The Indian National Congress was the most prominent and successful movement of anti-colonial nationalism in the twentieth century. It claimed to represent the Indian nation, irrespective of social, occupational, class, religious or caste differences. This position was in contrast to colonial discourses that often saw India's religious differences as irreconcilable. In claiming to transcend religious difference, the Congress represented itself as the only truly ‘national’ political movement and appeared to espouse secular nationalism. Yet, in the 1930s and 1940s, many of its agents continued to identify with forms of ‘Hindu’ politics and ideas of the ‘Hindu’ nation. This book explores how and why this paradox appeared in one of the most politically important provinces of India – the United Provinces or Uttar Pradesh (UP).
Remarkably, some of the most significant forms of communal politics manifested themselves within the Congress movement in UP. This is not to argue that the Congress was exclusively a ‘Hindu’ party or movement or even that Hindus existed as a homogeneous community. The terms ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hinduism’ had fluid descriptive and representational meanings in this period. Precisely for this reason, some individual Congressmen were able to evoke symbolism with a ‘Hindu’ meaning whilst subscribing to a general stance of secular nationalism. Such politicians sometimes appeared to be deaf to the possible contradictions in their political language. Rather than promoting the secular, they were in fact often party to communal politics.