Azad's tragedy

Published : Nov 18, 2011 00:00 IST

This work on Abul Kalam Azad verges on sheer hagiography.

MAULANA ABUL KALAM AZAD had a raw deal in life as well as in death. His contributions to Islamic religious thought and to Indian politics have been either exaggerated or ignored; worse still, denigrated. There is one extremely able work on his contribution to Islamic studies. It was written by a Christian missionary, the Rev. Ian Henderson Douglas, Director of the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies in Hyderabad. This PhD thesis at Oxford was written in 1969 but was published after his death 20 years later ( Abul Kalam Azad: An Intellectual and Religious Biography, Oxford University Press). It was edited by Gail Minault and the Jesuit scholar the Rev. Christian W. Troll. Nothing remotely comparable has been published on Azad's politics.

Rizwan Qaiser, Associate Professor at the Department of History at the Jamia Millia Islamia, does not fill the void. His book verges on sheer hagiography.

Douglas was not the only one to note that Azad began to play a conspicuous role in politics after 1937, but never a crucial, let alone decisive, one. His main ally was Nehru, not Gandhi. Asaf Ali's memoirs record how Vallabhbhai Patel treated Muslims in the Congress with distrust and disdain.

Two of Azad's principal criticisms of Nehru are factually wrong. He was very much privy to the surrender terms offered to the Muslim League in 1937, and while he was Congress president in 1946 he espoused its dishonest interpretation of the grouping formula of the Muslim League, of which Gandhi was the first and most dogged advocate.

On three issues Azad never wavered opposition to British rule, to the partition of India, and espousal of Hindu-Muslim unity. He was stoutly opposed to the Quit India resolution of 1942.

On August 2, 1945, he sent Gandhi proposals which he thought, unrealistically, would cut the ground from under Jinnah's feet. It envisaged a federal India with the units given the right to secede. Gandhi replied angrily: I do not infer from your letter that you are writing about my Hindus. Whatever you have in your heart has not appeared in your writing.

Intercepted by the British, the letters were published in Volume 6 of Transfer of Power 1942-1947 (pages 155-157 and 172). The author notes this but misses its significance. On July 24, 1947, Gandhi wrote to Nehru urging him to exclude Azad from the first Cabinet of Free India. Have another Muslim. By mid-1946 itself Azad had ceased to count for much in Congress deliberations.

The author glosses over Gandhi's expressed dislike for Azad and Patel's distrust. In December 1947, Patel questioned Azad's patriotism. A biography that glosses over such facts and Azad's half-hearted attempts to mobilise Muslims after Independence proclaims its inadequacy.

When he does record difference he writes thus: Azad had some doubts about the timing and method of the proposed movement. This does injustice to Azad. He opposed it manfully and manfully stood by the Congress once it was launched.

This is not a noteworthy contribution to writings on Azad. He deserved better. On the eve of Partition, Azad made 10 precise predictions. All came true.

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