Maulana Azad, the ‘Default’ Political Visionary of Elections 2019
It’s such a pity that leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad have faded from India’s political conscience.
(This story has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark Abul Kalam Azad’s birth anniversary. It was originally published on 10 May 2019)
Too caught up to read this story? Listen to it, instead:
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad made a default entry in India’s savagely polarised polls of 2019. Because the irrepressible Shatrughan Sinha made an awful faux pas at an election rally, where he included Jinnah, along with Gandhi, Nehru, Patel, Indira and Rajiv, as “respected members of the Congress family who built our nation”. This gave the BJP very potent grist for its “Congress is pro-Pakistan” propaganda – after all, if the founder of Pakistan was a cherished Congressman, then their allegation was irrefutable, right? Sinha had to beat a hasty retreat, saying it was a “slip of my tongue”. He had mistakenly said Jinnah, when he meant Maulana Azad.
But it’s almost impossible to confuse Jinnah with Azad, for they were diametrically opposite politicians. Frankly, I’ve often wondered why Maulana Azad figures so little in contemporary political discourse, while his peers like Nehru, Patel and Bose dominate.
In fact, Maulana Azad was so trenchantly anti-Pakistan that Prime Minister Modi should have appropriated him as well (oh heck, I forget that he was a Muslim, and therefore, a religious outlaw for the BJP/RSS, however much they may have agreed with him on the folly of creating Pakistan).
Maulana Azad Was 50 Years Old at Birth!
For the record, Maulana Abul Kalam Muhiyuddin was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in 1888. He took Azad as his pen name and became the youngest President of the Indian National Congress at the age of 35 in 1923. He served as India’s first education minister from 1947 to 1958 in the Nehru cabinet. He set up such significant institutions as IIT, School of Planning and Architecture and Jamia Milia Islamia University.
Sarojini Naidu, using her sharp wit, complimented his wisdom and erudition, saying, “Maulana was 50 years old when he was born.” Nehru added that “he has Plato and Aristotle on his fingertips and is perfectly at home at Cordoba of Arab Spain.”
When India’s first general election was to be held in 1952, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked Maulana to contest from Rampur in Uttar Pradesh. Maulana curiously asked “Why?”. Nehru candidly replied that Rampur was a Muslim majority area, so a victory was assured. The inimitable Maulana cut his Prime Minister short: “I am a leader of India, not of Muslims”.
Maulana Predicted the Violent Folly of Pakistan
I came across this fascinating interview he gave to Shorish Kashmiri for a Lahore-based Urdu magazine, Chattan. Remember, this was in April 1946, before India was partitioned. But even then, Maulana Azad had the brutal prescience to predict ethnic bloodshed, Indo-Pak wars, and the eventual creation of Bangladesh. Here are his words, without any garnishing at my end (and again, remember, this was said when West and East Pakistan had not been carved out of United India):
: Just imagine if the above lines had been voiced by Sardar Patel. The RSS and Modi would have gone to town bashing “Nehru’s weak and compromised Congress” and stamping their ownership on such “a powerful anti-Pakistan argument”. But since it was Maulana Azad who had spoken these incredible predictions, Modi has shied away from any association.
Maulana Squarely Blamed Sardar Patel for Partition
Historians have often argued about Maulana’s inexplicable silence on 3 June 1947, when Mountbatten presented his plan to divide India along religious lines: The Congress Working Committee (CWC) swallowed the plan hook, line and sinker. Of the two Muslim leaders present at the CWC, Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan wailed: "You have thrown us to the wolves." Maulana Azad smoked a box of cigarettes and said nothing. Supposing the two, vehemently opposed to Partition, had walked out of the meeting in protest, what interpretation would future historians have placed on the remaining CWC composition?
Although in his autobiography, India Wins Freedom, Maulana Azad talks about warning Nehru: “We were becoming greater supporters of Partition than Jinnah. I warned Jawaharlal that the verdict would be that India was divided not by the Muslim League but by the Congress.” (I have supplied this emphasis because here is yet another assertion of Maulana which is coming true 70 years after he had made it. Today, the RSS and Modi never tire of repeating that Partition was a “Congress gift” to India).
But Maulana also shattered another myth that is artfully being propagated today, viz that Sardar Patel could have kept India united, but Nehru caved in. The following passages from India Wins Freedom are scathing:
It's such a pity that leaders like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad have faded from India’s political conscience. How I hope that a leader’s faux pas resuscitates his memory and swivels the spotlight on what this giant intellectual/politician stood for. India needs the Maulana’s wise counsel today, more than ever.
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