It can happen only in ‘secular’ India that a person who was responsible for the vivisection of the country is feted in all quarters
The charade of ‘secularism’ was at its peak in India last week when the country ‘celebrated’ the 200th birth anniversary of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) and father of Muslim separatism in the subcontinent. Worse, this farce has gone unnoticed and unchallenged.
While several newspapers carried articles eulogising the “virtues” of Sir Syed and his lasting “services” to the country, former President Pranab Mukherjee delivered the commemoration address at AMU’s Athletics Ground last Tuesday. Terming Sir Syed as a “visionary leader of India”, Mr Mukherjee heaped praise on his creation, AMU, calling it as a “perfect example of Indian nationalism and ethos”.
If India can hail Sir Syed a hero, why deny such an honour to Muhammad Iqbal and Mohammed Ali Jinnah? The trio — Sir Syed, Jinnah and Iqbal — is revered as the spiritual founders of Pakistan. All three are described in Pakistani school books as the Muslim leaders who stressed Hindu-Muslim separateness, promoting a divisive mindset responsible for creation of Pakistan.
In an article in Express Tribune on Iqbal and Sir Syed, Pervez Hoodbhoywrote: They share many commonalities. Both were knighted for services to the British Empire, both advocated purdah and had strongly traditional religious backgrounds”. The Express Tribune is a multi-edition English daily of Pakistan and Mr Hoodbhoy a noted Pakistan nuclear physicist.
Pakistan, to underline its distinct identity, has not named any of its public buildings or institutions after pre-Partition personalities like Gandhiji, Netaji or Bhagat Singh. However, there are dozens of institutions of eminence named after Sir Syed — recognising his contribution to the ideology of Pakistan. Apart from holding numerous functions in Sir Syed’s memory, the Pakistan postal department also issued a commemorative stamp of ‘10 to mark his 200th birth anniversary last week.
While Iqbal and Jinnah had started as nationalists and later joined the British bandwagon to Balkanise India, Sir Syed was committed to the two-nation theory right from the beginning of his public life. He worked to bring English education to Muslims so that they could gang up with the British against Hindus and he succeeded in that.
Sir Syed belonged to a feudal Muslim family who joined the East India Company in 1838 and became a judge at a small causes court in 1867, retiring from service in 1876. During the first War of Independence of 1857, he remained loyal to the Empire and saved several European lives and won the trust of the British.
On April 1, 1869, he went, along with his son Syed Mahmood, to England where he was awarded the Order of the Star of India on August 6. His close association with the British proved mutually rewarding.
In 1887, he was nominated as a member of Civil Services Commission by Lord Dufferin. In the following year, he established the United Patriotic Association at Aligarh to promote political co-operation with the British and ensure Muslim participation in the British Indian Government.
Sir Syed was bestowed the title of Khan Bahadur and was subsequently knighted by British Government in 1898. He was created a Knight Commander of the Order of Star of India (KCSI) for his loyalty to the British crown through his membership of the Imperial Legislature Council. Like Abdullahs of the Kashmir of our times, Sir Syed too had a forked tongue. He could change his tune depending on the occasion and audience. But his basic agenda of widening the gulf among Hindus and Muslims — and cementing ties between his co-religionists and the British masters — remained unchanged.
In this context, Sir Syed’s speech made at Meerut on March 16, 1888 is very relevant. Excerpts: “Now, suppose that the English community and the army were to leave India, taking with them all their cannons and their splendid weapons and all else, who then would be the rulers of India? Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations – the Mohammedans and the Hindus – could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other… Oh, my brother Musalmans, for seven hundred years in India you have had imperial sway. You know what it is to rule. Be not unjust to that nation which is ruling over you, and think also on this how upright is her rule. Of such benevolence as the English government shows to the foreign nations under her there is no example in the history of the world.
“We ought to unite with that nation with whom we can unite. No Mohammedan can deny this: That God has said that no people of other religions can be friends of the Mohammedans except the Christians.Therefore, we should cultivate a friendship with them, and should adopt the method by which their rule may remain permanent and firm in India, and may not pass into the hands of the Bengalis.”
Sir Syed showed his contempt for Congress and its leaders by terming them as “Bengalis” as the bulk of Congress leadership those days came from Bengal.In the last ten years of his life, he brazenly sided with the British, vehemently opposed the Congress and propagated the two-nation theory assiduously. His brain child, AMU, played a decisive role in the creation of Pakistan. In fact, as early as 1941, MA Jinnah had recognised the contribution of AMU students to his cause and termed the university as “the arsenal of Pakistan”. On August 31, 1941, addressing the students of AMU, Liaquat Ali Khan declared: “We look to you for every kind of ammunition to win the battle for independence of (the) Muslim nation.” Khan went on to become the first Prime Minister of Pakistan.
The Aga Khan also paid a tribute to the students of Aligarh 1954 in these words: “Often, in civilized history a University has supplied the spring board for a nation’s intellectual and spiritual renaissance… Aligarh is no exception to this rule. But we may claim with pride that Aligarh was the product of our own efforts and for no outside benevolence and surely it may also be deemed that the independent sovereign nation of Pakistan was born in the Muslim University of Aligarh.”
Without AMU there would probably be no Pakistan today. And without Sir Syed’s “vision” that translated into the two-nation theory, there would have been no AMU with such destructive potential.
By Balbir Punj
(The writer is a political commentator and a former BJP Rajya Sabha MP)
Courtesy: Daily Pioneer