The course of history is shaped by those who possess the qualities of an orator (man of words) and being laborious (man of action). While Quaid-e-Azam was the man of action, it was Iqbal, who through his words provided the much needed impetus to the struggle for a separate Muslim homeland, while simultaneously guiding Jinnah through his mission.
Eric Hoffer, an American social philosopher, in an insightful work on mass movements, The True Believer (1951), wrote: “A movement is pioneered by men of words, materialized by fanatics and consolidated by men of action’ – primarily because of a fanatic’s ‘inability to settle down and play the role of a practical man of action...’ The most inspiring and massive movement of the Indian Muslims in British India, the Pakistan Movement, indeed went through the hands of these three types of men. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the man of words, laid the foundation of a separatist political movement, as I have argued elsewhere at length (A Leadership Odyssey), articulating Muslim interests in the new, colonial system of representative government, inherently biased against the Muslim ‘minority’ community. Aga Khan and Syed Ameer Ali followed suit. But Maulana Mohamed Ali, the self-confessed ‘fanatic’ in his zeal for the Khilafat (in spite of Kemal Ataturk’s insistence that it had ‘ceased to have any relevance for Turkey’) broke the back of the separatist movement by entering into an alliance with the Hindu majority community. Though, he soon realized the false, pretentious nature of the alliance and fell back upon the separatist path eventually, he could not now suggest a clear path and indeed a goal. It was left to another man, a man of words, again this time, subject of this brief essay, Allama Muhammad Iqbal (November 9, 1877-April 21, 1938), to revive and reinforce Muslim separatism and help evolve it into the Pakistan Movement, seeking a separate state for the Muslims of the subcontinent.
But before I proceed further with Allama Iqbal’s rise and role in this movement, it needs to be stressed that Iqbal was not only a man of words, he was a man of action too. During 1926-33, he led the Muslims in the Muslim-majority province of the Punjab through a very critical phase of politics in India. But then, as Hoffer argued, ‘such metamorphoses are usually temporary, and that sooner or later there is a reversion to the original type’. With deteriorating health in 1933 and thus not able to commit to active politics or public life anymore, Iqbal turned into a man of words again, inspiring and guiding his political colleague and now president of the All-India Muslim League, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, towards the idea of a separate state for the Muslims, primarily through his private letters in 1936-37. Jinnah, later, after Iqbal’s death, gratefully published these letters with a preface titled, Letters of Iqbal to Jinnah (1942). These letters, in themselves, apart from his other contributions, speak volumes about Iqbal’s influence on the Pakistan Movement.
Iqbal was a man of words in the perfect sense. He was a poet, writer, philosopher, lawyer, teacher, and of course, a highly educated person, especially for his time. He was a graduate of Government College Lahore, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, and had obtained his doctorate in Philosophy from Munich University in Germany, with a dissertation, ‘The Development of Metaphysics in Persia: A Contribution to the History of Muslim Philosophy’, a significant addition to the literature on the subject. Later, realizing the need for ‘a scientific form of religious knowledge’, Iqbal, of course, went on to publish his philosophical lectures given at the behest of the Madras Muslim Association at Madras, Hyderabad, and Aligarh, in the form of a book, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1930). The book was meant ‘to reconstruct Muslim religious philosophy with due regard to the philosophical traditions of Islam and the more recent developments in the various domains of human knowledge’.
The Nehru Report of 1928, the first serious effort to frame the future constitution of India by the Indians themselves, led by Pandit Motilal Nehru, had thrown Muslims into the void. It had subverted the already small space for the Muslims in the political system by repudiating the principle of separate electorates, one of the earliest and the most important Muslim demands, indeed the bedrock of Muslim separatist political movement.
While his prose, given the sophisticated philosophical nature of the discourse, remained relatively confined to the educated classes and the elite, his poetry, and plenty of it, from Asrar-i-Khudi (1915) to Zarb-i-Kalim (1936) to Armughan-i-Hijaz, published posthumously (1938), was for all the Muslims, all classes and social groups, to awaken their ‘soul’ to realize their true potential through action and accomplishments. Though, he had ‘affinity of thought’ with some Western poets, Dante, Milton, Goethe, Wordsworth, and Browning, his main ‘inspiration’ was the great Persian mystical poet, Maulana Rumi. He was ‘Iqbal’s ideal poet’. While there is so much written about and so much more to discuss about Iqbal as a poet and his poetry, given the paucity of space at my disposal, I will concentrate upon the main topic, his influence on the Pakistan Movement, as a man of words. In this context, I will start with his path-breaking Allahabad Address of 1930, as President of the Muslim League at its 21st session held at Allahabad (UP).
Allahabad address came at a very desperate moment of the politics of India. The Nehru Report of 1928, the first serious effort to frame the future constitution of India by the Indians themselves, led by Pandit Motilal Nehru, had thrown Muslims into the void. It had subverted the already small space for the Muslims in the political system by repudiating the principle of separate electorates, one of the earliest and the most important Muslim demand, indeed the bedrock of Muslim separatist political movement. The report insisted on ‘Joint mixed electorates’. Jinnah, at the subsequent All-Parties Convention held at Calcutta (Kolkata) in December 1928, tried his best to impress upon both the Indian National Congress and the Hindu Mahasabha, the need to reach an amicable settlement on this and related demands to help the Muslims march along with them in the struggle for freedom’, but to no avail. His famous Fourteen Points did not move them either. The Round Table Conference in London in November 1930, called by the British Government, seemed a hopeless case already with the Congress refusing to attend its first, formative session.
Iqbal, after a brief analysis of ‘Islam and Nationalism’ and its implications, told the attendees of the session that the ‘religious ideal of Islam, therefore, is organically related to the social order which it has created. The rejection of the one will involve the rejection of the other. Therefore, the construction of a polity on national lines [Indian nationalism], if it means a displacement of Islamic principles of solidarity, is simply unthinkable to a Muslim’. He insisted that ‘the Indian Muslim is entitled to full and free development on the lines of his own culture and traditions in his own Indian homelands...’ Indeed, he went on to assert that, ‘since seventy millions of Muslims in a single country constitute a far more valuable asset to Islam than all the countries of Muslim Asia put together, we must [sic] look at the Indian problem, not only from the Muslim point of view, but also from the standpoint of the Indian Muslims as such’. In fact, they were a ‘nation’ already, ‘the only Indian people who can fitly be described as a nation in the modern sense of the word’. He, therefore, demanded ‘a Muslim India within India’, comprising the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), Sind (Sindh) and Baluchistan (Balochistan), as ‘the final destiny of Muslims, at least of North-West India’. He assured his audience that this ‘Muslim demand for the creation of a Muslim India within India is perfectly justified’. Bengal, of course, was added later to this Muslim demand, as we shall see in his letters to Jinnah. But before we examine the letters, value their importance, and indeed as guidance for Jinnah – the ultimate and undisputed leader of the Indian Muslims after 1937 – let us look at Iqbal, in an additional role, as a man of action as suggested earlier, and as a political leader in Punjab.
Iqbal stepped into active politics in 1926, after he left teaching at the Punjab University. But, for a man of words that he essentially was, this transition was not easy. However, he realized that he owed it to the Muslims, who were demoralized after the Khilafat fiasco, to help ‘translate his own ideals into political practice’. Hailing from Punjab, he stood for elections to the Punjab Legislative Council and indeed managed to defeat his opponent convincingly. In 1927, thus, he entered the assembly and got involved in the legislative politics of the province. He joined the Punjab Nationalist Unionist Party of Mian Fazl-i-Hussain, the League being virtually non-existent. Unionists made sense to him for two reasons, primarily. One, it was a fierce champion of separate electorates for the Muslims which Iqbal valued the most. Indeed, he saw separate electorates as a fundamental ‘principle of Muslim national identity’. Two, it was supportive of the Land Alienation Act which Iqbal saw was in the best interest of the Muslim landowning classes. However, Iqbal ‘maintained a nominal membership’ among the party. Later, of course, he joined the Muslim League, Mian Muhammad Shafi faction of the Muslim League after its split with Jinnah over the Simon Commission. While Jinnah was opposed to the all-white commission, Iqbal was still hopeful. He felt that nothing would be lost if the Muslims stood united and pressed their demands from the British. However, the commission failed to secure Muslim interests as a whole, though it did reaffirm the Muslim right to separate electorates. Iqbal was disappointed and indeed ‘aggrieved’ for leaving the Muslim situation ‘where it was’. The Muslims were not recognized ‘as a distinct political entity’, with their own special, separate interests. Disappointment with the British authorities, however, brought Iqbal close to Jinnah and his stance in politics like never before. The two of them participated in the Round Table Conference, Jinnah in the first and second session, Iqbal in the second and third session. In the end, both were disappointed with its outcome, the Communal Award of 1932 and the Act of 1935.
By then, Iqbal was not in good health and indeed was left with no choice but to abandon active politics. He did not seek re-election to the assembly. However, upon Jinnah’s insistence, he agreed to serve the Muslim League as its President in the Punjab and head its Parliamentary Board to organize the party for the upcoming elections in 1936-37. He vowed to make the League ‘a mass party of the Muslims’. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons beyond his control, the party failed miserably. It was able to elect only two representatives out of 175 Muslim seats available in the province, one of them leaving the party soon. While this failure was a setback no doubt, it helped the cause of Muslim separatism and, eventually the Pakistan Movement, in two very important ways. One, it established a personal bond between the two leaders, indeed Iqbal endorsing Jinnah as ‘the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has a right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to North-West India and perhaps to the whole of India’. Two, and perhaps more importantly, it marked the return of Iqbal to his original and more significant role of the man of words. It was in this role that Iqbal finally was in a position to influence the Muslim destiny in India, leading towards the Pakistan Movement, to good effect, through his letters to Jinnah, to which we must now turn for some discussion.
One thing, striking and clearly distinct and different from his earlier Muslim demand in the Allahabad address, in these letters, written years after, in 1936-37, was demanding a separate homeland for the Muslims, not as an integral part of the Indian federation. He demanded ‘a free Muslim state or states’, constituting a ‘separate federation of Muslim Provinces’. As he put it in his letter of May 28, 1937, ‘the enforcement and development of the Sharia of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim state or states’. Again, on June 21, 1937, he wrote, ‘why should not the Muslims of North-West India [sic] and Bengal be considered entitled to self-determination just as other nations in India and outside India are? Rejecting the idea of ‘a single federation’, he continued, ‘A separate federation of Muslim provinces… is the only course by which we can… save Muslims from the domination of non-Muslims’. Thus, one can clearly see a fundamental change in the demand. Indeed, the Muslims had ‘no other option except either to demand full autonomy in Muslim majority provinces within a very loose federal structure or to carve out a separate sovereign Muslim state’. Iqbal proposed a separate sovereign Muslim state. This should end the unnecessary debate and controversy about the intent and purpose of Iqbal’s demand for the Muslims. Iqbal appealed fervently to Jinnah to declare ‘as clearly and as strongly as possible the political objective of the Indian Muslims as a [sic] distinct political unit in the country’.
Jinnah, of course, influenced by Iqbal and his thought and given his own long and frustrating experience of pursuing the so-called ‘Indian nationalism’ ideal, could not agree more. In his presidential address at the Muslim League session on March 22, 1940 in Lahore, he publicly declared that ‘the only course open to all is to allow the major nations separate homelands by dividing India into ‘autonomous national states’. Muslims, he stressed, ‘cannot accept any constitution which must necessarily result in a Hindu majority government… Hindu raj’. The League resolution presented on March 23 and adopted on March 24, 1940, resolved ‘that the areas in which the Muslims are numerically in a majority as in the North-Western and Eastern zones of India, should be grouped to constitute Independent States in which the constituent units shall be autonomous and sovereign’. This was the making of the Lahore Resolution, eventually the Pakistan Resolution. The rest is history, well known and documented.
Jinnah, of course, remained indebted to Iqbal for his guidance and advice on the political destiny of the Muslims, which he readily accepted. In fact, Jinnah’s secretary and first biographer, M. H. Saiyid, in his biography of Jinnah, first published in 1945, published during Jinnah’s lifetime, claimed that, “It was in fact the spirit of Iqbal that showed itself through Mohammad Ali Jinnah”. Indeed, he went on to record, for posterity, that Jinnah told him once, after the Pakistan Resolution, “Iqbal is no more amongst us, but had he been alive, he would have been happy to know that we did exactly what he wanted us to do”. There could be no better or stronger proof of Iqbal’s influence on the Pakistan Movement, an acknowledgement and indebtedness coming from the creator of Pakistan himself. The more the scholars, the researchers, the students, and indeed the general readers will read and understand Iqbal, the man of words, the more they will be convinced of his influence on the man of action and, of course, his act, the Pakistan Movement and its pursuit. Indeed, the two men are inseparable, integral parts of a momentous historical process and its final outcome, Pakistan.
The writer is a Distinguished Professor of History and Public Policy and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, FC College University, Lahore.
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