India wins Freedom is the best source for a ringside view of the happenings in pre-independence India between 1920 and 1947 from the eyes of the an insider—Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
I first heard about this book from my favourite English teacher at school, but could lay my hands only after I entered college. Reading it then, as out of school youngster living through the immediately post-independence era-then virtually one-party rule, one leader-Nehru, of the socialistic pattern of Five Year Plans with "commanding heights", the wars with Pakistan and China, was different from reading it now, with certain banned sections restored.
The story of how India wins Freedom was written by one of the most low profile dramatis personae of the Freedom Movement known to all as Maulana Azad, independent India's first education minister. It provides the reader a peek into what actually happened along the long road to freedom.
After all, over 30 million copies of this book have been sold. At his request the initial editions of India wins Freedom had blocked certain passages that he considered politically sensitive just then. Though its full text was confined under seal in the National Library, Calcutta and the National Archives, New Delhi for thirty years, in 1958 a slightly abridged and revised version was published leaving out "incidents and reflections mainly of a personal character."
I have now reviewed the complete text, its 2009 reprint-initially released in September 1988 under a court directive. All the words and phrases of the original have been reproduced to restore the tone and temper to unravel the controversies that simmered for long about what lay in the blocked text. The Maulana comes out with his frank personal assessments and forthright views of the events and personalities involved. He depicts them in their true colours that were hitherto shielded from public eye and his assessments, on the benefit of hindsight are bang on.
Abul Kalam Azad, a Maulana and a distinguished scholar was elected president of the Indian National Congress first in 1923. This was at a time when he and Gandhi just entered the Indian political arena almost hand-in-hand. He was considered closer to Nehru, but disapproved of his ways as those of Gandhiji and Sardar Patel-he doesn't mince words, he is brutally frank in expressing his views that he penned.
The 1940s were momentous years in the history of the Freedom Movement. Azad was re-elected Congress president in 1940 and held office till 1946, another landmark year. Azad along with Gandhi and Nehru held talks with the British Cripps Mission, Viceroys Wavell and Mountbatten.
Azad recounts two of his conclusions during the talks with the British that were "doomed to failure". The arrest of the Congress leaders on the morning of 9 August 1942 following the Quit India Resolution and the World Wall II was coming to and end with the Allies firmly in control. Following Gandhiji's 21-day fast he took a decision that if India was declared free, it would voluntarily side with the British by extending full support to the war effort. The second was at making fresh attempts to meet Jinnah to come to an understanding with the Muslim League. He writes "It was largely due to Gandhiji's acts of omission and commission that Jinnah regained his importance in Indian political life. In fact, it is doubtful if Jinnah could have achieved supremacy, but for Gandhi's attitude."
After Azad stepped down from his Congress presidentship in 1946, he said later that he'd have preferred Vallabhai Patel as successor, but under intense pressure had to choose Nehru. He frankly concedes, "That was, perhaps, the greatest blunder of my political life... (had Patel been chosen) he would have seen to it that the Cabinet Mission was successfully implemented... he would have never committed the mistake of Jawaharlal which gave Jinnah the opportunity to sabotage the Plan... I cannot forgive myself when I think that if I had not committed the mistakes of the history of the last ten years would have been different." It indeed would have made a world of difference to India's history-no Partition and massacre of both Hindus and Muslims, no Pakistan, no wars, no cross-border terrorism and 26/11s.
Azad also recounts in detail the errors committed by everyone and all that smack of blatant hypocrisy. As Congress president Azad, in 1940, had declared that if India's political problem was to be solved it should not only join the war of its own free will but would also adopt conscription and send every able young man to the war front. No one heard him then. He believed that had this happened the duration of the war would have shortened and rendered British morally indebted and the Muslim League and Jinnah could have been totally sidelined and the disastrous consequences-no Partition. Unfortunately for India his advice was disregarded!
Azad takes us into the times, mindsets and the outcomes of the contradictory stands taken by his illustrious contemporaries like MN Roy, Gandhi, Patel, the Nehrus-Motilal and Jawaharlal, CR Das, Rajaji and Subhas Chandra Bose. Of his friend Nehru, he says was prone to talk in his sleep "carrying on a debate, sometimes muttering and sometimes talking loudly... indicating how much strain under which Nehru was working."
As one who has also read earlier volume I find this one much more alive. His views on the Muslim League and Jinnah-disapproval of Gandhiji conferring the title Qaid-e-Azam on him and letting the League have the finance portfolio just because Patel wanted Home, makes us admire a afresh the honesty and courage of this son of India who has been largely ignored by our historians. This book is a must read for those really want to know of Indian Freedom Movement in the context of contemporary Indian history.
(Nagesh Kini is a Mumbai based Chartered accountant turned activist.)