16 April 2024 05:00 PM



Mushirul Hasan: A Strong Voice Silenced

Historian, Author, Former Vice Chancellor of Jamia Millia Islamia

Mushirul Hasan, a friend, a mentor, an icon. He died today after a struggle with life over the past few months, indeed years, as a car accident cruelly interrupted his tryst with India. Unlike many others in the academic world Mushir did not stand on ceremony, was always there with a warm and encouraging word, and took passionate interest in the travails of life and politics. His death is a loss to the world of academia, but also a major blow to the Idea of India that he gave voice to without hesitation or fear.

And an irreparable loss to us, his friends.

There are so many memories starting with Jamia Millia Islamia where he ran foul of regressive forces seeking to control the university. He was targeted and attacked, threatened and abused, but he stood firm even as hundreds of others walked with him in what was really a journey for academic excellence in a minority institution. He did not give up and returned as the Vice Chancellor working to convert his dream into action, setting up centres of academic excellence, and honouring those who had contributed to the freedom movement and to the emergence of secular and democratic India.

Many an evening was spent with Mushir, wife and academic of repute herself Zoya, thrashing over the challenges to India, arguing, disagreeing but always respecting the other point of view. Heated exchanges never took away the affection with Mushir always there with a warm word of encouragement, and support with Zoya by his side, shushing us into silence to listen to him every now and again. He wrote extensively, to the point where we would joke about his ‘book writing industry’ to which he would smile, and invite us for the next book launch. Quality never suffered, with Mushir passionate, detailed and factual about everything he did.

He was often seen by friends as a possible Vice President but that was not to be. He headed the National Archives for a while, and brought his acumen and zest into converting the dusty corridors into an active chronicle of history. He was keen for us to start a column on the eccentricities of Indian leaders, that odd story that brought not just a smile to the lips, but also gave an insight into the personality of the specific person. “Just get it going, I will give the material” he said but alas, this remained to happen.

I would often accuse Mushir of being a die hard Congressman, a charge he never really accepted. And gradually I came to realise why. He was indeed a Congressman if the Congress one was talking about was that of Gandhi and Nehru. He had sharp differences, perhaps even some disillusionment with the party as it evolved (degenerated?) and did not hesitate to speak this out. He was a little kinder to the Left at one stage, but then turned into its most bitter critic. He was never really enthused about the third front, as the historian in him balked at such efforts without ideology and ideals.

He had a love relationship with Jamia Millia Islamia, not sufficiently reciprocated. Despite his qualifications he never looked at any other University. I asked him not once but several times as to why he did not examine other possibilities, and kept yearning for Jamia even when that University had treated him so badly on more than one occasion. He would smile, and say, “this is where I want to be, nowhere else.” Mushir felt he could make a difference, and he did.

We will miss you Mushir although we lost you in the car accident a while ago. But there was solace in knowing you were there. A voice that India needed, a powerful voice in these trying times, has been extinguished. Rest in Peace friend.