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Amir Ali

By Syeda Saiyidain Hameed
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. xxxii 292, Rs. 895.00


The life and personality of Maulana Azad remains, to put this in a clichéd manner, an enigma. Aside from his deep scholarship, active politics and religious inclinations, there is another aspect of this enigma. Azad, unlike many other Muslim figures in India’s pantheon of great men leading the freedom struggle, seems to prove far more elusive and almost immune to the Hindu Right’s penchant for regularly testing the nationalis-tic mettle of all. It is perhaps the consistency with which Azad combined his nationalism with Islam that might explain this, unlike many prominent Muslim figures who had nationalistic phases followed by more exclusivist communal concerns, that provide the Hindu Right with the necessary grist to raise questions and doubts about their nationalism.   Syeda Saiyidain Hameed’s book adds to the very small number of works on Azad, one of the more prominent ones being Ian Henderson Douglas’s intellectual and religious biography, which Hameed has referred to a number of times. There are several aspects of Azad which strike one. The cover makes one take a long look as it displays a very youthful and handsome Azad, so unlike the image that one has grown up with of a serious, rather morose looking old man, impeccably dressed in his sherwani, dark glasses, and beard. The youthful photograph of Azad just described is a useful way of beginning this discussion as the man’s precocity and his achievements at a very young age are remarkable as Hameed has pointed out. He was just fifteen when he started the first of the many journals that he would launch. This first journal was the Lisan-us-Sidq, which was to be followed by the more famous Al-Hilal that he started in 1912 and by the Al-Balagh some years later. Azad was to become the youngest President of the Congress in 1923 at the age of 35.   These are indeed significant achieve-ments. However, it has been a longstanding complaint among India’s Muslims that despite his towering intellectual stature, Azad was never to attain a commensurate political position, especially after Indepen-dence, becoming India’s first Education Minister. Azad was perhaps never meant for the rough and tumble of politics. Indeed Azad’s sophisticated scholarly pursuits reminds one of R.H.S. Crossman’s 1937 work Plato Today, wherein the modern Plato is understood as the scholarly university academic watching politics from the sidelines, secure in the cloistered seclusion ...

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