'The majority community has to show they
can behave towards others
in a generous, fair
and just way. Let us live up to that faith'
Fifty years after India won freedom, the myth that Sardar Patel
was anti-Muslim persists. In this fascinating essay,Dr Rafiq Zakaria,
the respected scholar, reveals the truth about Patel
and India's Muslims.
Presenting the unanimous report of
the committee to the Constituent
Assembly, the Sardar cautioned Hindus that it was a sacred trust,
which had been entrusted to them by the minorities and that they
should take all care to honour it both in letter and in spirit.
He also warned 'that a discontented minority is a burden
and a danger and that we must not do anything to injure the feelings
of any minority so long as it is not unreasonable.'
He said, 'It is up to the majority community, by its generosity, to
create a sense of confidence in the minorities, and so also it
will be the duty of the minority communities to forget the past
and to reflect on what the country has suffered owing to the 'sense
of fairness', which the foreign rulers though was necessary to
keep balance between community and community.'
He was happy
that the minorities had come to the conclusion -- he hoped honestly
-- that in the changed conditions, it was in the interest of everyone
to lay down real and genuine foundations of a secular state. In
fact, he stressed, nothing would be better 'for the minorities
than to trust the good sense and sense of fairness of the majority
and to place confidence in them.'
Turning towards the members
of the majority, he told them emphatically 'it is for us
who happen to be in a majority to think about what the minorities
feel and imagine how we would feel if we were treated in the manner
in which they are treated.'
Nehru was jubilant at the happy
turn of events and endorsed what Patel had stated. He said, 'This
is an act of faith for all of us, an act of faith above all for
the majority community because they have to show after this that
they can behave towards others in a generous, fair and just way.
Let us live up to that faith.'
The Sardar passed away on December 15, 1950, almost two years
before the first general election under the Constitution. He was
a man of his word and would have been saddened to see how this
trust was not honoured by his co-religionists. As I have pointed
out in may latest book: The Widening Divide: An Insight into Hindu-Muslim
Relations(Penguin), 'In the very first test,
therefore, the claim made by Hindu nationalists during the freedom
struggle that the abolition of separate electorates for the minorities
would usher in a broad, non-communal political environment, failed.
In subsequent elections to the Lok Sabha, the situation did not
improve. It turned out to be worse, as results of the elections
to the various state legislatures clearly indicate. And in elections
to panchayat samitis, municipalities and zilla parishads, the
Hindu communal and casteist factor played havoc with the fortunes
of Muslim candidates; in several places not even one Muslim got
This does not mean that the Sardar was opposed to the preservation
of the identities of the Muslims and other minorities, on the
contrary on three matters which were of supreme importance to
them, he stood up for them, despite the pressure of Hindus. These
were (1) the right to propagate their religion; (2) the right
to preserve their language, script and culture; and (3) the right
to run their educational institutions. As the chairman of the
advisory committee on minorities and fundamental rights, these
came directly under him.
Much heat was generated among the members,
in particular on giving the right to non-Hindus to proselytise.
Christian and Muslim members were adamant; they said it was a
vital part of their religion. The Hindus, on the other hand, were
dead against it. They pointed out that even the 1931 Karachi session
of the Congress, over which the Sardar presided, had only guaranteed
to a citizen 'the right freely to profess and practice his
religion' and not to propagate.
K M Munshi and Purushottam
Das Tandon, both closest to the Sardar, argued vehemently against
incorporating the word; this would open, they pointed out, the
floodgates of conversion by various kinds of inducements. Tandon
said that it was 'very improper to convert from one religion
to another' or to allow such activities. The Christian and
Muslim members emphasised that propagation was an article of faith
Excerpted from Sardar Patel and Indian Muslims, by Rafiq Zakaria, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, 1996, Rs 125, with the author's permission. Readers interested in buying a copy of the
book may write to Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Kulapati K M Munshi Marg, Bombay 400 007.