Sunday, December 3, 2023

‘Muslims of India: past and present.’ A. G. Noorani’s Asghar Ali Engineer memorial speech in full

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A. G. Noorani

The subject is a very topical one and also a very painful one. The Muslims of India in 2018 stand in a much worse position than they did in 1857 and in 1947. In 1857, there was a crème de la crème of Muslim literati and poets and academics in the entire north India and even in the south. In 1947, there were the remnants of the leaders of the Muslim league who betrayed the Muslims very swiftly. Choudhury Khaliquzzaman took an oath of allegiance to the Indian flag. So did Hussein imam and Z. H. Lari. What is the status today of Muslims? They are totally demoralised. In 1947, there was a Nehru to look up to. I remember I was a young student during the 1952 general elections and I would  attend the election rallies, the slogan that would be heard in Muslim areas was “Jawaharlal Nehru ke haath mazboot karo.” The truth was that Nehru was virtually in a minority. You will find this detail in S. Gopal’s book, that in the Cabinet, he had very little support, barring Maulana Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai or one two others. The bulk, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Rajendra Prasad and others; he wrote to Govind Ballabh Pant and all the major Chief Ministers, were hostile to Muslims. Ravi Shankar Shukla, B. C. Roy, Morarji Desai who was an overbearing under-study of B. G. Kher, Govind Ballabh Pant who was the father of the Ayodhya tragedy, Pandit Nehru wrote to him as late as 1950, “I can’t enter UP now, I feel like a stranger.”

Today, Muslims feel betrayed and confused, they are leaderless. Educationally, they are backward. There is rampant discrimination in education in services and in housing. People like Shabana Azmi and others who are not forthcoming on muslim issues will also have to suffer. Police record is abysmal. I saw Mr. Vibhuti Narain Rai here who has done noble work on the Hashimpura massacre.

In 1947, there were Gandhi and Nehru and the remnants of the old Congress leadership which believed in secular values. Today, the Muslim membership of the Lok Sabha stands at 22, an all-time low. When the prime minister took oath, his first speech referred to a 1000 years of slavery which is the RSS line, not 200 years of slavery under the British but 1000 years under the so called Muslim rule. Mind you, as Romila Thapar has written, they were not Muslims, they were Pathans and Mughals from Central Asia and the Hindus of that time did not consider them as Muslims except incidentally.

In 1947, there came a great betrayal. The Lahore Resolution, the second part, said there should be adequate mandatory safeguards for minorities in both India and Pakistan. But the betrayal of 1947 came when Jinnah said that to establish Pakistan he is prepared to smash the Muslims in the rest of India, as if we were his property to smash or barter away. You will find the details of this in Jamiluddin Ahmed’s volumes on Jinnah’s speeches. During Partition, there was no agreement on minorities at all. The June 3 plan on Partition did not have a line on minorities; Indian Muslims were non-existent for everyone. So, on 25 July, Qaid e azam met Coorgi Muslim leaders in Delhi; this is the only record of his exposition of the Muslim problem after partition. He told the Coorgis, “don’t pick up small fights, be educationally and economically advanced, you will have to pass through ordeals.” Jinnah knew that Indian Muslims were in trouble, and he made repeated references to God for them, even though he was noted for any devotion.

But there was one ray of hope. Sir Abdullah Haroon in the Haroon Report, and in the Muslim League’s Lahore Resolution’s last paragraph (1940), both authorised the framing of a scheme of constitution which provided finally for the resumption of sovereign powers. Ambedkar was the only one to pick on the word “finally” and said, this envisages the formation of an interim center. But this scheme was never considered, making Partition inevitable. A committee was set up to draft the scheme, but such was the bankruptcy of the Congress leadership, that they never took Jinnah seriously and gave him it seems a set of questions to which they demanded answers. As Ambedkar has written in his book on Pakistan, Gandhi frittered away the opportunity to avoid Partition was asking Jinnah to define Muslims, to define what a majority is, instead of asking pointed pertinent questions on the Lahore Resolution. The Haroon report said that there must be a coordinating agency between India and Pakistan (called Hindustan and Pakistan then) and the report specifically mentioned Indian Muslims. But nothing came of it.

So Partition happened and Qaid e azam said that Muslims on both sides should be loyal, and he said to the Coorgi Muslims, “your fate will depend on India-Pakistan relations.” Incidentally, that was also Jawaharlal Nehru’s thesis. So Indian Muslims from the beginning were made hostages from both sides. In December 1947 the AIML met in Karachi and for the first time in his life Jinnah was questioned by the Indian leaders “What about us?” However, every single Muslim League leader in North India said that they did not want a Muslim League in India but Jinnah and Liaqat Ali said that if there was no Muslim League Muslims would be lost for Islam. As a matter of fact, it was the Muslim leaders of the Congress after partition who acted as mediators between the Indian Muslim community and the powers that be. Maulana Azad and Rafi Ahmed Kidwai particularly. There was a very independent minded Muslim, a wise man who was one of the tallest leaders of the Muslim League, Nawab Mohammad Ismail of Meerut. But Qaid e azam wanted a yes-man so he preferred Choudhury Khaliquzzaman as the leader of the Muslim league. Nawab sahab was asked if he will go to Pakistan, and he said, why should I? Jinnah had a lot of regard for the Nawab but he chose Choudhury Khaliquzzaman; Nawab sahab had an old mind. And therein hangs a tale. Khaliquzzaman before going to Pakistan issued a statement supporting the Indian Congress, saying that the Congress is not responsible for the large scale massacre of Muslims happening then during Partition. After this, he went to Karachi and Jinnah reprimanded him for absolving the Congress of anti-Muslim killings and said that it has harmed Indian Muslims enormously. This is what happened to Muslims: the Muslim league remaining members in India such as Z. H. lari, Hussein Imam etc all betrayed them, Muslims were leaderless. Mohammad Ismail of Madras was not even a member of the League’s working committee and he appointed himself as the Qaid e millat. This man prospered thanks to a saintly man in Kerala, Syed Bafakhy Thangal. And that is how the Muslim league came up in the South.

The point is, Qaid a Azam had said very sensibly in 1947, safeguards are not alone for Muslims. They must have a share in power. After partition, in October 1947, Huseyn Suhrawardy drew up a charter, an Indo-Pak charter of minorities. Unfortunately, when Suhrawardy showed this document to Gandhi for his endorsement, Gandhi wrote some nasty comments about Jinnah in the margins. Jinnah wanted to see the comments made by Gandhi but Suhrawardy knew that Jinnah would never sign the document if he actually saw it. Suhrawardy tried to make Jinnah sign the final document, but Jinnah wanted to see the original document. In such unfortunate circumstances, this charter of minority rights fell through.

But then, what could a charter of safeguards have done? Jinnah was very right when in 1937-38, in fact all his life, he insisted that Muslims need a share in power, in the national mainstream. Safeguards remain only on paper. However, Patel put forward in the Constituent Assembly, the report of the Advisory Committee on Minorities of which he was the Chairman, which had provisions for reserved seats for Muslims. But in 1949, in the immediate aftermath of Partition, this provision was withdrawn, and in my opinion, very rightly. Patel said the conditions have changed and delivered a very sensible speech in the constituent assembly. He asked if Muslims want their own faithful men elected or do they want a share in power, because if Muslim members would be elected from reserved seats or separate electorates, they would never be allowed to join any ministry because they would be in a minority. Ambedkar said that isolation is the worst thing that can happen to a minority.

But for a long time there was a complete silence on minority rights. The curve turned for the worse in February 1961 with the Jabalpur riots. This period, when there was no discussion on minority rights, also coincided with the formation of the Jan Sangh. In the 1960s when riots occurred in different cities, organisations of Muslims, and even meetings of Muslims, were not allowed even for redress for their wrongs. Muslims of riot-torn Sambalpur met, in 1964, not to demand greater protection but to send cables to the President and members of the United Nations Security Council telling them that “Kashmir’s accession to India is irrevocable”. Thus, for Indian Muslims, their position on Kashmir has always been a loyalty test, even at the height of riots. By that test of course, I am a traitor myself. But I don’t believe that any Indian’s loyalty should be judged if he thinks that India is treating Kashmir like a colony. At this time, Dr Syed Mahmud, an old-time Congress leader (I hate the term ‘nationalist Muslim’) held a convention. I am old enough to remember that the Congress Working Committee criticised this convention, the press railed against it, even though he included Congressmen in it. Then he established in 1964, the All India Majlis e Mushawarat, as a response to the anti-Muslim riots in different parts of India in the 60s. On a personal note, doctor Sahab invited me to join his organisation; I told him, doctor Sahab I will join the organisation immediately provided you open the doors to non-Muslims, because I believe that any exclusion of any Indian on the basis of religion or caste etc is a lapse from Indian ideals, and a matter for all Indians.

But even this was not much. The test came with Babri Masjid. The best research on Babri Masjid has been done by non-Muslims such as Romila Thapar; only Athar Ali sahab of Aligarh did some work. The joint action committees for Babri Masjid set up by Muslims had only Muslims. Why? Muslims should have striven for statesmanship and should have organised every secular minded person to protect the Masjid. Mr Shahabuddin had done some research I remember, and he had expressed opposition to Rajiv Gandhi. The point it, the Sangh Parivar has been successful in delaying the entire legal case of the Babri Masjid. Meanwhile, the Muslim joint action committees have split. After that, Muslim leaders began a movement for empowerment. But why will the people who rule Muslims give empowerment to them? You don’t get empowerment as a boon.

Azaadi maang ke nahi milti hai, azaadi aur huqooq cheene jaate hai.

All these years have been wasted. Muslims have become too used to begging. Woh khud kyun nahi mobilise hote, khuda ke bande? Once Muslims mobilise, secular minded people would join them. But this has not happened. Instead, the right wing Hindu forces have taken hold. What are my suggestions? Firstly, I want Muslims to set up an organisation like the NAACP which has both African Americans and whites; if I were in public life, I would set it up myself, by inviting my Hindu friends: an Indian group that is solely concerned about the discrimination against Muslims. Secondly, Muslims must learn documentation. I am sorry, but Muslims are not good at research! Take riots, for example. I am yet to see a single compilation of riots since 1961. I was very happy to see Mr V N Rai’s work’s on Hashimpura, Mr John Dayal is here; Muslims should collect data about violence and put it forward in front of their Hindu friends. There will be a lot of goodwill for Muslims. I practise law in a mainly non-Muslim milieu but when I was put in prison; my Hindu friends helped me get release. Muslims have not tapped the reservoir of goodwill that others have for them. Data about riots, arrests of Muslims, employment still needs to be complied. To deny discrimination is to deny the truth.

Muslims must develop a form and content of agitation which heals old wounds and does not impose new ones. And this can be done only by secularising the agitation. Thirdly, Muslims must join hands with others; here I would like to give the example of the Kurdish party in Turkey in 2015 which joined hands with other oppressed forces. My last suggestion to Muslims: please involve yourself in national matters such as administration, economic policy, foreign policy etc. above all, Muslims should take interest in agriculture and the small handicraft industry which involve the poorest of Indian Muslims especially in UP and Bihar. Only involvement and not isolation will provide the solution. I would like to end with a quote that I used to recite to myself when I was in jail:

Aashiyan banaunga mein ab har ek shaakh par,

Kya meri zid mein baghban saara chaman mitayega?

This is the full text of A G Noorani’s lecture titled “Muslims of India : Past and present”, on  the occasion of the 12th Asghar Ali Engineer Memorial Day at the Constitution Club in Delhi on 23 November. This has been transcribed by Heba Ahmed, a Phd scholar from JNU

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