By Yasser Latif Hamdani
June 4, 2012
Azad’s role for two decades after partition was one of the token Congress Muslim ‘show boy’ as Jinnah famously called him
As Pakistan continues to dangle on the brink of failure and India thrives, there are many who have begun to ask whether Maulana Azad, the great Indian leader and Islamic scholar, was right and Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was wrong in those final days of the British Raj. Both Azad and Jinnah were extremely intelligent leaders and were contenders for the leadership of Muslims. The westernised Jinnah managed to win the support of the Muslim masses while the religious scholar, Maulana Azad, was sidelined.
In his autobiography, Azad made a prescient observation about Pakistan breaking into two, which came true of course. There are however, a number of predictions, all seemingly accurate, which are associated with Azad that seem to reinforce further his image as the sage of the age. He is said, amongst other things, to have predicted Pakistan’s dependence on western powers and growing discord between the religious right and liberals in Pakistan in an interview conducted in April 1946. The only problem is that the latter list of predictions has been transmitted to us through a dubious source. This source was Agha Shorish Kashmiri, a committed Ahrari leader who opposed the creation of Pakistan (and ironically, played an important role in fomenting sectarian trouble against Ahmadis and Shias in Pakistan). No one other than Kashmiri seems to have seen a record of this interview and there is no primary source to confirm this interview. The said interview does not appear in any of Azad’s papers or in any record of his life as preserved in India. In the view of this writer therefore, that interview was a concoction and a distortion invented by Agha Shorish Kashmiri in the 1970s when he wrote an Urdu biography of Azad. TV shows like Khabarnaak have recently referenced these predictions and the myth therefore, is now fully under way as being accepted as the gospel truth.
What is equally bothersome about this attempt to re-invent Azad as a latter day Nostradamus, staring into his crystal bowl and predicting the future is that it completely disregards his own role in the first five decades of the 20th century. The Khilafat Movement brought Azad, who was a well-respected Islamic scholar in Sunni circles, into prominence, where he used fiery Islamic rhetoric to galvanise the religious Muslim masses behind the movement to save the Caliphate in Turkey. Mahatma Gandhi and other Hindu leaders, who, naively, assumed that deploying the abrasive theocratic logic of the Caliphate could somehow paradoxically bring Hindus and Muslims together on one platform, supported this movement. Azad repeatedly denounced the Aligarh school and chastised Muslims for following the timid and pro-western ways of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, when Islam was a complete code of life. He also gave the famous fatwa for Hijrat, which declared that India under British rule was Dar-ul-Harb and that it was the religious duty of every Muslim to either resist the government or migrate to Afghanistan. It is noteworthy that Jinnah repeatedly warned Gandhi to stay away from this pseudo-religious approach, which would ultimately divide Hindus and Muslims as well as Muslims and Muslims. The consequences of the Khilafat Movement and the rhetoric of Azad and Maulana Mohammad Ali were that Muslim professionals’ left government service and other material benefits of the British rule and were led onto a path of self-destruction. Gandhi, Azad and other leaders of this movement went on to ask even Aligarh University to refuse British patronage (while paradoxically failing to ask the same of Benaras Hindu University). Since the entire movement was built on a theological foundation, i.e. Pan-Islamism, it was bound to turn on itself. The Moplah Muslim uprising in the south completely shattered the façade of Hindu-Muslim unity created by the movement. In retaliation, Hindus started the Shuddhi (which was aimed at re-converting Muslims to Hinduism) and Sanghtan (organising and arming Hindus). In reaction to the Shuddhi and Sanghtan movements, Muslims came up with the Tabligh (propagation of faith) and Tanzeem (organisation) movements. This militant and hostile communal atmosphere laid the foundation for open communal warfare, leading to mass rioting and violence. The Khilafat Movement, which had temporarily united Hindus and Muslims for an illogical cause, rendered religious identities non-negotiable. That Jinnah had predicted this in his letters to Gandhi is a matter of record. Azad’s role for two decades after partition was one of the token Congress Muslim ‘show boy’ as Jinnah famously called him. In his book, India Wins Freedom, Azad blames Jawaharlal Nehru for not coming to an arrangement with the Muslim League after the 1937 elections, completely sidestepping his own role in the horse trading that weakened the Muslim unity board and led to the final break between the Muslim League and the Congress. Similarly, Azad concedes, rightly, that the Cabinet Mission Plan would have kept India united and that Congress was wrong in how it handled the Muslim League in the aftermath of the 1946 elections. It is also true that Azad wrote a letter to Gandhi, which suggested exactly that and which probably caused Azad to lose his place as president of the Congress. However, what Azad forgets is that he publicly justified and remained wedded to Congress’ erroneous interpretation of the groupings clause, which led to the collapse of the Cabinet Mission Plan.
Therefore, the myth of Azad’s prescience is problematic because it papers over facts leading to partition. It is a well-known fact now that Jinnah’s own idea of Pakistan was in a treaty arrangement with India, a sort of a European Union type arrangement, and not of complete partition. In fact, according to Mountbatten, Jinnah had to be forced into accepting partition. Therefore, the Jinnah-Azad binary itself is perhaps a distortion of history and should be avoided in any serious investigation of partition.
The writer is a practising lawyer