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India Wins Freedom

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad


My forefathers came to India from Herat in Babar's days. They first settled in Agra and later moved to Delhi. It was a scholarly family and in Akbar's time, Maulana Jamaluddin became famous as a religious divine. After him, the family became more inclined to worldly affairs and several members occupied important civil positions. In Shahjehan's days, Mohammad Hadi was appointed Governor of the Agra Fort.

My father's maternal grandfather was Maulana Munawaruddin. He was one of the last Rukn-ul Mudarassin of the Mughul period. This post had been first created in Shahjehan's time and was intended to supervise the activities of the State for the promotion of learning and scholarship. The officer had to administer gifts of lands, endowments and pensions to scholars and teachers and could be compared to a Director of Education in the modern world. Mughul power had by this time declined but these major posts were still retained.

My grandfather died while my father Maulana Khairuddin was still very young. My father was therefore brought up by his maternal grandfather. Two years before the Mutiny, Maulana Munawaruddin was disgusted with the state of affairs in India and decided to migrate to Mecca. When he reached Bhopal, Nawab Sikandar jehan Begum detained him. The "Mutiny started while he was still in Bhopal and for two years he could not leave the place. He then came to Bombay but he could not go to Mecca as death overtook him there.

My father was then about twenty-five. He proceeded to Mecca and settled there. He built a house for himself and married Sheikh Mohammed Zaher Watri's daughter. Sheikh Mohammed Zaher was a great scholar of Medina whose fame had travelled outside Arabia. My father also became well known throughout the Islamic world after an Arabic work of his in ten volumes was published in Egypt. He came to Bombay several times and once came to Calcutta. In both places many became his admirers and disciples. He had also toured extensively in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. 

In Mecca, the Nahr Zubeida was the main source of water for the people. This was  constructed by Begum Zubeida, the wife of Khalif Harun-al- Rashid. In course of time, the canal had deteriorated and there was a great shortage of water in the city. This scarcity was acutest during the Haj and pilgrims had to face great difficulties. My father had this nahr repaired. He raised a fund of twenty lakhs in India, Egypt, Syria and Turkey and improved the canal in such a way that the Bedwin did not have an opportunity of damagmg it again. Sultan Abdul Majid was the Emperor of Turkey and in recognition of his services, awarded him the first class Majidi medal.

I was born in Mecca in 1888. In 1890, my father came to Calcutta with the whole family. Some time back he had fallen down in Jedda and broken his shin bone. It had been set, but
not well, and he was advised that the surgeons in Calcutta could put it right. He had intended to stay only for a short time but his disciples and admirers would not let him go. A year after we came to Calcutta, my mother died and was buried there .

My father was a man who believed in the old ways of life. He had no faith in western education and never thought of giving me an education of the modern type. He held that modem education would destroy religious faith and arranged for my education in the old traditional manner. 

The old system of education for Muslims in India was that the boys were first taught Persian and then Arabic. When they had acquired some proficiency in the language, they were taught philosophy, geometry, mathematics and algebra in Arabic. A course of Islamic theology was also required as an essential part .of such education. My father had me taught at home, as he did not like to send me to any Madrasa. There was of course the Calcutta Madrasa, but my father did not have a very high opinion of it. At first he taught me himself. Later he appointed different teachers for different subjects. He wished me to be taught by the most eminent scholar in each field.

Students who followed the traditional system of education normally finished their course at the age between twenty and twenty-five. This included a period when the young scholar had to teach pupils and thus prove that he had acquired mastery over what he had learnt. I was able to complete the course by the time I was sixteen, and my father got together some fifteen students to whom I taught higher philosophy, mathematics and logic.

It was soon after this that I first came across the writings of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. I was greatly impressed by his views on modern education. I realised that a man could not be truly educated in the modern world unless he studied modern science, philosophy and literature. I decided that I must learn English. I spoke to Maulvi Mohammed Yusuf Jafri who was then the chief examiner of the Oriental course of studies. He taught me the English alphabet and gave me Peary Churan Sarkar's First Book. As soon as I gained some knowledge of the language, I started to read the Bible. I secured English, Persian and U rdu versions of the book and read them side by side. This helped me greatly in under- standing the text. I also started to read English newspapers with the help of a dictionary .In this way, I soon acquired enough knowledge to read English books and devoted myself specially' to the study of history and philosophy.

This was a period of great mental crisis for me. I was born into a family which was deeply imbued with religious traditions. All the conventions of traditional life were accepted without question and the family did not like the least deviation from orthodox ways. I could not reconcile myself with the prevailing customs and beliefs and my heart was full of a new sense of revolt. The ideas I had acquired from my family and early training could no longer satisfy me. I felt that 1 must find the truth for myself. Almost instinctively I began to move out of my family orbit and seek my own path.

The first thing which troubled me was the exhibition of differences among the different sects of Muslims. I could not understand why they should be so opposed to one another when all of them claimed to derive their inspiration from the same source. Nor could I reconcile myself with the dogmatic  assurance with which each sect branded the others as mistaken and heretical. These differences among the orthodox schools began to raise doubts in my mind concerning religion itself. If religion expresses a universal truth, why should there be such differences and conflicts among men professing different religions? Why should each religion claim to be the sole repository of truth and condemn all others as false?

For two or three years, this unrest continued and I longed to find a solution of my doubts. I passed from one phase to another and a stage came when all the old bonds imposed on my mind by family and upbringing were completely shattered. I felt free of all conventional ties and decided that I would chalk out my own path. It was about this time that I decided to adopt the pen l:1ame 'Azad' or 'Free' to indicate that I was no longer tied" to my inherited beliefs. I propose to give a more detailed account of these changes in the first volume of my autobiography. 

This was also the period when my political ideas began to change. Lord Curzon was then the Viceroy of India. His imperialist attitude and administrative measures raised the Indian political unrest to new heights. The disturbance was most marked in Bengal, as Lord Curzon paid special attention to this province. It was politically the most advanced part of India, and the Hindus of Bengal had taken a leading part in Indian political awakening. In 1905, Lord Curzon decided to partition the province in the belief that this would weaken the Hindus .and create a permanent division between the Hindus and the Muslims of Bengal.

Bengal did not take this measure lying down. There was an unprecedented outburst of political and revolutionary enthusiasm. Shri  Arabindo Ghosh left Baroda and came to  Calcutta to make it the centre of his activities. His paper Karmayogin became a symbol of national awakening and revolt.

It was during period that I came into contact with Shri Shyam Sunder Chakravarty, who was one of the important revolutionary workers of the day. Through him I met other revolutionaries. I remember I met Shri Arabindo Ghosh on two or three occasions. The result was that I was attracted to revolutionary politics and joined one of the groups.

In those days the revolutionary groups were recruited exclusively from the Hindu middle classes. In fact all the revolutionary groups were then actively anti-Muslim. They saw that the British Government was using the Muslims against India's political struggle and the Muslims were playing the Government's game. East Bengal had become a separate province and Bamfield Fuller, who was then Lieutenant-Governor, openly said that the Government looked upon the Muslim community as its favourite wife. The revolutionaries felt that the Muslims were an obstacle to the 'attainment of Indian freedom and must, like other obstacles, be removed.

One other factor was responsible for the revolutionaries'. dislike of Muslims. The Government felt that the political awakening among the Hindus of Bengal was so great that no Hindu officer could be fully trusted in dealing with these revolutionary activities. They therefore imported a number of Muslim officers from the United Provinces for the manning of the Intelligence Branch of the Police. The result was that the Hindus of Bengal began to feel that Muslims as such were against political freedom and against the Hindu community.

When Shyam Sunder Chakravarty introduced me to other revolutionaries and my new friends found that I was willing to join them, they were greatly surprised. At first they did not fully trust me and tried to keep me outside their inner councils. In course of time they realised their mistake and I gained their confidence. I began to argue with them that they were wrong in thinking that Muslims as a community were their enemies. I told them that they should not generalise from their experience of a few Muslim officers in Bengal. In Egypt, Iran and Turkey the Muslims were engaged in revolutionary activities for the achievement of democracy and freedom. The Muslims of India would also join in the political struggle if we worked among them and tried to win them as our friends. I also pointed out that active hostility, or even the indifference of Muslims, would make the struggle for political liberty much more difficult. We must therefore make very effort to win the support and friendship of the community.

I could not at first convince my revolutionary friends about the correctness of my diagnosis. But in course of time some of them came round to my point of view. During this period I had also started to work among Muslims and found that there was a group of young men ready to take up new political tasks.

When I first joined the revolutionaries I found that their activities were confined to Bengal and Bihar. I may add that Bihar was then a part of the Province of Bengal. I pointed out to my friends that we must extend our activities to other parts of India. At first they were reluctant and said that the nature of their activities was secret. There were risks in extending their connections and if branches were established in other provinces it might be difficult to maintain the secrecy which was essential for success. I was, however, able to persuade them and within two years of the time that I joined, secret societies were established in several of the important towns of Northern India and Bombay. I could tell many interesting as well as amusing stories of the way in which organisations were set up and new members recruited, but the readers must wait for a fuller account till the first volume of my autobiography is ready.

It was during this period that I had an occasion to go out of India and tour in Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Turkey. In all these countries I found great interest in French. I also acquired a taste for the language and started to learn it, but I found that English was fast becoming the most widely spread international language and met most of my needs.

I would like to take this opportunity to correct a mistake that has been given currency by the late Mahadev Desai. When he wrote my biography, he put down a number of questions and asked me to answer them. In reply to one question I had said that when I was about twenty I made a tour of the Middle East and spent a long time in Egypt. In reply to another question I had said that traditional education was unsatisfactory and sterile not only in India, but also in the famous university of al Azhar in Cairo.

Somehow Mahadev Desai came to the conclusion that I had gone to Egypt to study in al Azhar. The truth is that I was not a student there for a single day. Perhaps his mistake arose out of his idea that if a man has acquired some learning, he must have gone to some university. When Mahadev Desai found that I had been to no Indian university, he inferred that I must have taken a degree from al Azhar .

When I visited Cairo in 1908, the system in al Azhar was so defective that it neither trained the mind nor gave adequate knowledge of ancient Islamic science and philosophy. Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah had tried to reform the system, but the old conservative ulamas  defeated all his efforts. When he lost all hopes of improving al Azhar he started a new college, Darul-Uloom, in Cairo which exists to this date. Since this was the state of affairs in al Azhar, there was no reason why I should go to study there.

From Egypt I went to Turkey and France and had intended to go to London. I could not do so, as I received news that my father was ill. I returned from Paris and did not see London till many years later.

I have already said that my political ideas had turned towards revolutionary activities before I left Calcutta in 1908. When I came to Iraq, I met some Iranian revolutionaries. In Egypt I came into contact with the followers of Mustafa Kamil Pasha. I also met a group of young Turks who had established a centre in Cairo and were publishing a weekly from there. When I went to Turkey I became friends with some of the leaders of the Young Turk movement. I kept up my correspondence with them for many years after my return to India.

Contact with these Arab and Turk revolutionaries con- firmed my political beliefs. They  expressed their surprise that Indian Muslims were either indifferent to or against nationalist demands. They were of the view that Indian Muslims should have led the national struggle for freedom, and could not understand why Indian Muslims were mere camp followers of the British. I was more convinced than ever that Indian Muslims must cooperate in the work of political liberation of the country .Steps must be taken to ensure that they were not exploited by the British Government. I felt it necessary to create a new movement among Indian Muslim and decided that on my return to India, I would take up political work with greater earnestness.

After my return, I thought for some time about my future programme of action. I came to the conclusion that we must build up public opinion and for this a journal was essential. There were a number of dailies, weeklies and monthlies published in Urdu from the Punjab and the UP but their standard was not very high. Their get up and printing were as poor as their contents. They were produced by the lithographic process and could not therefore embody any of the features of modern journalism. Nor were they able to print half-tone pictures. I decided that my journal should be attractive in get up and powerful in its appeal. It must be set up in type and reproduced by the lithographic process. Accordingly I established the Al Hilal Press and the first number of the journal Al Hilal was published in June 1912.

The publication of Al Hilal marks a turning point in the history of Urdu journalism. It achieved unprecedented popularity within a short time. The public was attracted not only by the superior printing and production of the paper but even more by the new note of strong nationalism preached by it. Al Hilal created a revolutionary stir among the masses. The demand for Al Hilal was so great that within the first three months, all the old issues had to be reprinted as every new subscriber wanted the entire set.

The leadership of Muslim politics at this time was in the hands of the Aligarh party. Its  members regarded them- selves as the trustees of Sir Syed Ahmed's policies. Their basic tenet was that Muslims must be loyal to the British Crown and remain aloof from the freedom movement. When Al Hilal raised a different slogan and its popularity and circulation increased fast, they felt that their leadership was threatened. They therefore began to oppose Al Hilal and even went to the extent of threatening to kill its editor. The more the old leadership opposed it, the more popular Al Hilal became with the community. Within two years, Al Hilal reached a circulation of 26,000 copies per week, a figure which was till then unheard of in Urdu journalism. 

The Government was also disturbed by this success of Al Hilal. It demanded a security of Rs 2,000 under the Press Act and thought this might curb its tone. 1 did not allow myself to be daunted by these pinpricks. Soon the Government forfeited the deposit and demanded a fresh deposit of Rs 10,000. This also was soon lost. In the mean- time war had broken out in 1914 and the Al Hilal press was confiscated in 1915. After five months, I started a new press called Al Balagh and brought out a journal under the same name. The Government now felt that they could not stop my activities by using only the Press Act. Accordingly they resorted to the Defence of India Regulations and in April 1916 externed me from Calcutta. The Governments of Punjab, Delhi, UP and Bombay had already prohibited me from entering these provinces under the same Regulations. The only place I could go to was Bihar and I went to Ranchi. After another six months, I was interned in Ranchi and remained in detention till 31 December 1919. On 1 January 1920, I was, along with other internees and prisoners, released from internment under the King's declaration.

Gandhiji had by this time appeared on the Indian political scene. When I was an internee at Ranchi, he came there in connection with his work among the peasants in Champaran. He expressed a wish to meet me but the Bihar Government did not give him the necessary permission. It was therefore only after my release in January 1920 that I met him for the first time in Delhi. There was a proposal to send a deputation to the Viceroy to acquaint him with the feelings of Indian Muslims regarding the Khilafat and Turkey's future. Gandhiji participated in the discussions and expressed his complete sympathy and interest in the proposal. He declared himself ready to be associated with the Muslims on this issue. On 20 January 1920, a meeting was held in Delhi. Apart from Gandhiji, Lokmanya Tilak and other Congress leaders also supported the stand of Indian Muslims on the question of the Khilafat. 

The deputation met the Viceroy. I had signed the memorial but did not go with the  deputation as I was of the view that matters had gone beyond memorials and deputations. In his reply, the Viceroy said that the Government would offer the necessary facilities if a deputation was sent to London to present the Muslim point of view before the British Government. He expressed his inability to do anything himself.

The question now arose about the next step. A meeting was held in which Mr Mohammed Ali, Mr Shaukat Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Maulvi Abdul Bari of Firangi-mahal, Lucknow, \vere also present. Gandhiji presented his programme of non-cooperation. He said that the days of deputations and memorials were over. We must withdraw all support from the Government and this alone would persuade the Government to come to terms. He suggested that all Government titles should be returned, law courts and educational institutions should be boycotted, Indians should resign from the services and refuse to take any part in the newly constituted legislatures.

As soon a!o Gandhiji described his proposal I remembered that this was the programme which Tolstoy had outlined many years ago. In 1901 an anarchist attacked the King of Italy. Tolstoy at the time addressed an open letter to the anarchists that the method of violence was morally wrong and politically of little use. If one man was killed, another would.always take his place. In fact violence always engendered greater violence. In the Greek legend, 999 warriors sprouted out of the blood of every warrior killed. To indulge in political murder was to sow the dragon's teeth. Tolstoy advised that the proper method to paralyse an oppressive Government was to refuse taxes, resign from all services and boycott institutions supporting the Government. He believed
that such a programme would compel any Government to come to terms. I also remembered that I had myself suggested a similar programme in some articles in Al Hilal.

Others reacted according to their own backgrounds. Hakim Ajmal Khan said that he wanted some time to consider the programme. He would not like to advise others till he was willing to accept the programme himself. Maulvi Abdul Bari said that Gandhiji's suggestions raised fundamental issues and he could not give a reply till he had meditated and sought divil'e guidance. Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali said they would wait till Maulvi Abdul Bari's decision was known. Gandhiji then turned to me. I said without a moment's hesitation that I fully accepted the programme. If people really wanted to help Turkey, there was no alternative to the  programme sketched by Gandhiji.

After a few weeks, a Khilafat Conference was held at Meerut. It was in this conference that Gandhiji preached for the first time the non-cooperation programme from a pub- lic platform. After he had spoken, I followed him and gave him my unqualified support.

In September 1920, a special session of the Congress was held at. Calcutta to consider the programme of action pre-pared by Gandhiji. Gandhiji said that the programme of non-cooperation was necessary if we wished to achieve Swaraj and solve the Khilafat problem in a satisfactory manner. Lala Lajpat Rai was the President of this session and Mr C.R. Das, one of its leading figures. Neither of them agreed with Gandhiji. Bipin Chandra Pal also spoke forcefully and said that the best weapon to fight the British Government was to boycott British goods. He did not have much faith in the other items of Gandhiji's programme. In spite of their opposition, the resolution for the non-cooperation movement was passed with an overwhelming majority. 

There followed a period of intensive touring to prepare the country for the non-cooperation programme. Gandhiji travelled extensively. I was with him most of the time and Mohammed Ali and Shaukat Ali were often our companions. In December 1920, the annual session of the Congress was held in Nag pur. By this time, the temper of the country had changed. Mr C.R. Das now openly favoured the non-cooperation programme. Lala Lajpat Rai was at first somewhat opposed but when he found that the Punjab delegates were all supporting Gandhiji he also joined our ranks. It was during this session that Mr Jinnah finally left the Congress.

The Government retaliated by arresting leaders throughout the country. In Bengal, Mr C.R. Das and I were among the first to be arrested. Subhas Chandra Bose and Birendra Nath Sasmal also joined us in prison. We were all placed in the European ward of the Alipur Central Jail which became a centre for political discussions.

Mr C.R. Das was sentenced to six months' imprisonment. I was held under trial for a long time and finally awarded one year's imprisonment. I was in fact not released till1 January 1923. Mr C.R. Das was released earlier and presided over the Congress at its Gaya session. During this session sharp differences of opinion appeared among the Congress leaders. Mr C.R. Das, Motilal Nehru and Hakim Ajmal Khan formed the Swaraj Party and presented the Council entry programme which was opposed by the orthodox followers of Gandhiji. Congress was thus divided between no-changers and pro-changers. When I came out, I tried to bring about a reconciliation between the two groups and we were able to reach an agreement in the special session of the Congress in September 1923. I was then thirty-five and asked to preside over this session. It was said that I was the youngest man to be elected President of the Congress.

After 1923, Congress activities remained mainly in the hands of the Swaraj Party. It obtained large majorities in almost all Legislatures and carried the fight on the par- liamentary front. Congressmen who remained outside the Swaraj Party continued with their constructive programme but they could not attract as much public support or attention as the Swaraj Party. There were many incidents which have a bearing on the future development of Indian politics but I must ask the reader to wait for a fuller account till the first volume of my autobiography is published. 

In 1928, political excitement mounted with the appointment of the Simon Commission and its visit to India. In 1929, Congress passed the Independence resolution and gave the British Government one year's notice of its intention to launch a mass movement if the national demand was not fulfilled. The British refused to comply with our demand, and in 1930, Congress declared that the Salt Laws would be violated. Many people were sceptical when the Salt Satyagraha began but as the movement gathered strength both the Government and the people were taken by surprise. The Government took strong action and declared the Congress an unlawful organisation. It ordered the arrest of the Congress President and his Working Committee. We met the challenge by authorising each Congress President to nominate the successor. I was elected one of the Presidents and nominated my Working Committee. Before I was arrested, I nominated Dr Ansari as my successor. At first he was not willing to join the movement but I was able to persuade him. In this way, we were able to baffle the Government and keep the movement going.

My arrest was on the basis of a speech I had delivered in Meerut. I was therefore detained in the Meerut jail for about a year and a half.

After the struggle had continued over a year, Lord Irwin released Gandhiji and the other members of the Working Committee. We met first at Allahabad and then at Delhi and the Gandhi-Irwin Pact was signed. This led to a general release of Congressmen and the participation of Congress in the Round Table Conference. Gandhiji was sent as our sole representative but the negotiations proved abortive and Gandhiji returned empty handed. On his return from London, Gandhiji was again arrested and a policy of fresh repression launched. Lord Willingdon was the new Viceroy and he took strong action against all Congressmen. I was at Delhi and detained in the Delhi jail for over a year. This period saw many incidents of great significance in Indian political history but for these also the readers must wait for the first volume.

In 1935, the Government of India Act was passed which provided for provincial autonomy and a federal Government at the Centre. It is here that the story I wish to tell in the present volume begins.

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