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Taking Stock
Mission lost in wilderness - II
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahThe reason why the Englishmen strongly supported the emergence of such a political organization of immense importance can be understood from what Viceroy Lord Dufferin surmised: ‘The newspapers even if they really represented the views of the people, were not reliable and as the English were necessarily ignorant of what was thought of them and their policy in native circles it would be very desirable in their interests as well as in the interest of the ruled that Indian politicians should meet yearly and point out to the government in what respect the administration was defective and how it could be improved’ (History of Indian Journalism, p.98).

At this point we find that political leaders become more strident and active and the press is relegated to the back benches. Leaders are encouraged to organize on political and social planes, they are encouraged to speak out their mind and they are listened to. At this point Muslim leaders are confused and the voice of the Urdu press is suffocated if not stifled. As there is no consistent and authentic account of the Urdu press we must see how individual leaders were responding to the emerging situation and thus draw our conclusions for the purpose of the present writing. Accordingly, let us see what Prof. Mujeeb has to say about this situation through his reference to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in his book 'The Indian Muslims'.

'Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898) endeavoured, on the one hand, to prove that the Muslims were not by tradition or habit disloyal and, on the other, to convince the Muslims that the right course for them was to accept the British government and to rehabilitate themselves by cooperating with it and seeking service under it... . But when the National Congress was established and its influence began to increase among the Muslims also, a decision had to be taken as to whether the Muslims should follow the Congress policy of criticism and demand more opportunities of service under the government or Sir Syed's policy of seeking friendship with the British in order to strengthen their position' (p. 432)

In the meanwhile other developments were taking place which inevitably involved Muslims with or without stirring their public opinion. One such event was the partition of Bengal in 1905 which was apparently an administrative measure as the British administrators found the province too big and unwieldy to manage its affairs and deal with its huge population. But Bengali Hindus saw it as a measure to weaken Hindus and to create opportunities for Muslims so they opposed the measures strongly. The British administrators encouraged Muslims to present their case before the viceroy. Thus the Muslim League was organized in 1906, and Hindus and Muslims were set against each other.

At this important juncture we find that the Bengali press was strongly against the division of Bengal. Its opposition rose to such a high pitch that the division had to be annulled only five years later. It is another story that the same Bengali press about three decades later believed that Bengal should be divided on communal lines as proposed by the Muslim League. The rationale being that in a Muslim majority state in free India Bengali Hindus despite their being more enlightened, better educated and more cultured will have to submit to the opinion of the Muslim majority despite their being ill-educated and backward. Moreover, by playing the Muslim League card they would not be held responsible for being a party to the partition. The point to be noted presently is that the Bengali press had a clear policy on issues and raised its voice in unison at the appropriate time while there are no signs of a similar Urdu press which could build public opinion for or against an issue and raise its voice to such a high decibel that it could be heard in the parlors of decision making.

At this point we find that the MAO College is producing English educated Muslim youth, Ulama in great madrasas are producing teachers for teaching and propagating Islam, mixed sort of educational institutions like Nadwat ul-Ulama have also been established, intense debates for and against the collaborations of Muslims with the British rulers or with the Hindu compatriots under the banner of the National Congress are going on but without the sharp and shrill voice of the Muslim press, without the engine that could generate the heat of public opinion and could sustain it. We find that Urdu periodicals abound but most of their space is devoted on moral and religions subjects. Of course there are newspapers but they are found dealing with local and regional issues. It was quite natural, for the papers were coming out from distant centres, and the issues that boiled, for instance, in the north were not perceived in the same intensity, for instance, in Hyderabad. Moreover, issues had not been clearly identified, how then their solutions could be prescribed and approaches adopted.

As has been mentioned earlier Muslim leaders rather than the press had taken lead in all important matters, they failed to make up their mind whether they should deal with the British rulers so as to gain political and economic benefits and raise their stature in the emerging political situation or come to better terms with Hindu compatriots to be in a better bargaining position. At the same time they did not like to be oblivious of the principles of either of the two - the British rulers and the Hindu compatriots. It may be remembered that the first quarter of the last century was the period when Indian Muslims were facing dilemma after dilemma and every one of them was going to have a very long term effect and consequently Indian Muslims are suffering to this day. One root cause, among others, for the dilemma was that while trying to forge ahead with the time they were looking backwards. They could not dissociate themselves from the Caliphate in Turkey, which had in fact degenerated into the Ottoman Empire hated by Arab countries. This association kept them involved in the historic conflicts that Turks were indulging in with their Christian antagonists in Europe. Throughout this proxy Muslim leaders changed positions going from one extreme to the other. In the process they lost trust and confidence on all sides. The oscillation cost them heavily.
(to be concluded)
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