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'Partition: Avoidable blunder'

Highlights

Rich tributes were paid from a wide section of the people to Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, chairman of Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, when he died...

Rich tributes were paid from a wide section of the people to Dr Asghar Ali Engineer, chairman of Study of Society and Secularism, Mumbai, when he died recently. Some of the views expressed by him on the developments in the country make one wonder what the reasons were for his disillusionment with the state of affairs.

But, in all fairness, it must be said that he had firm views on the Partition of the country which he termed as an 'avoidable blunder' in clear terms when he came to Vijayawada in November 1997 to deliver a lecture on "Secularism in India today" under the auspices of Siddhartha Kalapeetham, presided over by its chairman, Mummaneni Subba Rao. "Partition of India was a very unfortunate blunder and was not unavoidable but for personal ambitions and certain mistakes made by leaders," he said. The elitist Muslims under the leadership of Jinnah, led the movement for creation of Pakistan but the devout masses and religious leaders opposed it, he said.

He traced the relations between Hindus and Muslims at different stages of India's struggle for freedom and expressed the view that Jinnah expected only to derive maximum advantage for Muslims by his demand for Pakistan which he had himself never imagined would become a reality. Congress leaders handed it over to him on a platter, he said.

Here are some excerpts from the speech: "The word secular was not there in the Constitution but it was added much later. It is not opposed to religion and those who are deeply religious have a really secular outlook. Gandhiji and Abdul Kalam Azad are the best examples. Azad was an authority on the Koran and he opposed Partition on the basis of religion, and Gandhiji, a devout Hindu, opposed it till the end.

"Highly Westernized Jinnah was anything but religious and he championed the cause of a separate country for Muslims. That religion is not a binding factor for keeping people united was proved by the creation of Bangladesh. While the educated and rich Muslims acted as the lackeys of the British during freedom struggle, religious leaders issued fatwas to Muslims to join together and help the Congress in the fight for Independence. "On the issue of Ram Janma Bhoomi, I told my Muslim friends that peace was more important for them than a Masjid. I was misunderstood and there were threats against me. But the very same people have now realised and they feel the same way now that this issue can be settled politically and not by courts."

In this connection, it is worth recalling what two of the greatest nationalist Muslims have said about Partition, secularism and so on. Abdul Kalam Azad: "I think Gandhiji's approach to Jinnah on this occasion was a great political blunder. It gave a new and added importance to Jinnah which he later exploited to the full. He had lost much of his political importance after he left the Congress in the 1920s. It was largely due to Gandhiji's acts of commission and omission that Jinnah regained his importance in India's political life. In fact, it is doubtful if he would ever have achieved supremacy but for Gandhiji's attitude" (India wins freedom, page 93).

M C Chagla: "I have always taken the view that Partition was a tragedy and a calamity and I also hold the view that it was not unavoidabIe. I do not think Jinnah really expected that the Congress would ever concede Pakistan. As a legal concept, secularism means equality before the law and no distinction between one citizen and another as far as the application of laws is concerned. It also means equality of opportunity. "Secularism is an attitude of the mind and quality of the heart. It is a matter of temperament or outlook, even of feeling" (Roses in December � pages 80 & 83).

Great leader It is reported that ACB officials raided an office in Vijayawada known as 'A goose which lays golden eggs', and took into custody an officer red-handed. This is the third in the same office during the past five months. This requires no comment. When Kamaraj of revered memory was Chief Minister of Madras, chief accounts officer of Madras Corporation, Satyamurthy, was notoriously corrupt and the government ordered his prosecution.

He approached the Chief Minister and begged him on bended knees to remove him from service but not prosecute him. Kamaraj did not yield as the misappropriation was to the tune of several lakhs. Immediately he pulled out from his pocket a cyanide packet and swallowed it in the presence of the Chief Minister. Before he realised what Satyamurthy had done, the latter had dropped down dead at his feet. C Narasimham, a reputed IAS officer, was the commissioner of the corporation then and he recorded this incident in his very interesting and informative autobiography, "Me and My Times".

Kamaraj was not only honest to the core but he had never spared Ministers or officials who were guilty of moral turpitude. Kamaraj declined the office of the Prime Minister when he was the obvious choice as he thought that he was not competent for it!

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