A Stalwart of Our Times

A new collection of biographical articles on Syed Shahabuddin brings out some lesser known facets of this extraordinary man’s life, writes Mohd. Zeyaul Haque
Book: Syed Shahabuddin - Outstanding Voice of Muslim India
Compiler: Mushtqque Madni
Publisher: PA Inamdar, Pune
Year: 2013
Pages: 112+8 pages of photographs
Price: Rs 400 (Available from Pharos Media, see page 19)

Let me begin this review with a disclaimer: It cannot be read as an objective evaluation of this work as I cannot remain neutral when it comes to Syed Shahabuddin. I am his fan. Wait, I am not just a fan, but a Shahabuddin fanatic, who cannot see any imperfection in him.

So, let us begin to talk about the book now. But lo and behold! Most writers here seem to be closet Shahabuddin fans, if not shameless fanatics like yours truly. Or, who knows? This goes on to suggest that the man has no flaws. But is it possible?

Justice Aftab Alam, a former Supreme Court judge, presents a touching account of the life and times of “Shahab Bhai”, beginning from the late 50s of the last century till present. It is largely the personal narrative of Justice Alam (junior to Syed Shahabuddin by more than a decade) about a man whom he began to admire as a young boy.

Justice Alam’s piece has the brooding, wrenching quality of nostalgia, rich with the cultural memories of the fading Muslim aristocracy of Patna, its love of good food, exquisite poetry, and an occasional game of chess. And, above all, the generosity of spirit.

Another write-up that traces milestones of Syed Shahabuddin’s life from even earlier days is by fellow traveller Muchkund Dubey, former diplomat, man of culture and a man capable of great empathy. The Dubey-Shahab duo knew each other right from the days they passed high school in 1950. They went on to study at the two best colleges of Patna University. Dubey passed his UPSC examination for IFS in 1957 (after his MA in economics) while Shahabuddin was still 20 years old. Next year he became eligible (at 21) and passed his UPSC examination after doing his MSc physics.

Left leaning, fellow activists and student leaders, the duo has been truthful to social commitments made in boyhood. Dubey remarks that Shahabuddin has been serving the nation through the service of the Muslim community. Contrast it with the comments by some of our big newspapers in which he was foolishly branded as the “New Jinnah”. The fact remains that he has been a committed socialist and secularist all his life.

That the branding as “Jinnah” is malicious is clear after one reads Subramanian Swamy’s “A Man of Honour and Integrity.” It is the same Swamy some of whose recent writings have been construed as anti-Muslim rant. He talks about Shahabuddin with great respect and affection, which is not his normal way of dealing with political contemporaries.

Among the contributors we have half a dozen men formerly of the IFS, journalists DR Goel, Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan and Shahid Siddiqui, activist Asghar Ali Engineer and psephologist Yogendra Yadav. Siddiqui, who is also a former MP, does not see eye-to-eye with Shahabuddin on several issues, yet has a robust enough admiration for him to call him a “true visionary.” Ather Farouqi’s interview and Hilal Ahmad’s analysis of Shahabuddins’ political ideas are quite substantial and shorn of personal attachment.