Sign up ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

While much has been discussed about the British policy of divide-and-rule while governing India (and other colonies), another fact that has not received the same attention is the enormous support received by the Muslim League from India's Muslims. Why was the Congress not able to convince India's Muslim population that they would be better off in united India?

share|improve this question
All throughout history, Muslims and Hindus, have often been in a state of conflict. They have never really wanted to be one state. Trying to put the two groups together would be link trying to unite the Croatia with Serbia. It just wouldn't work. –  Russell Sep 12 '12 at 23:20
In my opinion, before the arrival of the British, the Mughals had successfully integrated the Hindus into their system of administration. So, it would be wrong to say that the two communities have been in conflict throughout history. Moreover, what is strange is the fact that many Muslims had to remain back in India (since they lived in Hindu majority areas) even after the creation of Pakistan. So it was not in their interest to see India's partition. But even among those Muslims support for the Muslim League was strong. After independence, most of them supported the Congress. –  Arani Sep 13 '12 at 13:49
@user571376 Minor correction: The Mughal empire only briefly managed to consolidate Hindus and Muslims under one empire. After Aurangzeb the support for the Marathas was very high amongst the Hindus and under his rulership much of the previous work done by his predecessors had been undone. The British merely capitalized on existing tensions. –  Apoorv Khurasia Sep 14 '12 at 12:05
@MonsterTruck While Aurangzeb's policies were hated by the Hindus, they still did not alienate them completely. The Rajputs continued to be loyal to the Mughals. The Marathas were not respected by the people outside their domain because they plundered the resources of the nearby traders and farmers. While the Marathas' first ruler Shivaji was widely respected, he died much before Aurangzeb. That the Hindus still respected the Mughals is testified by the fact that the Hindus sepoys after raising the banner of revolt in 1857 proclaimed the Mughal emperor as their leader. –  Arani Sep 17 '12 at 18:29

3 Answers 3

In Indian political thought there were two basic competing organizing theories, rather simply called The Two Nation Theory and the single Indian nation theory (or Greater India).

The basic idea behind the single nation theory is that Muslims and Hindus and many other religous communities as well are all intertwined alongside various languages and religous communities into one larger cultural unit. The idea behind the Two-Nation theory is that Hindus and Muslims, due to various prohibitions against cultural exchances like intermarriage, are essentially two separate nations. Most (but not all) adherents to this theory feel that India should be for Hindus exclusively and Muslims should have their own countries.

It isn't too hard to see why the Two Nation theory is more attractive to Muslims. It offers them the chance to live in a country where they run things. All the single nation theory offers them is a perpertual life as a minority in a country dominated by Hindus.

share|improve this answer
Very true. I have to agree to this partially. However, we must also keep in mind that a very significant portion of the Muslims had to remain back in India. The Muslim League gained support from those sections of the Muslims also. The reason behind their support for Pakistan/Muslim League is still not clear. –  Arani Sep 17 '12 at 18:32
@Arani - the reason for this support was propaganda, insecurities and uncertainties. –  user49727 Sep 8 '13 at 10:09
@user49727 But, if anything, the idea of partition should have made the Muslims who would have to live in India even more insecure. They would have very firmly opposed partition because it was in their own interests. But this did not happen. –  Arani Sep 8 '13 at 15:16

Muhammad Ali Jinnah was the founder of Pakistan. He started of as a strong Indian Nationalist. However he was disturbed by the comparative backwardness of Muslims in Big Business. Jinnah, like the Turkish economist Timur Kuran, identified the cause of as Islam's Inheritance Law. His own community was exempt from it and had done well. If reforming the Religious Law was impossible, then an alternative was the creation of a Muslim state where non-Muslims would have a lower status. The 'poet-prophet' of Pakistan, Iqbal- also a Nationalist originally- came to believe that Hinduism was based on the Caste system and thus Hindus could never embrace Socialism. Thus he thought separation from the Hindus would be beneficial for ordinary Muslims. Liaqat Ali Khan, who represented the younger generation of Muslim 'barristocrats', had a different perspective. By the time he returned to India, it was clear that Indian politicians, not British Civil Servants, would have their hands on the levers of power and patronage. However, so long as elections were held periodically, people like himself would not enjoy the sort of feudal power they had traditionally possessed. Liaqat saw that if the Muslim League created Pakistan by saying 'Islam is in danger' then it could keep a monopoly of power by simply repeating the slogan. He himself, once in power, showed no eagerness to hold elections and only lost his throne because he was assassinated. The case of Zafarullah Khan is more tragic. He was an Ahmadiyya and viewed the struggle for Pakistan as part of the founder of his sect's mission to restore Islam to its early glory. By the time he died, his sect had been classed as non-Muslim. One final point- non-Muslim minorities in Muslim majority areas quickly understood that their lives and property were not safe. Thus, there would have been an exchange of population even if some sort of Federal solution had been put into effect.

share|improve this answer
  1. I don't think we should give full credit to the British for the 'divide and rule' policy. They could very well have been giving in to the popular demand those days.

For e.g. This was Sir Syed Ahmed Khan's speech in 1888

Now, suppose that all English, and the whole English army, were to leave India, taking with them all their cannon and their splendid weapons and everything, then who would be rulers of India? Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations — the Mahomedans and the Hindus — could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other and thrust it down. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable.


As Sir Syed says, it was 'inconceivable' that a Hindu could rule over Muslim or vice versa.

  1. Even though British officially ruled for 90 years, the idea of 'India' was very new and might as well be very alien. There were small kingdoms everywhere, Tamil Nadu/Kerala itself had 3 or 4 kingdoms within themselves, it would've taken a radical visionary to think of a unified India. Even then, it would have been very difficult to think of the borders within which this mythical country 'India' would rise. Why was Ceylon, Burma, Nepal not part of India. Why was Sikkim included and Bhutan excluded? The nationalist fever gained legs only after world war I and frankly we just went with what British thought of as India. Just like how Celyon was administered separately, if the whole of South India was administered separately right from the start, we wouldn't even see the difference.

On the question of why INC couldn't convince muslims to be part of the same British administrative region that was called India, INC was overwhelmingly filled with upper caste hindus and brahmins. They tend to believe in speeches from people like Sir Syed than listen to INC for obvious reasons.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.