Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was independent India’s first education minister, and his birthday, 11 November, is celebrated as National Education Day. Read to know more about his life.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was an educationist, freedom fighter, politician, and journalist.
In his more than four-decade-long public life, he left behind a lasting legacy in the field of India’s education.
Intellectual par excellence, his life is a tribute to the importance of education.
The early life of Abul Kalam Azad
He was originally named Muhiyudin Ahmad and was born in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 1888, his family relocated to Calcutta (now Kolkata) two years after his birth.
His father was a renowned scholar and his mother came from a family of reputed scholars from Medina.
Education was at the heart of Abul Kalam’s growing up. At home, he studied a variety of languages such as Persian, Urdu, and Arabic, and subjects such as history, philosophy, and geometry.
He was a prolific reader and had mastered is Islamic theology, mathematics, philosophy, and science through books and tutors, as he was homeschooled. He was running a library, a reading room, and a debating society before he was twelve.
Abul Kalam Azad, the Journalist:
Abul Kalam began writing at an early age and started publishing poetry and articles by age of eleven. He wrote under the pen name ‘Azad’, which later became his identity.
In 1912, Azad started publishing a weekly called ‘Al-Hilal’ which he used to question British policies. The publication gained such immense popularity among the public that the British had to finally ban it in 1914 under the Press Act.
Azad soon started another weekly, ‘Al-Balagh’ which ran until he was booked under Defence of India Regulations in 1916. The governments of Bombay, Punjab, Delhi, and the United Provinces had banned his entry and he was deported to Bihar until 1920. Despite censoring, he found ways to rebel against British activities through the power of his pen.
He was a proponent of Hindu-Muslim unity and kept views that were radical and liberal for the Muslims of that time. He propagated his views through his writings and advocated for Indian nationalism and revolutionary ideas based on Hindu-Muslim unity.
Abul Kalam Azad during the Independence movement
1905: Azad opposed the Bengal partition of 1905 and became increasingly active in revolutionary activities and was associated with revolutionaries like Aurobindo Ghosh and Shyam Sundar Chakravarty.
1908: Azad’s trip to Egypt, Syria, turkey, and France brought him in contact with many revolutionaries related to the Young Turk movement and the Iranian revolution. This developed and shaped his political views towards nationalism.
1909: He objected to separate electorates for Muslims under the Morley-Minto reforms and wrote extensively against is it in his weekly Al-Hilal.
1916: He was banned and deported to Bihar for his revolutionary writing until 1920. He was released after World War I.
1920: After his release, Azad, already inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-cooperation to fight the British, started leading the Khilafat Movement, launched by Indian Muslims to demand that the British preserve the authority of the Ottoman Sultan as Caliph of Islam after World War I.
He supported the Non-cooperation Movement (1920-22) and entered the Indian National Congress during this time. He was elected the president of the All India Khilafat Committee.
1923: At 35, he became the youngest person to become the president of the Indian National Congress.
Azad grew close to Gandhi through their deep passion for religion and simple living. He began to spin his clothes using khadi on the charkha and began frequently living and participating in the ashrams organized by Gandhi. Though deeply committed to non-violence himself, Azad also grew close to fellow nationalists like Jawaharlal Nehru, Chittaranjan Das, and Subhas Chandra Bose.
1924: Azad served as president of the 1924 Unity Conference in Delhi, using his position to work to reunite the Swarajists and the Khilafat leaders under the common banner of the Congress.
Azad served on the Congress Working Committee and in the offices of the general secretary and president many times.
1928: Azad endorsed the Nehru Report, which was criticized by the Ali brothers and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Azad endorsed the ending of separate electorates and called for an independent India to be committed to secularism.
At the Congress session in Guwahati, Azad endorsed Gandhi’s call for dominion status for India within a year.
1930: He participated in Salt Satyagraha and was arrested and jailed for a year and a half. He was released after the Gandhi-Irwin pact of 1931.
1936: At the congress session in Lucknow, Azad backed the election of Nehru as Congress president and supported the resolution endorsing socialism.
1938: Azad served as an intermediary between the supporters of and the Congress faction led by Congress president Subhas Bose, who criticized Gandhi for not launching another rebellion against the British.
1940: He again became the president of Congress and remained in the post till 1946.
1942: He along with the rest of the leadership was arrested and put in jail for four years for participating in the Quit India movement.
1944: Azad was against Gandhi Ji holding talks with Jinnah in Mumbai before independence.
Azad was strongly against the Partition of India. He was deeply affected by the violence witnessed during the Partition. Azad travelled through the violence-affected regions of Bengal, Assam, and Punjab and contributed to establishing the refugee camps and ensuring the supply of food and other basic resources.
Abul Kalam Azad, the Educationalist
‘Maulana’, as Azad was fondly referred to, headed constituent assembly debates which went on to shape many of the policies, especially those related to education. He believed that India as a nation should aspire for high educational standards and never compromise on that count.
He was an intellectual at par and his dedication to the field of education is unparalleled as he envisages a liberal and humanitarian education system. His idea was a fusion of eastern and western concepts to bring about wholesome and integrated personality to the education system.
In 1920, Azad along with fellow Khilafat leaders M. A. Ansari and Ajmal Khan founded the Jamila Milia Islamia in Aligarh as higher education institute managed entirely by Indians without any British support.
Life of Abul Kalam after independence
Azad remained a close confidante, supporter, and advisor to prime minister Nehru, and played an important role in framing national policies. Azad masterminded the creation of national programs of school and college construction and spreading the enrolment of children and young adults into schools, to promote universal primary education.
He was elected to the Lok sabha in 1952 and 1957.
Azad supported Nehru’s socialist economic and industrial policies, as well as the advancing social rights and economic opportunities for women and underprivileged Indians.
In 1956, he served as president of the UNESCO General Conference held in Delhi.
Maulana Azad was strongly against leaving education to the states. He argued that education was a matter of grave importance and the central government should be given this authority to ensure a uniform national standard of education across the country.
Though he was supported by Jawaharlal Nehru and other key members of the constituent assembly, a few felt this was a bad idea given the diversity of our country. They were of the view that a decentralized approach would enable states to make laws about education in their respective states. Ultimately, the issue was resolved by retaining education in the state list but also including entries related to higher education under the union list.
Education always remained an important issue for Azad. On 16 January 1948, Azad had said in a meeting, “We must not for a moment forget, it is a birthright of every individual to receive at least the basic education without which he cannot fully discharge his duties as a citizen.”
He also established ‘the board for adult education to facilitate education among the uneducated adults.
He founded the Indian Council of Cultural Relations in 1950 to encourage cultural exchange with other nations.
He also played an important role in establishing the Sahitya Academy, Sangeet Natak Academy, and Lalit Kala Academy for the development of literature, music, dance, and painting respectively.
Azad, the first education minister of independent India
As the first education minister of the country from 1947 to 1958, Abul Kalam Azad advocated for free and compulsory primary education for all children up to the age of 14 as he believed it was the right of all citizens.
Later, he went on to establish the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi in 1935 from Aligarh and contributed to the setting up of the IITs, IISc, and School of Planning and Architecture.
He was also one of the brains behind the University Grants Commission, India’s higher education regulator, and played a key role in the establishment of other educational institutions.
Literary works by Azad
He wrote many books like India wins Freedom, Gubhar-e-Khatir, Tazkirah, Tarjumanul Quran, etc.
Death of Abul Kalam Azad
The scholar-politician passed away on 22 February 1958.
Legacy of Maulana Abul Kalam Azad
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was a strong believer in the co-existence of all religious communities.
His contributions to the field of education in India are incomparable, hence his birthday, 11 November, is celebrated as National Education Day.
In 1992, he was posthumously conferred the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award.
The Ministry of Minority Affairs of the Central Government of India set up the Maulana Azad Education Foundation in 1989 on the occasion of his birth centenary to promote education amongst educationally backward sections of the Society.
The Ministry also provides the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad National Fellowship, an integrated five-year fellowship in the form of financial assistance to students from minority communities to pursue higher studies such as M. Phil and PhD.