Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Nehru Memorial Museum and Library
cordially invites you to a
at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday-Friday, 21-22 March 2013
in the Seminar Room, First Floor, Library Building
‘Cultural institutions and knowledge arenas, post-1947: Revisiting the roles of Maulana Azad’
in association with
Dr. Veena Naregal
Institute of Economic Growth
The public life and work of Maulana Azad (1888-1958) provides an extraordinarily rich lens to view the shaping of our political culture and institutional arenas during the critical decades between 1920 and 1960.
Azad’s erudition and range of interests made him a truly exceptional figure. He acquired his formidable intellectual training outside the colonial education system, yet rose to being independent India’s first Minister of Education for a decade at the end of his career.
Azad launched the weekly Al-Hilal in 1912 and, soon after it was banned in 1914, Al-Balagh. He distanced himself from Sir Syed’s political and religious ideas. Azad deployed his talents as journalist, writer, editor, orator and jurist to mobilize anticolonial public opinion among Indian Muslims in ways that resonated with their proud literary, intellectual and religious heritage. He emerged as a young but highly respected intellectual but, alert to the limits of this strategy, moved closer to Gandhi and the Congress. Azad’s superb testimony following his arrest in 1922 for participating in the Khilafat movement, published as Qual-i-Faisal [Final Verdict], remains a classic document.
In 1923, Azad was chosen to preside over the Congress. Thereafter, he remained a key member of almost every Congress committee appointed—whether to address internal party questions or matters of public-political significance—until 1947.
During this time, he worked unstintingly to strengthen the party and, simultaneously, retain Muslim support for the Congress. Thus, Azad canvassed for the acceptance of the Motilal Nehru report—although it reversed previous provisions made by the 1916 Lucknow Pact for separate electorates and reservation of central legislature seats to safeguard Muslim interests.
When the Muslim League refused to sign the Nehru report, Azad, it is said, was cryptic: if the Muslim League was foolish to demand separate electorates, the Congress was even more foolish not to concede. He emerged as a key ally of both Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi and, equally, as a trenchant internal critic of majoritarian tendencies that the party structure and regional units had begun to betray, particularly after the formation of Congress ministries in 1937.
By the early 1940s, there were powerful conservative economic and political arguments that the only viable option for a successful post-Independent state was a federal structure premised upon a centre empowered to check provincial powers. Alongside, there were moves to embrace planning and state-led capitalist growth as national goals.
Azad was elected President of the Congress for a second time at its Ramgarh session in 1940. The view that Partition was inevitable was implicitly gaining ground —even among sections of the Congress. Against this, Azad’s views present a significant counterpoint. He believed that the 1946 Cabinet Mission Plan was the only available feasible means to preserve the nation undivided, and so negotiated tirelessly.
In October 1947, during Partition riots in Delhi and elsewhere, Azad addressed his Muslim brethren in undivided India for the last time from the steps of the Jama Masjid. The speech and its sentiment have disappeared from the popular and institutional consciousness, but its tragic anguish cannot be separated from his views as statesman, intellectual and Congress leader.
We need to recognise the loss involved in reducing Maulana Azad to a symbolic icon or of viewing him as just an important Muslim leader. Otherwise, it is difficult to assess his initiatives after 1947 to establish national cultural institutions or his attempts as Minister of Education to persuade the Cabinet to shift education from the state list to the concurrent list so that education patterns could be standardized across the country.
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