1. Introduction
  2. Give a detailed account as to why and how communalism in India had its roots in the modern socio-economic and political structure.
  3. Conclusion

It has been argued that communal consciousness arose as a result of the transformation of Indian society under the impact of colonialism and the need to struggle against it. The growing economic, political and administrative unification of regions and the country, the process of making India into a nation, the developing contradiction between colonialism and the Indian people and the formation of modern social classes and strata called for new ways of seeing one’s common interests. They made it necessary to have wider links and loyalties among the people and to form new identities.

Thus, communalism emerged as a consequence of the emergence of modern politics, which marked a sharp break with the politics of the ancient or medieval or even pre-1857 periods.

Modern colonial political structure:

  • Communalism emerged as politics and as an ideology only after politics based on the people, politics of popular participation, politics based on the creation and mobilization of public opinion had come into existence.
  • The process of grasping the new, emerging political reality and social relations with the aid of new ideas and concepts was a difficult and gradual process. It required the spread of modern ideas of nationalism, cultural-linguistic development and class struggle. But wherever their growth was slow and partial, people inevitably used the old, familiar pre-modern categories of self-identity such as caste, locality, region, race, religion, sect and occupation to grasp the new reality, to make wider connections and to evolve new identities and ideologies. In particular, religious consciousness was transformed into communal consciousness in some parts of the country and among some sections of the people. This was because there were some factors in the Indian situation which favoured its growth, it served the needs of certain sections of society and certain social and political forces.
  • Though communalism was not inherent or inevitable in the Indian situation, it was not a mere conspiracy of power-hungry politicians and crafty administrators either. It had socio-economic and political roots. There was a social situation which was funnelling it and without which it could not have survived for long.

Modern colonial socio-economic structure:

  • Communalism was one of the by-products of the colonial character of Indian economy, of colonial underdevelopment, of the incapacity of colonialism to develop the Indian economy. The resulting economic stagnation and its impact on the lives of the Indian people, especially the middle classes who could not fall back on land, produced conditions which were conducive to division and antagonism within Indian society as also to its radical transformation.
  • There were some who lacked a wider social vision and political understanding and looked to their narrow immediate interests and short-term solutions to their personal or sectional problems such as communal, caste, or provincial reservation in jobs.
  • Throughout the 20th century, in the absence of modern industrial development and development of education, health etc., unemployment was an acute problem in India. So, there was intense competition among the individuals for government jobs. In an attempt to get a larger share of existing economic opportunities, middle class individuals also began using group identities such as caste, province and religion to enhance their capacity to compete. Thus, some individuals from the middle classes did benefit, in the short run, from communalism, especially in the field of government employment. This gave an aura of validity to communal politics.
  • Gradually, the spread of education to well-off peasants and small landlords extended the boundaries of the job-seeking middle class to the rural areas. This widened the social base of communalism to cover the rural upper strata of peasants and landlords.

Thus, communalism was deeply rooted in and was an expression of the interests and aspirations of the middle classes in a social situation in which opportunities for them were grossly inadequate in the absence of openings in industry, commerce, education etc. and government service being the main avenue of employment for the middle classes.

Legacy Editor Changed status to publish October 20, 2022