Abul Kalam Azad never stood for the discourse radicalized India is witnessing now

In his four-decades-long public life, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad came forward in multiple roles i.e., Educationist, freedom fighter, politician, and journalist, that were not only important but also personal to the man that India shall ever be indebted to. To understand everything that Azad stood for, Al-Hilal, an Urdu weekly from Calcutta (now Kolkata), is more than just a chronicle even after a century when it was first published. A short-lived newspaper (from 1912 to 1927), brought a revolution in the world of media and a new discourse for the Indian Muslims during the struggle for independence.

Today, in a political scenario where one can be identified by their clothes and lives can be astutely described as important and unimportant based on identities, Azad’s identity would matter more than it ever did. Therefore, it becomes important to understand what he meant for the people whom he also wrote for in this chronicle that is more than just history. It is important to understand what his newspaper meant and how we were led to a point where clothes became identities. Al-Hilal was an astounding critic of the British Raj that exposed the intricacies of their policies, actions, attitude, and their rule. It was an extremely important tool in shaping public opinion against the British Raj, particularly among the Muslim population. Beyond that, it also critiqued Indian Muslims that were rooting for the British government.

When Azad started with Al-Hilal, he was told then, as he is told now, to be a visionary. That he had understood that education is the only salvation for Indians. With leading organizers of the Dharsana Satyagraha- a protest against the British Salt Tax in 1920, Azad, along with two other members founded Jamia Millia Islamia University in New Delhi. He also became the youngest president of INC at the age of 35, established the first Indian Institute of Technology in 1951 and the University Grants Commission in 1953 which is now the major regulatory body for higher education in India. Many would say that he was a secular and a liberal. He criticized both Nehru and Jinnah for the partition and wasn’t on their side, for he believed and visioned for one India.

Through all that has been written on or about Azad, it seems that his most relevant contribution has been to unite Muslims against the British Regime. Other than that, his most important image is of a ‘Muslim-secular’. This discourse that started with the emphasis on education for all to fight the British oppression in the name of Azad later turned into an emphasis on education for Muslims which has now finally turned into an emphasis on education for Muslims to escape majoritarianism. This is an old discourse that advocates If Indian Muslims get educated and do well, things will get better for them despite the mass radicalization in India. One may see it as a solution, but it is indeed a discourse that has been manipulated conveniently to put blame on the victims of this radicalization.

History has told us time and again that no matter the financial status of minorities, the radicalized majority will always persecute, hate, humiliate and discriminate against them. The financial status of Jews in Germany didn’t stop Nazis from killing them, The financial status of Palestinians doesn’t help them escape what they face and so is the case for India. The notion of upward mobility is untrue and unapplied with respect to the Muslims in India. They have been deliberately kept deprived of opportunities that have turned into exclusion. Money or education cannot help one overcome a rigged majority. The onus of the well-being of the minorities should always be on the majority and there shouldn’t be any victim-blaming.

It is important to remove the veils that tell us that Azad stood for this discourse and it is what he meant. Azad’s intentions might have been of a real ‘secular’ and a ‘liberal’, but stalwarts in the politics of radicalization have mended it enough to diminish everything Azad stood for.

Aamir Khan

Aamir Khan is a student at the Centre for Chinese and South-east Asian Studies, JNU, New Delhi. He also works with Hasratein- a Delhi based queer collective. The current area of his academic interest lies in the study of the Chinese language and society.