Published On:04 September 2011
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

BOOK REVIEW: The life & mission of Maulana Azad

By Shaikh Mujibur Rehman

There is a consensus that India has failed to build a nation of the kind the Gandhi-led freedom fighters dreamt of. In fact, nowadays, there is even talk of the need for a ‘second' freedom movement, and the reasons advanced cannot be dismissed as totally ill-founded. However, it will be naïve to belittle the contribution of the anti-colonial movement.

In this context, it is comforting that the book under review attempts to recall Maulana Azad's life and mission and bring out the relevance of his politics in the current situation. Contemporary Muslim politics needs to be understood as much from the political forces at play today as from the lives of iconic political figures such as Maulana Azad.

The Maulana's role in shaping India's anti-colonial movement was unique. Yet his legacy is progressively fading away from the national consciousness.

Owing to his less contentious personality, Azad is not as much a sought-after or written-about historic figure as Muhammad Ali Jinnah is. The fact is that so long as South Asian politics remains polarised between the ‘communal' and the ‘ secular' there will be invaluable lessons to learn from Maulana Azad's political leadership and his vision of a better world.

Undiminished Adulation

Rizwan Qaiser, it is clear, approaches the subject with great reverence and his adulation for Azad remains undiminished throughout. Viewed against this backdrop, the claim that, despite Partition, Azad was not a failure because he held steadfast to his ideological principle of secularism looks more like an emotion-driven, impulsive pronouncement than a reasoned political argument.

As in the case of his iconic contemporaries like Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Azad's contributions as a leader need to be assessed in terms of his tangible achievements in the political arena rather than purely on the basis of what he believed in — which perhaps could be an appropriate criterion for evaluating a philosopher. To an extent, the fact that these leaders could not defeat separatist politics and prevent the birth of a religion-based state (Pakistan) does reflect their weakness and shortcomings. This, however, is not to undervalue their greatness.

As it turned out, the ‘cost' of Partition has been much more than what was envisaged by its apologists and opponents at that time. As for Azad, during his years beyond the tragedy of Partition, he made a substantive contribution to the making of modern India, especially in the spheres of education and culture.

Shaping of Azad

The author gives an interesting insight into the shaping of Maulana Azad before he plunged into the anti-colonial movement. While the first chapter, covering the period 1906-18, delineates Azad's ideological evolution, the second (1919-22) explains how he tackled the dilemma between Pan-Islamism and Indian nationalism.

It needs to be noted that, in the early part of the 20th century, while Indian politics was deeply impacted by developments in the Muslim world, the anti-colonial movement was emerging on the ideological arena as a campaign very distinct from the patterns then prevailing in Muslim politics globally. Thus, the decision of the Maulana to take up the cause of India's independence was not as easy as it might appear in retrospect. For that and for proclaiming thereby his commitment to the cause of secularism, Azad merits special commendation.

The third chapter deals with the Maulana's role in the Indian National Congress from 1923 to 1934. When read together with the next chapter, one gets to know the kind of challenges he encountered from the separatist forces, and the strategies he employed to win over Muslims of varied social backgrounds in support of the ‘united India' concept.

These two chapters throw light on the divergence of views among historians on questions of fact as also on the Congress party's strategies during this period and how they influenced the nation's history. These debates, especially in the realm of academic research, remain inconclusive.

The concluding chapter deals mostly with Azad's stint as the Minister of Education, a portfolio that was apparently handpicked by Gandhiji as the most appropriate for him.

The book offers a very good account of the life and politics of a national leader, whose ideas and thoughts must be constantly brought up for serious discussion in the political and public arenas, particularly to emphasise that Islam stands for larger brotherhood encompassing different communities.

The book will be found useful by students of South Asian history and of Muslim politics.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on September 04, 2011. Filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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