Dr Zakir Hussain, A Visionary Caged in Public Office
By Dr Basheer Ahmed Khan
Garden Grove, CA
Dr Zakir Hussain was the second child of Fida Hussain Khan who had seven sons. He was born in the princely state of Hyderabad in 1897. His parents later migrated to UP. His father died when Zakir was 10 years old. He lost his mother when he was 14. This shows that little Zakir must have had a difficult childhood, but by sheer dent of their Baloch character of patience and perseverance all the brothers rose to high ranks in the field of education, administration and army. Like most of the Muslim families of those days they were divided between India and Pakistan.
Dr Zakir Hussain was an alumnus of the Anglo Muhammadan College which later became Aligarh Muslim University. He was skeptical about the political role of Aligarh and polarization of polity based on religion. He was aware of the moral force of Islam and he was against diluting and destroying it by indulging in dirty political games. Therefore, with the support of likeminded friends he started the National Muslim University which later became Jamia Millia Islamia University. Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Hakim Ajmal Khan and Mahatma Gandhi were his inspiration and patrons in this striving.
He went to Germany to obtain his doctorate in economics from Berlin University. When he returned to India in 1926 the university which he had launched was on life support. Even though he had lucrative job offers he chose to serve the institution which he had founded for a monthly salary of eighty rupees which was barely enough to live an ordinary life. His wife who shared her name with King Shah Jahan lived a life of austerity and contentment to support her idealist husband.
The extent of his dedication to Jamia and its students is evident from the fact that he was in personal touch with every student to know their problems and solve them to the best of his resources and capacity. He used to go to the railway station even at the middle of the night to see off students at the end of the school year with all sort of advises relevant to them and taking this promise that they would return to complete their studies whatever their problems.
Among the unique qualities of Zakir Hussain which Prof Rasheed Ahmed Siddiqi writes in his book Hamare Zakir Sahib is: Zakir Sahib was loath to recommend the case of any friend to any one in authority for any personal favor for he wanted the authorities to pursue merit and not to go by recommendations. But if the same friend asked him to bring a special bird from a foreign country which he was visiting he would gladly bring it in its cage on his shoulder. Alighting from his flight he will give it to his waiting friend on the tarmac with great happiness. Dr Zakir Hussain had learned and practiced the principles of positive discipline from his family, religion and education. He believed that appreciating the positive qualities in an individual will encourage him or her to excel in it and develop other good qualities. On the other hand, by criticizing him for the bad qualities in him will make the person immune to advise and make him rebellious.
He had observed in his student days, both at home and abroad, that university education was imparting individuals with some knowledge to manage the affairs of the world, but they were failing miserably in managing their own personal affairs. As a result, they failed also in using their academic achievement to the fullest capacity to benefit themselves or the community. He bemoaned that university education is not as beneficial as it was expensive. He once said, “If you put 100 eggs to hatch perhaps one will result in some sort of a chick.”
He believed that lack of conviction to concrete ideals and indulgence in pleasurable pastimes and desire for quick gains was at the root. He was impressed by the work of Maulana Ilyas RA who had mobilized the whole population of Mewath in Haryana to a life of piety, selflessness and devotion to duty without any buildings and paraphernalia which universities are privileged to possess. He wanted to incorporate the achievements of Maulana Ilyas in the moral and ethical field in modern education so that the people graduating from a university developed those qualities to serve the people better when they occupied public offices. Dr Zakir Hussain thought that if he could build a city with such pious people whom Maulana Ilyas was mentoring the city would become a model for those people who were being suffocated by immorality, corruption and inhumanity and were looking for places to live a decent and productive life. Such a citywould be like what Paris and New York are for people who are looking for latest trends in fashions.
To develop this idea into a reality he used to go to Nizamuddin every Friday to meet Maulana Ilyas RA and discuss this plan. His relationship with well-known religious scholar and historian Mualana Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi AKA Ali Miyan grew stronger through Nizamuddin. They made several plans but none could materialize because Dr Zakir Hussain was picked up by Maulana Azad and Pundit Nehru for a political career. Maulana Ilyas and his movement did not want to dilute their movement by taking up any new program. Maulana Ilyas wanted his movement to resuscitate the dying Islamic identity by returning to principles of Five Pillars through his Six Points. Maulana Ali Miyan and others were busy in their own academic and institutional works. Those who could finance such a move also had their own hesitation in financing such a venture in a colony because of the fear of adverse consequence.
Dr Zakir Hussain was made the Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University (1948-1957) by Abul Kalam Azaad who was the Education Minister. Because of his love for his alma mater which was the target of anti- Muslim forces in India, Dr Zakir Hussain could not refuse the offer. He could not maintain the status quo of Aligarh Muslim University but still contributed a lot to maintain its identity in the limits which the financial support from the Government would impose on a private organization like it. But those who wanted to gain political mileage and those who wanted to usurp it and destroy it by not being able to meet the financial burden accusedDr Zakir Hussain of selling the university to the Government in exchange for a position. Many a youngster like me fell into this trap till the time that they matured.
Pundit Nehru chose Dr Zakir Hussain to be the Governor of Bihar from 1957-1962 to groom him for the highest office of President. Later,Dr Zakir Hussain was nominated by Pundit Nehru to be the Vice President of India (1962-1967) under Dr S Radhakrishnan. He was nominated by Indira Gandhi and elected by the Electoral College to be the president of the Republic of India in 1967.
As he was occupying these high offices he did not forget those with whom he tried to reform the education and the Muslim society, especially Ali Miyan RA who met him several times. Ali Miyan writes about his sincerity, simplicity, his God consciousness, his trials and tribulations in the obituary essay which he wrote after his death with some of the letters which Dr Zakir Hussain wrote to him. Ali Miyan says that despite his high educational and political status he met and mingled with ordinary people as one amongst them.
When Ali Miyan was made a member of the Coordination Committee on World Islamic Affairs in 1965 and was going to Saudi Arabia for its meeting a secretary of Foreign affairs Mr Malik Ram called Ali Miyan and asked him to see the VP on his way to Saudi Arabia. Ali Miyan was afraid that he may be asked to do something which he may not be able to do for Zakir Sahib for whom he had great respect. Dr Zakir Hussain who was loath to any request of favors from friends demonstrated the same moral equivalency by not asking any favor from Ali Miyan on his visit to Saudi Arabia, and Ali Miyan was relieved.
Interaction between Maulana Ali Miyan and Dr Zakir Hussain was not just an interaction between an elderly statesman and a religious scholar but also very intimate and spiritual as the letters which Dr Hussain wrote to Ali Miyan indicate. Ali Miya’s reflections on Dr Hussain in this essay suggest the same. That is why what Ali Miyan says about Zakir Hussain is very authentic. Knowledge of Dr Zakir Hussain about Islamic religious thought, its literature and his respect for authentic religious leaders reveal the character of this great man. Dr Zakir Hussain admits in these letters that the biographies of Abdul Qadir Raipuri, Fazlur Rahman Ganj Muradabadi, Nizamuddin Aulia penned by Ali Miyan and sent to him made him cry on missing the genuineness and selflessness which these people embodied.
Based upon his conversations with Dr Hussain, the letters which he wrote and what he heard from the other friends of Dr Hussain, Ali Miyan is of the opinion that because of his deep conviction to his conscience Dr Zakir Hussain was not at ease in the high places which he was occupying. He was yearning for that freedom in which he could be with the people of his feathers to fly together to plan and work together for his dreams of youth and cry together over the plight of Muslims and mankind. Ali Miyan is of the opinion that if Dr Zakir Hussain had not accepted those high offices he would have succeeded in establishing those oasis of guidance in the ocean of chaos which he was hoping to build with Ali Miyan in his early life. Ali Miyan RA concludes his essay on this predicament of Dr Zakir Hussain by this couplet from Mirza Ghalib: Those who are committed to the aspirations of their heart and the mission of their lives should not wander in the streets of power.
Jin Ko Hai Jaan O Dil Azeez
Unki Gali May Ja-yay Kyaun
At the end of this essay I will come back to the story which led Pundit Nehru to choose Dr Zakir Hussain to be the rose which adored his Sherwani to play a greater role in the making of India. Maulana Ali Miyan has written about it briefly in his essay which prompted me to write this article.
In November of 1946, a few months before the Independence of India and its partition, the rivalry between Hindus and Muslim was gaining strength to reach its crescendo, when Jamia Millia completed its 25 years of existence. Jamia decided to celebrate its Silver Jubilee. The tensions were high in Delhi and there were some stabbing incidents. In such a tense environment when traveling was difficult, the gathering of VVIPs from diverse political, academic and religious circles of India speaks of the endearing personality of Dr Zakir Hussain. On the dais on one side were seated in the front row the leaders of Indian National Congress like Pundit Nehru, Maulana Azad, Sri Rajgopal Achari, and Asif Ali, and on the other side were seated Mr Jinnah, Miss Fathim Jinnah, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan and Sardar Abdul Rab Nashtar. In the row behind were religious and literary luminaries like Syed Sulaiman Nadvi, Sh Abdul Khadir, Dr Abdul Haq, Hafeez Jalandhari, and Mohammad Asad (Leopold Weise). The meeting was presided over by Nawab of Bhopal, His Highness Sir Hameedullah Khan.
Taking advantage of the presence of luminaries from the political world who were carving out the destiny of India, Dr Zakir Hussain used the sincerity of his heart and the eloquence of his expression to bemoan the stupendous demand placed on academics to train manpower for a system that was so much messed up. He said: The work of character building that is given to us, when the flames of mutual hatred are burning in the hearts of the people across the length and breadth of the land, looks futile. How can a garden be created on this scorched land; how can we create those personalities who maintain their equilibrium in this madness when man is behaving worse than beasts. Every child who is born comes to give us this message that God is still keeping hope in the future of mankind, but we are killing these children even before they bloom to their maturity. Please, all of you sit together to deliberate as to how to extinguish this fire rather than finger pointing at each other. This is not the time to fix the blame on who started this fire first but to extinguish it. This is not a test for our national existence alone but a time to make our choice between civilized existence or jungle law for the future of mankind. Ali Miyan writes that some of the leaders were in tears as Dr Zakir Hussain was making this speech. Dr Zakir Hussain concluded his address with this couplet in Persian which means: We are confused and dejected as we write with the blood of our heart the laws for gardening as the world is being demolished and desolated.
Aaghashta Em Har SarKharay Bakhoon e Dil
Khanoon e Baghbani e Sehra Navishtha Em
After this speech, Jawaharlal Nehru must have seen in Dr Zakir Hussain the person who would help him in consolidating the secular character of India. The selflessness and sincerity of Dr Zakir Hussain also had to reach its fruition and this was the time for it. Wordsworth in his Elegy has correctly sad: A person should be judged not by his achievements but by his dreams because the dreams are his own but achievements are always shaped by extraneous factors than by personal grit. Dr Zakir Hussain must be judged by the life that he lived and not just by what he achieved.