Congress and `nationalist' Muslims

Print edition : September 09, 2005

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. - THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

IT was not only Jinnah whom Gandhi and the Congress spurned. They spurned also Muslims within their own ranks. V.P. Menon noted: "Nationalist Muslims found themselves in a particularly difficult position. They felt that, unless the Congress could reassure the Muslims, it would not be possible to win their support in the coming elections [in 1946]. Towards the end of August 1945, Abul Kalam Azad approached Gandhiji with a plan for a settlement." Menon summarised the plan and remarked that he was unaware of the Congress' response. The Working Committee's resolution in September accepted the right of secession; only vaguely hinted at the partition of Punjab and Bengal - which Jinnah could notice but not his followers - and declared that the Congress would approach Muslims directly.

In his memoirs, Azad suppressed his letter of August 2, 1945, and Gandhi's reply of August 16. They were published in 1976 in Vol. VI of Transfer of Power (pages 155-157; Seervai's Partition of India; 1994; pages 38-39). Like Rajaji, Azad proposed "to leave entirely to Muslims the question of their status in the future Constitution of India". Gandhi replied on August 16: "I did not infer from your letter that you are writing about my Hindus. Whatever you have in your heart has not appeared in your writing. But don't worry. We will talk the matter over when next we meet if you so desire. Whatever you want to say about the communal problem should not be said without consulting me and the Working Committee. I am also of the opinion that it would be better to keep quiet... . My opinion differs from your (sic)" (Transfer of Power, Vol. VI, page 172). Both letters had been intercepted by the government.

Azad wrote to Sardar Patel on August 13, urging acceptance of the right to secede. "Time has now come when the Muslim Nationalists should recognise themselves and place their point of view before the Muslims in general." Patel asked him on August 29 to put it before the Working Committee (Sardar's Letters Mostly Unknown; Vol. 4, pages 171-172).

Azad had nothing to offer to the Muslim voter. Neither had Nehru and Patel. The League swept the polls. M. Asaf Ali's memoirs explain how marginalised Azad and he were. In December 1943, Azad reviewed with him and Syed Mahmud "the Congress-Muslim position". "Personally I [Asaf Ali] think it is time that merciless self-criticism was undertaken by nationalist Muslims and Hindu Congressmen. Indian Muslims as a bulk are dissatisfied with the policies of the Congress, howsoever well intentioned they may have been. A practical politician would take note of it and alter the course of his policies... ." In July 1944, Asaf Ali noted that "certain persons [that is, Jinnah] and policies are like the red rag to him [Nehru] and the very mention of them sends him into an unreasonable outburst of passion, expressed more in his tense face... the impression of a proud and unreasoning victim of volcanic emotions".

He asked what was the solution to the communal issue "if not the one proposed by Jinnah? Could any political progress be made without solving this question?... He [Nehru] was frankly not hopeful of any deal with Jinnah, who he thought was not aware of the world forces and economic developments... "

Patel made no secret of his contempt for Congress Muslims even in prison. "Patel & Co. have time and again, spoken in a manner rather ironical, indicating that Mahmud, I and (less marked) Maulana don't come up to their mark," Asaf Ali wrote.

In January 1948, Patel questioned Azad's patriotism. But the unkindest cut was Gandhi's stance. On July 24, 1947, he wrote to Nehru opposing Azad's membership of the first Cabinet of free India. "Sardar is decidedly against his membership." So, "name another Muslim for the Cabinet".

That was Azad's lot; insulted by Jinnah as "a show-boy" and distrusted by Gandhi and Patel for his espousal of Muslim interests from a nationalist viewpoint. The nationalist Muslim had no role to play. The Congress left the field to the League.

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