It was at this critical juncture in the history of Islam in India that Sir Syed Ahmed stepped forward. “He was a pupil of the famous Mawlãnã a Mamlûk ‘Ali who was entirely a product of the Walî-u’llahî school and tradition. It was perhaps because of this relationship that he claimed to be a Wahhãbî…”14 But now on the word ‘Wahabi’ was to acquire a new meaning. He had been a protege of the British for a long time. He had sided with his masters during the jihãd of 1857. Soon after the jihãd failed, he came out with a book, The Loyal Mohammedans of India. He travelled to England in 1869 and wrote as follows from there to a friend in India: “Without flattering the English, I can truly say that the natives of India, high and low, merchants and petty shopkeepers, educated and illiterate, when contrasted with the English in education, manners and uprightness, are as like them as a dirty animal is to an able and handsome man. Do you look upon an animal as a thing to be honoured? Do you think it necessary to treat an animal courteously, or the reverse? We have no right to courteous treatment. The English have reason for believing us in India to be imbecile brutes.”15
Here was the man the British were looking for. The rest of his role is too well-known to be repeated here. He was undoubtedly the father of the two-nation theory which led later on to the demand for Pakistan. He became a bitter opponent of the Indian National Congress as soon as it was founded in 1885. He decried parliamentary democracy as a plot to put the ‘brute Hindu majority’ into power. He led a hate campaign against the Bengalis who were in the forefront of the fight for freedom. He was all for a fight against Hindi attaining an equal status with Urdu. And he tried his best to build bridges between Christianity on the one hand and Islam on the other. The nett result of his Aligarh Movement was to convert the Muslim community into a close preserve of toadyism (jee-huzûrî) towards the British. The British on their part responded positively, and made many concessions to the Muslims. This co-operation between British imperialism and the residues of Islamic imperialism continued till the creation of Pakistan, except for a brief period of bad blood during the Khilafat agitation.
Many scholars, both Hindu and Muslim, have persisted in painting Sir Syed as a nationalist in his early career. They feel puzzled at what they call his sudden volte face. The earliest of these scholars was Lala Lajpat Rai. Lalaji’s father had become a Muslim for all practical purposes, and was a great admirer of Sir Syed. The son had also come under the same influence before he went to Lahore and joined the Arya Samaj. He became an ardent nationalist. But the favourable impression which Sir Syed had made on his mind earlier had lingered on. He was, therefore, shocked when Sir Syed appeared in what Lalaji thought to be a new attire. He wrote a number of Open Letters to Sir Syed which were published in the English and the Varnacular press of his days. These letters made Lalaji famous in no time, and all over India.
Shri Seshadri has also observed that “these nationalist ideas appear to be but a fleeting phase in Sir Syed’s life”. The truth, however, is that there was never a nationalist phase in the life of Sir Syed. He started his life as a lick-spittle of the British, and a lick-spittle he remained to the end of his days. But like his namesake of earlier days, Syed Ahmad Barelvi, he tried to humour the Hindus whenever he needed material help. M.R.A. Baig hits the nail on the head when he writes: “As is well-known, he secured donations for Aligarh from Hindus of his own feudal class. When canvassing for their support he expressed such exemplary sentiments as that Hindus and Muslims were the ‘two eyes of the beautiful Indian bride.’ But when addressing exclusively Muslim audiences, especially political meetings, he was militant enough to threaten civil war.”16
Five years after Sir Syed’s death in 1898, his successor, Viqar-ul-Mulk, wrote a letter to The Pioneer of Lucknow. He said: “We start with the firm conviction and seek to implant it in the mind of every Indian Musalman that our destiny is now bound up with the presence and permanence of British rule in this country, and that in the government of the day we have got our best and surest friend.”17
This was the mentality which led to the formation of the Muslim League in December, 1906. The League pledged itself to an ever-lasting loyalty to the British Crown. Three months later, Viqar-ul-Mulk addressed a students’ gathering at Aligarh. He said: “God forbid, if the British rule disappears from India. Hindus will lord over it, and we will be in constant danger of our life, property and honour. The only way for the Muslims to escape this danger is to help in the continuance of the British rule. If the Muslims are heartily with the British, then that rule is bound to endure. Let the Muslims consider themselves as a British army ready to shed their blood and sacrifice their lives for the British Crown… Wherever you are, whether in the football field or in the tennis lawn, you have to consider yourselves as soldiers of a British regiment. You have to defend the British Empire, and to give the enemy [Hindus] a fight in doing so. If you bear it in mind and act accordingly, you will have done that and your name will be written in letters of gold in the British Indian history. The future generations will be grateful to you.”18
But the leaders of the Indian National Congress continued to hug the illusion that the residues of Islamic imperialism in India could also be mobilised in the fight for the freedom of the motherland. They had failed to notice and understand why the jihãd against the British had again and again led to atrocities on innocent Hindus, and how the mujãhids of yester years had ended by becoming stooges of the British at a later stage.
In the 1946 elections the vast majority of Muslim votes would go to this same Muslim league particularly in the areas that today fall into India more so than the areas that went to Pakistan.
The only Muslim majority province where the League didn’t win was in NWFP.