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Aligarh Movement

Aligarh Movement

  • A legacy of the Revolt of 1857 was the official impression that the Muslims were the arch conspirators in 1857-58. The Wahabi political activities of 1860s and 1870s confirmed such suspicions.
  • However, a wind of change was perceptible in the 1870s. W.W. Hunter’s book The Indian Musalman made a vigorous plea for reconciling and “rallying the Muslims” around the British government through thoughtful concessions.
    • A section of the Muslim community led by Syed Ahmed Khan was prepared to accept this stance of official patronage.
    • These Muslims felt that the Muslims community would forgo its rightful share in the administrative services if they shut themselves in a shell and resist modern ideas.
  • Sir Syed Ahmed Khan’s (1817-98) was born in Delhi in 1817 in a respectable Muslim family, he received education in the traditional Muslim style.
  • He was in the judicial service of the Company at the time of the Rebellion of 1857 and stood loyal to the Government. He retired from service in 1876.
  • He wrote the book in 1860- The Loyal Muhammadans of India
  • In 1878 he became a member of the Imperial Legislative Council. His loyalty earned him a kinghthood in 1888.
  • His programmes for reform was educational, religious, political.
  • Syed Ahmed tried to modernize the outlook of the Muslims.
    • He tried to reconcile his co-religionists to modern scientific thought and to the British rule and urged them to accept services under the Government.
    • In this objective, he achieved great success.
    • Sir Syed also tried to reform the social abuses in the Muslim community. He condemned the system of piri and muridi.
      • The pirs and faqirs claimed to be followers of the Sufi school and passed mystic words to their disciples (murids).
      • He also condemned the institution of slavery and described it un-Islamic.
    • His progressive social ideas were propagated through his urdu magazine Tahdhib-ul-Akhlaq (Improvement of Manners and Morals).
    • In his masterly work Commentaries on the Quran, Sir Syed criticised the narrow outlook of traditional interpreters and gave his own views in the light of contemporary rationalism and scientific knowledge.
      • His emphasis was on the study of Koran and liberal interpretation of the Koran.
      • His interpretation of Islam emphasized the validity of tree enquiry and similarities between Koranic revelation and the laws of nature discovered by modern science.
      • The word of God, he said, should be interpreted by the work of God which lies open before all to see.
  • In the field of education:
    • It aimed at spreading western and scientific education among the Muslim masses.
    • Foundation of Scientific Society in 1864 to introduce the western sciences through urdu translation.
    • Sir Syed opened the Anglo-Mohammadan Oriental College at Aligarh in 1875, where instruction was imparted both in Western arts and sciences and Muslim religion.
      • Soon Aligarh became the centre of religious and cultural revival of the Muslim community.
      • The school became the nucleus for the formation of the Muslim University in 1920.
    • Muhamadan Anglo-Oriental Education Conference was started tn 1886 for promoting western education among Muslims

Political philosophy of Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan:

  • As David Lelyveld has shown, his political philosophy revolved round the idea that Indian society was aggregate of contending groups brought together by a superior power, previously the Mughal emperor, who had now been replaced by Queen Victoria, presiding over a hierarchy of distinct social units.
  • The Muslims as an ex-ruling class were entitled to a special position of authority and power in this new cosmopolitan British empire.
    • But for this they must educate themselves and acquire the new skills which would empower them to assert themselves within the new institutional set up of colonial India.
  • His idea of being a Muslim was not opposed to being an Indian, but he did not see India as a nation state based on individual citizenship; for him it was a federation of qaums or ethnic communities based on common descent. These groups would enjoy cultural autonomy and share power according to their ancestry and inherited subculture, but not achievement.
  • The Muslims as an ex-ruling class, though minority, would therefore have a greater representation in the sharing of power and a special relationship with the political order.
    • It was here that his philosophy differed from that of the Indian National Congress, which imagined India as a nation state; based on individual citizen’s rights.
    • It was because of this divergence of perceptions that Muslim politics began to drift away from Congress and mainstream nationalism.
  • He opposed Ilbert Bill.
  • He also said- “Hindus and Muslims are two eyes of India.”
  • Persons associated with Aligarh Movement- – associated with him – Altaf Hussain Hali, Maulavi Nazir Ahmad, Maulavi Shibli Numani

Aligarh movement in opposition to Congress:

  • Sir Sayyid’s Aligarh College was a “profoundly a political enterprise” to construct and consolidate among its Muslim students the mentality of belonging to a qaum and to reach through them the greater social catchment area of north Indian Muslim population.
  • Its curriculum blended Muslim theology with nineteenth century European empiricism that would prepare the new generation of Muslims for the advantages and opportunities of British rule.
    • So far as knowledge was concerned, the Aligarh students did not have much of an edge over others; but what they picked up here was an ethos of solidarity.
  • The other vehicle to spread Sir Sayyid’s message was the Mohammedan Educational Conference which met every year since 1886, i.e. the year after the Congress was born, at different cities all over India.
    • This was in direct opposition to the Congress which Sir thought was an— attempt to organise consolidate the Hindu majority electorate to dominate over the Muslim minority in the new representative bodies and the civil services.
  • This majority phobia increased further because of the cow-killing riots of 1893, the Hindu demand for legal ban on cow-slaughter and Congress silent about it.
  • He stood against the Indian National Congress with Raja Sheo Prasad of Banaras.
  • The internal problems of the Aligarh College might have also forced Sir Sayyid to take a more radical anti-congress stand. This particular trend in Muslim politics was patronised by the British bureaucracy.
    • Particularly significant was the role of Theodore Beck, the European principal of the Aligarh College, who formed in 1888 the Indian United Patriotic Association to oppose Congress and to plead for government patronage for the Muslims.
  • In 1893 the Mohammedan Anglo-Oriental Defence Association was formed, once again with Beck’s encouragement, to check the growing popularity of the Congress and to organise Muslim public opinion against it.
  • So Aligarh movement under Sir Sayyid Ahmed Khan and his Aligarh College developed in opposition to Congress-led nationalism and in loyalty to the British Raj, which was conceived as a legitimate successor to the Mughal empire.

Limitation of Sayyid’s leadership and need for a political organisation:

  • However, Sir Sayyid’s leadership was never universally accepted in the north Indian Muslim community.
    • The ulama certainly did not like his thrust towards westernisation, which seemed to threaten their pre-eminence in Muslim society.
    • As opposed to his modernism and rationality, they invoked Islamic universalism and exclusivism.
  • There were men like Jamaluddin al-Afghani who were rabid anti-colonialist and did not like Sir Sayyid’s loyalism.
    • He was ridiculed for his imitative Western ways and unabashed championing of specific class interests.
  • By the late 1880s many Muslims in north India were tilting towards the Congress, while in 1887 Badruddin Tyabji of Bombay had become its first Muslim president.
  • By the late 1890s, many of the Urdu newspapers in Punjab were asserting that the Aligarh School “did not represent the Indian Muhammadans“.
  • After Sir Sayyid’s death in 1898, even the younger generation at Aligarh became restless, as they began to feel that they were losing out because they were not properly organised and hence could not voice their demands effectively.
    • As a result, they gradually began to deviate from the existing tradition of Aligarh politics.
    • For example, the earlier politicians of Sir Sayyid’s generation had kept the ulama at arm’s length in favour of the Western-educated intelligentsia. The politics of this period was confined to “kachari-linked family groups” who deployed their Muslim identity only in self-defence.
    • But by contrast, the younger leaders like Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, were profoundly influenced by the ulama, like Maulana Abdul Bari, and through their influence they rediscovered the inspiration of Islam as a mobilising force. This resulted in what may be called a gradual Islamisation of Muslim politics.
  • The younger leaders also started deviating from the loyalist stand of Sayyid Ahmed and partly responsible for this was Lieutenant Governor Macdonnell’s unsympathetic policies towards the United Provinces Muslims.
    • He preferred the Hindus to the Muslims, it was alleged, and this preference was reflected in the Nagri Resolution of 18 April 1900, which recognised the Nagri script, along with Persian, for official use in the courts.
    • This sparked off the Hindi-Urdu controversy, as language now became a trope for community honour and a focus for mobilisation.
    • And soon to this campaign was added a demand for an all-India Muslim University as a cultural centre of pan-Indian Islam.
    • But the leaders of the older generation, like Mohsin-ul-Mulk, soon backed out of this agitation, as Macdonnell threatened to cut off grants for the Aligarh College.
  • So the younger generation was left alone to protest against discriminatory government policies and in no time they realised the inadequacies of Sayyid Ahmed’s loyalist politics; some of them even threatened to join the Congress.
    • So the older leaders and the colonial bureaucracy now felt the urgent need for a political organisation for the Muslims in order to mobilise the community against the Congress and also to offer an independent political platform, as many of the Bengal Punjab and Bombay Muslim leaders were not prepared to accept Aligarh’s leadership.

Simla deputation:

  • The Bengali Muslims had been coming closer to their north Indian co-religionists since 1899, when the annual Mohammedan Educational Conference was held at Calcutta. But the events of 1906 brought them even closer, though not entirely on cordial terms.
  • In eastern Bengal the resignation of Lt. Governor Bampfylde Fuller, known for his pro-partition and pro-Muslim sympathies, and the possibility of partition itself being rescinded, made the Bengal Muslim leadership panicky.
  • And then the Secretary of State Morley’s budget speech of 1906 indicated that representative government was going to be introduced in India.
    • This alarmed Muslim leaders across the board, as they thought that in the new self-governing bodies they would be swayed by the Hindu majority who were now well organised under the Congress.
  • This provided the context for the Simla deputation of 1 October 1906 to the Governor General Lord Minto.
    • For a long time the prevalent theory was that it was a “command performance”, entirely stage-managed by the British, through the European principal of the Aligarh College, W.A.J. Archbald.
  • But recent analyses show that the initiative had come from the Aligarh veterans, like Mohsin-ul-Mulk, the secretary of the Aligarh College, who wanted to assuage the feelings of younger Muslims; and it was hoped that the Bengal Muslims would also join any such deputation.
    • But in the end the grievances of the Bengal Muslims were bypassed for being too sensitive or divisive and no Bengali joined the deputation to Simla.
  • The petition, which the Aligarh leaders drafted, represented only their interests.
    • It depicted the Muslims as a separate community with political interests different from those of the Hindus and therefore having legitimate claim to minority rights to proportional representation in the representative bodies and public employment.
  • The deputation was given a patient hearing by the viceroy, and he also assured the east Bengalees that their rights would not be jeopardised.

Birth of All India Muslim league:

  • The success of the Simla deputation was a tremendous morale booster to Muslim politics; yet mere verbal assurances were hardly expected to satisfy the younger Muslims.
  • They had long been feeling the need for a separate political organisation for themselves; a religious orientation of the movement was also on their agenda, as there has now been a clear shift of emphasis from qaum (community based on common descent) to ummah (community based on allegiance to a common faith).
  • The thirty-five delegates at Simla therefore decided to organise the community for independent political action to secure for themselves a recognition from the government as “a nation within a nation“, to use the words of Aga Khan, the leader of the delegation.
  • The next annual Mohammedan Educational Conference was scheduled to be held in December 1906 in Dacca, the capital of the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.
    • So it was decided that this opportunity would be taken to launch a new Muslim party.
    • The situation in Dacca was already volatile. The nationalist agitation against the partition of Bengal had gained an unexpected momentum and there was widespread fear among the Bengali Muslims that the government might succumb to the nationalist pressure and annul the partition to the disadvantage of the Muslims.
  • There was already a proposal from Nawab Salimullah of Dacca, the leader of the east Bengali Muslims, about the formation of a political party for the Muslims and this could be an excellent starting point for further discussion.
  • So it was in this Dacca Educational Conference on 30 December 1906 that a new party was launched and it was called the All India Muslim League. Its professed goals were:
    • to safeguard the political rights and interests of the Muslims,
    • to preach loyalty to the British and
    • to further the cause of inter-communal amity.
  • The Muslim supporters of the Congress immediately tried to counteract this move, but in vain; the majority of the educated Muslims had already decided to tread along a different path.
  • Until about 1910 for all practical purposes the All India Muslim League maintained its existence only as an adjunct of the Mohammedan Educational Conference and then the two bodies were separated.
  • Some scholars like M.S. Jain (1965)—think that the League was a logical culmination of the Aligarh movement.
    • Jayanti Maitra, however, believes that the Muslim League was not an out-growth of the Aligarh movement, but rather the outcome of the political developments among the Bengali Muslims, who were always more politicised than their north Indian counterparts. And after all, it was the Bengal situation of 1906 that had acted as a catalyst in bringing into existence the new Muslim party.
  • But, even the Nawab of Dacca believed that The new party represented “the next stage of political life” that first blossomed at Aligarh and it was expected to provide greater opportunity-in public institutions for the young educated Muslims.
  • During at least the first decade of its existence, the League remained dominated by ire UP Muslims and it established Aligarh’s position at the Centrestage of all-India Muslim politics.
    • Viqar-ul-Mulk and Mohsin-a-Mulk became the joint secretaries of a provisional committee that drafted its constitution, which was approved at it next session at Karachi in December 1907.
    • In this way the Aligarh veterans, with the help of some Punjabi leaders, made the League their own organisation and moulded it according to their own ideological preferences.
    • The constitution, for example, ensured that the new organisation would remain under the control of “men of property and influence“. This excluded from the League’s power structure many of those angry young men under whose pressure the party had been created at Dacca.
  • Between 1907 and 1909, provincial Muslim Leagues were formed in all the major provinces and they enjoyed liberty to frame their own constitutions.
    • They were not formally controlled by the all-India body, nor could they interfere with the affairs of the central organisation.
    • Hence the provincial Leagues were of varied political complexion and often their policies were at variance with those of the central body.
  • Its London branch was inaugurated in May 1908 and under the leader ship of Syed Amir Ali, which played a significant role in shaping the constitutional reform of 1909, the Morley-Minto Reforms. This new act provided for reserved seats for the Muslim in imperial as well as provincial legislatures, in numbers much in excess of their proportions and in keeping with their political importance.
  • This granting of separate electorate for Muslim thus provided an official legitimacy to their minority status and the separate political identity of the Indian Muslims, The league representing it’s public face. The subsequent evolution of this Muslim identity from minority status to nationhood took a long and tortuous trajectory.

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