ligendry comrade Maulana Hasrat Mohani
He coined the Indian freedom struggle’s most resonant slogan: ‘inquilab zindabad’, which roughly translates to ‘long live the revolution”.
Indeed, Maulana Hasrat Mohani’s call to arms against colonial occupation resonates through the Indian subcontinent even today though some would say it is beginning to resemble the Cheshire cat’s slowly fading grin, the only discernible feature of what was once a free-spirited beast.
Not surprisingly, as often happens when betrayal gets even with hope, the maulana’s heart-tugging slogan was co-opted by a host of pretenders who claimed his legacy en route to a different kind of social order than the one he had dreamt of. Yet it also echoes through some of the subcontinent’s most furious and unabating popular struggles.
Looking at his life and struggles objectively Maulana Hasrat Mohani can be easily mistaken for an angry Maoist rebel fighting for his rights in a central Indian forest heartland. And though he was a devout Muslim, he used his eclectic religiosity to spread the message of socialism in India.
His friend and guru Bal Gangadhar Tilak would be in the same league, and, in all probability if they were around, both would earn the wrath of India’s prime-minister-and-home-minister duo who have embarked on a mission to suppress the creed that the two freedom-fighters had openly embraced to fight colonialism — armed revolt.
It was Hasrat Mohani’s 60th death anniversary last week and I spoke to Syed Mohammed Mehdi, writer and former communist activist, about his few memorable interactions with the mercurial, witty and pious maulana. As a student at Aligarh university, the hermit-like sage became famous for his crumpled kurta-pyjama attire. He would often carry an umbrella in one hand and a paandaan in the other, which earned him the sobriquet of ‘khalajaan’ (aunt) among his fawning fellow students.
However, his unflinching advocacy of armed revolt to throw out British imperialism was as gritty as his confrontation with stalwarts like Gandhi and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. When the uncompromising Congress hard-liner Tilak, who advocated complete independence from British rule as his birthright walked out of the party in 1907, the maulana left with him.
When Tilak died, the grieving Hasrat Mohani wrote a moving poem to celebrate his friend and comrade.
Maatam ho na kyun Bhaarat mein bapa, duniya se sidhaare aaj Tilak
Balwant Tilak, Maharaaj Tilak aazaadon ke sartaaj Tilak
Jab tak wo rahe duniya mein raha hum sab ke dilon par zor unka
Ab reh ke behisht mein nizde Khuda rooho’n par karenge raaj Tilak.
With his clumsy beard and sloppy demeanour Hasrat Mohani was a perfect foil to the nattily dressed Jinnah. Their divergent wardrobes may hold a clue to their different worldview. On the other hand, his faith in a violent campaign against colonialism made him an arch critic of Gandhi.
On Nov 26, 1949, when the Indian constituent assembly proposed to create an independent, sovereign, democratic republic of India, assuring its citizens justice, equality and liberty, only one member of the assembly raised his voice of dissent. Prime Minister Nehru rushed to his desk and asked: “Maulana, what you are doing? Your only vote against the proposed constitution will become a part of history.” The maulana replied politely but clearly: “That is why I raised my voice to make sure that at least one voice of dissent was made against the proposed Indian constitution which has not done justice with Indian masses.”
Hasrat Mohani flirted with almost all the major political parties of the freedom struggle. After his departure from the Congress he became a leading member of the Muslim League and yet he also would be the founder leader of the Communist Party of India. His contrary nature stretched to his religion. A regular visitor to Haj, he laid equal stress on going to Mathura and Barsana, sacred to Hindus.
Some of his Urdu poems represent an open adulation of Krishna. The following abbreviated lines capture his love of Krishna who he describes as a fountainhead of wisdom who had a magical control over his mesmeric flute.
Mathura ke nagar hai aashiqi ka
Dam bharti hai aarzoo usi ka
Paighaam e hayaat e jaawidaa’n tha
Har naghma e Krishna baansuri ka
Barsana Nandgaaon mein’ bhi
Dekh aae hai’n hum jalwa kisi ka
Wo noor e siyaah tha ke Hasrat
Sar chashma e farogh e aagahi ka
The maulana was in and out of prison on several occasions. In 1908, he published an article in his magazine Urdu-e-Mu-alla and criticised the policies of the British rulers of Egypt. The British government prosecuted him and jailed him for two years for not disclosing the name of the author of the subversive article.
Hasrat Mohani believed Islam was very close to Soviet communism. He even maintained that the word ‘Soviet’ was from Arabic ‘saviyyat’ which meant equality. Islam’s fundamental principle was equality and communism also stood for equality, he would claim.
The maulana was very particular about personal probity. He would charge the exact amount he needed to undertake a journey to a conference that would care to invite him. Mehdi Sahib recalled how on one occasion Hasrat Mohani took a rupee to travel to Lucknow from Kanpur. He sat on the ekka by the driver’s side, which was cheaper by half anna than the side seats on the horse carriage. The train ticket cost 13 annas.
He was dropped to the venue in Lucknow by Chaudhury Khaliq uz Zaman in his car. The return journey was paid for by the students and his approach to the Lucknow station was facilitated by a young communist activist Munish Narain Saxena who happily carried him on his bicycle. After returning home from the station on the ekka in Kanpur, the maulana had one anna left, which he returned to the organisers. He was from among a different breed of Indian patriots.
COLUMNISTSVoice of an endless revolt