Mustafabad’s Tragedy: It Believed Everything Nehru Told Them 75 Years Ago
Last three decades since independence have placed on many of us a burden of identity. The drift towards Hindu majoritarianism has aggravated this sense to a point of anxiety. I know people gripped by it 24/7. Identity pinned onto you by rampaging majoritainism induces a sort of lonesomeness. “Is bhari duniya mein hum tanha nazar aaney lagey” (Among milling crowds, I stand out alone.)
This mood could be mistaken for creeping pessimism. That would be a mistake and which is difficult to explain. From his window poet Josh Malihabadi sees darkness slowly fill the vessel of the universe. Can the mood induced by day transiting into night be described as sadness? No, says Josh. It is a “subtle”, inexplicable mood experience:
“jis tarah kohrey pe ho
Jaata hai baarish ka gumaan”
(Sometimes mist creates an optical illusion of rain)
Stories of victimhood should be set aside because a larger tragedy stares us in the face: the Constitution under threat. But I must be forgiven for taking my eyes off these dark clouds because I am occasionally distracted by that chant at deafening decibel levels:
“Mussalman ke do sthan
Qabrustan ya Pakistan”
(The choice for Muslims: Graveyard or Pakistan)
And then, the bulldozers.
One escape from all of this gloom is nostalgia. It is 15 August 1949. The verandah of my uncle’s house in Rae Bareli is full of Congress grandees seated on the floor covered with a white sheet lined with Congress-trademark white upholstered sausage cushions. This is my intimidating audience. I am 9 year old. Imagine my nervousness when I am invited by my uncle, the first Congress MLA from Rae Bareli, to recite Kaifi Azmi’s poem on Independence:
“Naye Hindostaan mein hum nayee jannat basayenge.
Hum abki ghunche ghunche ko chaman bandi sikhaayenge.”
(We shall create a paradise in free India,
We shall teach every budding flower, the ways of the garden.)
Rae Bareli wings my imagination to 1857 when my ancestor, Mir Baqar and his twelve companions were hanged by the British from a tamarind tree outside the Collectorate. Mir Baqar was regularly supplying men and material to Rana Beni Madhav, who helped Begum Hazrat Mahal fight the British and escape to Nepal. Mir Baqar’s grandson, Mir Wajid Ali, was my great grandfather.
What would have been Gandhi’s attitude to the first war of Independence? Well, he called off the Chauri Chaura agitation in 1922 because protestors in support of non-cooperation, clashed with the police. The 1946 Mutiny by “privates” and sailors against the British Indian Navy caused such panic in London that Prime Minister Attlee dispatched the Cabinet Mission. But Gandhi and Patel were opposed to the mutineers. Nehru, on this occasion too was something of a Prince Hamlet.
Oh’ how we were kept in line by our elders on Nehru. I am now free to mention him by his sir name. In my boyhood, this was sacrilege. He had to be mentioned as “Panditji” or “Pandit Nehru”. If I were to extrapolate from the limited experience from Mustafabad to Lucknow, the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims until his death in 1964 was Nehru.
“He will never allow the country to be Partitioned” declared grandfather, with undiluted trust, a function of pure adoration. Even after 3 June 1947, Partition plan was announced, the gentility of Mustafabad, clung to their faith in “Panditji” who, they thought, will pull a rabbit out of the hat, bamboozle the back room boys, and embrace Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in celebration.
Events followed a contrary route. At the crucial CWC meeting Maulana Azad nervously smoked a can full of cigarettes; the Frontier Gandhi wept “You have left us to the wolves.” But the gentle folk of Mustafabad would not give up until the inevitable happened: the spectre of Partition reared its head.
“What, Shahla is going to Pakistan?”
“No” grandfather was corrected. “She is going to Karachi.”
A measuring tape was placed on a map of India. Distances between Mustafabad and Bombay (where Shahla was married) and Mustafabad and Karachi, were compared.
“Distancewise not much of a difference”, an uncle mollified grandfather.
Partition did happen but Nehru was not to blame. Remember, those fateful 30 pages of Maulana Azad’s India Wins Freedom were still in the archives then. These pages were opened only in 1988. Azad thus avoided hurting his “friend and comrade Jawaharlal”. In those pages Azad pulls no punches. He lays the blame for Partition on Jinnah, ofcourse, but also on Nehru, Patel and even Gandhi for having buckled under pressure.
The elders had barely accepted the tragedy of divided families when the next shock came. Mustafabad was too small to be spoken to separately, but “Panditji” had privately told the Concorde of Taluqedars that the Congress would delay the implementation of its land reforms policy. This “Panditji” quite rightly though was absolutely necessary.
The Congress plank of land reforms left landlords vulnerable. The Hindu had taken to Western education with remarkable foresight. The Muslim opiated by the feudal system until 1947, had held onto his culture and language, leaving him unprepared for the challenges that democracy had abruptly placed at his door. Nehru understood that Muslims needed a little more time to create a middle class. With this end in mind he whispered in their ears yet another promise. He would delay the implementation of land reforms to give the community time to catch up. Govindacharya once observed that Atal Behari Vajpayee was only the “mukhauta” (mask) while backroom boys pushed in other direction. This seems to apply to Panditji as well. Nehru reassured the Muslim landed elite particularly in Awadh, that they would be given time before Congress comes in full throttle with its socialism. Barely had the promise been made than Govind Ballabh Pant implemented land reforms in 1952.
What descended on our house in Mustafabad was not quite penury but a dark foreboding of an altered lifestyle.
My grandfather died in 1964, exactly when his abiding icon “Pandit Nehru” did.
# # # #