Syed Shahabuddin: the most misunderstood politician

The misunderstood leader, politician, intellectual, activist.

Syed Shahabuddin happens to be one of the most misunderstood politicians and is probably the worst victim of hostile media. Given his contribution and services to the Indian Muslims he does not deserve the ungratefulness as being so ignorantly displayed by some of us.

With a gold medal from Patna University and successful diplomatic career, had he compromised on his principles he would surely have become president or at least vice president of India and would now be living a peaceful and comfortable life earning praises from everyone, including media network.

After being nominated as a Janata Dal MP in the Rajya Sabha he articulated Muslims’ grievances, asked questions and kept an open eye on all the ills pestering Indian Muslims. Undeterred by the hostility of the media as well as his own party he kept on speaking and writing on Muslim issues and paid the price by never being able to return to the parliament. In this respect (being in a secular party and still articulating Muslims’ issues), except Maulana Hifzurrehman Saheb, he has no match in post-independent India. It was him who, in the 80s assembled Muslim MPs, from all the parties, and met the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi to highlight the problems being faced by Muslims in India. I still remember an editorial in the Times of India headed, “Playing with fire” in which Shahabuddin Saheb was viciously vilified.

No Muslim or non-Muslim politician has written so much on Muslim issues as Shahabuddin. One of his most outstanding contributions to the Muslim community is the Muslim India, a journal of research and documentation that no research scholar working on Indian Muslims can afford to ignore.

There is not a single thing, either in his writings or speeches that would put him in the category of either a communalist or a fundamentalist. A communalist! What an absurd idea? Only because he stood to protect Muslim personal law – a right enshrined in the constitution of India he was branded so. Because in the wake of Moradabad riots, 1980, his was the most courageous speech in the parliament. Because he spoke against the Hindutva fascists. And when he demanded ban on Salman (Shaitan) Rushdi’s novel, he was even called a fundamentalist (sic).

Four years ago a friend of mine, Dr Hilal Ahmed, during his PhD at the the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London, wrote a well-researched paper, based on Shahabuddin’s editorials published in Muslim India. When he showed it to his supervisor, a leading expert on Indian politics the gentleman remarked that so far his impression of Shahabuddin Saheb was based on media reports and that was the first time he had actually read his writings. “From this he comes out to be a brilliant political thinker”, the expert told my friend.

But such is the ungrateful nature of our community that a professor from the Department of Political Science of AMU met Hilal Saheb at a seminar and himself requested him to contribute to his journal. Hilal Saheb abridged the aforementioned paper and sent it to the learned Professor. However, the Professor refused to publish the paper saying that in his view neither Shahabuddin was an intellectual nor an activist.