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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 47, November 12, 2011

’A Vast Majority of Muslims were Not with the Muslim League’

Saturday 12 November 2011


November 11, 2011 marks Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s one hundred and twentythird birth anniversary. On this occasion we offer our humble tribute to the abiding memory of that courageous secular nationalist by reproducing the following interview and publishing a relevant article.

Rizwan Qaiser teaches history at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia. In his new book, Resisting Colonialism and Communal Politics, he explores Maulana Azad’s role in building an idea of India. Qaiser spoke with Kim Arora about Azad’s political foresight—and his continuing significance. This interview was published in The Times of India from where it is being reproduced with due acknowledgement.

Ques: How relevant is a leader like Maulana Azad today?

Very relevant in India and across the globe. His foremost concern was to create an ideological framework wherein it was possible for all communities to coalesce into a nation. His idea was that everyone, irrespective of one’s religious affiliation or cultural loyalty, belongs to the country—as the country belongs to them. Communities can coalesce into a nation, provided each community gets to enjoy auto-nomy in religion, culture and identity, yet be a part of the larger polity that is India.

Ques: Speaking of politics, Azad opposed Partition. How did the Muslim League react?

Since they adopted the two-nation theory in the 1940s, the Muslim League had been extremely hostile towards Azad. You’d be surprised—they anticipated some of the vocabulary that’s been used in recent years, like the term ‘pseudo-secularist’. The Muslim League used to describe Azad and people belonging to the Azad Muslim Conference as “half-hearted pseudo-nationalists”. What’s important is that a vast majority of Muslims were not with the Muslim League in 1940-41. That’s the most interesting part of my book…at the end of April 1940, about one lakh Muslims gathered in Delhi to say they are not a distinct nation and the Muslim League does not represent their interests.

When Jinnah called Azad a ‘show boy’ of the Congress, it was rebuffed by many Muslims in Delhi and other places.

Ques: With such political cross-currents, what position did the British take?

I have read records of the transfer of power where they describe nationalist Muslims as “so-called nationalists”. There was this subtle attempt on the part of the British Government to foment and exacerbate communal tension. This was repeatedly pointed out by Gandhi, Nehru and Azad.

In the 1937 elections, the Muslim League did not have more than four per cent of the average Muslim vote. Their false claims of representing the Muslims were given undue recognition by the British.

Ques: Interestingly, Azad’s predictions about Pakistan’s future have been spot on. Did he foresee more?

In one interview given to Shorish Kashmiri, who edited a paper called Chattaan, Azad predicted how Bangladesh would break away and what would happen in Pakistan. One thing he said was that barring the early years of Islam, it could not keep people united. Pakistan came into existence in the name of Islam but again, in the name of Islam, it is distegrating….in Pakistan today, what is happening in the name of Islam is self-destruction. Forget about Islam holding people together globally, it’s not able to hold Muslims together even in Pakistan.

To hold people together, we have to look for other markers, other parameters, which unfortu-nately haven’t happened in the case of Pakistan. Many people will find these statements controversial. But Azad’s larger logic is coming true.

Ques: How does Azad’s secularism compare with Jawaharlal Nehru’s?

In terms of conviction, it’s just the same but in terms of drawing upon resources, different. Pandit Nehru was drawing on his European experiences of the separation of religion and state. Even in India, his understanding was that religion should be kept away from state agencies. Azad thought we should have a better understanding of religion in order to appreciate each other’s world view. 

(Courtesy: The Time of India)

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