This study has sought to question the notion of the Indian Muslim as a ‘get-at-able’ point of orientation in colonialist discourse. In the process it has attempted to provide a more coherent and nuanced account for the consolidation in colonialist discourse by the early twentieth century of essentialised descriptions of Indo-Muslim antagonism towards the British Indian state, and of their irremediable isolation on the outer margins of Indian society. In doing so, I have also tried to interpret the less apprehended, but nevertheless marked, element of paradox that had by then come to structure this discourse. These three constituents — alienness, antagonism and paradox — have been traced back to their genesis in the perception of ‘conspiracy’ in 1857–59, a perception through which Indian Muslims emerged for the first time in British eyes as an integrated pan-Indian entity. The concentration by historians on the British need for a simple narrative of events, coupled with a predictable eruption of ‘mussulmanophobia’, fails to address adequately the radical discontinuity this remarkable phenomenon figured with previous colonialist praxis. Nor do these explanations account for its longevity and appeal, eluding the official factual refutations available from 1859 onwards; and reappearing in grossly inflated forms such as the ‘Wahabi’ trials of the 1860s.
KeywordsIndian Society Radical Discontinuity Nuanced Account Simple Narrative Bharatiya Janata Party
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