A history in which every particular incident may be true may on the whole be false. ~Thomas Babington Macaulay
The words seem apt for a historical account of the Indian freedom movement which culminated in the country’s independence. I have always been intrigued by the contradictory accounts that emerge in the historical times adorning the best libraries in the world mostly by scholars of enormous repute. Historical evaluations of events and opinions on the dramatis personae are bound to vary; what seems unusual in the instance, I am adumbrating on is the disparity in description of the actual events!
One volume that has served as a major source of reference is India Wins Freedom.First published in 1958 a few months after Maulana Azad’s death, it supposedly has the Maulana’s own evaluations of events in which he was a major player and his opinions on the people he worked with and interacted.
The Maulana was a prolific writer in several languages but although he could understand and correspond in English with consummate ease, it was not a language that he was most comfortable with. The book was supposedly narrated to the politician/academic Humayun Kabir who was serving as Joint Education Advisor during his tenure as the Union Education Minister.It was left to Kabir ,an Oxford alumnus (like your humble columnist) to release the book .The presumption was that as the learned Maulana’s facility in English was not of the order that he would have liked, Kabir was entrusted to translate his thoughts into English.
I first perused the book as an impressionable schoolboy having borrowed it from my boarding school library at the Colvin Taluqdars’ College,Lucknow. I can recall very vividly the first thought that crossed my mind ;why would the Maulana Saheb desire an English tome in his name when he could well have written the whole book in Urdu or any other language that he had perfect command over and which could have been competently translated with ease! Many stalwarts had published their accounts in vernacular which were eventually translated into English for wider readership.
The other query that arose in my pre-teenaged mind was about the rider that accompanied the book. Kabir had stated that as per MaulanaSaheb’s wishes ,he was withholding 30 pages from this publication as it had references to certain individuals who were living at the time of the publication. The Maulana was widely known not to pull his punches and it seemed somewhat incongruous that he would have himself insisted on such a pre-condition.
A bit of research lead me to believe that I was not alone in entertaining these worries. There were several others. Kewal Panjabi was a very distinguished ICS officer who had served the country with utmost distinction and rectitude. Throwing all discretion to wind, he was fiercely critical of supposedly the Maulana’s attempt to lay the blame for the partition of the country largely on Sardar Patel. In his book,he described this assertion as ‘unworthy’ !
But there was an even more fundamental concern! Dahyabhai Patel ,a Member of Parliament (and the Sardar’s son) wrote to Kabir expressing utmost surprise at the way the Sardar was portrayed in the volume stating that it just did not tally with his numerous personal and political interactions with the Maulana. Interestingly in the book itself ,the Maulana is supposed to have lamented not supporting the Sardar for the Prime Minister’s post regarding it as one of the two major mistakes he had committed.
Patel asked Kabir whether there was a manuscript of the book that bore the Maulana’s signature. Kabir responded by stating that there was no manuscript with signature and that he was just representing the Maulana’s views as were narrated to him. He went on to state that he personally disagreed with Maulana’s assessment of the Sardar and then digressed into a lot of unrelated philosophical issues.
That by itself should have set the alarm bells ringing but there was no serious effort to answer the questions relating to the authenticity of the exercise.The salient question we have to ask is how many of us would be prepared to accept a tome appearing in modern times as authentic when there was no manuscript that could be traced back to the supposed author.
Came 1988 and Justice Kirpal ordered the release of the entire ‘manuscript’ from the National Archives where Kabir had deposited them -including the missing 30 pages. It turned out that the so called missing 30 pages were snippets from the different sections of the book itself and not consecutively placed.
I was in Cambridge at the time the revised version was published and procured and immediately perused it very carefully. Among the missing pages was an assertion supposedly by the Maulana that Jawaharlal was very ‘vain.’ That given the troubled relationship that the Maulana had with Nehru post independence and his widely known antipathy towards Krishna Menon would hardly have come as a surprise although from my reading of the Maulana’s other works,speeches and articles the particular adjective seemed somewhat incongruous;I personally have no memories of the Maulana but those who knew his well claim that he was unfailingly felicitous and was not prone to describe a colleague as ‘vain.
It was around this time that the celebrated journalist Rajmohan Gandhi ,grandson of both the Mahatma and Rajagopalachariar published a volume appellated India Wins Errors. He pointed out a multitude of factual errors that had crept into the volume .
The modern Indian historian and author Patrick French also raised several question relying heavily on Gandhi’s text. I hold both of these individuals in very high regard therefore it is with some difficulty I disagree with them when they impute motives to the Maulana which I feel does not do justice to the fierce patriot and the scholar that Maulana Saheb was.Instead I would be more inclined to question the provenance of this version.
I shall not even attempt to dignify the cheap and disparaging comment on Maulana Shabe made by Nehru’s personal secretary Mathai by commenting on it.
But the two new major assertions that emerged in the supposedly complete volume were :
-Dr.Rajendra Prasad for similar reasons manipulated the denial of Chief Ministership of Bihar to Dr.Syed Mahmood in favour of Sri Krishna Sinha , a lesser figure.
It would be apposite to examine both these claims . It is true that Veer Nariman was a towering figure. He even complained to Nehru that he was discriminated on communal grounds. Later on he complained to the Mahatma who investigated the matter and found it without substance. Nariman was expelled from the Congress when he continued to make charges and eventually joined the Forward Bloc where Subhas Bose again did not give him what he felt was his due. To level the charge of communalism against the Sardar on this basis seems unjustified specially after the Mahatma himself had investigated the matter.
As to the other matter, Dr.Rajendra Prasad’s autobiography which was published in 1946(12 years before India Wins Freedom and theMaulana’s death) states very clearly that the Maulana was fully in the loop when the decision was taken to appoint Sinha to the position. Prasad goes on to state that the Maulana actually supported him on the matter.
It would also be important to note here that the individual Prasad regarded his icon second only to Gandhi was Maulana Mazharul-Haque whose favourite niece was married to Dr.Mahmood. There is correspondence to indicate that Dr.Prasad was anxious to bring Dr.Mahmood to the national political scene n 1934 when he became the Congress President as he felt the nation needed him more than the Bihar state.
An intellectual giant and a staunch secularist who fiercely opposed Jinnah at every opportunity, Dr,Mahmood later disappointed many when he bartered his release from the prison after offering the British administration an apology in the early 1940’s which he initially attempted to deny until evidence was produced. It was Patel who actively campaigned for his rehabilitation in the Union Cabinet a few years later despite opposition by several Congress leaders.
There is yet another aspect that does not quite tally with the version as it appears in the latest volume. It is a matter of public record that one of the last political battles the Maulana had with Nehru was over the latter’s attempt to deny a second term as the President to Prasad. One is entitled to argue that this battle was more about denying Dr.Radhakrishnan the position rather than active support for Dr.Prasad .However it would be inconceivable that the Maulana would have supported a candidate he suspected of harbouring communal instincts.
There are other bizarre statements in the latest volume that do not stand up to even the most elementary scrutiny. According to this volume ,Patel and Prasad were entirely the creations of Gandhi with hardly any standing of their own. For one who brought about the reunification of 600 native states and the other who presided over the Constituent Assembly that gave us our Constitution, this comments could hardly have come from the Maulana.
57 years have elapsed since the book sans the ’30 pages’ was published. And 56 years since Dahyabhai raised concerns. More than 30 million copies have been sold and I have personally observed the book being cited extensively in several countries I have visited. As recently as this very month, a book was published by Mohammad Sajjad ,a very learned professor in the very highly respected Aligarh Muslim University on Muslim politics in Bihar where information from India Wins Freedom with the missing 30 pages is extensively relied upon.
There is hardly any mention about the very serious questions that have been raised about its authenticity. That it is a source of iconoclasm makes it even more imperative to attempt to respond to some very serious questions . It may be much more difficult now than it would have been in 1958 .But we owe it to the Maulana Saheb to settle this matter once and for all. More importantly ,we also owe it to posterity to present them with a sense of history with a high sagacious quotient.
By Professor Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad