread propaganda carried on to educate public opinion in matters of this kind on right lines. To me it is an unpleasant paradox in this connection and a puzzling commentary on the present situation that men and women who break every day of their lives almost every canon of Hindu Dharma or Islam by acts of omission or commission, should not only pose as leaders of their respective communities but should actually be accepted as such.

The sum total of my reasoning is this, that one of the causes of the present tension between Hindus and Mohammedans has been the unfortunate revival of the idea of absolute freedom in the matter of religious observances. As I have already said, no one can interfere with or question the belief of another. Such belief is entirely the concern of the individual so long as it does not enforce itself in action. But when we come to observances we have to consider the environment in which we live and in the interest of peace and neighbourly goodwill, to avoid social collision, have to sacrifice a certain amount of our freedom.

In a country like Bharat, to inculcate the idea that every religious practice so far observed or presumed to be sanctioned or enjoined by one’s faith, is holy and sacred and unchangeable, is, in my humble judgment, mischievous, and requires to be counteracted. At the present stage of its development Bharat requires more of rationalism and toleration than orthodoxy and bigotry. Unhappily, during the last decade we have created an atmosphere which smells more of orthodoxy and bigotry than of rationalism and toleration. The non cooperation movement itself has materially contributed to the creation of this atmosphere. It was unfortunate that the Khilafat movement in Bharat should have taken its stand on a religious rather than political basis.11 There were political grounds to support it. It was still more unfortunate that Mahatma Gandhi and the leaders of the Khilafat movement should have brought religion into such prominence in connection with a movement which was, really and fundamentally, more political than religious.

The desire to seek religious sanction for the various items of the non-cooperation programme was another great blunder. It led directly to the revival of a sectarian zeal and to the re-enthroning of influences and forces which were antagonistic to the idea of a united Bharat. Non-cooperation which was based on the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity, thus became one of the forces favouring disunity. Never before did I see educated Hindus, Mussalmans and Sikhs attaching so great an importance to insignificant and petty things in the name of religion as they do now. Shastras and Shariats have been studied and requisitioned only to create an atmosphere of narrowness and bigotry. I have seen young Muslim gentlemen being vigorously attacked by Maulvis for daring to shave their beards, and all of Bharat saw the spectacle of a Muslim President attempting to stop the playing of instrumental music at an annual meeting of the National Congress. We have heard of many more amusing claims being put forward in the name of religion, which could never have been imagined before. The last four years, by the way, have brought into existence a legion of Maulanas, Pandits and Gyanis whom no one had ever credited with any religious sanctity or spiritual prestige.

I mean no offence to anyone, but I am stating these facts to illustrate my point. Take, for instance, the playing of music before mosques. In my experience of the last forty years I had never felt that the question was of any importance at all and yet I had been a constant reader of newspapers, and a faithful observer of events. It is similarly a matter of pain to me to notice that some of the most broad minded Hindus who have travelled all over the world should feel the necessity of observing any sort of untouchability towards Mohammedans. You cannot expect Bharat to be ever politically united as a single nation as long as there are Indians who believe that it is against their religion to drink water or eat food touched by a non-Hindu. I remember a great Samaj leader once denouncing Congressmen for having sold their religion for the sake of unity and the selling consisted, in his opinion, in their freely eating and drinking with the Mohammedans.

The fact is that a large number of Hindus and Muslims who profess a desire for Hindu-Muslim unity and who talk of a united Bharat, do not realize that unity has a price which they will have to pay before it can be achieved. I do not maintain that either Hindus or Mohammedans should sacrifice the essentials of their religion for the sake of unity. For me, personally, the essentials of dharma are very few, indeed, and they are such as make for unity not only in Bharat but throughout the world. But I have no right and do not expect that the large body of Hindus and Mohammedans will share my views on this point. I must, however, say frankly that unity is a dream never to be realised unless Hindus and Mohammedans, Sikhs and Christians make up their minds to be more liberal and rational in their religious and social life than they at present are.


The observations made in the last article raise several cognate questions, which may profitably be discussed before we come to the political and economic aspects of the problem. Are the Hindu and Mohammedan religions and cultures so fundamentally different or, to be more exact, so antagonistic as to make their followers naturally and instinctively hostile to each other? If so, what chances are there of our being able to bring about unity between the two?

It is said that Hindu Dharma is not a dogma, that it is almost impossible to define it, that it is a system of life of which caste is an essential feature and that as long as caste is there, it is impossible to make it sufficiently tolerant and progressive so as to make unity and cooperation with other religious communities either easy or even possible. Yet it is an admitted fact that in spite of a rigid code of social morality, Hindu Dharma is the most tolerant of all the great religions of the world. Hindu Dharma does not ridicule or despise other peoples’ beliefs or faiths; nay, it does not question other peoples’ right to follow their own faiths and attain spiritual satisfaction thereby. It lays no exclusive claim to be the only royal road to salvation. To is not out to convert other people and thereby save them from hell or perdition. In fact, it expressly lays down that for different people, in different stages of physical, mental and spiritual developments, there are different ways of approaching God and obtaining satisfaction and salvation. To its own followers it allows the fullest freedom to believe what they like and to worship as they please.

This recognition by the Government of the communal system changed the situation. They found that except as Hindus they had no status and their children would have none unless they chose to adopt Islam. This they were not prepared to do. So, willy-nilly, they had to declare themselves Hindus and seek elections from general non- Muslim constituencies, basing their claim on their championship of Hindu rights.

Unlike Hindu Dharma, Islam is a faith of dogmas and doctrines. Every Mohammedan must believe not only in the existence of God without a second (La ilah ill Allah) but also that Muhammad was his prophet and that the Quran is his final word. He must also believe, according to the orthodox school, that Muhammad was the last of the prophets and whatever he said and did is binding on all his faithful followers. There have been expounders of Islam who have tried to raise it to a kind of high occultism, but their efforts have not met with any considerable success, and Islam remains, to all intents and purposes, with the majority of its followers, what it has been all through centuries past. My Muslim friends will pardon me if I venture to say that too great an insistence on dogma has been the bane of Islam, the cause of its political downfall, and that unless it is given up, it will stand in the way of Islam ever regaining its lost position as a worldwide political factor. Islam is as much divided and subdivided into sections and factions as Christianity once was and perhaps to this day is.

The division and subdivision of Hindu society into sects have one redeeming feature. The general tolerance of Hindu Dharma prevents them from destroying each other. History shows that this cannot be said of Islam.

Religious intolerance of the severest kind has been a handmaid of chivalry, bravery, zeal, learning and piety among the Muslims throughout Muslim history. Three out of the four first Khalifas were murdered by their fellow Muslims. The pages of Muslim history are full of similar acts done by religious zealots or political adventurers. One would have thought that recent events in Turkey and Egypt would have chastened Islam at least in this respect.12 But the stoning to death of an Ahmadia by the orders of the Government of Kabul and the approval of that barbarous act by some of the most prominent and educated leaders of Muslim India have shown that the canker is still there and has not lost an iota of its original violence. A united Bharat will mean freedom for both Hindus and Mussalmans but they prefer the strict observance of the most futile and non-essential elements of their respective faiths to freedom. Is this not a sight for the gods to weep over?13

I am firmly convinced that we cannot create a united Bharat and cannot win Swaraj in any shape, unless the religious canker is removed. “Mazhab” (in its narrow sense), as my beloved friend Stokes often reminds me, is the curse of Bharat, and as long as it rules supreme, there is no hope for Bharat. The idea that we can remain “good Hindus” and “good Mussalmans” in the narrowest sense of these terms, and yet win Swaraj, is, in my judgment, an absurd one. It has done a lot of mischief within the last four years. I still believe that we do not need to depart in any manner or degree from the true and essential spirit of Islam and Hindu Dharma in order to be free and united. There are good and true Christians, Roman Catholics and Protestants, Presbyterians and Anglicans, Jews and Gentiles in Great Britain, France and Germany, but the earnestness of their religious faith does not prevent their being free citizens of their respective countries. A hundred years ago, who could have imagined that a Jew would one day be the Prime Minister of Great Britain, another a Secretary of State, and a third a Viceroy of Bharat?

The Jews are perhaps the smallest religious community in Great Britain. They never claimed any special representation in Parliament or any specific share of government posts. In fact, about 150 years ago the communal consciousness of the Roman Catholics and Protestants in Great Britain was as keen and exclusive as that of the Hindus and Mussalmans today. For a long time the Roman Catholics were excluded from Parliament and could not be employed in any government office, and still they never claimed any special representation. Now all these disabilities have been removed and Roman Catholics, equally with the Protestants, hold the highest positions in the state. In this matter the example of Great Britain has been followed in all the great countries of Europe and in the United States of America, and the result is what we see. I am certain in my mind that Turkey, Egypt and Syria are going to do the same thing, and if they do not, they will never be free. Does anyone expect Bharat to be the only exception to the rule?

For God’s sake, don’t threaten us with Jehad. We have seen many Jehads! For the last twelve hundred years we have heard that cry every day of our national existence. Yet Jehads have not succeeded in killing us, and, God willing, no threat of Jehad will influence us by one hair’s breadth in our determination to continue to live. We are prepared to subordinate our communal life to national life. For united national existence, we would do anything, but we shall not submit to threats or to coercion. It is true that Muslim distrust of Hindus can successfully block the avenues of Swarajya, but brother Muslim, don’t forget that active Hindu hostility may also be productive of some harm to the Islamic world. Away, then, with these threats and distrust. Let us live and struggle for freedom as brothers whose interests are one and indivisible. Let us live and die for each other, so that Bharat may live and prosper as a nation. Bharat is neither Hindu nor Muslim. It is not even both. It is one. It is Bharat.

To leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, I would say in all humility: “Sirs, do not put the cart before the horse. Do not assume the existence of conditions which do not exist. Listen to the voice of experience and caution. It is better to proceed slowly than to run away with assumptions and presumptions which would not only do no good but might land your country into pits. Do not try to change human nature simply by resolutions and exhortations. Give it time.” I am convinced that, if in 1920 and 1921, Mahatma Gandhi had listened to the voice of those who had greater experience of the public life of the country, the reaction of 1923 and 1924 would not have been so terrible. The assumption that seven crores of Muslims had accepted non-cooperation was absolutely unwarranted. It was too much to expect educated Muslims to give up opportunities of preferment and promotion which they were just beginning to get, the Hindus being already much in advance. This was a demand which was bound to and did eventually strain their loyalty to the leaders. I don’t blame them for “not listening to the latter”. Let us restart our work with greater regard to the actualities of life and the possibilities of human nature, and we may yet live to see our efforts proving fruitful. Amen!


  1. Here are printed a series of thirteen articles published in The Tribune between 26 November and 17 December 1924. These articles were first published in the Swarajya from 25 November to 16 December 1924 and later in 1925 as a book entitled ‘Hindu-Muslim Unity— The Problem and its Solution’ (Madras). The first article in the series was written by Lajpat Rai on board the ship during his voyage from England to Bharat. He had left for England primarily for health on 9 April 1924 and returned to India on 20 September.
  1. Swami Shraddhanand (Mahatma Munshi Ram), an eminent Arya Samajist leader, preached from the pulpit of the Jama Masjid at Delhi during the agitation against the Rowlatt Bills.
  1. Mahatma Gandhi was released, after nearly two years’ imprisonment, on 5 February 1924. He had been arrested at Ahmedabad on 10 March 1922 on the charge of “promoting disaffection” against the Government through his writings in Young India, and sentenced to six years’ rigorous imprisonment. For ten days he was lodged in the Sabarmati jail and thereafter removed to the Yervada prison. He was, however, released prematurely, on grounds of health, on 5 February 1924. He had been operated upon for appendicitis in the Sasoon Hospital, Poona, in January.
  1. The reference was in fact to an article published in Young India of 29 May 1924 under the title “Hindu-Muslim Tension : Its Causes and Cure” in which Mahatma Gandhi, after analysing the causes of the growing distrust between the Hindus and Muslims, had appealed to the Hindus to “set their house in order”, and written: “I have not a shadow of doubt that Islam will respond in a manner worthy of its liberal traditions. The key to the situation lies with the Hindus. We must shed timidity or cowardice. We must be brave enough to trust, all will be well.” The article is also printed in The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol, 24, pp. 136-154.
  1. (1877-1936); b and politician; member, Punjab Legislative Council, 1917-30; Education Minister, Punjab. 1921, 1923-25; Revenue Member, Punjab, 1926-30; member, Indian delegation to the League of Nations, Geneva, 1927; member, Viceroy’s Executive Council, 1930-35; minister, Punjab Government, 1936.
  1. Mahatma Gandhi’s 21-day fast began on 17 September and ended on 8 October 1924.
  1. The Unity Conference held at Delhi, during Mahatma Gandhi’s fast, on 26 September 1924 affirmed the freedom of conscience and religion, but condemned the use of compulsion and violence. It passed a number of resolutions to generate goodwill and dissipate mutual suspicion. The Conference was presided over by Motilal Nehru and attended by 300 delegates, including Dr. Westcott, the Metropolitan of India, Annie Besant, the Ali brothers, Swami Shraddhanand and Madan Mohan Malaviya.
  1. Lajpat Rai had resigned from the presidentship of the Punjab Provincial Congress Committee.
  1. (1737-1809); born in England; shifted to America in 1774; edited a magazine; propounded freedom of the colonies and opposed slavery; served in American army and fought during the French Revolution; imprisoned for opposing the killing of the French King; returned to America in 1802; works include The Age of Reason, written in prison, and The Rights of Man.
  1. G Mazzini (1805-1872); Italian nationalist; worked primarily, while in exile, to unify Italy under a republican government by revolutionary action; headed short-lived republic in Rome in 1849.
  1. The Khilafat movement was started in protest against the removal of the Sultan of Turkey as the Caliph of the Islamic world following the dismemberment of Turkey at the end of the War in 1918.
  1. Secularization of Turkey had started with the declaration of a Republic on 29 December 1923 under Mustafa Kemal Pasha and the abolition of the Caliphate by the Great National Assembly on 3 March 1924. In Egypt too a new constitution based on the principles of liberal nationalism was promulgated on 19 April 1923 and a Parliament was established. And several measures for secularizing the state were taken by Zaghlul Pasha who came to power in 1924.
  1. Three eminent British Jews referred to were–Benjamin Disraeli, E.S. Montagu and Earl of Reading. Disraeli was the Prime Minister from 1874 to 1880 and again in 1898. Montagu was the Secretary of State for India from 1917 to 1922, and Reading was the Viceroy of India from 1921 to 1926.

(Excerpts Taken from Collected works of Lala Lajpat Rai, Edited by B.R. Nanda, New Delhi, 2008)

Author Info

Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928), famous nationalist leader, one of the triumvirate – Lal-Pal-Pal. Early education in Lahore. Sentenced to prison term in Mandalay. Travelled abroad and kept in touch with the nationalists/revolutionaries. Associated with the Arya Samaj , did not hesitate to tell the truth on political/religious matters. Lawyer, journalist and writer. Elected President of the Indian National Congress (1920). Founded the Servants of the Peoples Society. Died because of serious injuries suffered while protesting against the visit of the Simon Commission in Lahore.

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