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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 32

Novel Presentation of Freedom Struggle and Partition

Wednesday 30 July 2008, by Mahi Pal Singh

[(Book Review)]

Company Raj Se Gantratra Tak by Prof Mushirul Hasan (Hindi translation of the author’s ‘From John Company to the Republic’—translated by Mrs Madhuri Pal); Aakar Books, New Delhi; pp. 275; Rs 395.

There has been a great need and demand of various scholarly books on all subjects in the regional languages in India. In fact, the People’s Union for Civil Liberties has filed a writ petition in the Delhi High Court for directions to the NCERT and the University of Delhi to make various text and reference books available in Hindi for the benefit of Hindi medium students in Delhi. The book under review fulfils that need even though to a very limited extent. The book, originally written in English under the title ‘From John Company to the Republic’ by Prof Mushirul Hasan, has been translated by Mrs Madhuri Pal and was released at a seminar held at the Jamia Millia University under the aegis of the Academy of Third World Studies recently. The book presents the history of the events from the Mutiny of 1857 to the establishment of the Indian Republic when the Constitution of India was adopted. Though the book also refers to the sad event of the demolition of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, the main thrust of the book is analysis of the events leading to the partition of India in 1947 and the role played by different people and organisations in it. The author has held Jinnah as much responsible for the partition as the Hindutva organisations like the Hindu Mahasabha, though he has also not spared the Congress leaders for their biased attitude.

Although the book is a book of history, based on historical material and various history books which have been cited in the body of the text itself, and the research done by the author himself, its format is new. It has been written like a novel, in the form of a dialogue amongst four friends. As such it makes interesting reading and one can go through the whole book within a couple of hours. There is information for a serious student of History, but at the same time history has been written, facts and opinions mixed together for a general reader wishing to know how particular events took shape leading to the unfortunate partition of the country.

The book had earlier been translated into Urdu and, interestingly enough, Prof. Mushirul Hasan read out the long Introduction to that book at the book release seminar, and as the Introduction contained too many and too difficult Persian words, most of the people, including Professors of Jamia University, were unable to understand much, as some of them confided while sharing a cup of tea at the end of the meeting. Instead, Mrs Pal, who did not speak a single word, could have been asked to read from her Hindi translation, which has been done very well in an easy and flowing Hindi quite suitable for the literary format of the book.

As Prof Hasan himself is a known secularist, his book also promotes the values of secularism and multi-culturalism and through the dialogue the reader gets involved in the events being narrated in the book.

For a general reader certain facts in the book come as a surprise. Only a few people know that the idea of two-nation theory, which became the basis of the formation of India and Pakistan as two separate countries, as demanded by Jinnah and agreed to by Nehru, even if unwillingly, at the crucial moment, was first mooted by Veer Savarkar while presiding over a meeting of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937 when he declared that the Hindus and Muslims were two distinct and different nations and could not live together. (One of the characters, however, makes a very scathing remark that if nations are based on religions, then India has not two but so many nations!)Yet fewer people know that even though Lala Lajpat Rai was a staunch nationalist, he nurtured a strong bias against Muslims which came out in his articles. One is even more surprised to find that people like Lala Hardayal and Swami Shraddhanand, in fact most of the Arya Samajists, who were known as great crusaders in the social reform movement run by the Arya Samaj for the Hindu society, were equally biased against the Muslims. B.S. Munje, the founder of the Hindu Mahasabha, had admitted that Sardar Patel had been telling him to remain steadfast on his Hindutva agenda. Even Nehru told a senior journalist later in 1950 that they were all tired and not agreeing to the proposal would have meant being jailed, and that they had seen Pubjab burning and also heard about the communal carnage. The Partition Plan seemed to be the only way out, and although unwilling for it, he agreed to it. A reading of these details makes one realise that it is unfair to blame Jinnah alone for the partition.

Here and there in the book pieces of poetry and couplets written by various Urdu and other poets have been also included and these, apart from making the reading interesting, also give the reactions of poets on the current historical events, which also help the readers interpret these events in a more meaningful way. In the context of spreading the message of love and humanism, a character in the book, Pradeep, says that his father reads Persian, Urdu and Hindi and recites the poetry written by Amir Khusro, Malik Muhammed Jayasi, Kabir, Rahim and Raskhan. Then he questions: ‘Why do we not talk about them in our books of History?’ He further remarks that he had heard from his father about Moinuddin Chishti and Nizamuddin Aulia. At a time when communalism is in the air, their message of love and humanism should the spread all around. Although the author recognises the worth of Sufi poets, unfortunately he has also failed to quote much from their writings. If he had quoted just two couplets written by Kabir, the gist of which (translation mine) is given below, Secularism would have been defined in the book in the best of words:

1. If one could find God by worshipping a stone, I would have worshipped a hill instead;

It is better to worship a grinding stone that grinds food-grains

Which satisfy the hunger of the whole world.

2. By gathering one stone after another

You have erected a mosque;

From top of which a Mulla (the priest) calls aloud

As if Allah (God) is deaf.

Or, for that matter, he could have quoted a few lines of a Baul from Bengal (whose main task has been preaching religious tolerance and equality amongst men, and between men and women). For example, one of the most famous Bauls, Fakir Shah Lalon, sang thus:

Everyone asks Lalon what is your religion. Lalon says I know not my religion. If a male is circumcised you know he is a Musalman, but how do you identify the religion of a female? A Brahmin male is identified by his paita, but how would you identify a Brahmin female? One holds rosary in hand, the other wears tasbir in his neck, that is how one’s religion is known, but at the moment of birth and death do these signs remain? People everywhere talk and gossip about religious differences. Lalon says I have dropped all polemics about religion in free market. That is why I became a mad cap Baul.

In spite of being a good and interesting book, the book also suffers from several limitations. So many important historical events have been left out of the book, which would have thrown light on important people and their attitudes in crucial moments and social and political movements. At page 251, Aziz, the narrator, says that he has no time to discuss the destructive famine of Bengal of 1943-44 which took a toll of 35 to 38 lakh lives, the ‘Quit India’ movement, the armed struggle under the leadership of Subhash Bose, the Tebhaga movement of 1946 and the Telengana movement of 1946-51, among others, as his friends were more interested in the story of Pakistan.

Even within the self-imposed limits, no account of history for the period under review can afford to miss references to some of the most important people and movements that contributed to the success of the freedom movement—the efforts and contribution of people like Subhash Chandra Bose, Bhagat Singh-Raj Guru-Sukhdev, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Michael Madhusudan Dutt, to mention a few well-known among them. The book also does not make even a pale reference to the contribution of Communists made to the freedom movement, nor to the famous Kanpur, Meerut and Peshawar Conspiracy cases. It does not even refer to M.N. Roy, his participation in the armed rebellion and the cases referred to above, his role in and outside the Congress, his differences with Gandhi and the Congress over the ‘Quit India’ movement and participation in the War (World War-II), his jail term from 1930 to 1936, his contribution to the freedom struggle, and his theory of bringing power to the people once independence was achieved, through his writings. Indian democracy has suffered because his ideas were neglected by leaders of his time, including Gandhi, and we shall only perpetuate our suffering by neglecting them even now.

There seems to be a conspiracy among the intellectuals of this country against the deprived sections of the society because of which they conveniently avoid reference to people like E.V.Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar, who led the movement for self-respect among the downtrodden sections of the society through his anti-Brahmanical movement in the southern part of the country; Mahatma Phule, who led the social reform movement in Maharashtra and was also part of the struggle of rationalists, of which Agarkar and Laxman Shastri Joshi were the other leading lights, against the orthodoxy. Even Ambedkar, who became the unquestioned leader of Dalits, even above Gandhi, through his relentless crusade for their upliftment, finds only a passing reference.

I can only add at the end that Mrs Madhuri Pal has done a great job by translating the book in simple Hindi and it will become more popular than the original one because of the simplicity of style, and, of course, the wider readership it will attract.n

The reviewer is the President of the Indian Radical Humanist Association, Delhi State, and the General Secretary of the Delhi State branch of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

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