Of the several problems India was facing at the time of independence, one pertained to the education. The British government for more than 150 years paid that much attention to the education of Indians which suited to its interests of governance. In independent India more than 85 % people of 350 million population were illiterate.
In the name of so-called higher education, there were 20 universities, 496 colleges with 241,639 registered students. There were only 36 engineering colleges/institutes with a total intake capacity of slightly more than 2500 students every year. Out of 36 engineering colleges/institutes, there were only 10–11 colleges/institutes which delivered education in technology.
Institutes/colleges of management were lacking. The number of research institutes in the field of science, engineering, technology and medicines was nominal. In such a grim situation prevalent in the field of education, Gandhi and Nehru’s attention turned to Maulana and they persuaded him to shoulder the responsibility of Union Ministry of Education of India.
That’s how Maulana Azad took the charge as first Union Minister of Education of independent India on 15 August 1947 and worked in that capacity till his death on 22 February 1958. On the face of it really appears surprising that why an individual who was—— homeschooled and was taught subjects like history, logic, philosophy, maths, geometry etc in Arabic, Persian and Urdu and was thoroughly educated in traditional Islamic education under the strict supervision of his father and other scholars, who was self-taught in English and many other Indian languages and who was not educated in western countries’ universities and who was not education expert or educationist himself——was given an important portfolio of Union Minister of Education! The answer to this query lies in the extraordinary qualities and abilities he possessed.
He was an erudite scholar, enlightened and learned person of high moral integrity, had an ability to comprehend the problems/issues in right perspectives and solve them amicably in right earnest, was a patriot to the core, staunch advocate of the unity of Hindus and Muslims and vehement opponent of the partition of India, was extremely honest towards the assigned duties and goals. Most probably these qualities of Maulana Azad which Gandhi and Nehru had witnessed for more than a quarter of a century during independence movement induced them to select him for the difficult job of first Union Education Minister of free India.
Maulana Abulkalam Syed Mohiddin Ahmad Azad was a multidimensional personality. Azad was his pen name. He was a writer of high calibre, thinker, intellectual, fearless journalist, an excellent orator and a first-rank freedom fighter. He was born on 11 November 1888 at Makkah, the holy place of Muslims.
After some years of his birth, the family returned to native place Calcutta( present-day Kolkata), W.Bengal where his homeschooling started. Right from his young age he started writing in Urdu and was associated with various Urdu journals in different capacities. After meeting revolutionaries during his visit to Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Turkey at a very young age, his ideas in relation to fighting imperialism changed.
He started publishing an Urdu language weekly newspaper Al – Hilal in 1912 which became immensely popular for its anti-British stance and for propagating Hindu- Muslim Unity. It was banned in 1914. His next venture i.e the publication of Urdu weekly Al- Blagh in 1915 was short-lived because Maulana Azad was banished to Ranchi under the Defence of India Regulations in 1916 and his entry in Mumbai, Panjab, Delhi and United Province (Agra and Awadh) was banned. Both Urdu weekly newspapers are examples of fearless journalism.
Karwane khayal, Ghubar khatir, India wins freedom, Tazkira and Tarjumanul Quran are some of his best and prominent writings. After the lifting of banishment in 1920, back in Calcutta, he met Gandhi and participated in Khilafat and Non-cooperation movements.
He worked as the leader of Working Committee and elected president ( twice— first in 1923 then 1940–46)of Indian National Congress, participated in Gandhi’s various civil disobedience campaigns ( Satayagrah)including Salt March (1930) and Quit India Movement (1942) during World War II. He was jailed a number of times during 1920–1945. He ceaselessly emphasized on Hindu- Muslim unity to fight against the British government and vehemently opposed two-nation theory (propounded by Jinnah of Muslim League) and partition of India.
His extreme love and pride for being an Indian are evident from the statement ” I am proud of being an Indian. I am a part of the indivisible unity that is Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice and without me this splendid structure is incomplete. I am an essential element which has gone to build India. I can never surrender this claim”.To lessen the effects of enmity and hatred produced as a consequence of communal riots, he used to say to people of his community ” It’s your country and you will stay here”. He won first Lok Sabha election from Rampur in 1952 and the second one from Gurgaon in 1957.
After taking charge as first Union Education Minister, Maulana Azad took concrete measures to make basic elementary education compulsory and free, upgraded and modernized higher education compatible with the needs of the country. He was completely aware of the fact that the advertent negligence of British Government towards the education of Indians over the period of 150 years resulted into the illiteracy of masses (85 % population was illiterate at the time of independence).
He was also aware of the fact that new areas of knowledge and information were not introduced in the higher education of science, engineering, architecture and technology.
In one All India Education Conference on 16 January 1948 he said” We must not for a moment forget, it is the birthright of every individual to receive at least the basic education without which he can’t fully discharge his duties as a citizen”, then in a meeting of Central Advisory Board of Education on January 19, 1949, he stated ” First and foremost task of the National Government is the free and compulsory basic education for all.”This means Union Ministry of Education had decided to impart compulsory and free education to every one of the age of 6 — 14 without any discrimination. Before independence, it was unthinkable because society was divided on the basis of caste, creed, sex etc.
The poor and marginalized were the victim of all sorts of exploitation. The policy of providing compulsory and free basic elementary education to school going children of the age of 6–14 put the foundation to root out illiteracy in India. According to the 2011 census report, the rate of literacy was 74.04 % ( It was 14.7% in 1947). The Right To Education Act, 2009 is in a way extension of policy implemented in 1947 with the addition that 25 % seats are to be reserved in schools for the children of people belonging to economically backward classes.
Under the leadership of Maulana Azad Secondary Education Commission (Mudliar Commission) was formed. He gave special attention to the education of women and illiterate adults. Central Institute of Education, Delhi was inaugurated by him on 19 December 1947 which later on was converted into Department of Education of Delhi University.
There was no central organization or body to provide recognition to the universities, to monitor, regulate and provide financial aid to them during the British regime. University Grants Committee established in 1945 was entrusted with the job of monitoring three Central Universities at Aligarh, Banaras and Delhi.
After independence under the leadership of Maulana Azad, University Education Commission came into being. Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan was the chairman of this commission on whose proposal University Grants Committee was converted into University Grants Commission ( UGC). In 1952, Central Government decided that all financial aid in the form of grants to universities and higher education institutes would be the responsibility of UGC which was inaugurated on 28 December 1953 by Maulana Azad, Minister of Education, Natural Resources and Scientific Research.
UGC was accorded statutory status in 1956. The benefits of the establishment of a central organization like UGC to regulate the universities and higher education institutes can be gauged from the fact that in India there are 911 universities and 39000 colleges in 2020. With respect to the number of higher education institutes, India occupies the third position after America and China. Here it’s worth mentioning that Maulana Azad played an active role in the development and progress of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, a deemed University.IISc is included in the top research and academic institutes of the world.
India is home to 23 Indian Institutes of Technology ( IITs), some of which are ranked among the top world technological Institutes. Under the guidance and leadership of Maulana Azad, the first IIT was established in 1951 at Kharagpur on the pattern of world-famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology ( MIT), USA. On its inauguration on 18 August 1951, Maulana Azad said:” I have no doubt that establishment of this Institute will form a landmark in the progress of higher technological education and research in the country.” In 1958 Mumbai and Chennai and in 1959 Kanpur Institutes of Technology were established one after another. In 1951 during the inaugural speech of IIT, Kharagpur, Maulana Azad had hinted about their establishment. He was actively involved in the planning of these Institutes.
Council of Scientific and Industrial Research ( CSIR) is a prominent Indian research organization with 41 science and technology research laboratories associated with it. It has more than 14000 employees out of which 4600 are scientists and it has thousands of patents to its credit. Although it was established in 1942, its real development started in 1949 under the guidance of Maulana Azad. On the occasion of the inaugural function of one of its laboratories ” Electronic Engineering Research Institute, Pilani on 21 September 1953, Maulana Azad said, ” The establishment of this 12th laboratory in 5 years means more than two research laboratories in a year have been founded and all these are no less than other laboratories of the same kind in the world as far as the standard is concerned.”
Maulana Azad strengthened the working of All India Council of Technical Education. Maulana Azad was completely aware of the importance and significance of Indian culture and fine arts. He knew that the British government didn’t take steps to preserve and promote them. On November 6, 1948, while inaugurating an art exhibition at New Delhi he said: “I am sure you will agree with me that no programme of national education is complete unless it can provide an appropriate place to national art”. Keeping this fact in view the established Sahitya Academy, Lalit Kala Academy and Sangeet Natak Academy to promote Indian Art and Culture. Indian Council for Cultural Relations was formed by Maulana Azad to promote Indian Culture at the International level.
Maulana Azad was posthumously awarded highest civilian award ” Bharat Ratan” in 1992 for his exceptional services to the nation India. National Education Day is celebrated every year on11 November to commemorate Maulana Azad’s birth anniversary. All over India, several institutes have been named in his honour.
Dr Aqueel Khan
Professor & Head ( Retd.)
University Postgraduate Teaching Department of Biochemistry,
RTM Nagpur University, Nagpur, Maharashtra