Thursday, February 22, 2018

Maulana Azad and azaadi

Today is Maulana Abul Kalam Azad's death anniversary. I knew very little about him, except that he was one of the tallest leaders of India's freedom struggle. While researching something else this year, I came upon a booklet, a convocation address delivered by JP Narayan in 1966. Here, he describes Maulana Azad as 'father of speech', and speaks of the wonders of his oratory thus:

"At this point, my mind goes back 46 years to a memorable day in January 1921, when at a vast concourse of men in Patna, I listened enthralled to a stormy petrel of the Non-Cooperation Movement, who though young in years had magic on his tongue. His name quite appropriately was Abul Kalam Azad. Incidentally, at the same place there was also held in a corner an over-flowing meeting (there were no loud-speakers then) addressed by another young man, about whom all that was known was that he was the upcoming son of the great Pandit Motilal Nehru. It was the fiery words of the 'father of speech', however, that had set fire to the waters of the Ganga that flowed pacidly by."

Maulana Azad was President of the Congress, in 1941, when he was arrested after the Quit India movement was launched. I have been looking through newspapers of the time and what I found remarkable was not just that so many people were willing to court arrest towards the cause of independence, but also that so many of them found creative responses to news of the leadership being arrested.

Maulana Azad was arrested on January 3, 1941, at 5:15 at the Allahabad railway station. He was expected to leave by the Toofan Express and stop at Lucknow or Allahabad en route to Calcutta. The details of his itinerary had already been published in the newspaper a day before, so people as well as the British government knew exactly where to find him. He had also sent a telegram to Acharya Narendra Deo, asking him meet up in Allahabad.

Once news of his arrest spread, a public meeting was held in Aminabad Park in Lucknow. One Mr Hariprasad Saksena moved a resolution: “This meeting of the citizens of Lucknow offers its respectful congratulations to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad on his arrest and assures him the country stands behind the Congress.”

A women’s meeting held in Zenana Park also congratulated Azad on the arrest. Elsewhere in Lucknow, students observe a two minute silence to protest the arrest. In Cawnpore (Kanpur), 10,000 students went on strike. Bareilly, Sitapur, Ghazipur, Agra, Meerut, Moradabad, Nainital saw strikes and all these were just reports flowing in from UP. The Benaras Students Federation took out a Prabhat Pheri and congratulated Azad on his arrest. The principal of Rameshwari Girls College declared a holiday in protest and the girls observed a five minute silence. 

In Ghazipur, one Chowdhry Girija Prasad Singh, an honorary magistrate and a big zamindar, tendered his resignation from the magistrateship in protest against the Congress President’s arrest, and also surrendered his gun license and the gun.

I am intrigued by these little details because it is here that we find the keys to our freedom. It wasn't won in a day and it wasn't won by a handful of people. It was won through everyone committing themselves to it and standing up for it in their own way.

Maulana Azad lived to see a free India, lived to serve as its education minister. He oversaw the establishment of free primary education, subsidized higher education and the establishment of highly regarded institutions including the IITs. Leaders like him were needed then and are needed now.


Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading this, Annie. Maulana Azad has always fascinated me, even in school history text books.

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