Communalism has been an integral part of Indian politics ever since the British introduced the principle of elected representation in public institutions. Since then religious and communal identities have been exploited and encouraged for electoral purposes. Although dismissed in the beginning by secular forces as an aberration, communalism took deep roots in the Indian polity during the later phase of the national movement. The history of the Indian national movement, unfortunately, was also a history of communalisation of Indian society. That colonial rulers actively encouraged and aided this process was undoubtedly true, but it was essentially a result of the weakness and inadequacy of secularism as conceived and practised during the anti-colonial struggle.
In independent India communal politics has assumed monstrous proportions, particularly during the last ten years. It appears to have crept into all levels of the Indian polity and has also acquired a substantial presence in the various apparatuses of the Indian state. It could not be otherwise as social consciousness today is within the powerful grasp of communalism. Operating in this social context, bourgeois politics has increasingly resorted to communalism as a possible source either for maintaining or achieving political power. In this process the relationship between politics and communalism has become complementary, one reinforcing the other. As a result it appears as if communalism will quite soon swamp the Indian polity. Yet at the same time secular forces are making a belated but determined bid to reassert themselves and retrieve the already lost secular space.
The essays collected in this issue are concerned with the various dimensions of the complex process by which communalism has become a powerful force in the Indian polity. Drawing attention to what constitutes a Marxist understanding of communalism and its implication for the struggle against it, Randhir Singh raises certain conceptual and theoretical questions. They include, among others, problems of political economy, the class character of politics and the role of religion. In highlighting these, the nature of economic development or
* Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
Social Scientist, Vol.<18, Nos. 8-9, August-September 1990