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Hasrat Mohani’s hypothesis

. . .the ’Makkah, Mathura and Moscow’ circuit

by Jawed Naqvi, 23 October 2008

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Combat Law

The Hasrat Mohani angle

Investigations into the recent bomb blasts have created a furore about the role of Azamgarh on the basis of what the police has to say. Yet the district and eastern Uttar Pradesh in general have had a syncretic legacy that has been obscured by all the bad press of the last few days. Jawed Naqvi recalls some of the prominent personalities who represented that spirit of mediating apparently irreconcilable tendencies in their personal philosophies and their political ideologies.

Munish Narain Saxena perfectly linked Kaifi Azmi and Maulana Hasrat Mohani. All three ended up in the Communist Party of India albeit from completely different routes. And in this nexus perhaps lies part of the explanation if not the complete sociology of why the backwaters of eastern Uttar Pradesh have come on the crosshair of India’s terror scan.

Hasrat Mohani had one foot in the communist movement, the other in the Muslim League. With his syncretic worldview that brought together the religious duties of Haj into a blend with his impassioned romance with Hindu deities, he remained a perpetual bugbear for Mohammed Ali Jinnah and of his single-minded quest for Pakistan. Munish Narain Saxena, who came from a polished Kayasth family of Lucknow, became a communist layabout. His earthy but refined humour, razor-sharp analysis of issues from the rustic to the urbane and wit, laced with Lucknow’s finest sensibilities, endeared him to the cultural giants that straddled India’s blossom years in the 1940-50’s, including the legendary Asrarul Haq Majaaz. Before he married the sister in law of Khwaja Ahmed Abbas and settled down in Bombay as editor of the Urdu and Hindi editions of Blitz, Munish worked as a communist activist traversing much of
Uttar Pradesh on his rickety bicycle.

On one of these forays into rural India, he once told me, he ferried Maulana Hasrat Mohani on the bicycle carrier. The Maulana’s whistle stop meetings in the Indian heartland were meant to galvanise support among the poorest villagers and the Muslim gentry for the raging anti-colonial movement. Munish mimicked the Maulana’s nasal accent very well. "Hindustan ka musalmaan communist ho sakta hai, ya communalist ho sakta hai. Wo nationalist nahi ho sakta." I am not sure if the words came as part of the Maulana’s impromptu assertion at one of the meetings, or were a thought out thesis.

The essence of the Maulana’s claim that Indian Muslims were more inclined to becoming communists or communalists rather than nationalists can be contested by a large number of Muslims who joined Gandhi. On second thoughts, however, going by the historical class character that visited nationalist fervour in most colonial societies, an urban middle class was largely missing among Indian Muslims unlike their Hindu counterparts. How far the relative absence of it among the Muslims was eventually responsible for the Maulana’s thesis, if it was one, is not easy to guess. Had he juxtaposed communist ideas with religious intensity, rather than communalism, it could have better explained how religious scholars of the stature of Shibli Nomani together with the Deoband lot came to stand shoulder to shoulder with Gandhi.

It would also explain how Kaifi Azmi, before he became an eminent progressive poet, had struggled between deep religiosity and communism. Belonging to a well to do Shia family of Azamgarh in eastern Uttar Pradesh, Kaifi had set out to become a religious preacher and had joined Lucknow’s Madrastul Waizeen for that purpose. It was a tradition among Muslim families in Uttar Pradesh to assign one of the sons to the madrasa. While his eldest brother became a lawyer and the middle brother joined "government service", Kaifi, the youngest of them was dispatched to Lucknow. He staged a strike there at the madrasa, mouthed radical ideas and got himself expelled. This is when Munish and Syed Mohammed Mehdi, already with the communist movement as students, collared him. Kaifi’s initial poetry, not part of his known collection, saw him declaring Hazrat Ali, the Shia hero and Imam, as a socialist. After his poems were published in Qaumi Jang, the communist party’s Urdu newspaper run by Sajjad Zaheer and Ali Sardar Jafri, he was summoned to Bombay where he became a party whole-timer.

Meanwhile, Azamgarh, which produced Shibli Nomani and Kaifi Azmi as great Indian icons, was also undergoing a societal shift. Many of its poorer men folk were harnessed to serve the British Empire as indentured labourers in far away lands. A second wave of emigration came with the economic boom in the Gulf. Like many parts of India, including Gujarat and Kerala, which benefited from the petrodollar economies, Azamgarh too was witnessing a minor boom when it became a target of India’s rightward communal thrust led by the unbridled Hindutva hordes. The so-called terror trail that links the recent blasts in several Indian cities including Delhi, has led all the way to the Muslim quarters of Azamgarh. Its residents vehemently deny police accusations. In a meeting with human rights activists, lawyers and progressive journalists in Delhi’s Jamia Nagar, where a controversial "encounter" took place recently, relatives and friends of the two Azamgarh men killed and those arrested or missing were certain that it was a stage-managed show.

News reports raised more doubts about the incident. How could two alleged terrorists escape, as is being alleged, from the only door that could be used but was surrounded by armed security men? The inspector, according to the reports quoting his post mortem analysis, was shot from close range in his back. Who killed him and how? The post mortem of the dead men shows other severe injuries, indicating a scuffle. There are lots of Miss Marples and Perry Masons doing the rounds of Jamia Nagar. Lost in the many theories circulating about the involvement of Pakistani intelligence, Hindutva groups and Indian agencies in the bloody mayhem, which is currently located in Azamgarh, is a potentially significant clue that Maulana Hasrat Mohani may have given. Just as it was possible for a deeply religious Muslim poet to acquire a liberal worldview it is equally possible to drive an open-minded people into a religious corner. Azamgarh had produced nationalists like Shibli Nomani and communist patriots like Kaifi Azmi. In an ominous twist that makes Hasrat Mohani’s hypothesis look more tenable than it was during his lifetime, the ability of Indian Muslims to remain glued to a nationalist ideology is getting seriously impaired.
Makkah, Mathura and Moscow (three Ms) were Hasrat Mohani’s popular symbol. He did not find any conflict between them. While he performed Haj a number of times, he also religiously visited Mathura to derive inspiration from the teachings and philosophy of Krishna. He was derisive of some of Gandhi’s approaches, though he admired him. He compared Gandhi with Lenin thus:

Gandhi ki tarah baith ke kaateinge kyun charakh

Lenin ki tarah denge na duniya ko hila hum?

(Why waste time with Gandhi’s spinning wheel,
- And not usher a revolution with Lenin’s zeal?)

The Maulana became a member of India’s Constituent Assembly and in a memorable speech he told Home Minister Sardar Patel: "You should not think that Muslims are orphans today. I am here to defend their rights against all odds and will fight for them till death." In his absence, Indian Muslims are up for grabs, ever more prone to being caught in the communitarian crossfire that passes for nationalism.