Why is Mazharul Haque, the Gandhi of Modern Bihar Abandoned & Forgotten?

Written by Mohammad Sajjad | Published on: December 31, 2018

A Question for the Congress and Influential Muslims on the Occasion of his Birth Anniversary (December 22, 1866 - January 02, 1930)

There is a general concern that the stories and heroes of the nationalist struggle should not fade away from the memory of the new generation, given the contemporary political contestations and arguments about appropriations and re-appropriations of history. The claims of rival political parties, as well as debates about the claims and counter-claims around‘historical truths’ and ‘falsehoods’, impact Memory around the heroes of the Independence Movement; the struggle gains considerable political salience.

In this context, the diminishing numbers (of the Bihar Congress) recalling and remembering MazharulHaque on his birth anniversary, December 22, 2018, is significant. The Sadaqat Ashram(Abode of Truth) of Patna, which serves as the Bihar Congress headquarters, was donated to the Congress by MazharulHaque, who had, in turn, obtained the land-donation from one KhairuMiyan. Should not the state party re-called this contribution?

None of this however happened at the Sadaqat Ashram on December 22, 2018. Some Muslim leaders of the Congress did have minor observances at the district headquarters, Muzaffarpur. This is the place that the great grandfather of MazharulHaque belonged, before migrating to Bihpura (Saran).

The newly appointed Bihar Congress chief, Madan Mohan Jha and the In-charge of the Bihar Congress affairs, Shakti Singh Gohil, despite their prior commitment to grace the event, preferred to stay away from the commemorative event in Muzaffarpur, on December 22, 2018.  The event, thus, eventually turned out to be largely a Muslim affair. The event was hosted and organised mainly by the Muslims in a Muslim locality of the town of Muzaffarpur. So much so that many tend to look at the event as an intra-UPA competition between the Congress and the RJD, for Muslim votes. The RJD too has shown considerable apathy in this regard. Is it a sign of growing political untouchability of Muslims? After all,Tejaswi Yadav took 25 days to even tweet about the mob lynching of ZainulHaque Ansari in Sitamarhi, on October 20, 2018!

Notwithstanding these facts, it remains a monumental irony that a leader like MazharulHaque, who, did not identify himself only with his own co-religionists in public affairs, has been reduced into a ‘mere Muslim leader’, rather than a provincial or national leader cutting across communities. Another bigger irony is: Haque fought relentlessly for modern education during the colonial era. He donated his ancestral house ofBihpura (Saran) for a school. He endorsed and pushed Gokhale’s proposal of universal compulsory primary education fully funded by the state in the early 20th century. In fact, when Gokhale refrained from including girls’ education in the Bill, Haque said that with this exclusion half of his commitment and enthusiasm to the cause was lost.

MazharulHaque did much more. He worked hard to organise national schools and at the behest of Gandhiji, he established the Bihar Vidyapith(National University) during the Non Cooperation Movement; he also launched an agitation to upgrade the Patna Medical School and the Patna’s Bihar School of Engineering to the status of college, and quite a lot more in those fields. He strongly advocated for quality modern education to both men and women, from primary to higher stages. He also established the RashtriyaShiksha Mandal to guide a general policy on nationalist education in terms of curricula framing and administrative management.
Yet, it was more than five decades after independence, that the government of Bihar decided to establish a university in his name. The university is limited only for the promotion of promote Urdu, Persian and Arabic languages, rather than a modern university offering all kinds of courses. Worse still, the university, in its decades of existence, is yet to get a proper campus and buildings and infrastructures. Much younger universities established by the government of Bihar have got allthe infrastructures, at a rather faster pace. These have happened during the so called successive ‘Muslim-friendly’ regimes.

Notwithstanding this opportunistic political apathy, MazharulHaque’s vision of independent India carries immense contemporary relevance.  Hence, he must be commemorated.

Haque and Gandhiji were friends in England while obtaining the law education. He also studied elocution reciting scenes from Shakespeare and Sheridan. He learnt French, besides English and oriental languages. In 1891, he returned to establish law practice in Patna, when Bihar’s struggle for a separate province was gaining strength. He then joined as Munsif in U.P. but soon quit it protesting against English racism; and started law practice in Chapra (Saran). He organised relief works during the famine of 1897 in Saran. In 1903 he was elected Vice Chairman of the Saran municipality. During his tenure (1903-06), he improved the financesof the municipality in a big way. His biographers testify that he was a great believer in democratic decentralism, and he fought for enhanced representation of Indians in such bodies.

In 1908, he moved to Patna and emerged as a prominent advocate. Here, he jumped into the nationalist public activities and his residence, SikandarManzil, on Patna’s Fraser Road, became strongest centre of anti-colonial nationalist activities. Fired by regional patriotism, and joining the struggle for separate province of Bihar, he launched his newspaper, Modern Bihar. It was shortlived, and another example of his brave journalism was through the publication of the English weekly, The Motherland in 1921-22, through which he also exposed the international character and hegemony of colonial exploitation.

In 1909, when the British introduced separate communal electorates, Haque emerged as a greatest opponent of this institutionalised divisive game. In December 1909, he was elected to the Imperial legislative Council, where he successfully resisted the extension of separate electorate to the local bodies.He also remarked that the Muslim share in the “concession loot” would not be fixed by the statutes, but would be in proportion to Muslim share in the national struggle. In the Council, he made several interventions for enhancement of Indian proportion in the public services.

He stood strongly for Hindu-Muslim unity, in which he saw ‘salvation of India’. He had presided over the Muslim League in 1915. Earlier he had presided over the Bihar Congress in 1911. He was instrumental in architecting a pact between the Congress and the Muslim League in 1916 at Lucknow. Soon after that, a massive communal violence happened in Shahabad in 1917.

Just as it is happening these days, where, Muslims are being lynched in the name of protecting cows. In the early decades of the twentieth century, many communal clashes, protesting against cow slaughter, had become too frequent.  Haque appealed to the Muslims to abandon cow slaughter altogether. Further, he also advocated for interfaith marriages, and supported the Special Marriage Bill (of BhupendranathBasu) to de-criminalise the inter-faith marriages. For this he had to face ire of his own co-religionists too. ShamsulHoda, a fellow member, had asked him to resign from the Council on moral grounds for having supported such a Bill.

Haque also faced lot of ire from his co-religionists for having exposed Muslim lumpens having participated in the violence, and for having rejected many baseless accusations of victimizations of Muslims in the violence. In an editorial of his own English weekly, The Motherland (January 9, 1922), he also proposed for the merger of the Muslim League into the Congress, for the sake of national unity against the colonial onslaught. He went on tosuggest that the Muslim League should confine itself to safeguarding the religio-cultural interests of Muslims and that the politico-economic affairs of all communities should be left upon to the Congress. He asked Muslims to read Hindu philosophy, and the Hindus to read Muslim history (if not philosophy), in order to develop mutual understanding.

In the capacity of the President, Home Rule League, he popularised the slogan of Swaraj across Bihar and Orissa, with hectic tours and public meetings. With these activities, he raised an army of freedom fighters in district towns and villages. He was of the firm view that the Congress must raise a cadre-base and they should burnish their leadership qualities through representations in local bodies.

After the ChauriChaura violence of February 5, 1922, the Non Cooperation Movement was suspended.Many were imprisoned and lot of repressive measures were inflicted upon them in jails. MazharulHaque protested against it by writing a severe editorial in his The Motherland in April 1922. He was imprisoned for this and trial started. This is the time he earned the monikers of Deshbhushan (Jewel of the nation) and faqir. This was long before Churchill sarcastically referred to Gandhiji as ‘half naked seditious faqir’. Haque had discarded his western clothing and had donned the hand-spun khadi attire, during the Non Cooperation Movement, when the British goods had to be boycotted.

Haque was elected first Chairman of the Saran District Board (1924-1927). He demonstrated his acumen and vision here. He opposed the Audit Bill which sought to create huge restrictions upon the District Board expenses. Here, he implemented Gokhale’sfree, compulsory primary education, quite vigorously, despite fund constraints.

In November 1926, MazharulHaque lost the local Legislative Council elections. “He was deserted by his own community for what they called his pro-Hindu attitude, while the Hindu voters disavowed him as their leader. This was a blow which MazharulHaque, a life-long devotee of communal harmony, could hardly stand. He then withdrew himself from active politics. No amount of persuasion ...could thereafter take him out from his self-imposed retreat”; not even Maulana Azad’s persuasion (through a letter dated August 20, 1926) to accept Presidentship of the Congress in 1927.Disgusted and disillusioned, he settled down in village Faridpur (Saran), where he had constructed his own house, Ashiyana (the nest). 

In October 1929, he wrote against the moulvis who were raising ‘much noise and din against the Sarda Marriage Act’. Though by that time, he had developed great interest in theosophy and spiritualism. He was studying Annie Besant’s translation of Gita, and subscribed the Spiritualist of Boston (USA), and also contributed spiritualistic articles to such periodicals. He passed away on January 2, 1930, and was buried in a corner of the campus of Ashiyana.

The Congress, Haque’s party,does not seem to remember him and the legacies of services and sacrifices left by him. Affluent Muslims, the USA based Muslim NRIs, AFMI, had their lavish dinners and celebrations in Patna on December 22, 2018. They didn’t extend theircharity and compassion to those ruined in the communal violence and plunder in early months this year, nor do they have vision and concern to commemorate the largely forgotten makers of the nation.

A half-hearted commemoration of him by a “Muslim” faction of the Bihar Congress at Muzaffarpur, this year, was possibly because in the RJD-Congress alliance, the MuzaffarpurLok Sabha seat goes for the Congress. It often gives its symbol to a Bhumihar candidate, a community which dominates the material and cultural universe of this part of Bihar. During the 1980s, the Muzaffarpur Congress was dominated by uncouth, neo-rich, self-serving leaders, who patronised criminal gangs of their own castes. In the 1990s, with the rise and consolidation of the backward castes, the upper caste dominated Congress, lost its way, irretrievably.  In the elections of 2014, a Bhumihar candidate, Akhilesh Singh, gave a strong fight to the BJP’s candidate, Ajay Nishad. With this performance, the runner Akhilesh has been sent to the Rajya Sabha. Even this man stayed away from the event at Muzaffarpur on December 22, 2018. The Congress think-tank seems to remain oblivious of all these. Can it really hope to revive itself? This is an open question, as it prepares to go in for the next general elections in 2019.