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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 9, February 21, 2015

Educational Leadership of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Monday 23 February 2015

February 22 this year marks the fiftyseventh death anniversary of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the country’s first Minister of Education. On this occasion we are publishing the following article which was sent to us quite sometime ago.

by Mohammad Anzar Alam

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad is an icon of Indian Politics as well as Urdu literature. He is popularly called Azad. He was born in Mecca on November 11, 1888 in a wealthy Islamic family and passed away on February 22, 1958 in Delhi. He was a poet, philosopher, writer, educationist, politician, architect of the Indian education system and a specialist on Indian culture too. He was an accomplished scholar in Arabic, Persian, Urdu, English, Hindi, Bengali and a prolific debater. But we are yet to study and understand him properly and thoroughly.

We all know Maulana Azad as a great leader of the Indian freedom movement but very few of us know that Maulana Azad has a prominent place in Urdu literature. He was a great champion of secularism and national integration. He opposed the partition of India because he cherished the opinion that an undivided India would, in no time, emerge as a superpower in the world. Following India’s independence, he became the first Minister of Education in the Union Government. He was the chair of the 9th UNESCO session which was held in Delhi. He was the founder of the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, University Grants Commission, Indian Institute of Technology, Sahitya Akademi, Sangeet Natak Akademi and so many organisations. In 1992 he was posthumously awarded India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna. We celebrate his birthday as the “National Education Day” across India. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was not only a creative genius but well versed in the Western education system, especially in science and technology. An article on various aspects of his life and work will surely help the new generation to comprehend in full his contributions in post-independence India. It will also focus on the contemporary educational scenario.

He was a rare example of a personality with such multiple qualities. The former Congress President, Acharya Kripalani, had once expressed his views on him in the following words:

“Maulana Azad’s personality was great. He was not a historical personality, rather a considerable period of history was inherent in his personality.”

 Dr Syed Abid Hussain divided Maulana Azad’s literary life into three periods—the first period started from the age of 12 years when he began writing articles which continued till 1916. Just thereafter, the second period of his literary writings started and continued till 1936. In this period he launched his famous journal Al-Hilal, and wrote his autobiography Tazkira and Tafseer-e-Quran. The third period started from 1936 and continued till 1945 during which period he wrote Ghubar-e-Khatir. It was at this stage that Maulana Azad’s literary life ended.

As a journalist Maulana Azad remained associated with a large number of reputed journals/newspapers, like Vakil,Zamindar,Muslim Gazette, Paisa Akhbar, Mashrique, Halel-al-Matin, Musalmaan, Al-Hakam, Al-Haque, Hamdard and Comrade (an English journal). All these journals were painted with “pan-Islamic” colours.

Maulana Azad’s Educational Leadership

What distinguished Maulana Azad was his association with education. He brought his educational thought to bear on his leadership in the field, spread intermittently over five decades of the last century. The process of his educational leadership may chronologically be split into three broad stages. From 1900 to 1920 his leadership focused attention on the freedom programme in the Islamic system of learning in India. From 1920 to 1946, the process of his leadership was marked by the expansion of its scope to the country as a whole in the most resurgent period of her history. From 1947 to 1958 was the stage of his educational leadership in full bloom, synchronising with his stewardship of the Education Ministry During the period of over a decade, he availed of the unique opportunity of setting new national goals for education in New India.

Much has been written on Maulana Azad’s educational ideas, his educational philosophy, his educational planning, and his views on Islamic education. But less stress has been given on his political leadership, his political ideas on patriotism, solidarity and unity and lastly on his involvement in the independence movement. So, it is indispensable to expose our country’s public to Maulana Azad’s ideas, thoughts and feelings on these aspects.

In the process of Maulana Azad’s educational leadership, its culmination lay in his stewardship of the Union Education Ministry. On his assuming charge of the Ministry, the very first public assertion he made was naturally about transforming the system of education as inherited from the British to suit “our national requirements”. In his very first official statement at the press conference held on February 18, 1947 Azad, on the one hand, criticised the then prevailing system as one “shaped by non-nationals in the non-national interests”, and, on the other, paid a tribute to its service to Indian people in general. In his statement of policy as the Education Minister before the Constituent Assembly on March 11, 1948, Azad defined the situation in the country that the popular Government was faced with on the eve of independence in the following words:

“It entered into a heritage which was burdened with many encumbrances. There was no clear state to write with but a palimpsest on which was scrawled the marks of generations of scribes who had each his own mode and style.”1

Maulana Azad’s Ideas on Educational Policies

From the study of Azad’s ideas on the educational policies, one is able to comprehend the four important objectives that he promoted as the new goals of education in post-independence India:

1. Democratisation of education;

2. Maintenance of educational standards;

3. Broadening of educational outlook; and

4. Promotion of mutual understanding.

For democratisation of education in India, with a view to liquidating mass illiteracy, Azad strove to introduce two important reform measures in the country—universalising elementary education and launching a nationwide drive for adult education. For the purpose of making education free and universal for the younger generation, he emphasised the implementation of the 40-year Post-War Educational Plan within one-fourth of its time.2 What characterised Maulana Azad’s uniqueness of broadening of the educational outlook was his insistence on making education free and compulsory upto the secondary stage.

For promotion of mutual understanding Azad brought his ideology of human fraternity and fellowship to bear on the office of the Education Ministry. Azad was an apostle of international amity and the indivisible unity of man. He had expressed his abiding faith in the essential unity of man holding it above all other objectives of human life, such as religious salvation, economic prosperity, cultural advancement and political emancipation. For this philosophy of universalism, he found support from both the Islamic and Hindu world-views.

Apart from the fact that education is the dynamic side of philosophy, what presently justifies taking up a study like this is Azad’s association with education throughout the course of his public life is his involvement with education as a mission of guiding mankind towards higher goals covering more than half-a-century.

On Problem of Language

When the question of replacement of the English language, by another language was under consideration and there ensued intense discussions, Maulana Azad had expressed his opinion against abruptly replacing the English language by any other language to avoid any law and order problem stemming from propular unrest. He was not opposed to replacing the English language, but what he wanted was to give at least five years time, because at that time there was no language which could be spoken in all the provinces of India and outside India, except the language spoken in the northern part of the country. At that stage, there were two prominent languages in India—Hindi and Urdu. Maulana Azad, having discussed the matter with Mahatma Gandhi and Motilal Nehru, decided not to chose either Hindi or Urdu, but the word “Hindustani”, which has got more elasticity. On this proposal some people thought that the word “Hindustani” was intended to enable the entry of the Urdu language through the backdoor. Ultimately, the proposal of Maulana Azad was not accepted and he expressed his dissatisfaction at this in the speech he delivered in Parliament.

Educational Leadership of Maulana Azad as Education Minister

During Maulana Azad’s tenure as the Minister of Education, the Union Ministry had attained educational leadership in the country. Before that, until Sir John Seargent was made the Educational Advisor, that is, upto 1937, the Ministry of Education was a dead organisation, which had no function except to form a few committees and present a report on educational activities at the end of the year. After a few years, when the National Government was formed, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru included the name of Maulana Azad in his Cabinet as the Education Minister. The Departments of Social, Cultural and Scientific Research were also placed under his charge. In such a way the Union Education Ministry, under the guidance of Maulana Azad, for the first time in its history adopted thoughtful and visionary ideas and translated those into reality. Different Commi-tttees and Commissions were comtituted in respect of different levels of education, for example, Primary, Secondary University, Technical, Adult Education, etc. These bodies inspected the different wings, drew up new plans and tried to bring uniformity in national plans.

The following Departments/Organisations/ Commissions/Councils/Boards/Bureaus were established during Maulana Azad’s Ministership:

1. University Commission: This Commission was established in 1948. Most of the recommen-dations of this Commission were accepted by the government. Teaching in many new disciplines was started in the universities due to the efforts of Maulana Azad. The UGC functioned under his leadership.

2. All India Council for Secondary Education: This Council was established with a view to develop mutual relations amongst States.

3. Secondary Education Commission: Maulana Azad felt that the old syllabi of the high schools should be changed to bring new ones. For this purpose, he established the Secondary Education Commission on September 1952 of which Dr A.L. Mudaliar was made the Chairman. On the recommendation of this Commission, the structure of Secondary Education was changed.

4. All India Council for Technical Education: After the All India Council for Technical Educationwas established, on its recommendation a large number of Technical Schools and Colleges were opened.

5. Adult Education: The Board for Adult Education was established with a view to facilitate education amongst the uneducated adults.

6. Rural Higher Education: The Board for Rural Higher Education was established with a view to extend higher education in the villages.

7. Central Social Development Board.

8. Central Education Board.

9. Educational and Vocational Guidance Bureau. 

10. National Organisation for Basic Education.

11. Council for Scientific and Technical Research.

Besides the above, Maulana Azad drew up several programmes for development of Hindi and its acceptance as the national language. He launched several schemes for physical education, excursions, betterment of youngsters, social service, education for disabled persons, etc. It is indisputable that the educational development plans were started during Maulana Azad’s stewardship of the Union Education Ministry.

Apart from the above development plans, three academies were established, (1) Sahitya Academi, (2) Art Academi and (3) Dance-Drama and Music Academi. A new Department was opened in the Education Ministry for establishing cultural relations with UNESCO and international cultural organisations. A new organisation was also established for strengthening education through exchange of views between teachers and the taught. All these steps taken by Maulana Azad offer ample testimony to the fact that he was an ardent votary of the theory of united nationalism. The only aims of his life were unity, friendship and love and he put all his endeavours towards reinforcing these.


1. The Constituent Assembly Debates, Vol. III, 1948, p. 1955.

2. Presidential Address, the Indian National Congress, March 1940, Ramgarh.

Dr Mohammad Anzar Alam is the Director, Salvation Centre for Social and Educational Development, New Delhi. He can be contacted at e-mail:

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