ZAMEEN, Apr-May, 1999
Additional research by Meesam Razvi and Iqbal Qamar
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817 - 1898): the birth of a nation
"In the past I have always spoken of harmony between the Muslims and the Hindus but it now seems to me that the two are distinct nations and the differences between them will increase with the passage of time. He who lives will see..."
Sir Syed Ahmed Khan is often remembered as the pioneer of the idea that the Hindus and the Muslims were two different nations -- an idea that has, in retrospect, become known as "the two-nation theory." Modern historians attempting to unearth limited urban middle-class motives working behind this colossal figure have only succeeded him in making him more interesting for our own generation after just a little more than a century.
Sir Syed came form a noble middle class family of Delhi, which had served the Mughals for generations but was swift enough to read the signs of the time: Syed Ahmed himself began his career in the service of the notorious East India Company. Even during the upheaval of 1857 he remained loyal to his British masters, even though he declined his share of the rewards that were generally bestowed upon the loyal Indians afterwards: these were obviously the properties confiscated form the hands of fellow Indians. This singular incidence is just as representative of Syed Ahmed's policy as any of his more worthy achievements: a genuinely caring heart for his own folks and a blaring loyalty to the British.
Syed Ahmed became well-known as well as highly controversial in the decades following the fall of the Mughal Empire because at this time he tried to reform the Muslim society of his times socially, politically, religiously, educationally as well as in matters of literary tastes. His social reforms, though mostly based on the contemporary Victorian values of the colonialists, served an urgent need by stirring up the youth of the next generation towards longing for new ideals of "common good" (Syed Ahmed's favorite term in Urdu was "qaumi bhalai"). There is every reason to believe that the influence of his movement, as well as that of the Aligarh University founded by him, was far greater than his stringiest critics would like to allow. He was the single-handed creator of a glorious era: Shibli, Iqbal, Muhammad Ali Jauhar and many others who came after him can easily be seen as bright starlets engineered in the magic workshop of this old wizard.
Syed Ahmed always looked suspiciously at the democratic reforms of the colonialist masters, which he saw as destined to disrupt the social values as he knew them. He was in fact honest enough to admit that he would prefer to be bossed by a lower-class white man rather than a lower-class native. Therefore a defensive nature and a lack of the spirit of freedom became distinctive features of his political philosophy when he opposed the formation of an All India National Congress ("What? Has it been assumed that there is a nation in India?"). However, it must not be forgotten that his All India Muslim Educational Conference, shrewdly set up to distract the Muslim middle class from the activities of the Congress, was perhaps the most decisive factor in bringing about a sense of national solidarity of the Muslims of India, especially but not exclusively, those belonging to the North-western regions. It was from this platform that the All India Muslim League was born in Calcutta, merely eight years after the demise of Syed Ahmed Khan. He was one of those few in the gallery of history who had managed to pass on their influence to the posterity in complete vitality, and through the most inadequate means.
Allama Iqbal (1877-1938): the poet of uncharted territories
"Humanity needs three things today - a spiritual interpretation of the universe, spiritual emancipation of the individual, and basic principles of a universal import directing the evolution of human society on a spiritual basis."
Muhammad Iqbal, probably one of the greatest Muslim thinkers of the modern times -- if not of all times -- was raised up with a thorough grounding in the heritage of Persian and Arabic scholarship and literature as well as modern western philosophy. From his impressive beginning as an exceptionally moving Urdu poet of the romantic tradition at the turn of the century, especially known for his humanist inclinations, he developed through the second decade as a philosopher of individualism (in his own terms the "preservation of khudi, or the self"). Loosely related with this central doctrine was his belief that loyalty to a geographical region discourages the human spirit from aspiring to higher ideals. Thus he declared that the European concept of nation state is essentially reductionist, and therefore, adhering to a geographical patriotism was like worshipping pagan gods.
In the late 1920's he delivered a series of lectures later collected printed under the collective title of The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam. In these he stated that the modern world needs a spiritual interpretation of life as well as the universe, and that this is possible only through the establishment of "spiritual democracies." By this he meant states that would accept the religions of all citizens as divine truths and thus unite them, not on the basis of a common homeland, but in the name of a common God, who can be worshipped by different people in different forms. According to Iqbal, this was the lost ideal of Islam, which has never materialised in its history. In he presided the annual session of the Muslim League held at Allahabad and in his presidential address proposed that the Muslim majority provinces of the North-West India (Sindh, Balochistan, Punjab and N.W.F.P.) should be united in a unit within or without the greater British India so that the Muslims could get a piece of land to experiment the establishment of such a spiritual democracy. This address, commonly known as The Allahabad Address, has since then become known as the first charter of the Pakistan Movement.
Iqbal's poetical works include his magnum opus Javed Namah (in Persian) and Baal-e-Gibreil (in Urdu). He lived eight years after his presidential address, long enough to see Muhammad Ali Jinnah taking lead of the Muslims of India, but not quite long enough to see the demand for a Muslim homeland adopted as the League's official policy in the Pakistan Resolution. In the recent years there has been much scholarly discussion over whether Iqbal's proposed spiritual democracy was the same as the Pakistan demanded in the Lahore Resolution of 1940, but so far there hasn't been a conclusive answer. The official position of the opinion-makers of Pakistan remains that he was, after all, the ideological father of the Muslim homeland. How far the new nation has adhered to his principles remains a bitter question.
Choudhary Rehmat Ali (1895 - 1951): the fire within
"…The thirty million Muslims of Pakstan, who live in the five Northern Units of India - Punjab, North-western Frontier (Afghan) Province, Kashmir, Sind, and Baluchistan… demand for the recognition of their national status, as distinct from other inhabitants of India, by the grant to Pakistan of a separate federal constitution on religious, social and historical grounds." (1933: Covering letter to 'Now Or Never: Are we to live or perish forever?')
Born in a village near Hoshiarpur (Punjab), Rehmat Ali was a single-minded Muslim student who found himself in Lahore at the most interesting times: the second decade of this century. He imbibed many of the ideas of Iqbal against modern nationalism, but also made his own substantial contributions to them. While the older Kashmiri philosopher had always retained a soft corner for the non-Muslims of India, especially the Hindus, this young radical was putting forth a most uncompromising definition of Muslim nationalism. The key concept was that India was not one geographical unity but two. The first unit consisted of the five North-western provinces that were homeland to the Muslims, and them he called Pakstan (later spelled Pakistan -- the acronym was coined to mean "The Land of the Pure" in Persian with letters from each of the five provinces put together.) The people of this unit had in the previous centuries invaded India and subjugated it to their "Pakstani" empires (such as the Mughals). Rehmat Ali believed that after the end of the empire in 1857, there is no reason why the geographically distinct Pakistan should remain with its former colony. "The distinction between Pakistan and Hindustan (India proper) has been, and shall ever be, clear as a midday sun. While in the former they [the Muslims] are in their national home, in the latter they are a minority community, who had once ruled by right of conquest. It is a tragedy that… the two were confused." Already, by the 1920's, Rehmat Ali was labeled as radical and dangerous by most of his colleagues.
His trip to Cambridge by way of higher studies (beginning late twenties) matured him into a full-time pamphleteer for what he now established as "The Pakistan National Movement" with 3, Humberstone Road, Cambridge as its headquarters. The Muslim delegates of the Round Table Conferences shunned him like a bad pie, and even after the publication of his first major pamphlet "Now Or Never; are we to live or perish forever," the prominent Muslim leaders like Allama Iqbal and Sir Zafrullah Khan made categorical denial of having anything to do with Rehmat Ali's ideas.
It seems palpable that this bunch of cyclostyled papers was revisited by Jinnah in the days of his post-election gloom in 1937, just when he was formulating his new vision. The odd idea of Pakistan was then finally accepted by that genius of Muslim politics as the only solution to the Indian problem -- much as Rehmat Ali had always believed.
Rehmat Ali, however, was never destined to receive any direct credit for his life-time of struggle: it remains uncertain whether he was even invited to the Lahore Resolution or not -- even though he was clearly in the town around that time, he never visited the occasion.
Jinnah (1876-1948): words into action
"We [the Muslims of India] are a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilisation, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of values and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions, aptitudes and ambitions, in short, we have our own distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international law we are a nation."
Muhammad Ali Jinnah began his career as a promising young lawyer with overt political ambitions. In the multicultural and forward-looking turn-of-the-century Bombay he found his earliest patrons and mentors among the Parsi politicians like Sir Pheroze Shah Mehta and soon emerged as the uncompromising advocate of provincial autonomy and minority interests. He became something of a political legend when in 1911 he successfully introduced the Wakf Validating Bill in the Viceroy’s Legislative Assembly as one of his members. This brought him an immediate recognition in the Northern India and two years later he was coerced into accepting the membership of the All India Muslim League on hi sown terms: he was given the privilege to retain a concurrent membership of the League’s arch rival, the All India national Congress. This in turn enabled him to engineer the Lucknow Pact (1916) between the two parties, which was one of the highest point ever touched on the graph of communal harmony in India.
Jinnah’s disillusionment started when in the early 1920s the Congress, under the guidance of Gandhi and with full support of the Muslim leaders, began to bypass the constitutional procedure in its zeal for securing an early freedom from the British colonialists. To Jinnah, the means had always been as important as the end, and he saw Gandhi’s tactics as a populist appeal to unreason. It took almost a decade before others could see that he was right: in 1928, the Nehru Report reverted the process of communal understanding by proposing a centralized constitution for the future India blatantly overlooking the provinces and the minorities. Jinnah’s "14 Points" early next year presented his formula for a prosperous India: (a) maximum autonomy to the provinces, (b) universal application of the democratic institution (he could not see any justification why certain areas, such as the tribal areas, could be allowed to continue their backward and oppressive systems of government) and (c) constitutional securities for minorities in the centre. He never retracted, nor changed, his stance from this.
The 1930s was the decade of political change in India. A new India Act in 1935 launched a trial run of self-government in India. The elections, held in 1937, were swept by the Congress, which abused its powers so badly in the next two years that a majority of Muslims began to fear a "tyranny of the majority" at the end of the British colonialism. This was the time for them to listen to Jinnah: "You [say] that a Muslim is born free. When was he free? In this country at any rate we have been slaves for 150 years."
World War II started in 1939, and the Congress ministries resigned soon afterwards. The next year Jinnah simplified his political principles into a resolution that has since then become known as The Pakistan Resolution.
Pakistan Resolution (23 March 1940
"Resolved that it is the considered view of this Session of the League that no constitutional plan would be workable in this country or acceptable to the Muslims unless… 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."
During the 90 years that passed between 1857 and 1947, the political will of the Muslims of India took expression in several different avenues.
The late nineteenth century were the times of great philanthropic movements among all communities living in India. Among them, the Muslim philanthropists were marked by their non-political character. When the Muslim Educational Conference (founded by Sir Syed) gave birth to the All India Muslim League in 1906, the political party was conceived mainly as a bridge between the British rulers and the pro-colonialist Muslims.
As the initial apologetic reaction of the Sir Syed gave way to the utopian vision of Iqbal, and the Muslim masses became increasingly conscious of an impending political revolution, the League began to realise its role as the prime channel for the expression of the Muslim political will in India. By the end of the 1930’s the colonialists had already began speaking about the transfer of power (even though the date remained unclear). The Muslims had also started looking for solutions that would guarantee them constitutional safeguards in a Hindu-dominated India.
The annual session of Muslim League was held in Lahore 22 through 24 March, 1940. The location was Manto Park, in the vicinity of the monumental Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. It was the first public session of the League since the beginning of the World War II last autumn, and the turnover was more than expected. The resolution that was presented on the second day demanded that the provinces of India should be regrouped in clusters according to religious majority of the people living in those provinces. The resolution demanded that these provinces should be joined to form independent "states" (later changed to "state"). The provinces mentioned there were Sindh, Punjab, Balochistan and N.W.F.P (the same as mentioned by Chaudhry Rehmat Ali eight years ago, with the exception of Kashmir which was left out because at the moment it was technically not a province but a princely state. Later on, Bengal was also added to the list).
The official reference of the Resolution was The Lahore resolution, but the Hindu newspapers dubbed it The Pakistan Resolution as they came down with heavy criticism on it – something the League did not regret, welcoming this unexpected publicity. The League adopted the Pakistan Resolution as its fundamental term of reference for participation in any negotiation on the future of India. It is true that the course of events played its due role in finalising the geography of Pakistan, but it can be fairly asserted that the Pakistan that came into being seven years later was a materialisation of this legally-worded demand first voiced in the Spring of 1940.