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Maulana Azad and partition

August 15, 2010

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IN the debate on partition started by Jaswant Singh's book every one has been talking about the role of Jinnah, Nehru and Sardar Patel in the divide of India but hardly anyone mentioned what Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, an eminent scholar of Islam and president of the Congress party for six long years before partition, had to say and did to avert partition.

It is true that the Maulana was also a party to the Congress Working Committee (CWC) resolution accepting partition but he had never accepted partition. He had warned Jawaharlal Nehru that some of his acts were politically not wise and mighty result in alienation of Jinnah or in partition. Pandit Nehru was not ready to accept a weak centre and hence he consciously contributed to partition but Azad had no such interest in partition and wanted to prevent it. He supported it only as something inevitable.

To understand Maulana Azad's viewpoint one has to go through his book India Wins Freedom and the 30 pages which were published 30 years after his death. About partition Maulana had a definite point of view that cannot be ignored if we have to understand the genesis and causes of partition. Maulana Azad was an important leader of both the Congress as well as of Muslims.

Maulana Azad had a passionate commitment to freedom of India and as the youngest president of the Congress in Ramgarh session he said, in his presidential address, that “if an angel descends from heaven with the gift of freedom of India and declares from Qutub Minar that India is a free country I would not accept it unless Hindus and Muslims were united. If India does not get freedom it would be India's loss but if Hindus and Muslims do not unite it would be entire humanity's loss.”

The Maulana writes in India Wins Freedom that “as a Muslim, I for one am not prepared for a moment to give up my right to treat the whole of India as my domain and share in the shaping of its political and economic life. To me it seems a sure sign of cowardice to give up what is my patrimony and content myself with a mere fragment of it.” About possible consequences of the partition, he says if India was divided into two states, “there would remain three and half crores of Muslims scattered in small minorities all over the land. With 17 per cent in UP, 12 per cent in Bihar and 9 per cent in Madras, they will be weaker than they are today in the Hindu majority provinces. They have had their homelands in these regions for almost a thousand years and built up well known centres of Muslim culture and civilisation there.”

The Muslims who would be left behind, he said, would discover that they have become alien and foreigners. Backward industrially, educationally and economically, they would be left at the mercy of what would become 'an unadulterated Hindu raj.' On the other hand, their position within the Pakistan state will be vulnerable and weak. Nowhere in Pakistan will their majority be comparable to the Hindu majority in the Hindustan States. “In fact their majority will be so slight that it will be offset by the economical, educational and political lead enjoyed by non-Muslims in these areas. Even if this were not so and Pakistan were overwhelmingly Muslim in population, it still could hardly solve the problem of Muslims in Hindustan.”

About the fear that if partition did not take place the Centre with a Hindu majority will interfere in Muslim majority provinces, the Maulana counters by the argument (which was what the Cabinet Mission Plan was about) “the Congress meets this fear by granting full autonomy to the provinces. It has also provided for two lists of central subjects, one compulsory and the other optional so that if any provincial unit so wants, it can administer all subjects itself except a minimum delegated to the Centre. The Congress scheme, therefore, ensures that Muslim majority provinces are internally free to develop as they will, but can at the same time influence the Centre on all issues which affect India as a whole.”

Thus Maulana was not opposing partition only as a Congress leader but also as a learned Muslim who could foresee far reaching consequences. Maulana Azad, unlike other politicians, was a far-sighted leader both of the Muslims and of whole India as well.

The fact remains that if India had not been divided, today there would have been more than 33 per cent Muslims, a huge number in any democracy. In any case they would have formed their own governments in the Muslim majority provinces and would have had stake in the whole of India. Several Muslim leaders could have become prime minister of India. Today there are about 15 crores of Muslims but are still a minority and face several problems as a minority and also have to carry the guilt — wrongly of course — of having partitioned the country. Ironically there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan and yet they constitute only 14 per cent minority.

Maulana Azad, in the thirty pages published thirty years after his death blames both Nehru and Sardar Patel. According to him, Nehru made a mistake by refusing to take two Muslim League members as cabinet ministers after provincial elections in 1937 in UP. It made Jinnah distrustful of the Congress leaders whom he began to describe as 'Hindu' leaders.

Second mistake committed by Jawaharlal Nehru was his statement to the press in July 1946 after taking over as president of the Congress in which he said Cabinet Mission Plan could be changed. The Muslim League and Congress both had accepted the Plan and to give such a statement in an atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion was certainly a mistake. That finally drove Jinnah to insist on partition.

The writer is an Indian scholar and chairman of Centre for Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai.

csss@mtnl.net.in