Remembering Arjun Singh

Navaid Hamid

The news of the death of Mr. Arjun Singh has come as a shock for the civil society of India which was always richly benefited from the visionary guidance & pluralistic ethoes for which Mr. Arjun Singh stood for several decades. He was one of the vanguards in the national politics who had tirelessly worked for the communal harmony and stood like a rock against the fascist communal forces in the country.

The minorities had always looked at him as a champion of their rights and had found him as the guiding force at times of crisis. His committment to the secular ethoes had made him the messiah of the downtrodden, marginalised and the minorities equally.

Former Human Resource and Development Minister Arjun Singh (November 5, 1930 – March 4, 2011)

The empowerment of the marginalised sections including Muslims had always been on priority in his mind and the nation would never forget his contribution in de-saffronising the educational system which was badly infected during the rule of NDA & the path breaking work done by the National Literacy Mission under his guidance. His commitment & contribution as Union Minister for Human Resource Development would be remembered forever. The minorities would particularly  remember him as the statesman who had sincerely worked for the their educational empowerment. Maulana Azad Urdu National Open University, introduction of modern & scientific courses in Madarsa’s, facilitation of easy access and hurdle free environment for the establishment of their institutions of higher learning are few to be counted at this hour.

His blessings remained with those taking initiatives in forming Peoples Integration Council, in absence of the will of the then NDA leadership to convene NIC and worked for  communal harmony, that lead to the reconstitution of  National Integration Council after UPA came to power in 2004. In 2002, when I had campaigned for the convening of the National Integration Council & had met the then Prime Minsiter Atal Bihari Vajpayee twice with the representation with out any assurances and progress by the then BJP led NDA Government, it was Arjun Singh who had not only agreed to the idea of creating Peoples’ Integration Council (PIC) but had blessed the initiative with his guidance consenting to be the first founder member of the PIC, which had successfully convened the PIC Convention which was inaugurated by Mr. K.R. Narayanan, the former President of India and was blessed by Madam Sonia Gandhi with the the key note address.

The news of his death is a personal loss for me. I had the privilege to be one of his sea of admirers who had learned a lot under his guidance. He was one of the few leaders who had not only campaingned but had always encouraged the upcoming faces in the social life. I have never found him closed to the innovative ideas and open discussions on any number of issues.

He had showered his utmost love and blessing on numerous occasions and I can not forget that embarrassing moment when while delivering the Valedictory Address at the ‘Workshop on the Condition of Minorities in South Asia’ at Parliament Annexe, New Delhi on 16th September 2005 and  in attendance of nearly 50 foreign delegates including Ministers and Jurists from nearly all SAARC countries, he had kindly remarked, “In my own assessment, Navaid Hamid represent the civil society of this country who does not hold any official position and yet I want to inform that in the last few years when reasons and good governance were in eclipse in this country, one of the most cherished institution which was established by no lesser than our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the ‘National Integration Council’, which obviously by its name denotes integration which is the basis of all civilised society, that came to be one of the targets of those who have been at the helm of affairs in India and I am saying with the sense of extreme regret but that is the fact and should not be lost sight of. At that point of time the civil society in this country was not prepared to allow this initiative to be eclipsed. The first person who became active on this account was none else than Mr. Navaid Hamid and it goes to his credit in a similar fashion that he made possible now, he was a moving spirit which galvanised all of us as part of civil society of this country to create Peoples’ Integration Council. The telling effect of that event was that when this present alliance government came into existence and the common minimum programme of this alliance was being formulated, the pride and place was given to restoring the National Integration Council which had fallen into disuse.” The remarks of the statesman of his time shows his commitment to encourage all those who had a desire to work in social life.

When UPA-I came to power, I had the privilege to brought to his notice about the hardships the minorities had faced in the NDA rule for establishing the educational Institutions in spite of their fundamental right as enshrined in the Constitution under Art. 30. He immediately agreed to convene a National Convention on Minorities Education which was inaugurated by Dr. Manmohan Singh, the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, where participants narrated the woes and hardships they had faced in the BJP led NDA rule. On my humble suggestion he constituted “National Committee for Monitoring Minorities Education” in Ministry of Human Resource Development under his Chairmanship, with members from all minority communities, to monitor the implementation of the programmes and policies for minorities under his ministry.

During the financial crisis in the national news agency, UNI Urdu,  Mr. Shaikh Manzoor, the then head of UNI Urdu approached me for facilitation of some financial resources from various Government agencies. Mr. Arjun Singh not only agreed for a substantial grant to the news agency at the time of its crisis but had also spoken to Mr. Priyaranjan Das Munshi, the then Minister for I&B on the crisis.

As education comes under concurrent list of the Constitution,  it was brought to his notice that the State Governments usually sits on the application for ‘No Objection Certificates’ for establishing educational institutions by the minorities, he directed various autonomous institutions under Ministry of HRD to incorporate guidelines that  in case, the State Government fails to respond negatively to the applicants in stipulated time frame , agencies under his ministry should consider it as No Objection from the State Governments and  proceed with granting permission to open institution of higher learning.

Jamia Millia Islamia as a thanksgiving gesture named one of the road in its campus after Arjun Singh during his lifetime because of his genuine concern, sincere desire for making the university as one of the best seat of higher learning in the country and his special packages for creating better infrastructure and for introduction professional streams in the university.

IN 2006, Prof. AW Azhar of All India Persian Teachers Association approached me for pleading the case of opening Persian Reseacrch Institute in Aligarh Muslim University and we met Arjun Singh alongwith a  delegation comprising Persian Scholars from acorss the country. He immediately agreed to support the idea and subsequently during his visit to AMU announced Ministry’s handsome grant for creating the Persian Research Institute in the University.

There are numerous incidents which are haunting my mind when he was  so gracious and kind for considering the suggestions of even ordinary citizens for incorporating in his plans.

I found very few who had such vast vision, articulation and statesmanship after his demise. With his death the forces of communal harmony and secularism feel orphaned.

(The author is secretary of the Peoples Integration Council  & Member National Integration Council)


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