Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2023 > Communal Harmony: Foundation of Indian Nationalism | Ram Puniyani

Mainstream, VOL 61 No 41 October 7, 2023

Communal Harmony: Foundation of Indian Nationalism | Ram Puniyani

Saturday 7 October 2023, by Ram Puniyani


India is a country with multiple diversities. Be it in the matter of religion, language and ethnicity, India’s diversity is a phenomenon. While we came to become an ‘Indian Nation’ during the freedom movement, we do inherit pluralism in all aspects of our life in the subcontinent. The evolving harmony gives our culture a unique essence and is the foundation of our country’s ethos.

The beginnings

Indian geography is such that many people kept coming here from the West and composite Indian culture emerged. Initially there was urban type culture in Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro region. Not many details of this culture are available. The pre Aryan people later migrated to forests and formed the tribes. Even the Dravidian people have many similarities with the Harappan people.

Devdatta Patanayak writes, “Aryans... came into India, became Brahmin in Gangetic plains, and then spread towards Tamilakkam.... (based on article, 16th July, 2022, Times of India). This is also confirmed by ‘population genetics’ studies as presented by Tony Joseph in his book ‘Early Indians’. Similar conclusions were drawn earlier on the basis of linguistics and archaeology studies, now population genetics confirms it without any doubt.

There were many religious traditions prevalent here and the word Hindu was not in use. We can call the major religious tradition here as Brahmanic or Vedic one. In due course and also much later Nath, Tantra, Bhakti, Shaiva, Ajivikas and Siddhant traditions came to grow here. Initially the word Indike was coined by Greeks in 4th Century BCE and later Hindu word was coined by Arabs, Iranians and others who crossed the River Sindhu to come here. In their language the word S is used less often instead H is used more often. Initially this word came as a geographical category, and later with the coming particularly of Muslims, Muslim rulers all the religious traditions prevalent here were broadly labelled as ‘Hindu religion’. This Hindu religious identity became much stronger with the coming of the British but in this identity Brahmanical values became most dominant, and so Babasaheb Ambedkar pointed out that Hinduism is Brahmanical theology.


Fifth Century BCE two great religions emerged here, Jainism and Buddhism. These were away from the caste and gender hierarchy, the hallmark of Brahmanism. They also opposed animal sacrifice which was prevalent in Vedic rituals. These religions focus on ‘this world’ rather than supernatural power, Atma (Soul) Parmatma (God) etc. Buddhism spread far and wide with Emperor Ashok embracing this religion in 3rd Century BCE. His rule was a sort of model of a welfare kingdom. His edicts tell us how much he was concerned with the welfare of his subjects. He had a liberal policy towards people of all religions prevalent at that time, Brahmanism, Jainism, Ajivikas and Buddhism in particular. It was Asoka’s liberal policies and attitude towards welfare that Independent Indian adopted two major symbols of Ashokan rule, The Ashok Chakra and Lions of Ashoka Pillar.

Christianity came here in AD 52, when St. Thomas came to Malabar Coast and set up Churches. Many Christian missionaries started going to work in remote Adivasi areas and in poor dalit areas. This is what led to the rooting of Christianity in this soil. Today Christian’s population (2011 census) is 2.3%. Islam first came through Arab traders in seventh Century on Malabar Coast. The first mosque in India came up in the same region, Cheraman Juma Mosque. In 8th Century Mohammad bin Kasim ruled in Sindh province for a brief while. It was much later that from eleventh century many Muslim kings invaded the North West area and expanded their empire. The successive Muslim dynasties, Gulam, Khilaji, Gajanavid and Mughals, did expand their kingdoms but their administration was a mixed one with Hindus and Muslims both. The largest of this was by Aurangzeb who expanded till down South.

The first largest empire was that of Emperor Asoka and then we can see Aurangzeb also had the vast empire. The Muslim kings had Hindu collaborators like two of the major Nav Ratnas of Akbar were Birbal and Raja Todarmal. Mansingh was his Commander-in-Chief. The major officials of Aurangzeb were Raja Jaising, Raja Jaswantsingh and Raja Raghunath Bahdur among others. Similarly Maharana Pratap had Hakim Khan as one of his Generals, Rani of Jhansi had Ghaus Khan and Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj had Ibrahim Gardi, Daulat Khan etc. as his commanders.

Amity among religious communities

The interchange between different religions was the norm. Religions don’t have nationality, Gandhi writes, “Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people...” And then he goes on to list the faiths of India, “Apart from Christianity and Judaism, Hinduism and its offshoots, Islam and Zoroastrianism are living faiths.” (Gandhi’s collected works, Volume XLVI p. 27-28)

He did not see Hindus and Muslims as antagonistic communities, “The Two races (Hindus and Muslims) lived at peace amongst themselves during Muslim rule. Let it be remembered that many Hindus embraced Islam before the advent of Muslim rule in India. It is my belief that had there been no Muslim rule, there would still have been Musalmans in India, even as there would have been Christians had there been no British rule. There is nothing to prove that the Hindus and Musalmans lived at war with one another before British rule. (Young India, February 26, 1925, p 75, in commenting to a letter from Bengali Zamindar(landlord))

“The Hindus flourished under Moslem sovereigns and Moslems under the Hindu. Each party recognized that mutual fighting was suicidal, and that neither party would abandon its religion by force of arms. Both parties, therefore, decided to live in peace. With the English advent quarrels recommenced… Should we not remember that many Hindus and Mohammedans own the same ancestors and the same blood runs through their veins? Do people become enemies because they change their religion? Is the God of the Mohammedan different from the God of the Hindu? Religions are different roads converging to the same point. What does it matter that we take different roads so long as we reach the same goal? Wherein is the cause of quarrelling? ((The Condition of India (Continued) Hindus and Mohammedans, )

Indian culture is intermix of different religious and cultural traditions. These are seen in our food habits (Biryani, Jalebi coming from Iran), art, music (Ustad Bismillah Khan, Rahim, Raskhan), architecture and religious traditions. We see the great Bhakti tradition from Hindu umbrella, where the followers of these Bhakti traditions are Hindus and Muslims both. The likes of Kabir, Tukaram, Namdev and Narsi Mehta have followers both among Hindus and Muslims.

Similarly we have Sufi tradition and Hindus-Muslims both visit the Sufi dargahs with equal devotion. The Dargahs of Khwaja Garib Nawaz, Nijamuddin Auliya are visited by Muslims and Hindus both. This mixed culture has been highlighted as Ganga Jamuni Tehjeeb (Culture) by the architect of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru. His book “Discovery of India” gives the Indian history in proper rational perspective. Shyam Benegal’s serial ‘Bharat Ek Khoj’ is a brilliant presentation of this history. As per Nehru India’s unity is thousands of years old. It has survived and flourished as new groups became part of it. Surely at times there were conflicts, but these conflicts were also followed by a grand resolution, providing the nation enduring oneness.

As per him “She (India) was like some ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously,” Nehru wrote. And further “Though outwardly there was diversity and infinite variety among our people, everywhere there was that tremendous impression of oneness, which had held all of us together for ages past, whatever political fate or misfortune befell us. The unity of India was no longer merely an intellectual conception for me: it was an emotional experience that overpowered me.”

Misconceptions Promote Hatred

Lots of misconceptions prevail about temple destruction by Muslim Kings. The temples were broken mainly for wealth. Mahmood Gaznavi, claiming to be an idol breaker comes all the way to Somnath from Gazna (nearly 1500 K.M. away). He does not break the stone idols on the way but destroys Somanth temple as it had a huge amount of wealth lying there. Similarly as per ‘Rajtarangini’ by poet Kalhan, 11th Century Hindu King Raja Harshdev appointed a special officer ‘Devottapatan Nayak’ (An officer to uproot the idols of Gods). Apparently this was to uproot the idols made of Gold and silver and not of stones.

As Aurangzeb destroyed Kashi Vishwanath Temple for some reasons (Not religious as per Dr. Pattabhi Sitarammayya’s book ‘Feathers and Stone’)), he also gave donations to many temples, some of which are Mahakal Temple in Ujjain, Kamakhya Devi temple near Guwahati and Lord Krishna Temple in Vrindavan. The selective presentation of half truths has led to many misconceptions.

The central part of medieval history was fairly amicable living between communities, and kings were also ruling for power and wealth irrespective of religion they followed. It is also true that many of their acts were attributed to religion by their courtiers and later by communal historians.

Indian National Movement

Indian National movement is the greatest manifestation of the unity of people of India, irrespective of their religion, caste and language. It also shows the participation of men and women both in the struggle for India’s Independence. There were few elite Muslims, the inheritors of the ideology of feudal times, the Muslim Communalists (Muslim League) who remained aloof from the freedom movement. But the majority of Muslims were part of the making of India. In response to demand for separate Pakistan, the likes of Allah Baksh, the ex chief of Sindh, organized a ‘Muslim National Conference’ which passed as a resolution to oppose the demand of Pakistan. There were many other organizations of Muslims which opposed the demand for separate Pakistan. All India Momin Conference is one such example.

If we recall many a slogans during freedom movement were coined by many Muslim leaders- Yusuf Meherali- ‘British Quit India’, ‘Jai Hind’ (Hail India) by Abid Ali Safrani, Allama Iqbal wrote ‘Sare Jahan Se Acchcha Hindostan Hamara’ (Hindostan is best in the World) , Hasrat Mohani coined ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ (Long live Revolution) , Azeemullah Khan coined ‘Madre Watan Bharat ki Jai’ (Hail mother India) are few such examples.

Similarly some Hindus, initially Rajas and Jamindars (Kings and Landlords) formed Hindu Mahasabha which later articulated the concept of Hindu Rashtra. This was taken up by RSS in due course. But the majority of Hindus stood with Gandhi, Nehru and Patel for the secular democratic India. ‘Dilli Chalo’ was the slogan of Azad Hind Fauz formed by Subhash Chandra Bose, which had Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs (Dhillon, Sahgal, and Shahnawaj were the generals of this army).

Indian Constitution: Fraternity is the Core

The spread of different religions here has been due to multiple factors not due to Kings. The dream and vision of India has been shaped by our diversity and pluralism as reflected in our Constituent Assembly which discussed the Indian Constitution, to be drafted by Babasaheb Ambedkar. The lives of different religious communities are thickly intertwined and communal harmony has been the basis of our society, till the British came and imposed the policy of ‘divide and rule’.

Our destiny as a nation is dependent on each other irrespective of our religion, caste and language. That’s why our Constitution begins with “We the People of India” and talks of Equality and Fraternity! Equality stands for equality of different religions, languages, castes and gender!

(Author: Ram Puniyani is a prominent commentator on Communal politics and its perils in India. |

ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.