An Intellectual Debate in Delhi and Washington over Syed Shahabuddin

Syed Shahabuddin

By Muslim Mirror News,

Syed Shahabuddin
Syed Shahabuddin

New Delhi, April 25: Syed Shahabuddin, former diplomat and parliamentarian though almost inactive in politics today, is still a hot topic of discussion among intellectuals in the Indian Muslim community both in India and abroad. Last week eminent edupreneur PA Inamdar launched a book on life and works of Syed Shahabuddin Syed Shahabuddin – Outstanding Voice of Muslim India. The launch has followed a healthy informative discussion among intellectuals over Syed Shahabuddin.

Below is an informative chat between two such intellectuals Kaleem Kawaja (Washington) and P Mohammad (Delhi). IIT-Kharagpur alumnus Kaleem Kawaja is senior scientist at NASA, USA. He is also president of Association of Indian Muslims of America. AMU alumnus P  Mohammad is IT professional based in Delhi. Mohammad and his small team of AMU alumni have been lobbying in ministries for basic issues of Muslims like education and economic upliftment.

An Intellectual Chat over Syed Shahabuddin and Indian Politics

Kaleem Kawaja
Kaleem Kawaja

Kaleem Kawaja: I do not understand why some people in our community lay the fault for most things that have gone against us in the arena of politics at the foot of Mr. Shahabuddin. Surely in all major political events of the community other leaders of our community were in the team where Mr Shahabuddin was one of the several leaders. Why don’t we spread the blame on other Muslim leaders? Also why we do not look at the fact that BJP/RSS attacked the Muslim community in most of those instances and all that Muslim leaders could do was to defend. Muslim leaders did not pick up these agendas and focus on them. Could Muslims have given up their identity as Muslims, their age old customs/traditions, many flowing from Quran in our daily lives?


Parwez Mohammad
P Mohammad

P Mohammad: I think, in retrospect leaders are evaluated as this is the duty of a visionary leader to define goals and strategic visions so that their followers are benefitted without any risk of loss/damage. Shahabuddin Saheb is like a typical emotional Mullah but talking in more articulated English and what he tried to achieve out of all these that he was not at all clear. Even, at the height of his popularity, his complete discourse was only against the Indian state’s biased behavior and he did not direct his energy for internal institutional reforms of Muslim Indians. This was a great difference from Sir Syed’s line of thinking as Sir Syed always emphasized internal reforms and modern education and politics was his later priorities but Shahabuddin Saheb was so much passionate about the politics as if his sole aim was to polarize Indian society and this was the most negative contribution of his political activism in India.

RSS/BJP is certain portion of the Indian population and this is the duty of a visionary leader to devise a strategy where these handfuls of RSS/BJP can be sidelined from Indian mainstream, instead of helping them to improve their numbers in parliament from 2 to 89. Here, we are celebrating Shahabuddin Saheb only so that an objective analysis must be for the leader in discussion only and for the rest of the lot even they are not worthy of discussion.

Kaleem Kawaja: If you condemn Mr. Shahabuddin as a bad leader of Muslims, tell me who is a good leader of Muslims in India since 1947?

P Mohammad: Unfortunately, we don’t have any good leaders after 1947 and I think, reason behind is very few Muslim leaders took the line of Sir Syed and Maulana Azad and places like AMU, a leading Muslim institution, failed the community miserably.

Kaleem Kawaja: Let us look at some major events that you have mentioned.

1. Babri Mosque: BJP/RSS led by Advani etal led a major nationwide hate campaign against Babri mosque; they had NO evidence or other facts to support their claim. Yet they raised a storm in the nation. Congress PM Rajiv Gandhi opened the locked gates of the mosque to let hordes of Hindus march in. There were two Babri mosque protection committees; one led by Mr. Shahabuddin, other led by Zafaryab Jilani. Also AIMPLB (Ali Miyan) was a leader in the Muslim team. Also many secular Hindu groups supported the Muslim position.

All Muslim strategies were jointly developed and executed by this team. Why should the blame for this fiasco not be first assigned to BJP/RSS and then from the Muslim side spread on all Muslim leaders involved? Why single out Shahabuddin?  BJP/RSS were adamant that the mosque should be removed and a temple built there. They refused to build a temple adjacent to the mosque on that land and refused any other negotiated compromise.

P Mohammad: The Shahbano case was launched by Maulana Ali Mian/Shahabuddin Saheb first as if that judgment was against the very Islam. Shahbuddin Saheb/ Maulana Ali Mian created complete atmosphere where every Muslim Indians start thinking “Qaum Khatre Main Hai”, even the actual Quranic and Islamic position was not explained to the masses. Finally, Rajeev Gandhi was forced to come out with a law and even that law was wrongly drafted and later on Maulana Ali Mian conceded his defeat by saying “Khodi Pahar Aur Nikli Chuhia” in his interview about the Shahbano Case.

Just to neutralize the Shahbano blunder Rajiv Gandhi opened the lock of Babri Masjid and then the RSS/BJP got a God-send issue. Shahbano case is the reason of real promotion of the BJP/RSS and person like Shahabuddin Saheb and Maulana Ali Mian must be held responsible for growth of RSS/BJP in India.

Kaleem Kawaja: 2. Muslim Personal Law: BJP/RSS wanted to have a uniform personal law for all including Muslims in which none of the Quranic elements that are enjoined on Muslims could be included. But they wanted some Hindu community social elements included. How could Muslims agree to a law like that? Although I agree that the current Muslim personal law has several defects e.g. triple divorce in one sitting, and denial of alimony to the divorced wife. Again Shahabuddin was one leader among several Muslim leaders who opposed the uniform personal law. So why blame Shahabuddin only?

P Mohammad: BJP/RSS and all Hindutva elements are very much aware that in place like India, Uniform Civil Code can’t be enforced. So even Shahbuddin Saheb will not be there to counter them then, also this is not a practical agenda of BJP/RSS and that is the reason this Uniform Civil Code is completely fading out from even RSS/BJP agenda. Of course, if Shahabuddin Sahib might be active then this issue is still live because many of the issues are pushed by the fuel of BIG MOUTH of our reactionary and ignorant Muslim Leaders.

Kaleem Kawaja: 3. Shah Bano affair and Muslim Women’s Divorce Act: The Muslim position was initiated by AIMPLB; most Muslim leaders supported it; so did Shahabuddin.  I agree with you that this case has caused huge damage to the Muslim community and Muslim women. It was a blunder committed by the Muslim leaders. But Shahabuddin was only one of the many Muslim leaders who supported it. So why not spread the blame on all Muslim leaders?

P Mohammad: There were two leaders on the front, one was Maulana Ali Mian and the second was Shahabuddin Saheb and if Shahabddin Saheb had been visionary then he should not have joined the bandwagon of Maulanas but he very comfortably did it because for the easy popularities as he was the person most articulate among the lot. So because of this Shahbano case, a colossal damage had been done. Shahabuddin Saheb must be held accountable for years to come by younger generations.

Kaleem Kawaja 4. In the 1980s which was the height of Shahabuddin’s popularity, most Muslim organizations and leaders totally supported the positions that Shahabuddin articulated in the media. Of all Muslim leaders he was/is one of the very few who has excellent command over what provisions exist in the Indian constitutions for Muslims, what protection the laws of India provide to Muslims. He used that to defend Muslims against the onslaught of BJP/RSS. Yes, he was strong in his defense and just because Muslims are a minority he did not agree to the unfair demands of Hindus and did not compromise. He wanted Hindus/BJP to meet Muslims half way.

P Mohammad: Since Shahabuddin Saheb was very popular among the masses so that was the opportunity to lead them in right directions and he should have started doing internal institutional reforms as well but instead of reform he took up the popular issues like a Hindutva Rabble Rouser and finally helped the cause of RSS. He never talked tough against any problems within the internal institutional reforms of Muslim society.

You are living in the USA and you know better about the American Black and Civil Rights Movements and I think, Shahabuddin sahib was not able to learn anything from these historic movements of liberations of Black Americans and he simply get swayed by reactionary politics and finally benefitted rightist forces a lot.

Kaleem Kawaja: 5. Jinnah like: Unlike Jinnah who ignored the harm that will happen to Muslims who remained in India, Shahabuddin did not make unfair demands on Hindus. He only demanded that Muslims be guaranteed to live in India with equal rights as citizens. BJP wanted Muslims to surrender 1000 mosques to be demolished/converted into temples. Was it possible for Muslims to accept that?  BJP wanted Muslims to apologize for the “genocide of Hindus during the 600 years long Muslim rule”. Is it possible for Muslims to agree to this false distortion?

P Mohammad: Babri Mosque issue can’t be fought politically; this case must be dealt within the court of law as the case today is in the Apex Court. Shahabuddin sahib easily started doing batting on the pitch designed by Hindutva forces without giving even a second thought. Whatever demand you were talking about that is already enshrined within India’s constitutional framework for Muslims so the best thing would be to educate Muslims, talk about rule of law and align with all sorts of popular democratic movements. Just shouting from rooftop and talking about equal right does not hold any water. In India all weaker sections are at the receiving end and Muslims are weaker socio-economically than all, that is the reason these are the problems mainly with the Muslims and if the rule of law will be strengthened then you can hold accountable the system against any bias. So Shahabuddin Saheb should talk about RTI/RTE, Strengthening rule of law and Strengthening inner party democracies instead of doing all rabble rousing without any results.

Kaleem Kawaja: 6. Sir Syed: In his lifetime Sir Syed was thoroughly condemned by most leaders of Muslim community, and he was isolated into a corner. We cannot compare Shahabuddin with Sir Syed.  They lived in totally different circumstances.

P Mohammad: You have drawn very interesting parallel between Sir Syed and Shahabuddin Saheb. Shahbuddin Saheb was at the height of popularity in 80’s and at that point of time no one dared to talk against him and that is the reason he inculcated intellectual arrogance and he never gave space to anyone to correct his positions. Sir Syed was truly never accepted within the Muslim community; even people started accepting him because of the positive impact of his vision that has been generating in the Muslim societies in the subcontinent and even Mullahs – those who actively issued fatwa against Sir Syed at that time – but their next generations are heavily benefitting because of Sir Syed’s vision and mission.

Kaleem Kawaja: 7. AMU support to Shahabuddin: Please check the record. Shahabuddin received very little support from the AMU community. His major support came from other Muslims from UP, Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka.

PMohammad: Shahabuddin Saheb had a great support among AMU youth at that time and he delivered a political speech in AMU with a huge presence of people and heavy support. His Muslim India magazine was having large number of sales in AMU.

Kaleem Kawaja: 8. Nexus of Mullahs and intellectuals: In 65 years the fact remains that most leadership of Muslims has been in the hands of maulvis. Most non-maulvi leaders have supported the agendas of their parties (Congress, SP, BSP) and in time of crunch (Babri mosque, Personal law, Sachar Committee) they have kept quiet and refused to take a stand for the just causes of Muslims. Shahabuddin alone among the Muslim intelligentsia agreed to call himself an Indian Muslim leader rather than an Indian leader. So when fighting for Muslims, what choice Shahabuddin had other than to take maulvis along with him?

P Mohammad: Since Muslim institutions and society are not promoting any sort of internal democracy and they are still prone to more like a buttering and that is the reason political parties utilizing this void. This is not the problem of political parties as this is the Internal Institutional Problem of Muslims. If Laloo/Mulayam/Mayawati a Yadav/Dalit can be an Indian Leader then why a Leader with Muslim Identity can’t be an Indian Leader. We are too much pre-occupied with so called a Distinct Muslim Identity; that is the major problem of unbecoming of Indian Leader as no Muslim Leader can afford hold even a symbolic TIKKA in their forehead as this symbolic thing will be branded as KUFR. In India no Identity is under threat because this country has millions of identities thriving and growing since ages; this very fear of losing Muslim Identity is the major problem for Muslims only. The Maulvis and so called secular parties are exploiting this very fear only. We must support our party of choice but not because of this unfounded fear.

Kaleem Kawaja: 9. Muslim leaders should be inclusive: Shahabuddin has ardently cultivated secular Hindu leaders like Justice Sachar, Swmi Agnivesh and others. A lot of Congress Hindu leaders are not secular. They wanted him to become like the other Congressi Muslim leaders and stop talking about the Muslims because it hurts the interests of Congress, that has mostly thrown breadcrumbs at Muslims and has not given them their fair share.

P Mohammad: Muslims are voting secular parties like Congress because of fear of BJP and that is the reason Congress doesn’t need any Muslim Leader, they just need certain Muslim names and with Modi like a leader from BJP in the opposition. This Secular/Communal issue is a very complex and has very blurred distinction at the moment between Secular/Communal. By and large people in India are secular and if our Mullahs/Leaders with BIG MOUTH stop talking nonsense for 5 years only then BJP will be finished.

I think, instead of being too passionate about Politics/Secular/Communal, Muslim Leadership should focus only on Modern Education, Health, Employment and Rule of Law for at least a decade, then an environment can be created, where we all can expect a VISIONARY LEADERSHIP FROM WITHIN.

Kaleem Kawaja: 10.  I agree that Shahabuddin has made some political mistakes. Dalits have supported Mayawati; Yadavs have supported Mulayam Singh, even though both made major blunders. But Muslims have always criticised all of their leaders and found fault with them. Why?

P Mohammad: Shahabuddin Saheb not made some mistakes but he was the person who must be held responsible for creating communal monster like RSS/BJP in power. Mulayam and Mayawati are smart enough to nurture their constituency at the cost of Muslims by playing these Secular/Communal card and creating an environment of fear from BJP/RSS.

Mayawati/Mulayam/Laloo are direct beneficiary of Shahabuddin Saheb’s nonsense politics without vision. Shahabuddin Saheb was used by these people to promote their Mandal/Kamandal Politics and on this Mandal/Kamandal wave Shahabuddin Saheb himself was completely sidelined from 90’s onward.


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