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MC Chagla: A Titan Among the Nationalists
|by V. Sundaram|
'Nothing can be truly great which is not right.' - Samuel Johnson
In 1973-74, I had the good fortune of reading the autobiography of Mohammedali Currim Chagla (1900-1981) titled Roses in December which is one of the truly great autobiographies written by eminent Indians. Born in 1900 in Bombay, he became an eminent lawyer. He was appointed as Professor of law to Government Law College, Bombay in 1927. He worked for Mohammed Ali Jinnah as his secretary and the Muslim League before it became a separatist party. In 1928, the Congress asked Motilal Nehru to write a draft Constitution for India as a riposte to the Simon Commission Report. The Nehru Report spoke in terms of a secular India, a vision that was rejected by Jinnah. A disillusioned Chagla then left Jinnah for good.
M C Chagla was appointed as a judge of Bombay High Court in 1941. After independence, Mahommedali Currim Chagla (M C Chagla) was elevated as Chief Justice of Bombay High Court in 1948 and held that post with great distinction till 1958. Later, he became Ambassador to the USA, Mexico, Cuba, Vice-Chancellor, University of Bombay, High Commissioner to England, Minister of Education (UGC pay scales etc. were his creation) and so on.
On 25 September, 1958, H M Seervai, Advocate General of Maharashtra paid this great tribute to Chagla when he laid down the office of Chief Justice of Bombay High Court - 'The Bar is here today to express my Lord the Chief Justice the affection which everyone has for him and our pride and admiration for his work as a Judge and Chief Justice of the Court. It is a proud privilege to speak for the Bar, but I realize how inadequate my words must appear to this gathering, for, if I tried to say all that is in our hearts and minds today, I would not know where to begin or where to end.' But the thing which I admired most in you was that you were no dry-as-dust lawyer who looked upon the Law Reports as the last word in human achievement. You have been one of the most distinguished Indians to have passed out of Oxford University. I imagine no one who has been at Oxford can do so. Rather, to use the words of a great Oxford man, the Earl of Oxford and Asquith, your Lordship always kept with you 'the company of great thoughts, the inspiration of great ideals, the example of great achievements, the consolation of great failures.' You thus brought to your work as a lawyer not only a first class mind, but a sense of form and values which is given by a broad and humane culture, qualities which were to prove invaluable for your work as a judge and for your work with great cultural institutions, in the Bombay University and the Royal Asiatic Society. Your elevation to the Bench in 1941 came as no surprise to anyone. Thus began a judicial career as fine as any within the memory of my generation and in 1948 when he became the Chief Justice, the whole Court felt the impress of your personality. I can best describe that impress by saying that you were determined to see that in the Court of which you were the Chief Justice, emphasis should be laid , not so much on the sternness and majesty of justice, as on its healing and protective power, for you felt that justice would be an unlovely figure if kindness and mercy did not go hand in hand with her. As to the Bar, it turned to you in all its difficulties and, I must say, it never turned in vain. You had a smile for all and frown for none and you made everyone feel happy and at home in your Court. All this could not have been achieved without self-discipline and natural goodness of heart.'
When M C Chagla was holding the post of Union Education Minister (now called Union HRD Minister) and Chairman, Central Advisory Board of Education, he was asked as to how he envisioned his job and mission. He said that it was his mission to educate a generation of Indians who would not be surprised when they saw a Hindu as vice-chancellor of Aligarh Muslim University while his counterpart at Banaras Hindu University was a Muslim. This poor ? undoubtedly noble man probably never envisioned the day when someone like Arjun Singh would be sitting in the same chair and emitting the fumes of rabid anti-Hindu communalism in the name of pseudo-secularism! In one of his famous addresses, Chagla as Union Education Minister declared: 'No country can become really great unless it can produce men of the highest caliber. Democracy does not mean dead monotony; it does not mean that you discourage or discount talent or genius, After all, talent and genius is rare but it is the man of talent and genius that can make a nation great. Therefore, it is necessary that we should think of, producing men of high caliber who will carry on the great traditions we have in this country. Now, quality must be emphasized in all sectors of education, namely, the primary, the secondary and the higher or the university education.'
The mute millions of India should compare and contrast this approach of M C Chagla with that of his successor today, I mean HRD (Human Resource Destruction!) Minister Arjun Singh who is known for his Himalayan wisdom and who decided last year that the best way of safeguarding Aligarh Muslim University's minority status is by reserving 50 per cent of the seats for Muslims. It is reported that this decision was taken unilaterally, without consulting anyone else in the Cabinet. His fellow Ministers chose to remain notably silent. Only the Left Front, which supports the Ministry from outside, came out openly against this move of Arjun Singh. There is a general belief that the move was taken by Arjun Singh, upon the secret dicta of Sonia Gandhi and silently abetted by Dr. Manmohan Singh, in a bid to woo Muslim votes for the Congress in the ensuing elections to the UP Assembly next year.
Sonia Gandhi, Dr.Manmohan Singh, Arjun Singh, Shivraj Patil, Antulay, Ram Vilas Paswan and other known Global Tekhedars (contractors) of Pan-Pseudo-Secularism would be shocked to sudden cultural death by the following words of Chagla addressed to delegates to the first plenary session of the Bharatiya Janata Party at Samata Nagar, Bandra Reclamation, Bombay, on 29 December, 1980.
'The British believed in communalism in order to keep the Hindus and the Muslims apart so that they could govern the country for all time to come.
'After partition took place the minority that remained in India, that chose to remain in India and subscribe to our Constitution, is as much Indian as the Hindus, Christians or Parsis. The divisions between the communities are now at an end, and we are together the Indian Nation. Then why should it be divided into so many political minorities? The answer is that the Congress deliberately encouraged separate formation of minorities, because they wanted their votes. They have even coined the new expression 'vote bank'. To them the right to govern and the prestige that it brought were more important than the unity of the nation. As a result we are in the same position as we were before partition. There are Hindu parties and Muslim parties and caste parties, and people are selected to stand on the basis of caste or religion. They are also elected and are taken in the Cabinet on that basis.'
Smt. Indira Gandhi violated the spirit of the Indian Constitution with impunity by imposing a National Emergency on the midnight of 25 June, 1975, on the ground that a threat was posed to the internal security of the country. The real cause was the threat to her position as Prime Minister following the Allahabad High Court judgement when on 25 June, 1975, the Supreme Court, while admitting her appeal in the election petition against the Allahabad High Court judgement, granted a partial stay. Indira Gandhi's propensity to act like a Hitler or Stalin was exhibited by her in 1973 itself when she superseded three senior judges of the Supreme Court, particularly Justice Hegde, Justice Khanna and Justice Shelat and appointed Justice A N Ray as the Chief Justice of India. There was a countrywide protest against his appointment. At a public meeting held at Sunderbhai Hall, Mumbai in 1973, Justice M C Chagla spoke strongly against the blatant political interference of Indira Gandhi in the functioning of the judiciary at the highest level. This meeting was also addressed by former Chief Justice Shah and Palkhiwallah, both of whom fully endorsed the principled stand taken by Justice M C Chagla on this vital national issue.
The real test came when the Emergency was declared in 1975 and in the fight against Emergency, the contribution made by Justice M C Chagla is indeed unforgettable till today. Arun Sathe, a noted BJP lawyer and one of the top leaders of the BJP has paid this tribute to M C Chagla: 'M C Chagla was really a gem of a person. For a right cause, he never hesitated in participating and in taking upon himself certain responsibilities. When I recall the selfless public services of Chagla, I consider myself blessed by God that I had the privilege of being associated with him. I remember that immediately on imposition of Emergency in June 1975, I went to his residence. Many eminent lawyers including Ram Jethmalani were present there.
When I requested Chagla to appear in the Bangalore High Court in a habeas corpus petition of Atal Behari Vajpayee and L K Advani, he readily agreed and went to Bangalore. The rest is history. 'The history of the Emergency cannot be completed without extolling the services rendered by the late Justice M C Chagla, late Justice J C Shah and the late N A Palkhiwala. In the 32nd anniversary year of the Emergency, I salute these three legendary figures who worked and fought for civil liberty, individual freedom and political democracy in India.
In 1980, just one day prior to the first All India session of the BJP, an All India Lawyers' Conference was held in Mumbai under the Presidentship of Ram Jethmalani who was then the vice-president of BJP. The said conference was addressed by Justice Chagla, Justice J C Shah, Justice Soli Sorabji, lawyer Shanti Bhushan and many others. When Arun Sathe requested Justice Chagla to attend the BJP session next, he readily agreed and his historic speech at that session is now a part of the history of BJP. Justice M C Chagla addressed the delegates to the first plenary session of the Bharatiya Janata Party at Samata Nagar, Bandra Reclamation, Bombay, on 29 December, 1980. Here are a few brilliant excerpts from Justice Chagla's great speech on that occasion: 'I am not a member of the party and I am not addressing you as a delegate.
Still I assure you that when I am talking to you I do not feel like an outsider. I honestly and sincerely feel that I am one of you. This is because all of you have come here for a cause that is as dear to me as it is to you. This huge gathering that I see before me is Bombay's answer to Indira Gandhi. This gathering tells her plainly that those gathered here are opposed to her authoritarian methods and her intention of becoming a dictator. These people are here to fight for the cause of democracy. They are here to tell her that the country is in a terrible state, that there is chaos, mismanagement and corruption everywhere. We are not being ruled by the rule of law but by a group of opportunists, hypocrites and sycophants.
At the same meeting in Bombay, Chagla also said that he had always admired the Jana Sangh Party because of its discipline and its honesty. He decried that the term 'politician' had become a byword for dishonesty and corruption. The former Jan Sangh was considered mainly as an urban party, a middle class party focused only on domestic problems. He expressed his happiness over the fact that the BJP was becoming gradually an All India phenomenon. Justice Chagla boldly declared: 'The Bharatiya Janata Party is not a communal party. It is truly a national party in the real sense of the term. It is interested in the various problems, difficulties and sufferings of the people of the country as a whole, and not of any particular part of India. Indira Gandhi keeps repeating in the newspapers and on the radio every other day that this party is dominated by RSS, that it is communal, and that every communal riot that takes place is caused by the RSS, or some other imaginary element. This is a charge that I would like to refute as being totally baseless and unwarranted. As regards other parties, the Communists may have a following, but they are not nationalist parties. They look to Moscow or Peking to get their orders, so their credentials for consideration as replacements for Indira Gandhi are immediately ruled out. Therefore, BJP is the only party left.'
What is amazing is that Justice Chagla showed tremendous foresight in observing as early as 1980 that only the BJP was capable of serving as an alternative to the Congress Party. He was proved right in 1999 when Vajpayee became the Prime Minister of India.
Justice Chagla expressed the view that the Congress government had often followed the old British policy of communalism. In his view, if it was communalism to pass over and ignore a man with merit simply because he happened to be a Muslim or a Christian or a Parsi, it was also communalism to appoint a person merely because he happened to be a Muslim or a member of some other minority community. In his view, it was injurious to the interests of the minorities themselves to have posts and offices filled by men who had no merit, merely because they wanted representation in high offices. Justice Chagla concluded: 'The minorities have come to expect that they will get certain posts whether their men deserve to get them or not. It is much better that they learnt to work hard and deserve the post. When I'm told that there is no minority representation in any particular post, I often ask the question; Is there any deserving person who has been passed over? If so, it is injustice, and we must fight against it. But if there is no deserving person, then to clamor for a post is really to be COMMUNAL.'
Finally he was a great champion of the Uniform Civil Code for Muslims. The need of the hour is to de-politicize all the Muslim issues, which are detrimental to national integration. For this, an aggressive but meaningful campaign as part of a larger project aiming at creating a critical class within the Muslim society is to be evolved by the Muslim intellectuals by a scientific and modern interpretation of Islamic scriptures. Let the Muslim Personal Law be the starting point.
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Dr.Krishna Chandra Singhal
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