Monday, November 11, 2013

‘A Finished Product’ of Indian Culture Caught In the Crossfire of Communalism: Remembering Maulana Azad on His 125th Birth Anniversary With His Ramgarh Speech of 1940

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958)

‘Hero-Worship’ is something that has time and again been derided by the intellectuals of all hues, and rightly so. But ‘hero-worship’ is also a phase of one’s life. I have no hesitation in accepting that there are some personalities, for example, the poet-novelists, D H Lawrence and Nagarjun; the post-colonial critic Edward W. Said, about whom I am yet to develop an intellectual detachment. I am sure, by and by, some kind of broader understanding would be developed to enable me to have that kind of detachment, as without ‘doubt’, one’s faith in itself remains a doubtful thing. In this category of ‘heroes’, I will surely include Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), the first Education Minister of the independent India, but more importantly, one of the few stalwarts of national movement who could imbibe and contribute to the very essence of that elusive ‘inclusive nationalism’ that we nowadays are trying hard to figure out. I am no historian, but have deep interest in the historical process through which Indian civilization, in particular, has progressed, and hence the placement of Maulana Azad in Indian history, is very significant and runs deep into the secular and inclusive fabric. 

However, C Rajagopalachari’s description of Maulana Azad as ‘The Great Akbar’ of Modern India, quoted recently by the eminent historian Prof. Mushirul Hasan in an article in The Hindu  ( would be akin to romanticizing Maulana’s plight, and overlooking his tragedy. In fact, if at all he needs to be compared with any other figure from the Medieval period, it can be no other than Dara Shikoh. Because, while, the ‘Emperor’ Akbar was successful in establishing an empire that he wished to as per his multi-cultural vision of the country, Maulana Azad was almost ‘sidelined’ like Dara Shikoh, because he found himself at the crossfire of the majority and minority brands of communalism, where, like Mahatama Gandhi, his voice of sanity had few takers when it really mattered. If Akbar is a triumphant symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity, then Dara Shikoh is a tragic symbol of the same, and Maulana Azad’s position makes him nearer to that of that Sanskrit-Persian poet-scholar, and brother of Aurangzeb, because despite his life-long struggle, he, as other champions of Hindu-Muslim unity, could not avert the Partition of the country and the mass-tragedy that followed. It is no wonder then that Maulana Azad once compared himself to Sarmad, the 17th Century mystic and Persian poet, and one of the 'gurus' of Dara Shikoh.

To take take discussion further, when I say, ‘few takers’, I mean those whose voice counted, because the silent majority was very much with Maulana Azad. This has been so very suitably demonstrated by the historian Prof. Rizwan Qaiser in his book Resisting Colonialism and Communal Politics: Maulana Azad and the Making of the Indian Nation,  and also articulated in this interview in The Times of India ( two years back, wherein he stated: “The Muslim League used to describe Azad and people belonging to the Azad Mus-lim Conference as "half-hearted pseudo-nationalists". What's important is that a vast majority of Muslims were not with the Muslim League in 1940-41. That's the most interesting part of my book...¦at the end of April 1940, about one lakh Muslims gathered in Delhi to say they're not a distinct nation and the Muslim League does not represent their interests. When Jinnah called Azad a 'show boy' of the Congress, it was rebuffed by many Muslims in Delhi and other places.” 
Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Maulana Azad, as the caravan leader, "a very brave and gallant gentleman, a finished product of the culture that, in these days, pertains to few". It certainly is an apt description of this great man, and we would do well to read again his historic Presidential speech in 1940 at the Ramgarh Session of the Congress, wherein he provides a ‘text’ for understanding what nationalism and multi-culturalism should mean for us, and how it is intrinsically associated with both the rights and the duties of both the minorities and the majority—a very basic that seem to be under tremendous stress once again in our times. Moreover, the rather sophisticated approach to the question of religion, coming from a man who was a scholar of Islam, shows his visionary and intellectual integrity, on the one hand, and his abiding commitment to nationalism on the other hand, in the most unambiguous manner:

“Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism. If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousands of years Islam also has been their religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. I shall enlarge this orbit still further. The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity.” 

What is remarkable, and that is why I perhaps find some kind of link among as varied people as D H Lawrence, Nagarjun, Edward Said and Maulana Azad, is their ability to recognize and put forth unambiguously that life is a two-way window, rather multi-way, and only the ones who can appreciate the same, can ever hope to contribute vibrantly, and alter meaningfully, the course of history, as each of them did in his chosen field of work.



Maulana Azad delivering his Presidential Speech at Ramgarh Congress, 1940
photo courtesy

.....But whatever the roots of our problems might be, it is obvious that India, like other countries, has her internal problems. Of these, the communal problem is an important one. We do not and cannot expect the British Government to deny its existence. The communal problem is undoubtedly with us; and if we want to go ahead, we must needs take it into account. Every step that we take by ignoring it will be a wrong step. The problem is there; to admit its existence, however, does not mean that it should be used as a weapon against India's national freedom. British Imperialism has always exploited it to this end. If Britain desires to end her imperialistic methods in India and close that dismal chapter of history, then the first signs of this change must naturally appear in her treatment of the communal problem.

What is the Congress position in regard to this problem? It has been the claim of the Congress, from its earliest beginnings, that it considers India as a nation, and takes every step in the interest of the nation as a whole. This entitles the world to examine the truth of its assertion. I wish to examine afresh this question from this point of view. There can be only three aspects of the communal problem: its existence, its importance, and the method of its solution.

The entire history of the Congress demonstrates that it has always acknowledged the existence of the problem. It has never tried to minimise its importance. In dealing with this problem, it followed a policy which was the most suitable under the circumstances. It is difficult to conceive of a different or better course of action. If, however, a better course could be suggested, the Congress was always, and is today, eager to welcome it.

We could attach no greater importance to it, than to make it the first condition for the attainment of our national goal. The Congress has always held this belief; no one can challenge this fact. It has always held to two basic principles in this connection, and every step was taken deliberately with these in view. .
(1) Whatever constitution is adopted for India, there must be the fullest guarantees in it for the rights and interests of minorities.
(2) The minorities should judge tor themselves what safeguards are necessary for the protection of their rights and interests. The majority should not decide this. Therefore the decision in this respect must depend upon the consent of the minorities and not on a majority vote.

The question of the minorities is not a special Indian problem. It has existed in other parts of the world. I venture to address the world from this platform, and to enquire whether any juster and more equitable course of action can be adopted in this connection, than the one suggested above? If so, what is it? Is there anything lacking in this approach, which necessitates that the Congress be reminded of its duty? The Congress has always been ready to consider any failure in the discharge of its duty. It is so prepared today.

I have been in the Congress for the last nineteen years. During the whole of this period there is not a single important decision of the Congress in the shaping of which I have not had the honour to participate. I assert that during these last nineteen years, not for a single day did the Congress think of solving this problem in any way other than the way I have stated above. This was not a mere assertion of the Congress, but its determined and decided course of action. Many a time during the last fifteen years, this policy was subjected to the severest test, but it stood firm as a rock.

The manner in which the Congress has dealt with this problem today in connection with the Constituent Assembly, throws a flood of light on these two principles and clarifies them. The recognised minorities have a right, if they so please, to choose their representatives by their votes. Their representatives will not have to rely upon the votes of any other community except their own. So far as the question of the rights and the interests of the minorities is concerned, the decision will not depend upon the majority of the votes in the Constituent Assembly. It will be subject to the consent of the minority. If unanimity is not achieved on any question, then an impartial tribunal, to which the minorities have also consented, will decide the matter. This last proviso is merely in the nature of a provision for a possible contingency, and is most unlikely to be required. If a more practical proposal is made, there can be no objection to it.

When these principles are accepted and acted upon by the Congress, what is it that obliges British statesmen to remind us so often of the problem of the minorities, and to make the world believe that this stands in the way of Indian freedom? If it is really so, why does not the British Government recognise clearly India's freedom, and give us an opportunity to solve this problem forever by mutual agreement amongst ourselves?
Dissensions were sown and encouraged amongst us, and yet we are taunted because of them. We are told to put an end to our communal conflicts, but opportunity to do so is denied us. Such is the position deliberately created to thwart us; such are the chains that bind. But no difficulties or constraints can deter us from taking the right steps with courage and fortitude. Our path is full of obstacles, but we are determined to overcome them.

We have considered the problem of the minorities of India. But are the Muslims such a minority as to have the least doubt or fear about their future? A small minority may legitimately have fears and apprehensions, but can the Muslims allow themselves to be disturbed by them? I do not know how many of you are familiar with my writings, twenty-eight years ago, in the "Al Hilal." If there are any such here, I would request them to refresh their memories. Even then I gave expression to my conviction, and I repeat this today, that in the texture of Indian Politics, nothing is further removed from the truth than to say that Indian Muslims occupy the position of a political minority.

It is equally absurd for them to be apprehensive about their rights and interests in a democratic India. This fundamental mistake has opened the door to countless misunderstandings. False arguments were built up on wrong premises. This error, on the one hand, brought confusion into the minds of Musalmans about their own true position; and,on the other hand, it involved the world in misunderstandings, so that the picture of India could not be seen in right perspective.

If time had permitted, I would have told you in detail how during the last sixty years, this artificial and untrue picture of India was made, and whose hands traced it. In effect, this was the result of the same policy of divide and rule which took particular shape in the mirlds of British Officialdom in India after the Congress launched the national movement. The object of this was to prepare the Musalmans for use against the new political awakening. In this plan, prominence was given to two points.

First, that India was inhabited by two different communities, the Hindus and the Musalmans, and for this reason no demand could be made in the name of a united nation. Second: that numerically the Musalmans were far less than the Hindus; and because of this, the necessary consequence of the establishment of democratic institutions in India would be to establish the rule of the Hindu majority and to jeopardise the existence of the Muslims. I shall not go into any greater detail now. Should you, however, wish to know the early history of this matter, I would refer you to the time of Lord Dufferin, a former Viceroy of India, and Sir Auckland Colvin, a former Lieutenant Governor of the N.W.P., now the United Provinces.

Thus were sown the seeds of disunity by British Imperialism on Indian soil. The plant grew and was nurtured and spread its nettles; and even though fifty years have passed since then, the roots are still there.Politically speaking, the word minority does not mean just a group that is so small in number and so lacking in other qualities that give strength, that it has no confidence in its own capacity to protect itself from the much larger group that surrounds it. It is not enough that the group should be relatively the smaller, but that it should be absolutely so small as to be incapable of protecting its interests. Thus this is not merely a question of numbers; other factors count also. If a country has two major groups numbering a million and two millions respectively, it does not necessarily follow that because one is half the other, therefore it must call itself politically a minority and consider itself weak.

If this is the right test, let us apply it to the position of the Muslims in India. You will see at a glance a vast concourse, spreading out all over the country; they stand erect, and to imagine that they exist helpllessly as a "minority" is to delude oneself. The Muslims in India number between eighty and ninety millions. The same type of social or racial divisions which affect other communities do not divide them. The powerful bonds of Islamic brotherhood and equality have protected them to a large extent from the weakness that flows from social divisions. It is true that they number only one-fourth of the total population; but the question is not one of population ratio, but of the large numbers and the strength behind them. Can such a vast mass of humanity have any legitimate reason for apprehension that in a free and democratic India, it might be unable to protect its rights and interest?

These numbers are not confined to any particular area, but spread out unevenly over different parts of the country. In four provinces out of eleven in India there is a Muslim majority, the other religious groups being minorities. If British Baluchistan is added, there are five provinces with Muslim majority. Even if we are compelled at present to consider this question on a basis of religious groupings, the position of the Muslims is not that of a minority only. If they are in a minority in seven provinces, they are in a majority in five. This being so, there is absolutely no reason why they should be oppressed by the feeling of being a minority.
Whatever may be the details of the future constitution of India, we know that it will be an all-India federation which is in the fullest sense democratic, and every unit of which will have autonomy in regard to internal affairs. The federal centre will be concerned only with all-India matters of common concern, such as foreign relations, defence, customs, etc. Under these circumstances, can anyone who has any conception of the actual working of a democratic constitution, allow himself to be led astray by this false issue of majority and minority?

I cannot believe for an instant that there can be any room whatever for these misgivings in the picture of India's future. These apprehensions are arising because, in the words of a British statesman regarding Ireland, we are yet standing on the banks of the river and, though wishing to swim, are unwilling to enter the water. There is only one remedy: we should take the plunge fearlessly. No sooner is this done [than] we shall realise that all our apprehensions were without foundation.

It is now nearly thirty years since I first attempted to examine this question as an Indian Musalman. The majority of the Muslims then were keeping completely apart from the political struggle, and they were influenced by the same mentality of aloofness and antagonism which prevailed amongst them previously in the year 1888. This depressing atmosphere did not prevent me from giving my anxious thought to this matter, and I reached quickly a final conclusion, which influenced my belief and action. I saw India, with all her many burdens, marching ahead to her future destiny. We were fellow-passengers in this boat and we could not ignore its swift passage through the waters; and so it became necessary for us to come to a clear and final decision about our plan of action. How were we to do so?

Not merely by skimming the surface of the problem, but by going down to its roots, and then to consider our position. I did so, and I realised that the solution of the whole problem depended on the answer to one question: Do we, Indian Musalmans, view the free India of the future with suspicion and distrust, or with courage and confidence? If we view it with fear and suspicion, then undoubtedly we have to follow a different path. No present declaration, no promise for the future, no constitutional safeguards, can be a remedy for our doubts and fears. We are then forced to tolerate the existence of a third power. This third power is already entrenched here and has no intention of withdrawing; and if we follow this path of fear, we must needs look forward to its continuance.

But if we are convinced that for us fear and doubt have no place, and that we must view the future with courage and confidence in ourselves, then our course of action becomes absolutely clear. We find ourselves in a new world, which is free from the dark shadows of doubt, vacillation, inaction, and apathy, and where the light of faith and determination, action and enthusiasm, never fails. The confusions of the times, the ups and downs that come our way, the difficulties that beset our thorny path, cannot change the direction of our steps. It becomes our bounden duty then to march with assured steps to India's national goal.

I arrived at this definite conclusion. without the least hesitation, and every fibre of my being revolted against the former alternative. I could not bear the thought of it. I could not conceive it possible for a Musalman to tolerate this, unless he has rooted out the spirit of Islam from every corner of his being.

I started the "Al Hilal" in 1912, and put this conclusion of mine before the Muslims of India. I need not remind you that my cries were not without effect. The period from 1912 to 1918 marked a new phase in the political awakening of the Muslims. Towards the end of 1920, on my release after four years of internment, I found that the political ideology of the Musalmans had broken through its old mould and was taking another shape. Twenty years have gone by and much has happened since then. The tide of events has ever risen higher, and fresh waves of thought have enveloped us. But this fact still remains unchanged: that the general opinion amongst the Muslims is opposed to going back.

That is certain; they are not prepared to retrace their steps. But again, they are full of doubts about their future path. I am not going into the reasons for this; I shall only try to understand the effects. I would remind my co-religionists that today I stand exactly where I stood in 1912 when I addressed them on this issue. I have given thought to all those innumerable occurrences which have happened since then; my eyes have watched them, my mind has pondered over them.

These events did not merely pass me by; I was in the midst of them, a participant, and I examined every circumstances with care. I cannot be false to what I have myself seen and observed; I cannot quarrel with my own convictions; I cannot stifle the voice of my conscience. I repeat today what I have said throughout this entire period: that the ninety millions of Muslims of India have no other right course of action than the one to which I invited them in 1912.

Some of my co-religionists, who paid heed to my call in 1912, are in disagreement with me today. I do not wish to find fault with them, but I would make appeal to their sincerity and sense of responsibility. We are dealing with the destinies of peoples and nations. We cannot come to right conclusions if we are swept away by the passions of the moment. We must base our judgements on the solid realities of life. It is true that the sky is overcast today, and the outlook is dark. The Muslims have to come into the light of reality. Let them examine every aspect of the matter again today, and they will find no other course of action open to them.

I am a Musalman and am proud of that fact. Islam's splendid traditions of thirteen hundred years are my inheritance. I am unwilling to lose even the smallest part of this inheritance. The teaching and history of Islam, its arts and letters and civilisation, are my wealth and my fortune. It is my duty to protect them.

As a Musalman I have a special interest in Islamic religion and culture, and I cannot tolerate any interference with them. But in addition to these sentiments, I have others also which the realities and conditions of my life have forced upon me. The spirit of Islam does not come in the way of these sentiments; it guides and helps me forward.

I am proud of being an Indian. I am a part of the 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.
It was India's historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religions should flow to her, finding a home in her hospitable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. Even before the dawn of history, these caravans trekked into India, and wave after wave of newcomers followed. This vast and fertile land gave welcome to all, and took them to her bosom. One of the last of these caravans, following the footsteps of its predecessors, was that of the followers of Islam. This came here and settled here for good.

This led to a meeting of the culture-currents of two different races. Like the Ganga and Jumna, they flowed for a while through separate courses, but nature's immutable law brought them together and joined them in a sangam. This fusion was a notable event in history. Since then, destiny, in her own hidden way, began to fashion a new India in place of the old. We brought our treasures with us, and India too was full of the riches of her own precious heritage. We gave our wealth to her, and she unlocked the doors of her own treasures to us. We gave her what she needed most, the most precious of gifts from Islam's treasury, the message of democracy and human equality.

Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism. If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousands. of years, Islam also has been their religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. I shall enlarge this orbit still further. The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity.

Eleven hundred years of common history have enriched India with our common achievement. Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life, everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour. There is indeed no aspect of our life which has escaped this stamp. Our languages were different, but we grew to use a common language; our manners and customs were dissimilar, but they acted and reacted on each other, and thus produced a new synthesis. Our old dress may be seen only in ancient pictures of bygone days; no one wears it today.
This joint wealth is the heritage of our common nationality, and we do not want to leave it and go back to the times when this joint life had not begun. If there are any Hindus amongst us who desire to bring back the Hindu life of a thousand years ago and more, they dream, and such dreams are vain fantasies. So also if there are any Muslims who wish to revive their past civilization and culture, which they brought a thousand years ago from Iran and Central Asia, they dream also, and the sooner they wake up the better. These are unnatural fancies which cannot take root in the soil of reality. I am one of those who believe that revival may be a necessity in a religion but in social matters it is a denial of progress.

This thousand years of our joint life has moulded us into a common nationality. This cannot be done artificially. Nature does her fashioning through her hidden processes in the course of centuries. The cast has now been moulded and destiny has set her seal upon it. Whether we like it or not, we have now become an Indian nation, united and indivisible. No fantasy or artificial scheming to separate and divide can break this unity. We must accept the logic of fact and history, and engage ourselves in the fashioning of our future destiny......



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