Gandhi and the Ali Brothers

Books - Gandhi and Ali Brothers

GANDHI and the ALI BROTHERS – Biography of a Friendship – By Rakhahari Chatterji, Sage Publications (I) Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, Pages 229, Year of Publication:2013, Price:Rs.695

Reviewed by Brig. Suresh C. Sharma, advisor to the telecom industry and freelance writer.  E-mail:

The book is an attempt to examine the start and the end of an intense relationship between Gandhi and the Ali brothers. The political rights of the minorities did not attract much attention till the middle of the 20th century. They were expected to be assimilated with the majorities. Gandhi’s movement in South Africa was the first movement for the rights of a cultural minority. After returning to India, he considered Hindu-Muslim unity to be essential for achieving swaraj. He believed that the support to the Khilafat movement, led by the Ali brothers, is fundamental for such a unity. The Khilafat movement sought restoration of the Islamic Holy Lands under the Caliph. It had pan-Islamic concerns but became a symbol for Indian Muslims for their political identity.

It was clear to the British after the mutiny of 1857 that unity amongst Indians was against the interests of the Empire. Sir Syed Ahmed Khan realized that the British could not be removed from India soon and advised the Muslims not to wage conflicts against them. His loyalty was rewarded by a largesse to establish Muslim Anglo Oriental [MAO] College at Aligarh. It later became the Aligarh Muslim University. He believed that the Muslims should restore their political identity in India and did not support the Khilafat movement. Nor did he support the Indian National Congress.

A section of the Muslims considered the British rule as a loss of self-esteem and identified themselves with the Caliphate in Turkey. Al-Afghani, who came to India in 1857 and again in 1879, was the source of anti-British pan-Islamism. Four major streams of thought took shape amongst the Indian Muslims based on pro or anti-British attitude and autonomous Muslim community or support for Hindu-Muslim unity. Reunification of the Bengal had hurt the Muslims and a deputation called on the Viceroy, Lord Minto. The Viceroy assured them that the political rights of the Muslims would be safe-guarded. Soon the Muslim League was born. It made a commitment of loyalty to the Government. The Muslims felt that separate electorates were essential for their political rights and the Congress agreed to it. This was the foundation of a permanent political disunity between the two communities. Jinnah joined the Muslim League when they passed a resolution for self-government in 1912.

The author gives a brief biographical account of the Ali brothers. Their paternal grandfather had received a jagir for helping the British in 1857 while their maternal grandfather had lost all they had for joining jihad against the British. They studied at MAO College, Aligarh. The younger brother Mohamed Ali obtained did well in the B.A. examination and proceeded to Oxford with the aim of joining the ICS. Due to a young man’s foolish fancy, the details of which remain undisclosed, he could not get into the ICS. He failed to get a teaching assignment at Aligarh and took small jobs in various government departments before settling down as the editor of a magazine, Comrade. The elder brother, Shaukat Ali followed a similar path. They joined the Muslim League, organized cheap mode of transport for Haj pilgrims and sent a medical mission to Turkey. They were interned for five years in May 1915 for suspected jihadi activities. The internment had turned them into bitter critics of the British rule and they became deeply religious. They wanted the Indian Muslims to identify themselves with fellow Muslims all over the world.

On his return from South Africa, Mahatma Gandhi was keen to understand the Muslim mind through contact with their purest and most patriotic representatives. Gandhi met Mohamed Ali in April 1915 and was impressed by his power of expression, religiosity, concern for Turkey and his capacity to reach the Muslim masses. Shortly after this, the Ali brothers were interned and Gandhi made a plea for their release. They were released in 1919. Mohamed Ali had gone to the UK to plead against the terms imposed on Turkey but failed to convince the UK Government.  On his return to India, he called for non-cooperation. The trustees of the MAO College, Aligarh rejected his plea to discontinue Government aid and closed down the College. With Gandhi’s help and backing, a new college, the Jamia Milia was started at Aligarh and later shifted to Delhi.

Hindu-Muslim unity was important to Gandhi and he thus supported the Khilafat movement. The Ali brothers toured India working in tandem with Gandhi calling for non-violent, Non-cooperation Movement for the cause of Khilafat. But, there were discordant voices among the Muslims for cooperation with the Hindus. The Ali brothers also made ambiguous statements about non-violence. The issue of a possible invasion by Afghanistan created embarrassment for Gandhi, particularly when Mohamed Ali asserted in a speech in Madras that he would assist the Afghan Army. Pundit Madan Mohan Malviya and Lajpat Rai were against any support to the Afghans. The Ali brothers then issued a signed statement to the press which amounted to an apology. The Urdu press reported with delight that the Ali brothers had obtained freedom from arrest by tendering an apology. The Khilafat document signed by Gandhi and the Ali brothers called upon the Indian Army soldiers not to fight against the Turks. The two brothers advised Muslims not to join the Indian Army. The Government responded by arresting the Ali brothers. The people started agitating and communal riots broke out in Malabar and other places after the arrest of Gandhi and the Ali brothers.

Khilafat became irrelevant when Turkey gave up the idea and the Ali brothers started losing their hold over the Muslims. In order to salvage their image, in a speech in 1924, they declared that “an adulterous Mussalman was better than Gandhi”. The Congress leaders were not amused. The non-cooperation movement had also failed. These developments and the break-out of communal rights put the alliance between Gandhi and the Ali brothers in trouble. Shaukat Ali blamed the Hindus for the riots in Kohat where they had suffered great loss of life and property. Muslim groups talked of reservations and separate electorates. Viceroy Lord Reading paid tribute to Mohammedan loyalty and promised to always protect their interests. Disturbed by communal riots, Gandhi took a one year’s holiday from politics. The Ali brothers strongly spoke for boycott of the Simon Commission but were critical of the proposal for joint electorates as suggested in the Motilal Nehru Report. They did their best to dissuade the Muslims from joining Gandhi’s call for the disobedience movement. The break was complete and Shaukat Ali even asked the Government to reward his loyalty by renewing his pension of Rs.150 per month which he had not drawn since June 1919. The Government obliged by paying it with effect from October 1933, refusing to pay for the period when he was opposing Government policies.

The author concludes that Gandhi’s idea of multicultural nationalism was too early for its time when Europe was redrawing its maps based on self-determination of ethnic nationalism. In 1927, Gandhi said “It [Hindu-Muslim unity] has passed out of human hands, and has been transferred to God’s hands alone.”

The book excellently brings out how Gandhi forged unity between the two communities by supporting the Khilafat movement and its decline when Khilafat became irrelevant.

Mr. Ashok Karnik (1931-2015) passes away

Ashok Karnik
Ashok Karnik

Within three months of the passing away of our dear editor, Mr. S. V. Raju, we receive news today of the passing away of Mr. Ashok Karnik. Readers of Freedom First will remember him as the author of the column Point-Counter-Point, meticulously pointing out the pros and cons of an issue, without being judgmental or taking sides. The two friends would have long tele-conversations on current topics, picking each other’s brains, so to say. I personally feel he must have missed Mr. Raju so much which was evident from his last few e-mails that it appears he has followed Mr. Raju for his daily dose of tete-a-tete with him.

Mr. Karnik was on the Advisory Board of Freedom First and in spite of his frail health he was actively penning his thoughts and instigating the recipient of his mails to reply.

In his e-mail of August 3, in response to our asking for feedback on Freedom First Digital edition, he forwarded articles he wrote on his own blog saying that he will continue to write on his blog and in Marathi newspapers.  We did not take it amiss and were waiting that sooner or later, he will restart his column on the digital edition.

“We have to live with an imperfect world and try our best to improve it”.  These are Mr. Karnik’s last words in his August 5 e-mail.  He chose not to live in this “imperfect world” and has moved on to a better and perfect abode in Heaven.

Freedom First offers its deepest condolences to his wife and family.  May his soul rest in peace!


Some People are More Equal than Others (Part 2) – By H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana

This is the second and final part of the article.  Mr. Bapu Satyanarayana takes us through four case studies.   Though the four persons he refers to are indians / or of indian origin, the difference, as he points out, lies in the system.  In the indian system, more often than not, hoi polloi are meted out a different treatment than creme de la creme.  Compare this to his fourth case study where justice is not only swift, but the high contacts of the accused could not change the diktat of the court of law.     

Salman Khan’s hit and run case

Salman Khan has acted in more than 150 films – many of them are block-busters. The film producers have exploited Salman’s macho personality to build a screen image of a man with a heart of gold which made his fans hero worship him.  This explains why Salman suffused with his self importance was involved in a controversy. For the 49 year old actor called ‘Bhai’, nemesis caught up when the Additional Sessions Judge D. W. Deshpande sentenced him on May 6, 2015 to five-year rigorous imprisonment finding him guilty of culpable homicide on clinching evidence. All evidence showed that Salman was driving under the influence of alcohol on September 28, 2002 when he ran over people sleeping on the pavement and killed one Nurulla and injured four others. ‘Hero Bhai’ Salman vanished and was arrested only a day later.  It also transpires that Salman did not have a driving licence.  It was expected that Salman would be jailed but instead it was conviction at 2 pm and interim bail at 4 pm! Justice A. M. Thipsey says, “It is not a case where I should keep him in jail till his appeal is heard and decided… we can’t take pleasure in seeing that someone is inside…why his right should suffer when his appeal is admitted and kept pending”. Until the next hearing on July 15, he was on bail and even permitted to leave India. The Bollywood fraternity came in droves to support Salman Khan including the redoubtable Aamir Khan who also anchors the tele-serial Satyameva Jayate. The strangest of all arguments is that Salman Khan has donated Rs.49 crore as though it will compensate for any violation of law.  In this sordid drama, the only silver lining is the 240-page verdict of the Additional Sessions Judge.

Sanjay Dutt Case

A popular Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, son of the illustrious couple Sunil Dutt and Nargis, was arrested under TADA and convicted in connection with the 1993 bomb blast case on the charge that he was in possession of a 9 mm pistol and an AK-56 assault rifle. During the trial it was established that he had connections with the underground don Dawood Ibrahim and that he tried to destroy the weapons.  On March 21, 2013, the Supreme Court convicted him to five years’ imprisonment.  Like Salman Khan his film image through blockbuster films – Munna Bhai MBBS and the image of Gandhigiri in the film Lage Raho Munnabhai catapulted him to be the darling of his fans that he can do no wrong.  He received sympathy from his film industry friends who believed that he was innocent.  It was owing to the connections of his father, the late Sunil Dutt who belonged to the Congress Party and later of his sister, also an MP could have played a part in watering down the charges from TADA to conviction on the Arms Act. The General Secretary of Congress Digvijay Singh jumped to his support while Justice Katju advanced strange argument saying that Sanjay suffered for the past 20 years whereas he got married twice during this period. Sanjay Dutt being granted bail frequently for one reason or the other had become normal charade with the result he has been out of jail for 40% of the time. Since the film industry’s more than Rs.200 crore were riding on him the ostensible reason for giving bail was that it would help the larger purpose of employment in the film industry!

Jayalalitha’s Disproportionate Assets Case

The trial of Jayalalitha is a saga of 18 years delay, involving 7 judges, 130 adjournments. In the judgment pronounced on September 27, 2014 the special court convicted her and all accused to 4 year simple imprisonment in connection with disproportionate assets case amounting to Rs.66.68 crores. On hearing the verdict, Tamil Nadu literally exploded because she has enormous fan following. It is reported in the section of the press                                           about 244 fans committing suicide!  It was the first case of a Chief Minister, in office, having to step down.  However, in May 2015 a single judge bench of the Karnataka High Court overturned the trial court verdict and acquitted all, and Jayalalitha has been sworn as the Chief Minister once again. According to the judge there was an arithmetical mistake and the actual amount was much lower and hence did not constitute disproportionate assets. However, after much vacillation the Karnataka government on June 5, 2015 issued a notification appointing Counsel B. V. Acharya as special counsel to appeal on behalf of the State government to argue the Special Leave Petition to be filed in the Supreme Court challenging the Karnataka High Court verdict acquittal.


Rajat Gupta’s case in the USA

Rajat Gupta, a high profile businessman of Indian origin, has made a name for himself in the USA, and is more famous for his charity work.  He too has a huge fan of admirers.  He is part of the charmed circle claiming intimacy with the likes of the former President of America, Bill Clinton, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and a host of others. He was convicted on the charge of insider trading and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment and had to pay a huge fine.  Rajat Gupta’s lawyers have argued that he did not accrue ‘direct financial benefit’ (reminds us of our PM Manmohan Singh’s recent statement) from the insiders trading. This, however, did not weigh with the court in its verdict in permanently banning him from serving as an officer or director of a public company which the lawyers contend is a ‘heavy price’ that Rajat Gupta was ordered to pay. The apex court even denied Rajat Gupta’s appeal against the life ban. Bill Gates, Kofi Annan and several prominent businessmen and humanitarians asked the US Judge to show favours when it was known he would be sentenced. Kofi Annan in his letter said “I urge you to recognize Rajat Gupta for the good he has done in the world to give him the credit he deserves for helping others and to take into account his efforts to improve the lives of millions of people”.  Rajat Gupta’s reputation for charity was so legendary that one of the members of the jury was moved to observe, “We wanted that the allegations weren’t true but at the end of the day the evidence was just overwhelming”.  In the end, the law of the land triumphed and Rajat Gupta was sent to jail.


The three cases – Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt and Jayalalitha – which are only the tip of the iceberg, show how the Indian system works in favour of the high and mighty.  It makes a mockery of the oft quoted statement that whosoever you may be, the law is above you.  The tragic reality is that vast majority of the poor and the helpless languish in jail for decades for petty crimes.  It is the running theme of our so called world’s largest democracy whereas in the USA, which we are fond of running down on many counts, have shamed us as far as upholding the law of the land is concerned. It has held a mirror to us showing the black face of hypocrisy by making an example of the legends like Rajat Gupta not being spared when they cross the Lakshman Rekha.

MR. H. R. BAPU SATYANARAYANA is a freelance writer based in Mysore.  Email:

Some People Are More Equal Than Others (Part 1) – By H. R. Bapu Satyanarayana

It makes a mockery of the oft quoted statement that whosoever you may be, the law is above you.

The case involving the conviction and release on bail of the popular Bollywood star Salman Khan has led to animated public discussion. It has a certain parallel with the novel Animal Farm written by George Orwell in 1946. It is a satirical novel in which story revolves round a group of animals who oust the humans from the farm on which they live. This happens because the animals see through the ploy of the humans when they say that Man and Animals have a common interest and that the prosperity of one is the prosperity of the other. In reality the animals find that Man serves the interest of no creature except himself. Intelligence dawns that man is responsible for their miserable condition. The animals run the farm by themselves only to have it degenerate into a brutal tyranny of its own. Animals had assumed, as a matter of course, that the product of their hard work would be shared. But pigs behave as if they own the farm and have a canine force to back up their claim. Their justification is that they are the brainworkers and claim that whole organization depends on them because they are watching over the welfare of other animals.

The canine force can be compared to the Bollywood fraternity that has defended Salman Khan, and earlier, Sanjay Dutt with tenacity as if their screen image is sufficient to bail them out of any heinous crime they commit. In the case of Salman Khan there was another additional reason – his charity work. If this is the case of Bollywood stars the other powerful and moneyed people like Ramalinga Raju of Satyam fame or Jayalalitha and others of their ilk tell a sordid story of justice being derailed. It appears the whole system conspires to bail them out to symbolize that the powerful and influential people in our society are above the pale of law making a caricature of our system of democracy while lakhs of poor people languish in jails across the country for years for committing petty crimes.

Another sickening feature is the double standard of our so called erudite criminal lawyers who, for hefty fees, are prepared to sell their soul to defend the indefensible. They indulge in technical wizardry of judicial interpretation to lead astray the system that is patently immoral and unethical. They have their professional justification alright but it is rotten to the core.

While we boast that we are the largest working democracy in the world, the comparison with other more evolved democracy like United States of America is revealing. The recent case of Rajat Gupta, a high profile businessman and a legend in his time for his charity work and belongs to the charmed circle of former president Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Kofi Annan, was jailed for two years for insider trading despite their appeal to the District Judge.

The hypocrisy of the Bollywod fraternity which has enormous popularity and wields influence on millions of its fans is glaring. While the film fraternity has stood solidly behind Salman Khan and Sanjay Dutt’s conviction on grounds of grave crimes, their conscience does not seem to be perturbed on India’s national tragedy concerning the Kashmir problem when Pakistan is bleeding India for decades by terrorist attacks or when Pandits are hounded out of their homes.

MR. H. R. BAPU SATYANARAYANA is a freelance writer based in Mysore.  E-mail:

FF Online Says : Mr. Bapu Satyanarayana had written this piece in June 2015 which we were unable to carry owing to space restriction in Freedom First July 2015 issue (print edition).  This is the first part of his article.  The four case studies made by him on this subject will be put up soon.

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Let He Who Is Without Sin – Firoze Hirjikaka

The primary objective of many of our politicians, irrespective of which party they belong to, is to make as much money as they can during their tenure.  Accountability is an alien term to our politicians.


One of the seminal political moments of 2015 occurred when at the completion of the first year of the Narendra Modi government, the Great Leader puffed out his 56 inch chest and proudly broadcast that there had not been a single financial scam during his time in office.  To use a colloquial expression, “becahara ne koi ni nazar laagi“.  Just days after his boast, skeletons began tumbling out of his ministerial cabinet with alarming rapidity.

It started with the lady once said to be in contention for the PM position before the Modi whirlwind laid low all opposition; the redoubtable Sushma Swaraj.  In an act of misplaced sympathy and uncharacteristic political miscalculation, Swaraj had written to the British authorities, urging them to grant Lalit Modi temporary travel documents to travel to Portugal to sign the consent form for his wife’s “critical” operation.  After news report of her “tender heart” surfaced in the media, the lady was left red-faced.  Even then, she might have managed to contain the damage, had not the irrepressible Lalit Modi not spoiled the plot by being seen having a ball in Ibiza just three days after the purported operation.  Soon the Opposition led by a rejuvenated Congress was baying for her blood.

Let us accept one reality.  The giving and receiving of favours is part and parcel of politics – and not just in India.  In the case of Swaraj, the ties to Modi are particularly strong, since both her husband and daughter have been providing legal counsel to the latter.  Moreover, Lalit Modi is a master fixer who has perfected the art of manipulating the powerful and the influential to his own advantage.  It is the reason why despite being a fugitive from justice, he has not only evaded prosecution, but continues to live the high life in London and Europe.  It seems surprising that a highly intelligent lady like Swaraj did not see through Modi’s transparent ploy of requesting travel documents on the flimsy pretext he offered.  In fact, it is fairly obvious that Swaraj knew precisely what Modi’s intention was, but did not see any harm in acquiescing to his wish. That’s what friends are for, right? Besides, Modi had helped get her nephew admitted to a prestigious London college – and so he deserved a helping hand, propriety be damned.  In Swaraj’s mind, it was such a small matter that the possible repercussions of her action  probably did not even occur to her.  She forgot that nothing remains a secret in politics; especially when members of her own party would be only too pleased to see her humiliated and dethroned.  Swaraj and the BJP will very likely brazen this out, since the Opposition simply do not have the numbers to take any effective action.  It does, however, put a dent in the PM’s often touted boast of probity in his government.

Sushma Swaraj was just the appetizer.  Waiting in the wings was the darling of the BJP and the marauding maharani who swept her party to a landslide victory in Rajasthan.  Vasundhara Raje suddenly found herself battered from all sides; and once again the villain of the piece was the omnipresent Lalit Modi, who happened to be a close family friend.  In a moment of weakness – or sheer stupidity – Raje had interceded with a British MP, on Modi’s behalf to help getting him permanent residency status in Britain.  Most damning of all, she had insisted that her assistance should not be disclosed to the Indian authorities- and then she had put it all in writing and signed the document.  Compounding the maharani’s discomfiture was the revelation that bosom buddy Lalit had showered pecuniary blessings on Raje’s son Dushyant by snapping up ten rupee shares in the latter’s “Naam ke vaaste” company at a mind boggling premium of almost a lakh a share.  Such munificence cried out to be rewarded; and Vasundhara apparently did just that.

These sordid revelations about their luminaries had the BJP bosses in a real quandary.  Even the Great Orator found himself at a loss for words.  After mulling it over, he apparently decided to adopt the lofty position of being above the fray. His man-ki-baat meandered over every topic except the one the public desperately wanted to know his opinion about. Eventually, the BJP triumvirate decided on the somewhat woolly headed strategy of flatly denying any wrongdoing whatsoever, even if it flew in the face of all logic and reason.  Our hearts went out to the hapless BJP spokesmen who were forced to defend the indefensible and tied themselves up in knots.  One felt a grudging sympathy even for the habitually obnoxious Sambit Patra, whose eyes bulged even more than usual; and who deflected any pertinent question on the topic towards an incoherent diatribe against the past sins of the Congress.

Meanwhile, back in Maharashtra, greenhorn Minister for Child Development Pankaja Munde was having problems of her own.  Munde, whose sole qualification for the job was that she is Gopinath Munde’s daughter, had allegedly issued contracts worth Rs.206 crores without tenders and some to blacklisted firms, in a single day.  This huge scam by Pankaja Munde exposed the hollow protestations of Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis that he is going to be ruthless in weeding out corruption during his administration. Now that one of his own ministers has been caught with her hand in the till, he is waffling and giving her the benefit of the doubt.  This sordid episode also reinforces the public perception that the primary objective of many of our politicians, irrespective of which party they belong to, is to make as much money as they can during their tenure.  In Munde’s case, what is even more reprehensible than the financial impropriety is the revelation that because of her greed and indifference, tens of thousands of poor students in the state were served chikki contaminated with clay and even faeces.  This in itself is grounds for criminal prosecution.  But of course, in India, ministers very rarely get prosecuted.  The worst they have to fear is being asked to resign. In Munde’s case, even this is unlikely.  Accountability is an alien term to our politicians.

Coupled with the misdeeds of Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhara Raje, the boastful assertion of our holier-than-thou PM that there has not been a single financial scam or case of impropriety during the first year of his government, stands revealed as the chimera it is.  In the case of Vasundhara, I wonder if other readers observed the irony of the lady being given a clean chit by Nitin Gadkari, who had to resign as BJP President because of his involvement in the Purti scandal; and whose purported innocence has yet to be established by a court of law.  The deafening silence of the generally voluble and tweeting PM is indeed intriguing, but perhaps he is preoccupied with his next foreign extravaganza.

 FIROZE HIRJIKAKA is a retired civil engineer and freelance writer.  He can be contacted at