On his 135th birth anniversary, let’s recall why Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Said About remains a threat to supremacists of all hues

From his memorable speech at the Rampur Congress as President of the INC to his famous words on sedition —-"Is sedition a name for freedom struggle which is not successful? If that be so, I would fully agree with it"— Maulana Azad represents a threat to communalists of all hues

November 11 is celebrated —albeit with reluctance by the present ruling regime in India —as National Education Day. The observance memorialises the birth anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, scholar, freedom fighter and the first education minister of independent India. Maulana Azad’s contributions across the fields of education, communal harmony and journalism have been duly recognised, and he was posthumously awarded the Bharat Ratna.

His iconic speech to compatriot Indian Muslims as he watched, with anguish India’s bloody partition was delivered from the steps of the iconic Jama Masjid of Delhi in 1947. It is a speech worth recalling as it does some plain speaking. As relevant in majoritarian India today —and worth recalling— are his words of dignified assertion as an Indian and a Muslim at the Rampur session of the Indian National Congress in 1940.

“The Musalmans and a United Nation;

“I am a Musalman and am proud of that fact. Islam’s splendid traditions of thirteen hundred years are my inheritance. I am unwilling to lose even the smallest part of this inheritance. The teaching and history of Islam, its arts and letters and civilisation, are my wealth and my fortune. It is my duty to protect them.

“As a Musalman I have a special interest in Islamic religion and culture, and I cannot tolerate any interference with them. But in addition to these sentiments, I have others also which the realities and conditions of my life have forced upon me. The spirit of Islam does not come in the way of these sentiments; it guides and helps me forward.

“I am proud of being an Indian. I am a 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.

“It was India’s historic destiny that many human races and cultures and religions should flow to her, finding a home in her hospitable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. Even before the dawn of history, these caravans trekked into India, and wave after wave of newcomers followed. This vast and fertile land gave welcome to all, and took them to her bosom. One of the last of these caravans, following the footsteps of its predecessors, was that of the followers of Islam. This came here and settled here for good.

“This led to a meeting of the culture-currents of two different races. Like the Ganga and Jumna, they flowed for a while through separate courses, but nature’s immutable law brought them together and joined them in a sangam. This fusion was a notable event in history. Since then, destiny, in her own hidden way, began to fashion a new India in place of the old. We brought our treasures with us, and India too was full of the riches of her own precious heritage. We gave our wealth to her, and she unlocked the doors of her own treasures to us. We gave her what she needed most, the most precious of gifts from Islam’s treasury, the message of democracy and human equality.

“Full eleven centuries have passed by since then. Islam has now as great a claim on the soil of India as Hinduism. If Hinduism has been the religion of the people here for several thousands. of years, Islam also has been their religion for a thousand years. Just as a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hinduism, so also we can say with equal pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. I shall enlarge this orbit still further. The Indian Christian is equally entitled to say with pride that he is an Indian and is following a religion of India, namely Christianity.

“Eleven hundred years of common history have enriched India with our common achievement. Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life, everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour. There is indeed no aspect of our life which has escaped this stamp. Our languages were different, but we grew to use a common language; our manners and customs were dissimilar, but they acted and reacted on each other, and thus produced a new synthesis. Our old dress may be seen only in ancient pictures of bygone days; no one wears it today.

“This joint wealth is the heritage of our common nationality, and we do not want to leave it and go back to the times when this joint life had not begun. If there are any Hindus amongst us who desire to bring back the Hindu life of a thousand years ago and more, they dream, and such dreams are vain fantasies. So also if there are any Muslims who wish to revive their past civilization and culture, which they brought a thousand years ago from Iran and Central Asia, they dream also, and the sooner they wake up the better. These are unnatural fancies which cannot take root in the soil of reality. I am one of those who believe that revival may be a necessity in a religion but in social matters it is a denial of progress.

“This thousand years of our joint life has moulded us into a common nationality. This cannot be done artificially. Nature does her fashioning through her hidden processes in the course of centuries. The cast has now been moulded and destiny has set her seal upon it. Whether we like it or not, we have now become an Indian nation, united and indivisible. No fantasy or artificial scheming to separate and divide can break this unity. We must accept the logic of fact and history, and engage ourselves in the fashioning of our future destiny. “

(Excerpted from the 1940 Rampur Congress Presidential Address by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad)

With dozems of books written and thousands of seminars and symposiums organised over the years to remember and celebrate his legacy, and rightly so. One aspect of his life as a freedom fighter that beara remembering today is how he responded when he was charged with sedition in the year 1922.

 Mahatma Gandhi, who was himself tried under the law, was highly impressed by Azad’s statement in the case. According to Gandhi, Azad’s 30-page written statement is and was an eloquent thesis on nationalism.

This speech best explains his attitude towards the colonial government. This is important to remember because ironically, on the occasion of his birth anniversary today, the Central government-funded and -administered Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) is organising a day-long symposium on the life and objectives of Hindutva icon Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who is often projected as the brave ‘Veer Savarkar’. Savarkar was a known loyalist of the colonial government, contrary to Azad.

Maulana Azad’s written statement before a colonial court in Calcutta is part of an Urdu book titled Qaul e Faisal, parts of which have been produced in A.G. Noorani’s Important  book Indian Political Trials (1775-1947). Azad was tried and arrested in Calcutta in December 1921, under the sedition law, for a few of the speeches he had made in July 1921. He was eventually sentenced for a year’s rigorous imprisonment, which he thought was too light for him.

In defiance of the colonial government, Azad’s written statement (ref: Noorani’s book) reads,

“I have been charged with sedition. But allow me, please, to understand the meaning of ‘sedition’. Is sedition a name for freedom struggle which is not successful? If that be so, I would fully agree with it. At the same time, however, I would remind you that its name is also the highly respected ‘patriotism’, once the movement becomes successful.”

He further declared that:

“I believe that liberty is the birthright of every person and every nation… I do not recognise the present government as a legitimate government and consider it my national, religious and personal duty to liberate my country and my nation from its rule…I am a Muslim and it is my duty as a Muslim as well.”

Azad has quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying:

“If you see a wrong being done, prevent and redress it with your hands; if you cannot do that, speak up against it. If you cannot do even that, tell yourself it is wrong. But that is a weaker form of faith (Iman).”

According to the erudite author, Mumbsi- based AG Noorani, Azad added that “since people in India lacked the power to set right the wrongs being done by the government, they adopted the second course to which they are entitled, namely to condemn the wrongs.” Azad also said, “I must say that in the last two years, I have done nothing except violate section 124A (sedition).”

In conclusion, Azad asked the magistrate to award him the maximum punishment, and without any hesitation. He said:

“I will feel neither aggrieved nor sad. I am concerned with the entire machinery, not with the individual part. I know that unless the machinery is changed, the parts cannot change against their task. The historian is waiting for us and the future has been waiting for us. Allow us to come here often and you may also continue to write your judgments. This will go on for days till the doors of another court are flung open. It will be the court of the law of God. Time will be its judge and will write its judgment. And its verdict will be final.”

Questioning critically the role of courts, Azad further said:

“History bears witness that whenever the ruling powers took up arms against truth and justice, the courtrooms served as the most convenient and plausible weapons. The authority of the courts of law is a force which can be used for both justice and injustice. In the hands of a just government, it becomes the best instrument for attaining right and justice. But, for a tyrannical and repressive government, there is no better weapon for wreaking vengeance and perpetrating injustice.”

Listing some of the famous cases of injustices, Azad declared:

“The list of injustices committed by courts is very long. History has not ceased to mourn them to this day. In that list we find a holy person like Jesus Christ, who was made to stand with thieves before a strange court of his times. We find in it socrates who was sentenced to drink a cup of poison for no other reason than that he was the most truthful person in his country. We find also the name of the great martyr to truth of Florence, Galileo, who refused to believe what he knew and learnt from his experiments though their avowal was a crime in the eyes of the court of his time.”

Today, tragically India has a regime in power that prefers generations to ignore or forget an iconic figure like Maulana Azad, including on his birthday.



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