There is a lot to learn from the farewell speech of Congress veteran, Ghulam Nabi Azad. There is also a lot to unlearn from it. Especially from the part of his speech where he said: “I am among those fortunate people who have never been to Pakistan but when I study the kind of circumstances there are and evils that exist in the society of Pakistan, I feel proud to be a Hindustani Musalmaan.”
Ghulam Nabi Azad teaches us that the marketability of any speech that Muslims in India deliver depends on how passionately they bash Pakistan and to what extent they avoid asking tough questions. After all, Gulam Nabi’s speech brought tears in the eyes of the prime minister of the largest democracy. If we compare Gulam Nabi’s speech to the speech that student activist Sharjeel Usmani gave in Elgar Parishad on January 30, for which he is currently facing sedition charges, it will discern that the moment a Muslim refuses to bash Pakistan or decides to instead share their lived experiences that do sprout discomforting questions, they will be instantly criminalized. Sharjeel Usmani said in his speech: “To me, Pakistan is not a bad place. I repeat, Pakistan is not a bad place for me. Be it India or Pakistan no place in this world is. No place is good or bad, what kind of place it is, it’s decided by society, it is decided how much equality there is in this place, not that the name of this place is Pakistan.”
If the equality that Sharjeel is using as a benchmark to love a country truly existed, he would not be facing sedition for merely recalling anti-Muslim hate crimes that happened under the current Uttar Pradesh government. Come to think of it, if we can endorse Ghulam Nabi’s speech even as some sort of positive feedback from someone who feels proud to be a Hindustani Musalmaan, cannot we also endorse Sharjeel’s speech as critical feedback from someone who demands equality, safety, and justice? It shows that even Ghulam Nabi is only fortunate if he keeps feeling pride. The rest of the human emotions like discontentment, anger, and disapproval are forbidden for him. Otherwise, Sharjeel would have been allowed to tell that he feels them, and we would have tried listening to him.
Not only Ghulam Nabi Azad, but any sensible person with an honest understanding of the partition of India should also say that they feel fortunate to never go to Pakistan. There was nothing ceremonious in staying in India or migrating to Pakistan when the streets of Delhi, Bengal, and Punjab were tainted in red blood. It did not even cross the mind of people whose entire world turned upside down in the passage of a night. They solely acted out of their survival instinct. Many had to abandon their established business when they migrated as they saved their life by fleeing their home, and many lost contacts with their siblings as they saved their life by staying back. My great grandfather did not migrate to Pakistan during partition. But his elder brother did. And his choice was based on the purely consequential basis.
When politician Mahmood Madani spoke on behalf of all Muslims in India and said that when “we were asked to choose between living in India and Pakistan during partition, we chose India”, he suggested that there was after all two choices on the table for everyone. It is in fact a popular misconception that many still believe despite the plethora of books written on partition and umpteen movies made. Ghulam Nabi’s speech is another reminder that we need to unlearn it on an urgent basis. Otherwise, as more Sharjeels will face sedition, more Ghulam Nabis will be bashing Pakistan and feeling proud of it.