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Modi : The Hindu Unifier
Aug 2014

Eminent English scholars who have made a seminal contribution to the study of Indian history have broadly classified India's past into three:  Ancient India, Mediaeval India and Modern India or alternately the Hindu period, the Muslim period and the British period.  India has been characterized by some scholars as an ethnological museum. It is a land with a variety of races, religions and languages. Ancient Hindus were the first to have created their wonderful Vedic literature and mythology.   Much later came the religions of Budhism and Jainism.  Those who invaded India in the hoary past included the Shakas, Kushans and the Huns who in due course were absorbed into the cultural milieu of India.  

Around 500 BC, Indus region had become, for a short time, a part of the Persian empire.  In 326 BC Alexander the Great subdued north-western part of Hindustan. However, the fact remains that no lasting imperial domain was established by the Hindu rulers.  The short-lived empires  of Ashoka (273 to 332 BC) Samudragupta of Patliputra of AD 400 and Harsha of Kannauj, about 200 years later, extended their sovereignty  over large parts of northern India but none had founded a lasting dynasty nor created a permanent united Hindu polity.

India was next destined to experience the conquering sword of Islam. The Muslim rule lasted some seven centuries and another two centuries the English ruled India. At the time of Muslim invasions, different princes ruled different parts of India in isolation; they were:  the Rais of Sind, the Brahaman Shahi of Gandhara, the Parmaras of  Malwa, the Solankis of Gujarat, the Gurjaras of Ujjain, the Chauhans of Ajmer, the Gaharwars of Kannauj, the Chandels of Mahoba, the Kalacharis of Chedi (MP), the Palas of  Bengal.  Thus India was divided among different  kingdoms obtaining in Hindustan, the Himalayan states and other kingdoms in Deccan and south India. Historians are of the view that these isolated kingdoms embodied but one idea, self-aggrandisement and spelt but one way, RUIN.

This mindset has a history of its own. In the last one thousand years of recorded history (1206 AD - 2014 AD), Hindu leaders of certain geographical areas have shown remarkable resistance to foreign domination.  These include the Rajputs of Rajasthan, the Marathas of Maharashtra and the Sikhs of the Punjab. These communities fought both the Muslims invaders as well as the British. The establishment of the Vijayanagar empire in the South is another shining example of Hindu resistance against the Bahmani kingdom.  However, there is one area comprising the United Provinces, Bihar and Bengal which has rarely witnessed any resistance against foreign rule after they were subdued by the Muslim invaders in the 12th century. The Hindu leaders of these areas fall within the definition of Masochists.


In 712 Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sind and thereafter Multan. Around 738, the armies of Khalifa invaded Ujain, the Gurgara country.  However, they were defeated.  This victory had saved India for another 275 years.  Peshawar was occupied by Sultan Mahmud in 991 and Punjab in 1018. Thereafter, treating Punjab as base, Mahmud went on to attack Thanesar, Kannauj, Mathura and Somnath. Beautiful cities were laid to waste. Mahommed Ghori became the Sultan in 1186.  In 1191, he was defeated by Prithviraj Chauhan. Next year, he defeated Chauhan and killed him. In 1194 Jaychand of Kannauj was defeated. The area between Meerut and Benaras came under the control of Sultan Ghori.  Bhaktiar Khilji, the next ruler conquered Bihar in 1197. He killed the Buddhists in the Buddhist University at Nalanda. In 1199 Kutubuddin conquered Bengal and Bundelkhand in 1208. Thus in a period of five years Kutubuddin was the master of Punjab, the Gangetic plains and Bengal.

Allauddin Khilji reduced the kingdom of Yadavas of Deogir and Chalukyas of Gujarat.  The only resistance came from the Ranas of Ranthombor under Rana Hammir. The kings of Mewar put themselves forward as the champions of Hindus.  Allauddin's general Malik Kafur carried out a raid which took him as far as Rameshwaram.  The great kingdom of Gujarat which had thrown back the invasion of Islam for hundred years fell at the first onslaught of Allauddin's generals. It never rose again.  Mahommed Tughlaq became the Sultan in 1325 and the famous traveler Ibn Batuta lived for a time at his court. The mighty Vijayanagar empire of the Hindus was founded in 1338.  In Maharashtra, an independent kingdom was founded by Hassan Gangu under the name of Bahmni kingdom.  Before the Mughuls took over in 1526, the Sultans of Bengal, Jaunpur, Gujarat and Malwa had become almost independent.


The surprising fact which emerges from the history of the first hundred and fifty years of Islam's conquest of North India is the strength of the Hindu religion. The depression of Hindus did not last very long. It is the undying glory of the Rajputs and their main claim to India's  gratitude that the resistance to foreign invasion was organised by them and kept up with continuous heroism for a period of four hundred years. When the Chauhan arms met with disaster in the battle against Mahommed Ghori, the Rajput States lay disorganised and helpless for a short time. But a new family claimed the leadership and this was the Guihilot dynasty of Mewar. The area between Abu and Ranthambor was organised into a military confederacy and even Allauddin at the height of his power found it hard, as Akbar was to find at a later time, to humiliate the pride or break the spirit of the Mewar rulers. The great Hammira whose glory is sung in Hammiravijaya was able for a long time to stand up to the might of Delhi. By the end of the fourteenth century the Mewar rulers had risen to the position of one of the major powers of north India, constantly at war with Malwa and Gujerat. Under Lakha Singh the Mewar army even invaded the Gangetic valley. But it was under Maharana Kumbha, one of the most notable figures of medieval India (1433-68), that the Mewar kingdom attained the height of its power. The Sultans of Gujerat and Malwa were defeated and held in check and the Hindu power was established over large areas of north India. The glory of Kumbha and his successors was that they were the champions of a Hindu revival which, apart from saving large areas from Muslim conquest, also put heart into the Hindu people of other areas of north India. The claim to be Hinduan Suraj or the sun of the Hindus was fully sustained by the descendants of Bappa Rawal from Hammira to Pratap.


The Maharashtra country had inherited great traditions. From the time of Satavahanas to the fall of the Yadavas of Deogir (1311) the area of Maharashtra had been one of the centres of Hindu culture. The temples of Ellora and Ajanta and the great Chalukyan architecture had vanished under the Muslim rule. Though the people had become depressed economically, they remained a hardy, honest and hardworking lot as Yuan-Chwang had described them in the' seventh century. With the gradual weakening of Bijapur, the Marathas had come to have considerable influence in that State. The three hundred years of fight had not crushed the spirit of Hindu independence.  With the battle of Talikotta the Muslim rulers of the Deccan had gained a notable victory but the successors of the defeated Ramraja ruled from Penukonda and were till the middle of the sixteenth century masters of a powerful Empire. 

By the middle of the century (1650) the central authority of the Vijayanagar kings had completely broken down and Hindu political independence had no visible national head.  It is to this vacant position that Shivaji under the inspiration of Ramdas now aspired.  That kingdom which had absorbed Berar had under its Ottoman Sultans extended its authority from the Arabian Sea to the Bay of Bengal and was udoubtedly one of the richest in India, as much of the trade from the West came to its ports. Bijapur was even a more beautiful city than Agra and during the two hundred years of their rule the Sultans had ornamented and decorated it in a manner which astonished every visitor to the capital. 

During his attack on Bijapur, Shivaji to whom the Mughal emperor had given no special attention, raided his viceregal capital (Ahmadnagar) and from Aurangzeb's own stable carried away a thousand horses. When Aurangzeb marched North the instructions he left to his officers “to watch that son of a dog (Shivaji) who is only waiting for his chance.” But what Shivaji had created was  not a dynasty but a nation and a State. The Marathas mourned their king but organised resistance on the line established by Shivaji. 

According to P.E. Robert, a distinguished British historian of British India, the greatest event in the reign of Aurangzeb (1658-1707) in the history of India, was the rise of Marathas.  This race of Deccan peasants was the most powerful solvent of the Mughal Empire and the most determined rival of the British supremacy in India.  They were welded together as a nation by Shivaji (1627-1680) who successfully resisted Mughal efforts to crush him and gradually extended his sway over South India. In the second generation, the sovereignty at Satara passed to their Minister or Peshwa Balaji Vishvanath who founded a dynasty at Poona. By the middle of the 18th century they threatened other powers ruling from Cape Comorin to Bengal and Rajputana. It is certain that but for the British challenge the whole of the inheritance of the Mughals, would have passed into the hands of the Marathas. Four tough campaigns were undertaken by the British before the Maratha confederacy was shattered, subdivided and subdued by Treaty of Salbai concluded by Warren Hastings in 1782. It detached the Raja of Berar from Maratha confederacy, all territory west of Jumna was restored to Sindhia, Raghoba the pretender was pensioned off by the Peshva. By this treaty, the British secured peace with Maratha powers for twenty years. Roughly, the Gaikwar held Kathiawar and Gujarat, Holkar, the south western part of Malwa, Sindhia, the north eastern Malwa, the territory west of the Jumna, and the upper Ganges and Jumna Doab. The lands of the Raja of Berar extended from his capital Nagpur to the sea at Cuttack. Thus the Marathas commanded the centre of the peninsula and from Gujarat in the west to Orissa in the east, their territory reaching up to northwards to the contours of Punjab. The greatest Maratha chieftain was Mahadaji Sindhia who since 1784 controlled Hindustan from Sutlej to Agra and territories in Malwa and Deccan.  The Mughal Emperor Shah Alam had been forced to put himself under Sindhia's protection. Shah Alam had appointed the Peshwa as the Vice Regent of the Emperor.

After the death of Aurangzeb provincial governors became almost independent of central authority. Peshwa Baji Rao who had succeeded his father Balaji declared in 1723 that the future of the Marathas lay in attacking Delhi: Let us strike at the trunk of the withering tree and the branches will fall themselves. With his will the Maratha flag fly from the Krishna to the Indus. In 1739 Nadir Shah entered Delhi and put a large portion of the population to sword; blinded the Mughal emperor Shah Alam and advised the Hindu rulers to walk in the path of submission and obedience to our dear brother and threatened to blot them (Hindu rulers) out of the pages of the book of creation.

Treaty of Bassein

In March 1800, the shrewd old statesman Nana Farnavis died at Poona, and with him departed all the wisdom and moderation of Maratha government. Both Holkar and Sindhia tried to have an upper hand at Poona.  Under the circumstances, Peshva Baji Rao II sought British help. By the Treaty of Bassein concluded on December 31, 1802, the Peshva entered into a subsidiary alliance with Lord Wellesley. This treaty is regarded as one of the most important landmarks of British dominion in India.  Wellesley's troops were camped at the capitals of the four great Indian powers - Mysore, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Poona.  As a result, the British forces met the combined armies of Sindhia and Bhonsla on September 23, 1803 at Assaye, a village about fortyfive miles from Aurangabad. Wellesley won a transcendent victory.  In the same year Lord Lake captured Aligarh and Delhi. Lake entered into a treaty with Raja of Bharatpur and occupied Agra and defeated the remaining forces of Sindhia at Laswari. Commenting on the significance of these two battles, Sardar K.M. Panikkar, a distinguished scholar and statesman has written : The forces of Shivaji's empire were destroyed in the battle of Assaye and Laswari and the Peshwa reduced to the position of a subordinate ally.  By 1803 Britain had become the paramount power in India. There was no ruler in India in 1803 who did not accept the sovereignty of Delhi.  The Punjab where the Sikhs under a notable ruler, Ranjit Singh, had established a great military power, was annexed in 1845-48 in the anarchy that followed the death of Ranjit Singh.

In short, after the death of Shivaji the constitutional position of the Maratha confederacy is a curious and baffling political puzzle. The nominal head, the descendant of Shivaji, dwelt in his palace prison at Satara. All real powers were exercised by the Peshva (Prime Minister).  In course of time he too had become almost a roi faineant in the hand of his master Nana Farnavis, the ruler at Poona. The Bhosla Raja of Berar, Holkar of Indore and Sindhia of Gwalior had become independent. 


The name itself means disciple.  Guru Govind Singh, the tenth Guru, was the founder of Khalsa. He was a genius. The religion inculcated belief in one God; denounced idolatory and caste distinction. Muhammadan persecution transformed this peaceful community into a military theocracy, known as the khalsa. It organized itself in twelve misls or confederacies. All true Sikhs take the surname of 'Singh' or the lion. They formed the finest fighting force that ever took the field. 

Guru Govind Singh succeeded his father when he was but a chi1d but from the first he was a determined enemy of the Moghuls as his own father Tegh Bahadur had suffered martyrdom  pleading the cause of Kashmiri Brahmins. In 1699, when the emperor was enmeshed in the labyrinth of the Maratha country, Govind took a step the significance of which but few at the time would have understood. He established the Khalsa transformed the community into a military organisation in which every member undertook if necessary to suffer the loss of life, family and honour in the service of the Panth. His power grew and it came into conflict with the Moghul governments of Sirhind and Lahore. Aurangzeb ordered stern measures to be taken and it was when the armies of Delhi had reduced the Guru to the position of a helpless exile that he wrote the Zafar Nama in which he proudly asked “what is the use of putting down a few sparks when the flame is burning more fiercely than ever.” The flame that Govind Singh lit soon consumed the home province of Moghuls-the Punjab. 

The greatest Sikh chieftain, Ranjit Singh, born in 1780 became a soldier at the age of twelve. He made Lahore his capital in 1799 and gradually subdued all other misl heads of Sutlej. However, by the Treaty of Amritsar concluded with the British in April 1809, Ranjit Singh was given full freedom to act in the areas west of river Sutlej.  The British frontier, in the north west, with its outpost garrison at Ludhiana was fixed.  Having subdued the other Sikh chieftains, Ranjit Singh invaded eastern outposts of Afghanistan. He seized Attock on the Indus, took Multan in 1818, conquered Kashmir in 1819 and in 1833 occupied Peshawar. Ranjit Singh died in 1839 and all real powers went into the hands of the army. A dismal series of revolutions and assassinations followed. In 1847 Sher Singh, who was then seated implored the help of Lord Auckland against his seditious soldiery. In 1845, the army acknowledged the claims of Dulip Singh, a child of five whose mother acted as the regent. In Dec. 1845 the Sikh forces crossed the Sutlej. To check the advance of Sikh forces the Governor-General issued a proclamation declaring all Sikh possessions east of Sutlej forfeited and sent forces to save Ferozpore. The first Anglo-Sikh war took place at Mudki on 18 December 1845. The second Sikh war took place at Sobraon in Feb. 1846. Under the Treaty of Lahore, 1846, the land between the Sutlej and Beas (the Jullandhar Doab) were given up by the Sikhs and in addition an indemnity of one and half million was imposed or Kashmir ceded with half a million pound sterling. The later alternative was accepted. The British then handed over Kashmir to Gulab Singh, Raja of Jammu who had remained neutral in the war, for one million sterling. In 1849, the whole of Punjab was annexed by Lord Dalhousie. And with this, the frontiers of British India were carried forward to the base of the mountains of Afghanistan.

COMMENTS:  Ms. Najma Heptullah is correct.  There were no Muslims in India before the advent of Muhammad bin Qasim who was the first Arab to have invaded Sind in 712 A.D. Sind and Multan became Muslim during that period.  For another two centuries there was no further Muslim invasion. Invasions resumed with Mahmud Ghazni  in 991 A.D. and the Sultanate was  of Aibak established in Delhi 1206.  From 1206 to 1857, there was always a Badshah on the throne of Delhi. During this period of over six centuries the Muslim population did not exceed 10 per cent. Large parts of India were ruled by them and India was considered Darul Islam. Hindus were treated as zimmis. 

On the advent of British rule with Robert Clive's victory in the Battle of Plassey, Muslims were divested of their privileged status.  In 1858, on the morrow of the Mutiny, control of India passed over to the British crown. In 1877, Queen Victoria became the Empress of India. And the process of introducing self governing institutions began in earnest. During the Viceroyalty of Lord Rippon, it was decided to associate Indians with the governance of the country. By that time, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan had become a Member of the Governor General's Legislative Council. In that capacity, he opposed the introduction of self governing institutions and the holding of competitive examinations for entry into the Indian Civil Service. These measures, according to him, would result in the rule of Hindu majority over the Muslims. Earlier, the question of minority versus majority had never arisen. There were only two classes then: Rulers (Muslims) and the ruled (Hindus). Furthermore, when Badaruddin Tyabjee, President of the Indian National Congress (1887) asked Ahmad Khan to join the Indian National Congress, he wrote back stating that there were two nations in India - the Muslims and the Hindus - and the interests of the two could never be reconciled.

Dr. Hamid Khan, a Pakistani scholar has written the following about Sir Syed: Syed Ahmad's contribution to the political cause of Indian Muslims was formidable.  As a member of the Governor-General's Council from 1878 he successfully campaigned for separate nomination of Muslims to the local self government institutions which were created by Lord Rippon.  He was one of the original exponents of the two nation theory and believed that Hindus and Muslims could not have equal share in power (Constitutional And Political History of Pakistan, OUP, Karachi, 2001) So long as Ahmad Khan was alive, Muslims of note did not join the Congress and were ardent supporters of the British rule in India.

With the beginning of the 20th century, the British rulers decided to introduce electoral reforms in India.  In order to take advantage of the British move, a delegation of distinguished Muslims headed by Sir Aga Khan called on Governor General Minto in 1906 at Simla and demanded: separate electorate; reservation in jobs and a separate Muslim university. The government agreed to the first two and rejected the third on the ground that it would become a breeding ground for separatism. From 1909 to 1940, the Muslims of India enjoyed concessions and benefits as a privileged community. However, its leaders found that they could only ask for safeguards as a minority and nothing more. By 1940, the leadership realized that they had reached a dead-end in the pursuit of concessions. Thus, at its session held in March 1940 at Lahore, the League asked for a separate homeland-Pakistan-as Muslims satisfied all criteria for a separate nation.  

By 1947, the British rulers and the Congress agreed to the division of India into two dominions: Hindustan and Pakistan.  The journey of Muslims from once being rulers of India to a minority and then to a separate nation came to an end in 1947 with the creation of Pakistan. How did the word minority come into being again after 1947? It was Jawaharlal Nehru who was instrumental in re-introducing the word minority in the Constitution of India. Dr. Rajendra Prasad in his book India Divided, 1946, had told leaders that after the creation of Pakistan Muslims who stayed back in India would be declared aliens who could stay upon issue of visas. Thus, the question of according special treatment to Muslim vis a vis other communities did not arise. 


November 2017


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