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November 11: Azad Day Special


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Maulana Azad as Freedom Fighter

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 11:12:36 AM, Team

Audio: Maulana Azad's historic address to the Indian Muslims from Jama Masjid after the partition

Maulana Azad's efforts in shaping the Education policy in Independent India: Maulana Azad was a great educationist too. His standing as an outstanding scholar of Oriental learning was demonstrated in moulding the educational system of the country in the immediate post...Click for Full

Maulana Azad as a distinguished writer: Azad started writing poems and literary and political articles for Urdu Newspapers and journals at a very early age. He launched his Urdu weekly Al-Hilal on June, 1912 when he was only 24....Click for Full

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Preacher of the Peace and Harmony: Azad was opposed to the partition of the country on the basis of the religion and believed the partition would create more problems than solving. His devotion to Indian National Movements was the result of the new...Click for Full

The first major turning point for Azad came after the partition of Bengal, when he rejected the mainstream of the Muslim middle class, which wanted partition and considered the colonial government as its benefactor. Repudiating it, he associated himself with the anti British Movement.


In 1908, after his father's death, his visits to France and some Islamic countries, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Turkey had a profound and decisive influence on Azad's political thinking. While abroad, he met a number of groups, the young Turks, the Arab Nationalists and the prominent leaders of the pan-Islamic Movement who wanted to throw away the yoke of imperialism to free the Arab countries.


He was influenced by the writing of Jamaluddin Afghani (l 837_97), a pan–Islamist modern reformer who regarded European countries as enemies of Islam. He also met the Iranian revolutionaries fighting against the Qajar autocracy and the followers of Sheikh Muhammad Abduhu and Saeed Pasha and supporters of Mustafa Kamal Pasha. He was apprised of the programmes of the young Turks. These Indian, Arab, Turkish, Irani and Afghani revolutionaries vividly demonstrated their anti-imperial attitude to Azad. They lamented over Indian indifference to their struggle for freedom. All these experiences also motivated him in plunging into the political arena. He found a new world astir with ideas of liberty, progress and revolutionary Islam. He noticed that the Muslim world was facing various kinds of threats. Italy had conquered the provision of Tripoli in 1911. The Balkan states were determined to dismember Turkey. Morocco had yielded to French yoke and Russia threatened Iran. Turkey was encircled by Russia, England and France. These events deeply affected Azad.


In India too, the Muslim Community was going through a serious ideological crisis at the turn of the century. Earlier, during the last quarter of the 19th century, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan tried to persuade the Muslim elite that its political future laid in adopting a liberal outlook at the same time as it adopted a cooperative attitude towards British Imperialism in the subcontinent. However this call for an alliance with imperialism was totally unacceptable to large sections of the Muslim community in India, particularly among the elite and the popular classes. Young Maulana Azad, in common with leaders like Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali, Wazir Hasan and others represented those within the Muslim community who challenged this concept of Islamic modernism in alliance with Imperialism, propounded by Sir Syed. These leaders looked upon Great Britain as an alien power bent upon humiliating Islam in Asia at the same time as it sought to undermine the spiritual and secular status of Islam within the Indian sub-continent.


It was at this juncture that Azad launched his Urdu weekly Al-Hilal on June, 1912 when he was only 24. He believed that only by educating the 'Ulama, the learned in Law and in theology, there would emerge a nucleus of dedicated and idealistic elite which can act as a lever for the moral and intellectual regeneration of the Muslim community. With the launching of Al-Hilal, Azad shot into the National Movement. He gave fearless and powerful expression to his nationalist ideas through the journal. The basic intent of Al-Hilal was to launch a vigorous attack not only on the colonial distortions of our history but more on the pro-colonial modernism of the Aligarh School, which had poisoned the minds of the Modernist Muslim intelligentsia. Al-HilaI held out the message of nationalism to the Muslim elites as well as the popular classes and urged them to join other communities in the struggle for the liberation of the country.


Al-Hilal became immensely popular among the Muslim intelligentsia within a short period.


Its circulation had reached 2, 90,000 by 1914, when the Government confiscated the Al-Hilal Press after two years of continuous publication. Azad took the view that by their crafty policy of divide and rule, the British had made Hindus and Muslims antagonistic to each other. Azad suggested to his people that the right course for both the communities was to fight the British to prevent them from bringing ruination to their country. Al-Hial was also critical of the Muslim League, its aristocratic leadership and its style of functioning. The journal inspired the educated Muslim to awaken to a new political sense.


It is significant that all these moves and various political activities of Azad were initiated before the emergence of Gandhiji on the political horizon. Advent of Gandhiji into the National Movement and Azad's meeting with him had crucial bearing on the future course of the movement. Azad met Gandhiji on 18 January 1920 at the residence of Hakim Ajmal Khan in the presence of Lokmanya Tilak and Ali brothers.


Before his meeting with Gandhiji, he defined collective identity of the Muslim Community in terms of Islam and denned and visualized a safe and legitimate place for the Muslims within the sub-continent. In Gandhiji, he found institutional support for his political stand. The Khilafat Movement and later the non-cooperation Movement was to provide a broader platform and offer more serious challenges to Azad's budding political career.


Yet another turning point in Azad's political career was marked by the Non-Cooperation Movement launched under the leadership of Gandhiji. It was during the Non-Cooperation Movement that he began to think of Hindus and Muslims of forming nation. Until this time Azad was a member of both Congress and the Muslim League. But after the league at its session of 1921, denounced the Civil Disobedience Movement, Azad along with several other prominent Muslim leaders, left the league for good.


He exhorted the Muslim masses to join the freedom struggle by giving a religious justification for the Movement. For the Hindus working for independence might be a patriotic gesture. But for the Muslims it is a religious duty. In the 1920s, Azad was, to a large extent, responsible in sanctifying the Hindu-Muslim partnership and in drawing more and more Muslims to the folds of the Congress, thus enhancing the momentum of the Freedom movement.


In 1923, at its Delhi session, he was elected President of the Indian National Congress at the age of 35, becoming the youngest Congress President to date. He was an ardent protagonist of Hindu-Muslim unity. On his election, he said, “If an angel were to descent from the high heavens and proclaim from the heights of the Qutab Minar, discard Hindu-Muslim unity and within 24 hours, Swaraj is yours, I will refuse swaraj but will not budge an inch from my stand. If Swaraj is delayed it will affect only India while the end of our unity will be the loss of our entire human world.”


At a time when many Indian Muslims led by the Muslim league were crying for partition, Azad stood up in defence of the unity of the sub-continent. When the Congress launched the Satyagraha Movement in 1930, Azad was arrested. He was a party to every direct action launched by the Congress during the course of the freedom struggle and spent 11 years of his life in British jails. He accepted the most challenging assignment of his life when he took over the presidentship of the Indian National Congress at its Ramgarh session in 1940.


Shortly before Azad presided over the Ramgarh Session of the Congress in 1940, Nehru said of him, “…he is not the type of man who likes the rough and tumble of politics. He is very sensitive and rather avoids crowds and publicity. He lacks a certain vital energy. In a wider world he is rather out of place as he thinks on political lines and hardly at all on social or economic lines... In the Muslim world of India he is tremendously very advance. Probably he is the ablest among the Muslim divines. Most of them are afraid of him because he can floor them in any argument. His knowledge even of the scriptures and traditions is very great,"


Maulana Azad's tenure as Congress President was longest in its pre-independence history. He presided over the Congress during the most crucial phase of the struggle. It was under his presidentship that All India Congress Committee passed the famous Quit India Resolution and gave the call of "Do or Die". The Movement was ruthlessly suppressed by the British Government and Maulana Azad, along with the rest of the Congress leaders, was arrested and put behind the bars.        


On his release in 1945, he was entrusted with the most delicate task of negotiating with the British and the Muslim League for transfer of power to Indians. He negotiated with Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India later at Shimla. He led the Congress delegation in talk with the Cabinet Mission headed by Sir Pethwick Lawrence, the Secretary of State for India. He wanted to have a dialogue with Mohammad Ali Jinnah who brushed him away and refused to talk to one he considered as the Congress' Show-boy.


However, he pulled through these turbulent times. He had to face the might of the apologists of the British Raj as well as the proponents of the vivisection of the sub-continent. He did it with equanimity and stoicism and without losing poise or dignity. Maulana Azad carried the Congress with him through these historic six years with matchless grace and distinction. He also consistently tried to heal the rift-between the Congress and the League.


Maulana was an intellectual par excellence and a political giant. Above all he was an uncompromising patriot. Though he had to suffer incarceration in British Jails, his spirit remained unbowed. He had to move from jail to jail from Alipur in Calcutta to Naini in Allahabad, Meerut, Gonda, Moradabad, Ahmed Nagar and Delhi but the sensitivity of his intellect remained intact. He did most of his writings during those jail days. Azad lost his wife Zuleikha Begum when he was detained in the Ahmednagar fort in the wake of the Quit India Movement.


When partition came about, Maulana Azad and his nationalist Muslim followers were heartbroken. Azad's dream of a United India was shattered and he was a broken man. But he kept a brave face and in his loyalty to his political colleagues, he never lamented in public. However, he took pride in identifying himself as an Indian as well as a Muslim. For him there was no dichotomy between the two. When the Pakistan Resolution was passed at Lahore under the leadership of Jinnah, Azad said, “I am 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.”


Indeed he was an indispensable part of this noble edifice, namely India. When the Muslims of India were deeply worried about their future within the country after the partition of the subcontinent Maulana Azad, in his characteristic statesman-like manner, reached out to them and helped in infusing confidence and faith in being Indians, reminding his co-religionists of the disastrous role played by fanatic leaders who propounded the two-nation theory and thus betrayed the cause of composite nationalism. He urged them to address themselves anew to the task of creating for the

Islamic world a "place of dignity" in the new order of things. In an inspiring address to the Muslims in 1948 he said, “I am not asking you to seek certificates of loyalty out of the fear of the ruling power or to live as camp followers, as you did during the days of foreign domination. Let me remind you that some of the bright signs and symbols that you discern today in India, as a heritage of the past, were contributed by our own forefathers. Don't forget them. Don't forsake them. Live like their worthy inheritors. Realise that if you yourself are not willing to run away no power on earth could make you do so.”


Maulana Azad held a position unique in several ways. He was emotionally and intellectually close to both — Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. He was closely associated with crucial decision making since the twenties. With the dawn of freedom in 1947, his was a natural choice to be in the Cabinet- He was the Minister of Education during 1947-52, and Minister of Education, Natural Resources and Scientific Research from 1952-58. His influence on the process of policy making was immense. He was Nehru's, comrade-in-arms during the days of the freedom movement and was-one of his closest confidante and adviser in the Cabinet.




Taken from the excellent article on Maulana Azad

written by Subhash Kashyab






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