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An indivisible unity
Siddharth Gambhirwala remembers the life of Maulana Azad.
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August 1999: Abul Kalam Azad was born in the year 1888 in Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia, into a family of prosperous and learned Muslim scholars, or maulanas. His forefathers hailed from Herat, in Afghanistan, and he could trace his lineage back to Babar's days. Abul Kalam descended from a long line of learned Muslim scholars, or maulanas. His father's name was Maulana Khairuddin, his mother was the daughter of Sheikh Mohammad Zaher Watri.

dr.ambedkar In 1890, Abul Kalam's father moved to Calcutta. Educated according to the traditional curriculum, the young Kalam learned Arabic and Persian at first and then philosophy, geometry, and algebra. He was taught at home, first by his father, and later by appointed teachers who were eminent in their respective fields. Sensing that English was fast becoming the international language, Abul Kalam taught himself to read, write and speak the language. As he adapted to the changing opportunities of his time, he also adopted the pen name "Azad" to signify his freedom from the traditional Muslim ways of his ancestors.

The freedom of his mind turned him naturally toward the great enterprise of the day, the struggle for independence. Azad was introduced to the freedom struggle by revolutionary Shyam Sunder Chakravarthy. Most revolutionaries in Bengal were Hindus, and many were greatly surprised by his willingness to join the freedom struggle alongside them, others were skeptical of his intentions. Azad also discovered that the revolutionary activities were mostly restricted to Bengal and Bihar. Creating his own niche within the movement, he helped setup secret revolutionary centers all over north India and in Bombay.

Most revolutionaries of the day were anti-Muslim because they felt that the British Government was using the Muslim community against India's freedom struggle. Azad tried to convince his colleagues that indifference and hostility toward the Muslims would only make the path to freedom more difficult. Azad began publication of a journal called Al Hilal (the Crescent) in June 1912 to increase revolutionary recruits amongst the Muslims. The energy of his efforts paid off, and Al Hilal's circulation passed 25,000 within two years, before the heavy hand of the British Government used the Press Act and then the Defense of India Regulations Act in 1916 to shut the journal down.

Undeterred, Azad continued his struggle, both for the independence of India and his vision of an undivided nation in which people of all faiths would live harmoniously. From his earlier revolutionary ways, he now turned to Gandhiji's popular civil disobedience movement and joined the Indian National Congress in January 1920. He presided over the special session of the Congress party in September 1923 and at the age of 35, was the youngest man to be elected as the President of the Congress.

Azad was arrested in 1930 for violation of the salt laws as part of Gandhhiji's Salt Satyagraha. He was put in Meerut jail for a year and a half. As the British policies of divide and rule gained roots in the nation's social psyche, Azad remained the staunchest opponent of the partition of India. Partition, he asserted, was against the grain of our nation's culture, equal to "divorce before marriage"! He supported a confederation of autonomous provinces with their own constitutions but common defense and economy, an arrangement suggested in the British Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946. Despite his exhortations to fellow-muslims in pre-Independence India, he was unable to avert partition, which shattered his dream of an unified nation. He was unflinching in his opposition to it until the last, and is remembered best for this.

"I am proud to be an Indian", he said. "I am a part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality, and I can never give up this claim". At a time when the dregs of partition regularly visit us with images of near-war on the borders, we must inevitably loathe those paid no heed to such ardent nationalist feelings. Following independence, Azad served as the Minister of Education in Jawaharlal Nehru's cabinet from 1947 to 1958, until his passing in that year. In 1992, the government of India posthumously awarded her patriotic son her highest civilian honor - the Bharat Ratna.

Siddharth Gambhirwala
August 1999

Material in this page is reprinted with the thanks and permission of Swaraj.net].. Eds. note: This is the second in our series of profiles of people who have shaped India. A complete listing of these profiles will be maintained at this page, visit periodically to view updates.
 

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