Kaed To Azadi: On India Winning Freedom
– to my friend Naheed Yousuf,
the grandniece of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad…
The Indians usually criticise Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan and its first Governor General (revered as Quaid-i-Azam or the Great Leader in Pakistan), for the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent in August 1947. Thousands of Indians, including some intellectuals, believe that Mahatma Gandhi was the only person seen standing alone in front of the destruction. Unfortunately, the role of India’s ‘Father of the Nation’ in the Partition was also significant, as he had allowed the event to take place. It seems that Gandhi, like Nehru, Jinnah and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, was equally responsible for the tragedy!
At the initial stage of the Indian Freedom Movement, Gandhi had taken a tough stance on the Partition and opposed the two-nation theory. However, he failed to stick to this position till the end and supported the Partition. Otherwise, the Indian history would have been written in a different way!
The horrific riots in Punjab prompted Nehru and Patel to accept the Muslim League’s proposal for the Partition. They made the decision at a time when Gandhi was in Bihar on a ‘Peace Mission’. The two stalwart leaders didn’t discuss the issue with him before accepting the proposal. As expected, Gandhi – who was against the Partition – got upset after receiving the news. Nehru’s decision also shocked Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (November 11, 1888-February 2, 1958), the noted scholar and the senior Muslim leader of the Indian National Congress during the Indian Independence Movement. Azad asked Gandhi what he would do, if the Congress would propose to divide the nation. Gandhi assured Azad that Partition would never take place, saying: “If the Congress wishes to accept partition, it will be over my dead body. So long as I am alive, I will never agree to the Partition of India. Nor will I, if I can help it, allow the Congress to accept it.” (Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, India Wins Freedom, Orient Longman, 1956, p. 186)
However, Nehru and Patel, too, didn’t sit idle. Patel, who was convinced by the British rulers’ arguments in favour of the Partition, started discussing the issue with the top Congress leadership. During those meetings, he highlighted the significance of Partition and requested the senior Congress leaders to accept the proposal. By that time, the ‘Iron Man’ of India seemingly became as fluid as water! After his meeting with Lord Mountbatten, Patel held a closed-door meeting with Gandhi. In his ‘India Wins Freedom’, Azad wrote that he received an ‘unexpected’ shock after the two-hour-long Gandhi-Patel meeting, as Patel managed to convince Gandhi to accept Mountbatten’s advice!
Nehru & Patel with Gandhi
In such a situation, Azad felt helpless and lonely. However, he tried his best to bypass the inevitable. He met Gandhi a number of times in the next few weeks and urged the Mahatma to change his mind. Azad was well aware of the fact that only Gandhi could convince Nehru and Patel, and to save India from a debacle. However, Gandhi rejected Azad’s request. Azad, with a broken heart, met Lord Mountbatten in Delhi and urged the last viceroy of the British Indian Empire (and the first Governor General of Independent India) to deploy the Armed Forces in order to ensure the peaceful movement of refugees (or immigrants) across the border. Unfortunately, his request was rejected (again) and India experienced riots during the partition.
Azad wholeheartedly wanted to maintain the integrity of India. Still, Azad – like Frontier Gandhi or Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan – is remembered as one of the leading Indian nationalists of his time. His firm belief in Hindu-Muslim unity earned him the respect of the Hindu community. He had grown increasingly hostile to Jinnah, who had described him as the “Muslim Lord Haw-Haw” and a “Congress Showboy“. (Azad 2007; The Elephant, the Tiger and the Cellphone: Reflections on India in the Twenty-first Century; Penguin India) The Muslim League leaders had accused Azad of allowing Muslims to be culturally and politically dominated by the Hindu community, as he continued to proclaim his faith in Hindu-Muslim unity. “I am proud of being an Indian. I am part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice and without me this splendid structure is incomplete. I am an essential element, which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim,” he stressed. Azad still remains one of the most important symbols of communal harmony in modern India. Unfortunately, he possibly didn’t get his due.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
More than seven decades after the Independence of India, majority of the Indians forget Azad’s contribution to the Freedom Movement. And Gandhi, Nehru and Patel still steal the limelight.
Quoting Rabindranath Tagore – “Yet, our minds are not filled in full.”
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