How communal really were Allama Iqbal and the two-nation theory?

Arup K Chatterjee
Arup K ChatterjeeMay 29, 2017 | 19:06

How communal really were Allama Iqbal and the two-nation theory?

Last year, an article on Allama Muhammad Iqbal almost went into oblivion. Ironically, it was on why "Iqbal was going out of fashion".

This April was Iqbal's 79th death anniversary. Whether or not he goes out of fashion, his two-nation theory never does — much to the political tragedy of both India and Pakistan.

His ghost is posthumously awarded each year the sobriquet of "philosopher of Islam", apart from his life being relegated as that of an eccentric who first called for an independent Muslim nation.

Lovers and antagonists of Islam - be that political or religious - want to subsume Iqbal in a homogenous discourse. Of course, it was not Islam that wanted an independent nation, but Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jouhar; followed by Choudhry Rahmat Ali, who coined the name "Pakistan", in the Pakistan Declaration; Mohammad Ali Jinnah; and other ideologues of the Muslim League.

The theory in today's context

Last week, a publication from Kashmir reported the launch of Khwaab, Azzab aur Sarab, a book by Late Pir Muhammad Afzal Mukhdoomi. Muhammad Yousuf Taing, an author and historian who was present at the launch, noted Iqbal as one of the "pillars of Kashmir's freedom struggle... [who] launched a Kashmir-centric newspaper at a time when the Maharaja did not allow publication of newspapers from [t]here... Iqbal wrote extensively about Kashmir and even formed a Kashmir committee of which he was the president. He celebrated Kashmir Day to stand against oppression on Kashmiri people."

muhammed-ikbal_052917064753.jpgTo him, Hindus seemed to be most in power, even at places where they were not, such as the first round table. Photo: World Bulletin 

While this seems to be a perfectly historical piece of information, when coupled with opinions on the political climate of Kashmir, it produces ahistorical readings. In her piece, Jinnah's 2-nation Theory Triumphs in Kashmir, Sagarika Ghose points out that the jewel in India's crown of secularism that Kashmir once was has been tarnished by the treatment the government and the army have meted out to the Kashmiris - India seeks only Kashmir, not its people.

Ghose's article was reported in Pakistan, where it can take on a different flavour — one that is likely to become a propaganda for Pakistan's inherent right over Kashmir.

Combine the pieces of the puzzle, and we have: Iqbal was a Kashmiri; he formed a Kashmiri committee and presided over it; he called for Kashmir Day; he called for an independent Islamic nation; he induced communal tensions in a perfectly harmonious nation during its freedom struggle. And nothing could be more preposterous than such a line of argument.

Iqbal did not want two nations. All he wanted was a Muslim India, within India.

Paradoxically, he did so not so much because he considered Hindus and Muslims to be essentially non-harmonious, but he believed Indian Islam was in need of reforms at that time, in order to acquire its true noble character, and differentiate itself from its fundamentalist turnin the Middle East.

Iqbal's notion of a Muslim India, within the larger dominion, came not from an arbitrary Islamic sentiment, but that of an Indian Muslim. "We have a duty towards India where we are destined to live and die," said Iqbal. "[W]e must look at the Indian problem not only from the Muslim point of view, but also from the standpoint of the Indian Muslim as such. Our duty towards Asia and India cannot be loyally performed without an organised will fixed on a definite purpose.' The clarion call for Muslims to come together politically was not meant to form another nation, but to serve the existing one, which Iqbal believed was an unjustly suffering 'ancient land."

Yet, all that sub-continental politics chose to remember were these words, taken entirely out of context: "I would like to see the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single State. Self-government within the British Empire, or without the British Empire, the formation of a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim State appears to me to be the final destiny of the Muslims, at least of North-West India."

Deconstructing Allama's Allahabad address

It is widely held that the first exposition of the theory came during the Iqbal's presidential address before the Muslim League, at Allahabad, on December 29, 1930.

What Iqbal spoke on that day could not be easily comprehended by ideologues of the time, let alone today. He spoke in English-a language not accessible to all in the meeting-of ideas that were derived from the European enlightenment, or more specifically the German philosophers, Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

What they understood as the higher consciousness or the "higher institution of pure ego", became in Iqbal's address a "higher communalism".

Iqbal did not consider India to be inherently divided on communal lines between Hindus and Muslims. However, he believed, for the complete "working out the possibilities that may be latent in them" the decentred Muslim consciousness had to come together in a political unity.

If the Muslims were not allowed the means of political self-determination, such as one-third reservations in the legislative assemblies, heterogeneous groups of Hindus would secure dominance over India, as the natural heirs to the British government.

Iqbal's Allahabad address happened at the time of the First Round Table Conference, in London, that was presided over by the Labour prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, and attended by 58 delegates representing British India, and sixteen from the princely states.

This latter category of representatives constituted a majority of Hindus, even outside the larger Hindu pantheon of political leaders in the nationalist movement. The Indian National Congress shunned the first round table, as most of the leaders were in jail, due to their activities in the Civil Disobedience movement. The presence of Hindus was notwithstanding an overwhelming force. Jinnah and Jauhar were among those who attended the conference from the Muslim League. With news trickling in from their quarters, Iqbal must naturally have felt the Hindus were in numerical superiority despite the odds.

Meanwhile, since Jinnah was not in Allahabad, but in London, at that time, he too had no direct access to what Iqbal said. His turning Iqbal's philosophical vision into a political reality was only a contorted and concerted afterthought. 

kashmir-pakistan_052917065120.jpgWhat India and Pakistan did to Allama's speech is the modern-day syndrome of Kashmiris swearing to hoist the Pakistani flag on Indian soil. Photo: Reuters

Reading deep into Iqbal's address, one wonders if his political will is in anyway directed against the Hindus. Rather, he seems to disguise, what he terms as the "economic inferiority" of his community, into a political situation where Muslims were not afforded substantial opportunities of improving their political position.

To him, Hindus seemed to be most in power, even at places where they were not, such as the first round table.

He says, "the participation of the Indian Princes, among whom only a few are Muslims, in a federation scheme serves a double purpose. On the one hand, it serves as an all-important factor in maintaining the British power in India practically as it is; on the other hand, it gives [an] overwhelming majority to the Hindus in an All-India Federal Assembly."

Iqbal wanted the rebirth of both Muslims and the larger Indian community, in the manner of the rebirth of an individual. He wanted communities to come together in their latent collective ego, and work towards the political fulfilment of the nation.

Islam, he believed, had saved Muslims, but it was now the time for Muslims to save Islam, and in the process the nation that Iqbal embraced as his own — an undivided India.

An enlightened communalism?

Iqbal's idea of a Muslim India within India, and all other political justifications were highly communal. Indeed, they belonged to a much higher order of communalism than can be understood today — at a time when Kashmir bears the worst brunt of communal divisiveness.

Even Rabindranath Tagore had advocated for an "enlightened communalism", in 1911. He claimed "unity" to be much different than "uniformity"; that a certain degree of disuniformity was essential towards the complete self-determination of independent political units.

Tagore's enunciation, since it came in Bengali, did not disturb much of the nation. Iqbal, who read out his address in English, actually spoke a language closer to Tagore's, than the communal vices we associate with the Allama.

In his later life, Iqbal was exceedingly disillusioned with the principle of Pakistan.

tagore_052917065750.jpgIqbal, who read out his address in English, actually spoke a language closer to Tagore's, than the communal vices we associate with the Allama. 

He supported it as the president of the Muslim League, but not as an Indian or a Muslim. Pakistan, he believed, would ruin the British government, the Hindus and the Muslims, alike.

Near the dawn of the 19th century, Tagore and Iqbal wrote two of India's most sung lyrics, "Jana Gana Mana", and "Saare Jahan Se Accha".

Both were critics of nationalism; both proponents of a higher order of communal enlightenment. What that communal ideal really was is a matter of another, a more philosophical, debate.

But what India and Pakistan did to Allama's speech is the modern-day syndrome of Kashmiris swearing to hoist the Pakistani flag on Indian soil; the Indian Army and Indian celebrities advocating the use of citizens and Booker-winning authors as human shields tied to army jeeps; and Pakistan rationalising jihad in the name of Kashmir.

Last updated: November 09, 2018 | 13:38
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