A Biblical Moses who showed Muslims the way in adversity

Remembering Badruddin Tyabji on his death anniversary, one sees he attempted to integrate Indian Muslims on the political front by making them join the Indian National Congress

Badruddin Tyabji
Badruddin Tyabji

Faisal CK

As far as the political approach of the colonial Indian Muslim community towards the British Raj was concerned, there were two visible streams. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and his Aligarh Movement spearheaded the separatist stream. The political course of this stream culminated in the formation of All India Muslim League, the Two-Nation Theory and the tragic Partition of India. The opposite camp, led by Barrister Badruddin Tyabji, vehemently advocated for the active participation of Muslims in the National Movement along with their co-patriots. They were the forerunners of the so called ‘National Muslims’. Their progeny included Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Moulana Hussain Ahmed Madani, Saifuddin Kichlu, etc. As the protagonist of this school, Badruddin Tyabji and his political ideas deserve a detailed study today, especially when the nationalistic credentials of Indian Muslims are questioned by some historians and politicians of the present-day India.

Badruddin Tyabji served the nation in many capacities, those of a lawyer, a social reformer, an educationist, a judge of Bombay High Court and as president of the Indian National Congress. Tyabji believed that cultural and religious diversities were no bar to united action in advancing the common cause of the country. He spread the concept of secularism and pluralism at a time when they had little currency.

The ‘Triumvirate’ of Badruddin Tyabji, Phiroz Shah Mehta and Kashinath Trimbak Telang played a remarkable role in Bombay politics. This Triumvirate represented a united front of three major communities i.e. Hindu, Muslim and Parsee in Bombay. Badruddin Tyabji categorically declared that “we are happily accustomed to a diversity of races and creeds and nationalities working together in harmony for the common…”. The Triumvirate organised an outfit called the Bombay Presidency Association to ventilate the space of public opinion.

Tyabji was associated with the Indian National Congress right from its inception. He exhorted the Indian Muslims to join the Indian National Congress in contrast to the separatist attitude of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Sir Syed expressed his apprehension about the Indian National Congress in the Lucknow session of the Mahommadan Education Conference in 1887: “They want to copy the British House of Lords and the House of Commons. Now let us imagine the Viceroy’s Council made in this matter. Let us suppose that all the Muslim electors vote for a Muslim member and how count many votes Muslim member will have and how many the Hindu. It is certain that Hindu members will have four times as many because their population is four times as numerous. Therefore, we can prove by mathematics that there will be four votes for the Hindu to every one vote for the Muslim. And now how can the Muslim guard his interests? It would be like a game of dice, in which one man had four dice and the other only one.”

Badruddin Tyabji, in a letter to Sir Syed, dated February 18, 1888, clarified his stance: “my policy, therefore, would be act from within rather than from without. I would say to all Mussalmans act with your Hindu fellow-subjects in all matters in which you are agreed but oppose them as strongly as you can if they bring forward any proposition that you deem prejudicial to yourselves”.

He countered the Muslim separatism expounded by Sir Syed and wrote a letter to Sir Syed Ahmed Khan explaining his position. He wrote in his letter: “In my view the Congress in nothing more…than an assembly of educated people from all parts of India and representing all races and creeds, met together for discussions of only such questions as may be generally admitted to concern the whole of India at large”. Tyabji understood the state of Muslim mind, their fears, their feelings of insecurity and even their prejudices. Even though he scolded them for their irrationalities, he stood up for them in public.

Badruddin Tyabji was invited by Syed Ameer Ali, Secretary to the Central National Mahommadan Association, Calcutta, to the proposed Mahommadan Conference in 1887. Replying to the invitation, Tyabji asserted: “If, therefore, the proposed Mahommadan conference is started simply as a rival to the general National Congress, I should entirely be opposed to it ,as it seems to me that our proper course is to join the Congress in Madras and take part in its deliberations from our own peculiar standpoint.” In a letter to Syed Ameer Ali, dated January 13, 1888, Badruddin Tyabji wrote: “I may tell you that I have not the smallest doubt that the Congress, worked on proper principles with due restriction and with proper safeguards for the rights of our community, is capable of doing an enormous amount of good to our country, and I think we ought all to put our heads together to see whether we cannot devise means to work in harmony with our fellow subjects, while jealously protecting our own peculiar interests.”

The educational system followed by the Muslims was outmoded and incompatible with the modern challenges. It secluded them from the mainstream and prevented them from interaction with other communities. Badruddin Tyabji set up the Anjuman-i-Islam to spread modern education among Muslims. In 1882, Lord Ripon appointed an Education Commission headed by Sir William Hunter and Tyabji seized the chance to appear before it to do some special pleading on behalf of Muslims. Tyabji observed before the Commission: “The awakening of the conscience of the community and making them feel ashamed of their indolence and apathy is a task not so much for the government or the Education Commission as for the enlightened and influential Mahomedans themselves.”

Like the Biblical Moses, whose people had many reservations about their leader, Badruddin Tyabji desperately sought to synchronise the Indian Muslim community with emerging political ecology. The major contribution of Badruddin Tyabji was their integration with the nascent Indian National Movement on the political front and imbibing the values of Indian Renaissance on the cultural front. The first aspect, he proposed, was through participation in the Indian National Congress and the second, through the spread of modern education.

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