Communalism and the State:
Some Issues in India
Communalism is an ideology and to some extent politics organised around that ideology. This might look like a very simple statement of an obvious fact, yet it has some deeper implications. The word ideology is not used in the sense in which Marx used it, but to mean a belief system—a belief system based on certain assumptions regarding society, economy and polity.
Communalism is a way of looking at society and politics. If so, certain political and other consequences follow. The elements of communal ideology, which we see all around us, are the result of the existence and spread of communal ideology for the last over hundred years. Therefore, it is not possible to explain it only in terms of the social and political conditions of today; because of its persistence among the people it has become what Marx would call a material force on its own.
The premier task of the communalist is to spread the communal belief system or communal ideology. Other aspects of communalist activity are secondary and follow. One must not confuse Communalism with communal violence, rioting, etc. No doubt, communal violence acts as a means of spreading communal ideology, hot-house fashion; also, communal ideology leads to communal violence. But under no circumstances should one equate the two. Communal violence is a consequence of the spread of communal ideology. But it is not the crux of the communal situation at all. Communal ideology can not only exist, but )can grow for decades before it takes the form of violence.
For example, in India, though communal ideology was preached in a minor fashion, primarily through history writing from the 1830s, and it started emerging as a more structured ideology in the 1870s and 1880s, except for very short spurts of violence in one place or another, say in 1893 in Poona and Calcutta, communal violence became a force in India only in the 1920s. But it was precisely because of the spread of communal ideology in the previous four decades that this happened.
Similarly, communal violence was virtually absent during World
* Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi
Social Scientist, Vol. 18, Nos. 8-9,, August-September 1990