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Published in the 16-31 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

A query on his 46th death anniversary
Was Maulana Azad treated fairly? 
By Kaleem Kawaja

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s immense contribution to India’s long freedom movement and to the cause of a pluralistic, multireligious, multiethnic Indian nation needs no introduction. On his 46th death anniversary let us ask ourselves if he was treated fairly in the post-1947 India.
Abul Kalam Azad

The new generation of Hindus in India do not even know that a very sizeable number of Muslims led by Maulana Azad fought shoulder to shoulder with Hindus to liberate India from the colonial yoke, and that in fact many of them sacrificed their lives for that cause. 

If we examine Azad's political career, we realise that undoubtedly he was very successful in synthesizing Muslims and Hindus, and he had very sublime ideas, that he embellished brilliantly with his deep understanding of the Islamic sources. But in his own lifetime, when he had the support of great, enlightened national leaders like Gandhi and Nehru, he was not successful in persuading a sizeable number of Hindus that in a united India, Muslims should be given status, power, respect, rights, equal to Hindus. Many second tier Hindu leaders like Rajendra Prasad, GB Pant, Madan Mohan Malviya, PD Tandon etc and VB Patel — the first tier national leader, simply did not want to do that. 

They simply could not appreciate the benefits that India achieved in all fields, when it became a pluralistic nation in the past 800 years, with the integration of West Asian Muslims in the Indian soil. They had little use for a multireligious India. Even the threat of the imminent partition of India did not deter them from their monolithic vision. 
It is well known that after 1947 Azad was a totally crushed man. The first government in independent India completely marginalised him, giving him only the education portfolio in the Indian cabinet, and shutting him out of the programme to build the new nation. Suddenly all of his lofty ideas of a pluralistic India were of little use to the same Hindu colleagues of him in the Indian leadership who had admired them so much. 

Maybe he realised at that time that despite all that he did for India’s freedom movement, persuading Muslims that Hindus were their brothers, in the end the same people with whom he had worked for so long and hard, thought of him only as a leader of Muslims, who were now only 12% of the population in the new India. Hence, despite a lifetime of service, they could not consider him an Indian leader, and he could at best be given a marginal role in independent India. Despite the great sagacity of his intellect and leadership, it may have occurred to him that after all he was used. And that is why this ebullient, energetic and visionary leader suddenly became mute and reclusive. 

Azad, the great Indian Muslim who epitomized Indian nationalism, who interpreted Islamic scriptures to prove that Muslims and Hindus can form a viable pluralistic nation, was allowed to stand for election only from Muslim majority towns. Can you imagine how this great man with 40 years of unshakable background in Hindu-Muslim commonality must have felt when he was put into a "Muslim" box and told to stay there!

Today despite his illustrious service to India, Maulana Azad’s name has been systematically removed from all annals of India's long freedom movement and from school textbooks. The new generation of Hindus in India do not even know that a very sizeable number of Muslims led by Maulana Azad fought shoulder to shoulder with Hindus to liberate India from the colonial yoke, and that in fact many of them sacrificed their lives for that cause. And none of today’s national leaders even make any attempt to correct the distorted historical record. 

Kaleem Kawaja is a director of the Association of 
Indian Muslims of America, Washington DC and may be reached 

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