Let us ponder over Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’s “Idea of India”

Maulana Azad, one of the most eminent figures in the Indian  Independence Movement, twice president of Indian National Congress and the first Minister of Education of Independent India, finds no place in the contemporary discourse on the Idea of India’.

Not only Azad but Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar also are either being totally ignored by the new RSS enthusiasts or, in the absence of their own heroes, being partially appropriated to suit their immediate political objectives.

Hindu Rashtra is being projected, against the idea of a secular society and state as enshrined in the Indian Constitution, as the authentic India. Maulana Azad has been denied any referential position as one of the primary propagators of  the ‘Idea of India’. As early as 1940, in his presidential address of the Ramgarh session of Indian National Congress, he spelled out his ‘Idea of India’ in no uncertain terms:

MS Education Academy

“India has been destined to be the destiny of different races, cultures and religions. From the pre-historic period started the arrival of these caravans and continued in later centuries. Its land welcomed all and provided space for them. The last was the caravan of Muslims who settled here forever. It was mingling of two streams of different communities and cultures. These two continued to flow, like Ganga and Jamuna, separately, but, as is the immutable law of nature, they joined together. This was a great historical event. The same day the hidden hand of nature started moulding a new India in place of the old India….Centuries have passed and now Islam has also become, like Hinduism, a religion of India….If Hinduism was a religion of the peoples of this land Islam also has been the religion of the peoples of India. If today a Hindu can say with pride that he is an Indian and follows Hindu religion we too can say with pride that we are Indians and follow Islam. Eleven centuries’ common history has been enriched with constructive elements of all aspects of our Indian life. Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our life- style, our tastes, our attire, our manners and customs, and innumerable realities of our daily life have the impression of this common life….This common heritage is the asset of our common nationality.”

Azad warns that, “If there are Hindus who believe in reviving a thousand years’ old Hindu life, they are only dreaming. If there are Muslim minds that are aspiring to bring back the one-thousand-year-old culture which they had brought from Iran and Wet Asia, it is better for them to come out of this dream as early as possible. This is unnatural imagination.” And he added, “Whether we like it  or not, we have now become an Indian nation and an indivisible Indian nation. No artificial imagination of separation can divide our oneness in to two. We should accept the judgment of nature and devote ourselves to constructing our destiny.”

Azad had come to this conclusion with the help of his deep  insight into the religious and political history conditioned by the special cultural heritage of South Asia, dismissing all other alternatives as irrelevant to the future development of Indian personality. By 1912 itself, two decades before the entry of Gandhi ji on the political scene, Azad had constructed his vision of India as a land of universal human values taking in to account basic issues like relationship between religion and society, religion and nationalism, composite nationalism and Hindu-Muslim unity. Like Gandhi, Azad also regarded religion as an integral part of Indian social and political consciousness. As such, all his approaches to national political and social issues offer support of Islamic teachings or of the Muslim historical tradition. For instance, on Muslims’ participation in the Freedom struggle he declares, “For the Hindus, struggle for independence is patriotism but for Muslims it is their religious duty and part of jihad in the path of Allah. Jihad stands for all those actions that are taken for the sake of truth and for breaking the bonds of oppression and slavery.”

Again, Hindu-Muslim unity  was essential to the India of the future. He believed that Hindu-Muslim unity should go beyond being a mere policy. It   was fundamental to the achievement of Swaraj. He declared in 1940, “If , today, an angel descends from the sky and announces from the top of the Qutb Minar that independence can be achieved within twenty-four hours provided you give up on Hindu-Muslim unity, I would forego Swaraj but not Hindu-Muslim unity because a delay in getting  independence would be a temporary loss for India but if we lose our unity it would be a loss of humanity.”

During the early days of the freedom struggle, his concept of “composite nationalism” proved quite controversial. He introduced this concept in 1921 in his presidential address at the provincial Khilafat conference, Agra, and asked the Muslims to form one nation (ummah) with the Hindus to make a joint front against the British Indian colonial rulers. His most thought-provoking formulation is perhaps where he asserts his dual identity. “I am a Muslim and I am proud of being a Muslim. …The teachings of Islam, history of Muslims, Muslim sciences and arts, Islamic culture are all my assets. And it is my duty to protect them. As a Muslim I have an especial existence in my religious and cultural sphere and would never tolerate any intervention in it.

“However, along with all  these feelings, I have another feeling which has been produced by the facts of life. The spirit of Islam does not prevent me from it; it provides me guidance on this path. I feel proud of my being Indian. I am an integral part of yet another indivisible united nationality in a way that without me the palace of her greatness would remain incomplete. I am an inevitable factor of its structure.”

Recognition of the reality of duality of an Indian citizen on the grounds of religion and culture renders all motivated questions of being Indian first or Muslim or Hindu first, superfluous.

He was very clear about the exact nature and implications of his ‘idea of India’. He is, perhaps, the first among the Indian thinkers who thought for bridging the gulf between the Hindus and the Muslims at the metaphysical level. (Earlier similar attempts like those by Akbar and Dara Shikoh were sincere but more a theoretical exercise and less socially and politically significant.) In his commentary of the Qur’an, Tarjuman al-Qur’an, he proposed the idea of Vahdat-i-Deen, the unity of the fundamental message in all religious systems. He argued that all religions have a common message consisting of Tauheed (Belief in One God) and virtuous action. This concept had provoked a bitter debate among the Muslim religious elite at that time as not valid and even today it is used against him by a certain section of Muslims.

There is no doubt that cultural pluralism, and not religious revivalism—Hindu or non-Hindu, has always been the identity of India/Hindustan/Bharat. Abul Kalam Azad’s ‘Idea of India’ describes him as a “proud Indian” as well as a “proud Muslim”. It was, indeed, the idea of the peoples of India which Maulana Azad discovered and which was later adopted as the guiding principle by the Constituent Assembly for shaping a Constitution for running a plural India denying any space for any particular theological or cultural authority.

Attempts at negating the Indian pluralism are afoot. Would

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad succeed in finding some space in the discourse on the idea of India?

Anwar Moazzam

Prof Anwar Moazzam is scholar of Islamic Studies. He was the Chairman of the Department of Islamic Studies, Osmania University.

Back to top button