A Man of Luminous Personality
Among the galaxy of patriots of India’s freedom struggle, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad was a shining star who ceaselessly campaigned for a united India. He also played a stellar role in laying the foundation for a secular society in India.Maulana Azad was born on November 11, 1868, in Mecca. He was the child of an Indian ‘Pir’ scholar and an Arab lady whose family was known for intellectual accomplishments. When aged about four, his father Maulana Kairuddin returned and settled in Calcutta.
Azad was not one of the common children. Many stories, all true, are told about his childhood – how he reacted to situations, how he repeated what he heard and how he remembered what he saw. Though he had no formal education, he had mastered both Arabic and Urdu and had acquired proficiency in Persian by the age of ten. Later, he learnt English with the help of guide books and could read and write but rarely spoke in English.
Sarojini Naidu used to say, ‘Do not talk of Azad’s age. He was fifty the day he was born’. Between the ages of sixteen and eighteen he had edited three well- established journals.
In 1904, Azad became acquainted with ‘Hali’ and ‘Shibli’ – two great Urdu writers. Both of them had read Azad’s writings. They could not believe that Azad was merely eighteen. In his first meeting, ‘Hali’ questioned Azad about his name thrice before being convinced that he was the same man, Shibli who first took him to be the son of famous Abdul Kalam Azad.
The first major turning point for Azad in politics came after the Partition of Bengal which he rejected in no uncertain terms. Azad associated himself with the anti-British movement and even joined some of the secret radical groups which arose after the partition of Bengal. He came in contact with Sufi Ambaprasad and Ajit Singh in Punjab and Aurobindo Ghose, Shyam Sunder Chakrovorty and Lala Har Dayal, all leaders of the anti-colonial movement in the country.
Maulana Azad’s meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in January 1920 at the residence of Hakim Ajmal Khan in the presence of Lokmanya Tilak and the Ali Brothers, had a crucial bearing on the future course of the national movement.
In Gandhiji, he found an institutional support for his political views.
The Khilafat Movement, and later the non-cooperation movement, provided a broader platform to Azad’s political career. The Hindu-Muslim cooperation visualised by Gandhiji diverted the Khilafat Movement into the channel of the nationalist movement.
In 1930, he became the Acting President of the Congress and was put in jail till 1932. He had the distinction of becoming the Congress President in 1940 and continued in this position till 1946.
During this period, he was the chief spokesman of the Congress for the talks with Sir Stafford Cripps. In 1945, he attended the Simla conference and conducted negotiations with the Cabinet Mission in 1946. These negotiations called for all his wisdom, statesmanship and sturdy patriotism. He proved equal to the task and in the midst of mass madness, bigotry and passion, and sneers and sinister propaganda, he stood by Indian nationalism as solidly as a rock.
After the attainment of independence, he became the Union Minister for Education, Natural Resources and Scientific Research. He stressed the basic unity and synthesis of Indian thought and civilisation. He used to point out that India had been the cradle of several religions through centuries and it should remain the meeting ground of the East and West in future.
It is with this end in view that he set up the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. In 1955, he visited a large number of countries of Europe and West Asia. During his goodwill tour he was able to remove many prejudices and misunderstandings about India.
Very little is known about Azad’s family life. It seems due to his preoccupations, he had little of it. He was married at the age of 12 to Zuleikha, daughter of Maulvi Aftabuddin of Calcutta. They led a happy married life but had no issue. His wife was rarely seen in public and very few people were acquainted with her. She was quite unassuming. She died in 1945 when Maulana Azad was in detention.
He poured out his heart in a letter to a friend when he wrote: “My wife remained ill for many years…..She wrote to me regularly in jail and though these contained full accounts of all sorts of matters there was not a word in them about her illness….lest it should disturb me….She braved all the troubles and difficulties with patience and forbearance. She attuned herself mentally to my belief, and actions and became a true companion and friend to me in all my affairs.”
Azad’s stature as an outstanding scholar of oriental learning was demonstrated in moulding the educational system of the country in the immediate post-Independence years. He set up the University Education Commission in 1948 and the Secondary Education Commission in 1952.
On his initiative, the budgetary allocation for education was raised to fifteen-fold between 1947 and 1958.
It was he who established the University Grants Commission. The three Academies – Sangeet Natak Akademi, Sahitya Akademi and Lalit Kala Akademi – to promote music, literature and art, were also the outcome of his ideas.
He also extended all support to Pandit Nehru in setting up the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and a chain of science laboratories in India with the help of Sir S. S. Bhatnagar. With Rajkumari Amrit Kaur as Health Minister and Virendra Agarwala who later became M.P., he conceived the ideas of India International Centre in Lodhi Road and WUS Health Centre in Delhi University. This scribe attended some of the meetings held then as a student representative.
Maulana Azad breathed his last in harness on February 22, 1958. He favoured none and devoted himself and his God given gift to the nation.
With his passing away Jawaharlal Nehru observed; “Passed a great man, a man of luminous intelligence and a mighty intellect with an amazing capacity to pierce through a problem to its core”.
Article by : R.K.Bhatnagar
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 March 2009
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