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Islam and Politics ( 22 Nov 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Dr. Abdul Jalil Faridi: A Lost Chapter in the History of the Ruthless, Obscurantist Urdu Politics of North India

By Ather Farouqui

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand for

[This is a translation of Ather Farouqui's article Dr Faridi: Shaqafat Pasand Muslim Urdu Siyasat ka Gumshuda Bab that was published in the Urdu quarterly Adab Saaz, New Delhi. Volume 2,  Joint issue 4-5, July to December 2007, pp 423-27.]

In my article titled ‘Contemporary Urdu Language and Literature in India and Pakistan and Muslim Fundamentalism’, which was published in a recent issue of the journal Adab Saz, I had to leave out many portions because they were in need of greater research. If life gives me the opportunity, I would like to engage in more detailed research on these neglected aspects. One of the portions of my article that I was compelled to excise dealt with Dr. Abdul Jalil Faridi (1913-74), more popularly known as Dr. Faridi.

North India has, from the very beginning, been the centre of Indian Muslim politics. This is where the movement for the establishment of Pakistan had its greatest support. This region has also been the centre of Hindu nationalist and fascist politics. The state of Uttar Pradesh has for long been the epicentre of north Indian politics in the name of Hindu and Muslim communal identities. In the sixty years since India won independence, or since the Partition, this region has failed to produce a single effective and well-known Muslim politician of the likes of Dr. Faridi. Although Dr. Faridi’s politics were limited only to Uttar Pradesh, his form of political activism left an indelible impact on the north Indian Muslim political mentality.

The major part of Dr. Faridi’s active political life was spent in Lucknow. He remained confined to Lucknow, except on certain necessary occasions when he had to go out of the city. Unlike other politicians of his sort, he did not have to travel from place to place. He was a medical practitioner by profession, and so it was not feasible for him to leave Lucknow often. However, in the last years of his life he did travel elsewhere in connection with his involvement in certain Muslim movements. 33 years have now passed since his demise, but his popularity and respect in Lucknow in the field of Muslim politics continue undiminished.

In connection with the article that I referred to above, I was unable to locate any material worth mentioning about Dr. Faridi and Urdu politics. The basic subject I wanted to focus on was the role of Urdu in fundamentalism, which was given a major boost by Uttar Pradesh politics. The destruction of Urdu as a secular language in Uttar Pradesh and its conversion into a ‘Muslim’ language and a ‘Muslim’ issue and Dr. Faridi’s politics are two aspects of the same period. Dr. Faridi played a leading role in the Urdu politics of his time. Despite this, I was unable to locate any writing by him worthy of any note, and so, instead, I began to look for written materials on his overall political life. However, I was shocked to learn that even on this there exists nothing worth mentioning. This is an indication of the fact that north Indian Muslim politics have, from the very beginning, been just another name for empty emotionalism and sloganeering. On the face of it, not being able to locate the written materials that I was searching for should not be considered to be a great disaster, but sometimes, due to certain factors, people find it difficult to accept even clearly evident truths. Because of Dr. Faridi’s unusual fame and the long-lasting negative consequences thereof, it took me quite a while to accept the fact that his whole politics was nothing more than trying to draw lines in a puddle of water, and, consequently, that if there was simply no written material on his political life or on his Urdu politics it was but to be expected and was hardly surprising.

Searching for material on Dr. Faridi for my article, I visited Lucknow twice and met many people in Delhi. From them the gist of what I learned about Dr. Faridi’s Urdu politics is as follows: Dr. Faridi never raised the question about the need for, and right of, children whose mother tongue is Urdu to receive their primary education in that language. He did not incorporate into his political agenda the point that till Urdu is made an integral part of the school system, its revival is impossible. The fact of the matter is that if Urdu is removed from the school system, it will be bound to disappear from the wider society. I was unable to locate any writings by Dr. Faridi on the need to recognize, in accordance with the three-language formula, Urdu as the first language for children whose mother tongue is Urdu and, accordingly, to make suitable arrangements for teaching the language in schools. According to the three-language formula, the column for the first language is meant for the child’s mother-tongue. In north Indian schools, this policy has been greatly distorted, with children being forced to study Hindi as the first language from the first to the twelfth grade, English as the second language, and Sanskrit as the third. This is the case all across north India, especially in Uttar Pradesh. Interestingly, the third language, according to the three-language formula, should be a modern Indian language, and Sanskrit is taught as a ‘modern’ Indian language in schools in Uttar Pradesh. A few schools in the state are managed by Muslims, where, instead of Sanskrit, Urdu is taught as the third language. However, only a few hundred students in the whole of the state can avail of this facility.

Dr. Abdul Jalil Faridi’s sloganeering in the name of Urdu was directed entirely at the issue of it not being employed as a language by the authorities in the conduct of the government’s affairs. Dr. Faridi considered it more important to enter into the Legislative Assembly and inside there to raise shrill slogans for the sake of Urdu, treading, in this way, the beaten path of Muslim politics, than to launch a popular movement to demand and arrange for the teaching of Urdu in schools. He and his supporters equated the establishment of government-funded Urdu academies and Urdu bureaus with the progress of Urdu. He raised the issue of Urdu on numerous occasions in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly, but on each occasion his focus was simply on the issue of why Urdu was not being used to conduct the business of the Assembly. It appears that he was unaware of the very obvious fact that when Urdu was not present in the school system itself, it was simply impossible for it to be employed as the language for conducting the business of the government. If Urdu was no longer a functional language, how could the proceedings of the Assembly be conducted in Urdu?

This, however, is just one side of the story. Dr. Faridi did not stress the need to revive and reinstate Urdu in the general school system, but, at the same time, he repeatedly stressed the need to strengthen the network of institutions providing religious education to Muslim children. Dr. Faridi was very closely involved in the Dini Talimi Council, which established a very strong network of religious education institutions in the districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and a large number of madrasas across the state. The medium of instructions in these institutions was, and still is, Urdu. Dr. Faridi was clear in his mind that the madrasas needed to be preserved and strengthened and that Urdu would be protected thereby as it would be the medium of instruction therein. It is striking to note that he remained absolutely silent on the relatively low level of Muslim enrolment in schools. He repeatedly raised the question of the communally-biased nature and content of the school curriculum, but he never spoke about the need for Muslim children to enroll and study in schools. It is true that the curriculum used in the schools in Uttar Pradesh, which was prepared in the era of Congress rule and which no subsequent government has changed, is even more poisonous from the point of view of communalism than what one would expect of a curriculum prepared by the RSS. Dr. Faridi never pointed out that the absence of Muslim children in schools was because of the poisonous syllabus. Rather, he advocated that because the school syllabus was poisonous, Muslim children must bid farewell to school education, and, instead, study in madrasas. In the mind of this politician who blew hot and cold as the need arose it was clear that if Muslim children joined schools or studied Urdu in schools, the sort of obscurantist Muslim politics that drives people to their downfall would stand no chance of survival. The fact of the matter is that even if the school syllabus is communally biased, this can be true of only a portion of it, not the whole. The most thoroughly communally-biased syllabi in the Uttar Pradesh school system are those prescribed for Hindi language and literature and History. It is not possible to inject such communal poison into the syllabus for subjects like Science and Commerce. Moreover, the school syllabus is always open to public scrutiny, and, hence, cannot always be manipulated, as is the case with the syllabus employed in madrasas. That is precisely why, as a close examination of his political career reveals, Dr. Faridi’s interest with regard to the revival and spread of Urdu lay in the madrasas, where it was, and is, the language of instruction.


I struggled to acquire material on Dr. Faridi’s political life as well, but here, too, almost completely in vain. This was a man who sought to bring together all Muslim organizations in a politically-crucial state such as Uttar Pradesh. He was the one who activated the Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat, through which he forced the national leadership to realise that through such an organization they could engage in profitable bargaining for Muslim votes. He was the founder of the Muslim political party known as the Muslim Majlis which, in the 1970s, a time when Muslims in north India lived in extreme fear and insecurity, established, with the help of some other parties, a remarkable presence in the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Assembly. He was a man whom all the political parties engaged in Uttar Pradesh politics feared. He was the man who, for the first time, talked of Dalit-Muslim unity from the platform of the Muslim Majlis. Despite the importance of the man, I could locate hardly any published material on him. That I take to be a clear indication of the pathetic system of administration of Muslim organizations and parties generally.

On Dr. Faridi’s political life all I was able to gather were some stray newspaper reports and some other such writings and two booklets, one by Khalid Sabir, and the other by Javed Habib. The main source of information for what I am writing here are these two booklets. Khalid Sabir’s book is called Qaid-e Millat Dr. Abdul Jalil Faridi: Hayat wa Khidmat. It was published in 2003 by Muslim Majlis Publications, Sultan Manzil, Takiya Peer Jalil, Lucknow, and is 95 pages long. I will provide details of the other booklet, by Javed Habib, later.

Both booklets contain nothing at all other than expressions of faith in, and appreciation of, Dr. Faridi on the part of the compliers of these texts. The bulk of the booklets consists of articles in praise of Dr. Faridi written after his demise. Most of the articles in Khalid Sabir’s booklet are very short, and none of their prior publication details are provided. If the year of publication of a particular article is mentioned at the end of an article, the date is missing. If the name of a source is mentioned wherein it was first published, it is not clarified if it was a magazine or a newspaper, nor when and where it was published. The compiler seems to have assumed that the reader would be aware of all these necessary details, even though most of these magazines and newspapers have long since ceased to exist. The compiler did not even bother to write a preface to the booklet, leave alone writing a biography of Dr. Faridi. Because the vast majority of articles in the booklet were written in the wake of Dr. Faridi’s death and in order to pay respect to him, a lot of unnecessary and unimportant points are repeated throughout the text. All that one learns about Dr. Faridi after wading through the entire booklet of almost a hundred pages are that he died on 19th May, 1974; that he began his political life with leftist cultural politics, particularly with the Peace Council; that in 1952 he joined Acharya Kriplani’s Kisan Mazdoor Party; that after his disillusionment with Communist politics, his Muslim mind arrived at the conclusion that for the Muslims to use their potential political power they must prepare a political platform through which they could best use their votes; that he was the key person in bringing various Muslim organizations together in Uttar Pradesh in the form of the Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat; that the formation of the Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat as a political party was a result of his thinking; that he supported Indira Gandhi in 1971 when she was engaged with a tussle with other senior Congress leaders; that he was later proven wrong in believing that under Indira Gandhi’s leadership, the Congress’ attitude would change, and that from a Centrist party it would become a truly democratic one, supporting democracy in the country at large and within its own ranks; and that after a mere few months after lending support to Indira Gandhi, he had to suffer being shamed in front of the Muslims when Mrs. Gandhi, taking political advantage of the rebellion in the erstwhile East Pakistan, split Pakistan into two, and, by establishing Bangladesh, very cleverly played the Hindu card.

Another of Dr. Faridi’s emotionally-driven political stunts, as this booklet informs us, was his agitation to unite Muslims across India in the name of restoring the minority character of the Aligarh Muslim University. Later, Indira Gandhi accepted the minority character of this university on paper, and, in doing so, punctured and let all the air out of this Muslim political balloon. This restoration of the so-called minority character of the university happened after Dr. Faridi’s death, in 1980, when Indira Gandhi was in power, at a time when anti-Muslim violence had reached a peak and the Muslims were engrossed in struggling to face that challenge.

Khalid Sabir’s booklet tells us that, as mentioned above, in 1952 Dr. Faridi joined Acharya Kriplani’s Kisan Mazdoor Party, and that later he was elected through the Praja Socialist Party as a Member of the Uttar Pradesh Legislative Council, where he served as leader of the party in the house. Elsewhere, the booklet informs us that the Muslim candidates who stood on the ticket of the Muslim Majlis or were supported by the Muslim Majlis-e Mushawarat and who, through various political parties, were elected to the Lok Sabha and state assemblies refused to work on the lines laid down by Dr. Faridi. From the booklet we also learn that in 1968 the Muslim Majlis was established as a Muslim political party outside the fold of the Congress with the help of some Dalit leaders in Uttar Pradesh. This was actually a loose federation, which included three political organizations besides the Muslim Majlis, and which won ten seats in the 1969 state assembly elections. At this time, too, Dr Faridi’s political awareness was such that he could not fully understand the dynamics of Indian politics, and as soon as he tried to put pressure on the government by announcing the resignation of the elected members of the Majlis, his associates refused to go with him.

Besides these facts, Khalid Sabir’s booklet contains nothing else noteworthy by way of information. In the middle of the text he has included some of Dr. Faridi’s speeches and translations, but without citing any references. This is all done in such a disorderly fashion that the reader can understand virtually nothing. However, the booklet does provide a vital clue to Dr. Faridi’s thought and politics when it quotes a speech delivered by Dr. Faridi in November 1969 at a meeting of the National Integration Council. What he said on that occasion reveals much about that sort of Muslim politics in which political parties that spread religious and communal hatred actually support each other’s political agendas while claiming to be inveterate foes. Thus, addressing the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and referring to the daily drill at RSS shakhas or units, Dr. Faridi declared, ‘Madam, I am not opposed to the youth engaging in physical training’. He further added, ‘Nor am I opposed to the propaganda of Hindu Rashtra’ (pp. 33-34).

Javed Habib’s booklet is titled Dr. Faridi: Toofan Se Sahil Tak. It runs into 92 pages, and was published in 2003 by Muslim Majlis Publications, Post Box No. 9760, Jamia Nagar, New Delhi. From the contents of the booklet it appears that it was actually prepared in 1975. Because it is not specified that this is the second edition of the book, one surmises that the editor of the booklet did not bother to publish it for 28 long years after he had compiled it!

In his student years, Javed Habib served as President of the Students’ Union of the Aligarh Muslim University. During his political career in Delhi, he began the weekly Hujum and launched a political platform under the banner of the Muslim Youth Convention through which he bought and sold shares, as it were, of the most extreme emotionalist sort of Muslim politics. While in Delhi, two incidents, the Shah Bano case and the Babri Masjid issue, provided a major boost to his rising political career. When these two controversies died down somewhat, Muslim politicians who thrived on instigating Muslim passions and Muslim papers that traded in Muslim wounds and woes were relegated to the pages of Indian Muslim history, and this included Javed Habib and his newspaper.

This booklet by Javed Habib has two basic aims: To revive the sort of politics associated with Dr. Faridi; and to prevent the Muslim League, the other political party that trades in Muslim votes, to claim a share in Dr. Faridi’s political legacy and establish a foothold in northern India. Opposition to the Muslim League seems to be the basic motivation for bringing out this booklet. However, the booklet is so shoddily produced that no one can be expected to oppose it, nor to be won over and greatly influenced by it. 28-30 years after the book was initially prepared, there is now no room at all in northern India, especially Uttar Pradesh, for emotionally-driven Muslim politics of the sort represented by the likes of the Muslim League or Javed Habib. That is why this booklet can be safely confined to the margins of post-Partition Indian Muslim political history.

Only a commentator who has engaged, directly or otherwise, in scholarly work on the subject can properly analyse Dr. Abdul Jalil Faridi’s political career and the Muslim politics of north India of his time. For me Javed Habib’s booklet was useful only insofar as it provided me just two basic facts—Dr. Faridi’s date of birth and death. I found nothing else at all useful for my purposes in the rest of the booklet.

I did, however, learn some important details about Dr. Faridi on my visit to Lucknow, such as the fact that he was educated in the best schools in the city; that he did his MBBS from Lucknow and then went to England for higher education; that in the 1940s he began his career as a medical practitioner in Lucknow; that he rose to join the ranks of the best TB doctors of his time; that he continued with his private practice till the end of his life; that he married an Englishwoman called Sweetie Rogers, who died in 2001; and that all his children studied in English-medium schools and have been married into ‘leading’ ‘respectable’ families of the country. His son, who is also named Abdul Jalil Faridi, but is more popularly known as Farid, lives in Lucknow and is a businessman. He studied at the Doon School, while his sisters were educated at the Loreto Convent in Lucknow. According to Farid Sahib, it was with great difficulty and after a long struggle that he managed to learn to speak Urdu, and the same was the case with his sisters. This was because their father made no arrangement for them to learn Urdu. None of Dr. Faridi’s children have any relation with those Muslims the politics behind whose votes bestowed Dr. Faridi with such a prominent status. The members of the family he left behind live in the world of the socio-economic class to which they belong—the middle-class—and they  consider the Muslims to be the subjects of the late Abdul Jalil Faridi.

And it is Allah’s name alone that remains.

Ather Farouqui is a noted Urdu critic. He has authored several books in Urdu, and has edited two books in English—Muslims and Media Images: News versus Views and Redefining Urdu Politics in India—both published by Oxford University Press, New Delhi. He can be contacted on