By G. L. Batra, ST Guest Columnist, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana
Azad, Patel and Gandhi at an AICC meeting in Bombay, 1940.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad occupies a position of prominence in the galaxy of our patriots and heroes of our freedom struggle, who relentlessly fought to achieve freedom for our motherland and forced the British to leave India. He was a sagacious statesman and the tallest among nationalist Muslims, who disagreed and challenged the two nation theory challenged by Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Maulana Azad determinedly fought for a united India alongside Pandit Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. These giants constituted a trio, and carried out negotiations to usher in freedom, and laid the foundations of a secular society in India.
He was born Ghulam Muhiyuddin Ahmed, in Mecca on November 11, 1888, in an orthodox Muslim family, to Maulana Khairuddin and Begum Aliyah, and came to be known later as Abul Kalam Azad. One of his ancestors, Maulana Jamaluddin, was a contemporary of Akbar, the great Mughal emperor, and Maulana Azad took pride in tracing his birth to Maulana Jamaluddin.
Maulana Azad was an intellectual par excellence, who possessed the rare qualities of a scholar. He was a philosopher, jurist, writer, journalist and poet. Maulana Azad started his literary and journalistic career, writing poems and political articles for Urdu journals, at a very young age. When he was only 12, he started a poetic journal called Nairange aalam, and at just 16, he started editing his own paper, Lisan al Sidq. He was also a linguist, and was proficient in several languages like Arabic, Persian, Urdu and English. At the age of just seventeen, Maulana Azad had attained so much proficiency in Islamic learning, that other Muslim scholars recognised him as a trained theologian.
Maulana Azad’s first brush with politics came with the partition of Bengal in 1905, when he rejected the pro-colonial mainstream of the Muslim middle class, who supported partition, and associated himself with the Nationalist movement against the British. He was also part of some of the secret groups which came into being after the partition of Bengal. During this period, he came into contact with, and was associated with leaders like Sufi Ambaprasad, Ajit Singh, Aurobindo Ghosh, Shyam Sundar Chakravorty and Lala Hardayal.
He was a widely travelled person and was concerned about the welfare of the Muslim community. He visited France and Islamic countries like Iraq, Syria, Egypt and Turkey, and these visits had a great influence on his political ideology. It was during this period that he interacted with a number of nationalist Muslim groups in these countries, which were dedicated to overthrowing the yoke of colonial imperialism and freeing Arab countries. Maulana Azad also believed firmly in international Islamic brotherhood, and felt deeply for the problems faced by his Muslim brethren the world over. He was instrumental in raising Muslim opinion in support for the Caliphate in Turkey, which he considered a symbol of Muslim unity, when it was threatened by British Imperialism. In the early years of the 20th century, the Muslim community in (India was undergoing an ideological crisis. Maulana Azad was amongst the young Muslim leaders, who challenged the ideology of Islamic modernism and support of imperialism, propounded by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan during the end of the 19th century, and looked upon Great Britain as a foreign power keen on belittling Islam Asia, and undermining its status in undivided India. In this backdrop, Maulana Azad launched his Urdu weekly, Al Hilal, aimed at educating the Ulema (those learned in Islamic theology and law), in order to create a dedicated and ideologically oriented class within the Muslim community in India, which would bring about a moral and intellectual renaissance. The launch of Al Hilal launched Maulana Azad into the national movement, and provided an outlet for his fearless nationalist ideas. Through his weekly, he lashed out at the colonial distortions of history, and the pro-colonial mindset propounded by the Aligarh school of thought. Maulana Azad, felt that the freedom movement had a religious justification, and accordingly, urged Muslims to join the struggle. He always said, “For the Hindus, working for independence might be a patriotic gesture, but for Muslims, it is a religious duty.” He was instrumental in forging Hindu-Muslim partnership for the freedom movement, and drawing Muslims to the Indian National Congress in large measures. His belief in Hindu-Muslim unity was strong, as is evident from his words, “If an angel were to descend from the high heavens and proclaim from the heights of the Qutub Minar: Discard Hindu-Muslim unity and within 24 hours, Swaraj is yours, I will refuse Swaraj but will not budge an inch from my stand. If Swaraj is delayed, it will affect only India, while the end of our unity will be the loss of our entire human world.”
Maulana Azad courted arrest in 1921, and declared, “I firmly believe that liberty is the birth right of every nation and each individual and that no man or man-made bureaucracy has the right to keep God’s creatures in bondage. Whatever attractive things be done for those in bondage, slavery is after all slavery, something contrary to the will of God and against his Divine laws.”
Maulana Azad was also a dedicated member of the Indian National Congress, and in 1923, was elected President at its Delhi session, at the age of 35, becoming the youngest ever Congress President to date. His maturity, broad-mindedness and knowledge of scriptures and traditions, enabled him to contribute a great deal to the party and provide visionary leadership.
Maulana Azad was the protector against the onslaught on Islam, by various forces. He had studied the Holy Qur’an in depth, and understood it in its true perspective. His journal reflected and propounded true interpretations of the teachings of that great religion, and brought to the notice of the people, the immense sacrifices made by the martyrs in the defence of Islam. Maulana Azad adopted a rational, inquisitive, independent and non-conformist approach to the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an and conveyed to the masses, that Islam encompassed principles of individualism, social action, self-sacrifice and fight against injustice and oppression.
In 1920, Maulana Azad met Mahatma Gandhi for the first time, a meeting which had a crucial bearing on the future of the freedom movement in India, as well as Azad’s personal life. In Gandhiji, he found firm endorsement for his political stand wherein he determined the collective identity of Muslims in terms of their religion, and felt that they had a safe and legitimate place in the Indian sub-continent.
Maulana Azad tried his very best to negotiate the modalities of the transfer of power from the colonial government to Indians, with the British and the Muslim League. He held talks with the Viceroy of India, Lord Wavell, and Sir Pethwick-Lawrence, the British Secretary of State for India for this purpose. He also attempted to start a dialogue with Mohammad ali Jinnah, but Jinnah rebuffed him and refused to talk to him, labelling him a ‘Congress Show Boy’. Inspite of these obstacles, Maulana Azad tried his best to build bridges between the Congress and the Muslim League.
The partition of India in 1947 left Maulana Azad heart-broken, but he put up a brave front and proudly described himself as an Indian as well as a Muslim, and found no conflict between the two identities. His statement in the Lahore session of the Congress, where the resolution for Pakistan was passed under Jinnah’s leadership, is immortal, “I am part of this indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice and without me, this splendid structure of India is incomplete. I am an essential element which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim.”
At Wardha Railway Station:Maulana Azad, Acharya Kripalani, Sardar Patel, Subhash Bose.
After Independence, Maulana Azad was a natural choice to be part of the Indian cabinet, and held the portfolios of Education, Natural resources and Scientific education. Being an outstanding scholar and educationist himself, he played a vital role in shaping free India’s education system, and amongst his manifold contributions, the establishment of the University grants Commission (UGC) and the Indian Council for Cultural relations (ICCR), are the most predominant. He was also instrumental in setting up the three academies – Sahitya Akademy, Lalit Kala Akademy and the Sangeet Natak Akademy to promote art, music and culture. He also worked with Pandit Nehru to set up the Council for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR) and establish a network of scientific laboratories in India.
Maulana Azad was truly a great patriot, leader and political giant. C. Rajagopalachari regarded Azad as ‘one who represents the keen understanding and synthetic ideology of the Great Akbar’. When he passed away in 1958, the entire nation lamented his death, and mourned the loss of a great philosopher-statesman, and a noble son of India.