National

Remembering Arjun Singh

The death of Mr. Arjun Singh has shocked the civil society of India which always richly benefited from the visionary guidance and pluralistic ethos for which Mr. Arjun Singh stood in public life for several decades. He was one of the vanguards in national politics who tirelessly worked for the communal harmony and stood like a rock against the fascist communal forces in the country.

Minorities always looked at him as a champion of their rights and found in him a guiding force at times of crisis. His commitment to the secular ethoes made him the messiah of the downtrodden, marginalised and the minorities equally.

The empowerment of marginalised sections including Muslims had always been on priority in his mind and the nation would never forget his contribution in desaffronising the educational system which was badly infected during the rule of NDA, and the path-breaking work done by the National Literacy Mission under his guidance. His commitment and contribution as Union minister for human resource development would be remembered forever. Minorities would particularly remember him as a statesman who sincerely worked for their educational empowerment. Maulana Azad National Urdu University, introduction of modern and scientific courses in Madarsas, facilitation of easy access to a hurdle-free environment for the establishment of minority institutions of higher learning and implementation of reservation for the OBCs in educational institutions are some of his memorable achievements.

His blessings remained with the people who took the initiative to form Peoples Integration Council, in the absence of the will of the then NDA leadership to convene NIC, and work for communal harmony which eventually led to the reconstitution of the National Integration Council after UPA came to power in 2004.

In 2002, when I had campaigned for the convening of the National Integration Council and had met the then Prime Minsiter Atal Bihari Vajpayee twice with the representation but without any assurance and progress by the then BJP-led NDA Government, it was Arjun Singh who not only agreed to the idea of creating Peoples’ Integration Council (PIC) but warmly blessed the initiative with his guidance and consented to be the first founder-member of the PIC. It successfully convened the PIC Convention which was inaugurated by Mr. K. R. Narayanan, the former President of India and was blessed by Mrs Sonia Gandhi with a keynote address.

The news of his death was a personal loss for this writer. I had the privilege to be one among his many admirers who learnt a lot under his guidance. He was one of the few leaders who not only campaigned but always encouraged the upcoming faces in social life. I had never found him closed to innovative ideas and open discussions on any issue.

He showered his love and blessings on me on  numerous occasions and I cannot forget that embarrassing moment when while delivering the valedictory address at the Workshop on the Condition of Minorities in South Asia at Parliament Annexe in New Delhi on 16 September, 2005 and in attendance of nearly 50 foreign delegates including ministers and jurists from nearly all SAARC countries, he had remarked in his address: “In my own assessment, Navaid Hamid represents the civil society of this country. He does not hold any official position and yet I want to inform you that in the last few years when reason and good governance were in eclipse in this country, one of the most cherished institutions which was established by no less than our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru – the ‘National Integration Council’ which obviously by its name denotes integration which is the basis of all civilised society - came to be one of the targets of those who have been at the helm of affairs in India and I am saying with the sense of extreme regret but that is the fact and should not be lost sight of. At that point of time the civil society in this country was not prepared to allow this initiative to be eclipsed. The first person who became active on this account was none else than Mr. Navaid Hamid. And it goes to his credit in a similar fashion that he made this organisation possible now. He was a moving spirit which galvanised all of us as part of civil society of this country to create Peoples’ Integration Council. The telling effect of that event was that when this present alliance government came into existence and the common minimum programme of this alliance was being formulated, the pride and place was given to restoring the National Integration Council which had fallen into disuse.”

The remarks of a statesman of his stature show his commitment to encourage all those who had a desire to work in social life. When UPA-I came to power, I had the privilege to bring to his notice the hardships the minorities had faced during the NDA rule for establishing educational institutions inspite of their fundamental right as enshrined in the Constitution under Article 30. He immediately agreed to convene a National Convention on Minorities Education which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh. Here participants narrated the woes and hardships they had faced during the BJP-led NDA rule. On my humble suggestion he constituted the National Committee for Monitoring Minorities Education in the Ministry of Human Resource Development under his chairmanship, with members from all minority communities in order to monitor the implementation of the programmes and policies for minorities under his ministry.

During the financial crisis in the national news agency, UNI Urdu, Shaikh Manzoor Ahmad, the then head of UNI Urdu, approached me for facilitation of some financial resources from various government agencies. Mr. Arjun Singh not only agreed for a substantial grant to the news agency at the time of its crisis but also spoke to Priyaranjan Das Munshi, the then Minister for I&B for help during this crisis.

As education comes under the concurrent list of the Constitution, it was brought to his notice that state governments usually sit on the applications for ‘No Objection Certificates’ for establishing educational institutions by the minorities, he directed various autonomous institutions under Ministry of HRD to incorporate guidelines that in case the state government fails to respond to applications within the stipulated timeframe, agencies under his ministry should consider it as No Objection from the state governments and proceed with granting permission to open institutions of higher learning.

Jamia Millia Islamia, as a thanks-giving gesture, named one of the roads in its campus after Arjun Singh during his lifetime because of his genuine concern and sincere desire for making the university as one of the best seats of higher learning in the country and the special packages he approved for this university for creating better infrastructure and for introduction of professional streams in the university.

In 2006, Prof. AW Azhar of the All India Persian Teachers Association approached me to plead the case of opening a Persian Research Institute in Aligarh Muslim University. We met Arjun Singh alongwith a delegation comprising Persian scholars from across the country. He immediately agreed to support the idea and subsequently during his visit to AMU announced his ministry’s handsome grant for creating the Persian Research Institute in the university.

There are numerous incidents which haunt my mind when he was so gracious and kind for considering the suggestions of even ordinary citizens for incorporating in his plans. I found very few who had such vast vision, articulation and statesmanship. With his death the forces of communal harmony and secularism feel orphaned.

The author is Secretary, Peoples Integration Council & Member, National Integration Council (NIC)

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 March 2011 on page no. 6

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