Dr Zakir Hussain, Secularism and World Order
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
Ever since I reached the age of consciousness which was a little precocious in my case, I had watched Dr Zakir Hussain and read about him critically so much so that when he died I wrote an article about him. It was published in the Urdu daily “Azaad” published from Bangalore by Abdul Hadi Rafa’ath. In that article I had concluded that Dr Zakir Hussain was a great leader who could not accomplish his full potential because he was ignored by Hindu masses as he was a Muslim, and was ignored by Muslims because they thought he was a show boy of the Congress.
During the course of a discussion in the officer’s mess of a regiment to which I was attached on an assignment, the Commanding Officer asked me: Who do I like more:Dr Radhakrishnan or Dr Zakir Hussain? This was a difficult question, but as I had read a lot of philosophical writings of Dr S Radhakrishnan, I had no hesitation in answering to him. I said: I like both equally. I like Dr Radhakrishnan because he opened my mind to various lines of thinking through his writings, and I like Dr Zakir Hussain because from him I learnt a few things which were very essential for an individual and a leader.
Dr Zakir Hussain was the Vice President of India for 5years when Dr S. Radhakrishnan was president from 1962-1967. He was elevated to become the 3rd President of the Republic of India in 1967. He died in 1969 while in office facing one of the toughest political times in Independent India. This was the time when the deck of cards was being reshuffled to fill the power vacuum created by the death of Pundit Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri. The tussle was between the old guards led by Morarji Desai and Nijalingappa and the young Turks led by Chandra Shekar and Indira Gandhi. Dr Zakir Hussain, a magnificent man, died of exhaustion managing this political show. In such shows goodness and principles do not matter much, in fact they are a hindrance. One should have political power and a clout to put sense into the warring faction to pursue the goodness of nation and the people above the interest of self and party, and should have the astuteness to present his case to the media.
The tense and the dirty political situation at that time was summarized by a correspondent of Indian Express with whom I had the opportunity to travel on a shared Taxi Service between Mysore and Bangalore. Dr Zakir Hussain had died. Mr V V Giri was elevated to be the president and B D Jatti was made VP. Mrs Indira Gandhi managed to hold on to her premiership called for early elections to win it on the popularity wave generated by her bold move of nationalizing the top private banks. I forgot the name of that correspondent. Analyzing the venom in those words I am beginning to wonder if it was Arun Shourie who later became the editor of Indian Express. He was well known for his anti-Indira rhetoric as a part of Goenkas’ business world affiliated to Morarji’s camp. Taking her name with choicest epithets, he said: She wanted to have children so she married Firoz Gandhi. After getting the children with the surname of Gandhi she divorced him. She wanted power, so she was in Congress. She divided Congress and usurped power with the support of hoodlums and discarded all those leaders who were the backbone of the party and made it her own party, Indira Congress, Congress I. I is the determining factor in everything she does. She will divide India too if it is needed for her to stay in power. The later events indicated that she did not divide India but divided Pakistan.
Dr Zakir Hussain was the rose which was nurtured by Pundit Nehru in the button hole of his sherwani. As a practical and successful democratic leader Nehru wanted to consolidate his secular credential by getting a Muslim elected to the top office. I will write more about how Dr Zakir Hussain got into the focus of Pundit Nehru in the second part of this article. Alas, the rose which he nurtured with great care close to his chest crumpled and died in the tug of war between his political successors and his dynastic heir. This was the beginning of the end of an old order established by statesmen like Gandhi, Nehru, Abul Kalam, Patel, Naidu, Ranjendraprasad, Mr Ayingar, Mr Ambedkar and scores of others.
All new orders are hoisted on the promise of a better future for the masses, but masses are only used as fodder to energize the movement and their ashes are discarded with impunity after their exploiters achieve their objective. Forty years of this struggle ended the secular order yielding its place to the Right Wing ideology which carried out its crusade against it calling it a “pseudo secular” order working for the appeasement of the minorities. This transition has been very painful for Muslims in India and for this Muslims, aspiring for political positions and ignoring their consequences, are as much responsible as the rabid right wing extremists. It remains to be seen if the slogan of Sabka Vikas Sabke Saath is a slogan and a farce similar to the one played by “pseudo-secularists” or a real promise remains a mystery three years into this order.
In the recent Presidential Election when some of the candidates on the Dias of the Republican Party had some reservation about a Muslim being the President of the USA, I did not dismiss it as an anti-Muslim rhetoric but valued it as a matter of fact reality because of what I had seen in the life of Dr Zakir Husssain and later in the life of the 5th President of India Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed who also died in office fearing the consequences of his blind support for some of the deeds of the Emergency period.
Secularism is not about religion, race or tribe of the persons holding office, but it is about the commitment of the people holding the high offices to all the sections of their polity and the allegiance of polity to them not based on race or religion but on principles. When both are lacking, politics is nothing more than jugglery. Earlier, it used to be the jugglery of expert jugglers but now it is the jugglery of jokers who break many a plate with which they are juggling.
Despite all the maturity of consciousness the people of the modern age are still in need of intellectual development, spiritual reformation and moral rejuvenation. The role of Muslims lies in this field and not in high offices to become political jokers. That is why a Muslim is asked to pray that he himself becomes pious and so are his leaders; and if at all he has to be a leader, he should be leader of the pious. Unfortunately, Muslims are ignoring their natural role and running behind power to fall one behind the other. When Muslims can’t rule their own countries properly for lack of pious polity and pious leadership, to expect them to rule over a mixed polity is an excess over both the polity and the Muslim leader ruling over it. This is also true of all the other leaders from minority groups in Muslim-majority countries. But here they are surviving because of the support of the international community that hoists them. To think that we are all enjoying equal rights and equal freedoms is only a farce being played with great care and apparent success.
Fortunately, this world is not inhabited by all evil people. There are lots of good people who are thriving with their honesty. These people need the support of other honest people to advance their own honest businesses and promote others in it. Progress of America tok place because of these entrepreneurs and their ventures. The place of Muslims in America, or for that matter, in any other place, is to associate with such ventures and such people to touch the hearts and minds of those people with their ethos. By running behind power hungry politicians in the hope of getting into high places is a sure recipe to spoil their reputation and the reputation of their community. In this process they are sure to lose their moral compass by becoming sycophants to those on whose shoulders they climbed to power and to those whom they led to success in their power game.
The irony of Dr Zakir Hussain’s life is that he was a prisoner of conscience in the halls of power managed by megalomaniacs with no conscience. For them their ascent to power is more important than anything else. In this game they do not hesitate to take the support of little pawns on the chess board like the car driver of Mr Nijalingappa, Mr Jaffar Shariff, and make him a star politician overnight. They even wage wars to bolster their own image (as it happened in the 1971 war to dismember Pakistan) unmindful of the destabilization it causes to the region. In this she got the willy-nilly support of the Pakistani and Bangladeshi leadership who were aspiring for their own thrones.
To some of the people of the subcontinent the family of Indira Gandhi, Bhutto and Shaikh Mujeeb are still heroes, but the way nature has avenged them and their families speaks of their political errors that plunged the subcontinent to about forty years of haunting instability. That nations may forgive their leaders but Nature does not is evident from the tragedy which Indira Gandhi, Bhutto and Shaikh Mujeeb and their families had to suffer over which even their critics can’t hold their tears. But those who have an equivocal view of Nature AKA God, think that Nature is nonexistent, even if it exists it is deaf, blind and mute or it is all forgiving. For these people it was not the revenge of Nature, but the revenge killing by the “establishment” which made them heroes.
Will the people of subcontinent return to the Promised Land like the children of Israel after their forty years of life as vagabonds remains to be seen. This depends on the sincerity of their leaders to their people and to their nations and how the international community helps them rather than use their differences to its advantage. We should know that we are all sharing one big space station, Earth, on which we can’t afford to bicker with each other for our little personal gains without causing harm to ourselves.
God willing, in the second part of this article I will write about the man, Dr Zakir Hussain, and his contribution to Indian thought and political and social milieu.