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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Today That Year: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

Abul Kalam Ghulam Muhiyuddin(November 11th 1888, Mecca- February 22 1958), better known as Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a renowned scholar, poet, freedom fighter and leader of the Indian National Congress in India's struggle for Independence. He was well versed in many languages viz. Arabic, English, Hindi, Persian and Urdu, and a prolific debater - as depicted by his name, Abul Kal√£m, which literally means father or lord of dialogue.

He was independent India's first Education Minister. The title Maulana is of a highly-qualified Islamic scholar and religious cleric. Azad was not a practicing cleric, however. He was posthumously awarded India's highest civilian honor, Bharat Ratna, in 1992.

Early years

His forefathers came from Herat, Afghanistan in Babur's days. His mother was an Arab and the daughter of Sheikh Mohammad Zaher Watri and his father, Maulana Khairuddin, was a Bengali Muslim of Afghan origins. Khairuddin left India during the Sepoy Mutiny, proceeded to Mecca and settled there. He came back to Calcutta with his family in 1890.

Azad was a descendant of a lineage maulanas. He was given the chrono-grammatical name of Firoz Bakht (of exalted destiny), but was commonly called Muhiyuddin Ahmad. Educated according to the traditional curriculum, Azad learned Arabic and Persian first, and then philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra. He was taught at home, first by his father, later by appointed teachers who were eminent in their respective fields. Seeing that English was fast becoming the international language, Azad taught himself to read, write and speak the language. He was an Ahle-Hadees, and followed the way of Salafi Manhaj. He adopted the pen name Azad to signify his freedom from traditional Muslim ways.

Journalism and Khilafat

Azad was introduced to the freedom struggle by revolutionary Shri Shyam Sunder Chakravarthy. Most revolutionaries in Bengal were Hindus. Azad greatly surprised his fellow Bengali (Hindu) revolutionaries with his willingness to join the freedom struggle. At first his peers were skeptical of his intentions. Azad found the revolutionary activities restricted to Bengal and Bihar. Within two years, Azad helped setup secret revolutionary centers all over north India and in Bombay.

In 1912, he started a patriotic weekly in Urdu, Al-Hilal a patriotic weekly. The paper was amazingly forceful, which antagonized the British rulers. Azad proclaimed his political credo in Al-Hilal; the magazine was also a unique monument of Urdu language and literature. It was endowed with a rare combination of rhetoric and eloquence, of wit and poetry, of sarcasm and idealism. All these moved the intelligentsia, but what captured the imagination was the formulation of a new faith. From its very first issue, Al-Hilal became the focus for the resurgent spirit of India.

'It is due to the indolence of individuals that the souls of Nations sleep' - this sentence epitomises the tempo set by his journal.

The British Government used the Press Act and then the Defense of India Regulations Act in 1916 to shut the journal down. Azad started a new journal, Al-Balgh, and, before 1919, roused the Muslim community through the Khilafat Movement. The aim of the movement was to re-instate the Caliph of the Ottoman Dinasty as the head of British-conquered Turkey. Azad was one of its youngest leaders, along with Maulana Mohammad Ali, Maulana Shaukat Ali and Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari.

Movement for India's Freedom

His political activities continued unabated and he was interned in Ranchi in 1916. Soon after his release in January 1920, he came in contact with Mahatma Gandhi. A bond of lasting friendship was forged between the two individuals: Maulana Azad, like Mahatma Gandhi, believed that good could only breed good and that evil would always spell evil. Like Bal Gangadhar Tilak earlier and Mahatma Gandhi who was his contemporary, Azad was a firm believer in the inseparability of politics from religion. All these three leaders used religion to galvanize the socially and economically backward Indian masses for struggle against foreign colonial rule.

He supported Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement (breaking with the leaders of the Khilafat) and joined the Indian National Congress (INC) in January 1920. Azad never associated himself with the Muslim League, the separatist Muslim political party. Along with Muslims like Mukhtar Ahmed Ansari, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Abbas Tyabji, he was a fervent Indian nationalist. They stuck by Gandhi even after the suspension of civil resistance due to the Chauri Chaura killings of 22 policemen by a nationalist mob.

In 1923 he was elected President of the Indian National Congress at the young age of 35. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad soon became a member of the central leadership of the All India National Congress along with Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru and Chitta Ranjan Das, and was recognised by Gandhi as one of his most trusted lieutenants. He was elected the president of the special session of the Congress in Delhi (1923), and of the one in Ramgarh (1940).

Azad was arrested during the Non-Cooperation Movement events, and again in 1930 for violation of the salt laws as part of Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha. He was jailed in Meerut for a year and a half.

In 1942, Maulana Azad was again President of the Indian National Congress, leading the it during the Quit India Movement (a leadership extended beyond the term convened, as the party was unable to hold proper elections). He was arrested along with the entire Congress Working Committee for 3 long years, imprisoned at the fort in Ahmednagar.

Maulana Azad was the staunchest high-profile Muslim opponent of Partition of India into India and Pakistan. He supported a confederation of autonomous provinces with their own constitutions, but with a common defense and economy - an arrangement suggested in the British Cabinet Mission Plan of May 1946. According to Azad, partition was against the grain of the Indian culture which did not believe in divorce before marriage.

Partition of India

Azad was one of the negotiating members during both the Cripps' mission (1942) and the Cabinet mission (1946). But with the strengthening of the Pakistan movement and worsening Hindu-Muslim relations, Azad's influence waned. He recorded his frustration in his letters and autobiography, to the effect that the partition of India could have been avoided had the Congress High Command respected his idea about the accommodation of the viewpoints of Mohammad Ali Jinnah and the Muslim League. The Congress High Command was catastrophically wrong, he asserted, when it partially rejected the Cabinet Mission formula, which had been previously accepted by the Muslim League High Command. Azad was emphatically opposed to Jawaharlal Nehru's view which, according to him, had led to the collapse of the Cabinet Mission Plan and eventually to the partition of India on a communal basis. But the political difference lately developed between the two leaders did not weaken their personal friendship.

Although Azad was highly regarded amongst Congressmen and most nationalists, he did not have the level of popular support amongst the Muslim community enjoyed by Jinnah, and failed to prevent the majority of Muslims from supporting partition. Azad abstained from voting when the All India Congress Committee voted on the partition plan, as he knew that the Congress Party was approving partition only in extreme, almost impossible conditions where the League threatened to instigate civil war and the government faced breakdown before independence.

Post Independence

Maulana Azad was a strong supporter of Jawaharlal Nehru, whom he felt could best communicate to young Muslims and develop a secular system of government. Azad also supported Nehru's introduction of Socialist principles in India's economic policy, as well as the advancement of education as a way to combat poverty, social evils, and spread opportunity. He served as the Minister of Education in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's Cabinet from 1947 to 1958.


As a scholar, Maulana Azad produced monumental literary works. Azad penned the book India Wins Freedom in 1957. He had also authored the Ghubar-i-Khatir, written in jail between 1942-1945, and with the Tadhkirah, a masterpiece of the Urdu language.

His commentary on the Quran is unique in the realm of Muslim liberation.

Whatever role he was called upon to play whether in the field of literature or politics, he lent to it a dignity and poise which was entirely his own. He is also remembered as a poet and writer of great skill.


Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and a close friend of Azad, paying a tribute in the Indian Parliament on February 24 1958 said:

So we mourn today the passing of a great man, a man of luminous intelligence and a mighty intellect with an amazing capacity to pierce through a problem to it score.

Azad is featured on an Indian postage stamp; there are many schools, colleges, roads and hospitals all over India named after him, the most famous of which is the Maulana Azad Medical College (situated in Old Delhi, on the site of an erstwhile British jail, and flanked by the Khooni Darwaza, a commerative arch of the last of the Mughal heirs - murdered by a British officer in 1857). It is consistently rated among the top ten medical colleges in India.


The Partition of India was a fundamental mistake.

Source: Wikipedia (


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6:31 AM  

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