Maulana Abul Kalam Azad

(1888 – 1958)

Journalist, Scholar, author, freedom fighter, and the first minister for education in the first ministry of independent India, Abul Kalam Mohiyuddin Ahmed was born in Mecca in 1888. His father was Maulana Muhamed Khairuddin, a great Islamic scholar. He migrated to Mecca after the First Independence Struggle of India of 1857. He came into the attention of Muhamed Zahir Vatri, a renowned scholar of Medina and married his daughter Aeli. They had five kids, including Abul Kalam. The sudden demise of his wife made Sheikh Khairuddin decide to return to India and he settled in Calcutta with his kids.

Azad was a penname he assumed and he began writing poems in that pseudonym. When he was only fifteen, he started a weekly in Urdu, styled 'the voice of truth'. Then he started another weekly in which he interpreted the Quran in an independent style. Thus he grew up into a courageous fighter for freedom and came into contact with the sage, Aurobindo Ghosh. This led him to a group of revolutionaries and he took the leadership in organizing branches of their outfit all over north India.

Azad paid special attention to the importance of communication through newspapers. His attempts at this field invited the anger of the government and the newspaper he started was banned and he launched another one within the next five months. The government banished Azad from Bengal. He was declared a persona non grata in several other provinces like Bombay, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh and so he migrated to a tribal village in Bihar and beamed article after article in a torrential flow.

In 1920 he met Gandhi for the first time, in Delhi. And he became one of the top leaders of the Congress party. He played a leading role in the Gandhi-proposed non-co-operative civil disobedience movement. When the so-called cabinet mission from London came to India to discuss the modalities for the transfer of power into the Indian hands in the early '40s, the mission held discussions with the three top leaders of the Congress Party – Gandhi, Nehru and Azad. He also served in many other committees of the Congress party to look into various problems. Azad was elected president of the Congress during 1939-46. When Nehru formed the first Indian (interim) ministry of 1946, Azad did not join it, but immersed himself in the organizational activities of the party. But in 1947, he joined Nehru's ministry, yielding to the pressures put on him by Gandhi and the others, and he took charge of the ministry for education and scientific research.

The great patriot, the great secularist, the great educationist and writer, and the one who was deadly against the division of India into two countries, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad breathed his last in 1958. 'India Wins Freedom', his magnum opus remains the best memorial for this great man of modern India.