‘He didn’t speak only for Muslim India, but all India’

Politicians, former diplomats, and government service colleagues, including Vice-President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and former Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, remembered politician and Muslim ideologue Syed Shahabuddin, who passed away earlier this month, at a memorial meeting on Friday.

Mr. Ansari, who had known Mr. Shahabuddin first as a fellow foreign service officer until the latter resigned in 1979, spoke of his commitment to “serving the nation and the Constitution”. He praised Mr. Shahabuddin for the journal he published, “Muslim India”, that focussed on issues concerning the minority in India.

“Even now, when I travel, I find the journal in prestigious libraries abroad, which shows how important his research and documentation was,” Mr. Ansari said.

‘Stood for downtrodden’

Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar said he knew Mr. Shahabuddin, who was elected twice to the Lok Sabha from Kishanganj constituency (1985 and 1991) and was a Rajya Sabha member (1979-1984) from the Janata Party, both politically and personally. “He did not care about a position; he only wanted to serve,” Mr. Kumar said at the India Islamic Cultural Centre auditorium.

Dr. Manmohan Singh spoke of his long association with Mr. Shahabuddin, in particular his contribution to the Sachar committee report on the status of minorities in India, while Mr. Yashwant Sinha referred to him as his “mentor”.

Mr. Farooq Abdullah said Mr. Shahabuddin had “stood for the nation, and every downtrodden community. He didn’t just speak for Muslim India, but all of India.”

Raised contentious issues

Family members recounted how Mr. Shahabuddin had raised contentious issues after joining politics and then after he became the president of the All India Majlis Mushawara. “He was trolled at a time the world didn’t know what trolls were,” said his daughter Parveen Amanullah, who is also a politician and served as Bihar’s Minister for Social Welfare.

Among the issues Mr. Shahabuddin drew criticism for were his opposition to the Shah Bano judgment in 1985. Mr. Shahabuddin, the father of five daughters, had defended his position as “not communal”, but one to keep Muslim “religious identity” intact. He also took a strong position on the Babri Masjid that was demolished in 1992.

In recent years he raised a controversy when he published an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2012, when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister, with a 9-point demand for granting compensation to victims of the 2002 riots. When he faced flak from within the community, he clarified that he didn’t support Mr. Modi’s re-election.

Fiery student leader

Former Foreign Secretary Muchkund Dubey was among his former batchmates (1958) from the IAS and IFS who spoke of how Mr. Shahabuddin had first made a name for himself as a fiery student leader. In 1955, he had famously led a massive student demonstration with black flags against then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, protesting against police firing on students. Despite the black mark on his police record, Mr. Shahabuddin, who was a student at Patna University, was selected for the civil services, and studied at the academy.

“Even in the Academy, Shahabuddin had a fire in his belly,” said former Chief Election Commissioner and Member of Parliament M.S. Gill, who was his batch-mate.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 2:18:46 PM |

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