Sardar Patel, Maulana Azad, And National Mythology


Part – 2

Umair Azmi

In the first part of this series, Rajmohan Gandhi’s defence of Patel as fair and not communally prejudiced was compared with Maulana Azad’s testimony and Rajmohan Gandhi’s insistence on painting the Maulana as a liar.

In this second part, we look at statements without reference to Maulana Azad’s testimony and how even on their own, they are quite revealing, for both Patel as well as his biographer, followed by a summarization of the issues in both parts.

EVEN if the comparison of the excerpt in question with Maulana Azad’s testimony is ignored, there are elements within the excerpt itself which reveal an unsuccessful attempt at masking prejudice. In an attempt at balancing out Patel against Azad, Rajmohan Gandhi writes, “If Vallabhbhai differed from Gandhi, he clashed with Azad. In this stressful time, each thought the other communal, and while Azad blamed Patel for plumping for partition and persuading Gandhi to acquiesce in it, Vallabhbhai could not forget the Maulana’s inability to prevent the qaum’s crossover to the League.”

Maulana Azad details instances based on which he considered Patel communal. For the equivalence to hold, would it not be necessary to point out the Maulana’s actions that would lend themselves to a similar charge? Attempting to balance out Azad’s blaming of Patel for advocating for partition with the Maulana’s inability to prevent the qaum’s crossover to the League is yet another lame attempt at establishing equivalence where none exists.

Maulana’s complaint pertains to Patel’s personal actions and words. That Patel would hold it against Azad that he was unable to control the minds of the Muslim masses betrays the mind of a pygmy rather than a giant. That a historian should point out such an instance almost approvingly reveals much about the historian’s own biases. (For that matter, Rajmohan Gandhi, in acting as the knight in shining armour defending the founding fathers, has a knack for unwittingly revealing unsavoury aspects of his own views even in the briefest of exchanges. For instance, his comments on the book “The South African Gandhi”, and the response by the book’s author show him in unflattering light. Also the lengthy exchange with Arundhati Roy over “The Doctor and the Saint”.) More importantly, while “plumping for partition” could rightfully be cited as a communal act, how does the “inability to prevent the qaum’s crossover to the League” be considered an evidence for communalism?

The next paragraph is even more revealing: “After the August-September killings, both often laid claim to the same scarce resource – money or space or a quantity of tents or blankets or a protecting police unit – Azad wanting it for Muslims in transit camps, Vallabhbhai for Hindu or Sikh refugees.” The contest over scarce money, space or other materials is understandable. But how could there be a contest over “a protecting police unit” considering that in Delhi (as in most other areas that came to form the Indian state), it was the Muslims who were overwhelmingly the victims of lethal attacks, just as Hindus and Sikhs were overwhelmingly the victims in the areas awarded to Pakistan? Far from being any sort of vindication as intended by Rajmohan Gandhi, Patel’s contestation over protecting police units when Muslims were the ones being killed in broad daylight shows him as one filled with communal hatred, and hardly true to the post of responsibility he graced, or rather defiled.

The “fairness” speaks for itself

Patel’s “fairness” is also brought out officially in all its glory. A Home Ministry secretary under Patel laid out the position of Muslims with complete clarity, drawing attention:

to one aspect of security which has assumed urgency and importance in the present context of relations with Pakistan. There is growing evidence that a section of Muslims in India is out of sympathy with the Government of India, particularly because of its policy regarding Kashmir and Hyderabad, and is actively sympathetic to Pakistan. Such Government servants are likely to be useful channels of information and would be particularly susceptible to the influence of their relatives.

It is probable that among Muslim employees of Government there are some who belong to these categories. It is obvious that they constitute a dangerous element in the fabric of administration; and it is essential that they should not be entrusted with any confidential or secret work or allowed to hold key posts. For this purpose I would request you to prepare lists of Muslim employees in your Ministry and in the offices under your control, whose loyalty to the Dominion of India is suspected or who are likely to constitute a threat to security. These lists should be carefully prepared and scrutinised by the Heads of Departments or other higher authority, and should be used for the specific purposes of excluding persons from holding key posts or handling confidential or secret work.

I need scarcely add that I am sure you will see that there is no witch hunting; and that only genuine cases are included in the lists. Those who are loyal and whose work is satisfactory should of course be given every cause to feel that their claims are no less than those of men belonging to the majority community.

What does it tell of a mind that paints all Indian Muslims as probable traitors while considering the RSS as “patriots” though misguided?

The legacy of Patel

To expect legatees to be perfect imitators of the their idol is to expect human particularities to be absent. A more reasonable expectation is to draw out the similarities and continuities. Patel’s actions and words provide the template for putting ‘Muslims in their place’ both for the hardcore Hindutvavadis as well as their poor imitations.

Patel’s belligerent defence focussing on notions of “unity”, “pride” to deflect from accusations of inaction finds echoes in the defence over the Gujarat carnage of 2002.

The allergy to a Muslim with even the most minimal independence as displayed in Patel’s allergy for Maulana Azad is an attitude that is common to all political parties.

The circular from Patel’s ministry is substantively the same message that the BJP and the RSS scream day in and day out, declaring all Muslims’ loyalty as suspect – never mind that spies on the payroll of Pakistan are quite often foundfrom their ranks.

But perhaps his most lasting legacy, followed by both the hardcore saffronites as well as the Congress, is his production of kitchen knives as proof of a grand Muslim conspiracy. Commenting on this action, Saeed Naqvi remarks: “Patel, it turns out, may well have established the pattern for the future. In all Hindu-Muslim conflicts, it would be put out that Muslims were well armed. Subsequently, in cases of communal violence, ‘arms’ would inevitably be found with the Muslims. These were the earliest signals given out to the police force of independent India. Today, this is usually the knee-jerk response of the country’s police force towards the Indian Muslim. In cases of alleged terrorism and communal violence, ready-made evidence will be found heaped upon him.”

One often reads and hears a lot about the importance of dissent from the media. But the limits for Muslims are all too apparent when nothing from Maulana Azad in respect to Patel makes its way to even the liberal media. For in the context of the national orthodoxies regarding Patel’s virtues, Maulana Azad’s words are a note of dissent. Praises for his vision as the first Minister of Education are more often tools to reduce his stature and ignore his words in the realm of politics and power, rather than a genuine appreciation of the man. A metaphor for what is required of the Indian Muslims (and others such as Dalits relegated to a secondary status) by the powers that be: acceptable in the fields of culture, education, etc but genuine empowerment that insists on its own voice is a strict no.


Umair Azmi holds a Masters in Engineering from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and is currently pursuing a Masters in History.


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