Convergence and divergence of views

Updated November 09, 2017

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Allama Iqbal (centre; right in his characteristic headgear) sitting alongside Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the Round Table Conference in London (above). | Photo:
The Allama Iqbal Collection
Allama Iqbal (centre; right in his characteristic headgear) sitting alongside Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah at the Round Table Conference in London (above). | Photo: The Allama Iqbal Collection

ALLAMA Muhammad lqbal and Quaid i Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah are undoubtedly the two most important and influential leaders of the 20th century Muslim India. Their mutual relationship, as such, is a subject of substantial significance. Quite in contrast to what official historiography portrays, the two cannot be stereotyped as one and the same. An objective insight would suggest that they had their respective positions, and points of convergence and divergence, on issues of significance.

They, for sure, had a relationship of great respect for each other. Jinnah called lqbal the “sage philosopher” and the “national poet of Islam”, and Iqbal, in a letter to Jinnah, said: “Your genius will discover some way out of our present difficulties”. The divergence of views related to their perceptions of the Muslim community’s interests in India; lqbal seems to be focused on the north western region as the base for the expression of Muslim power, while Jinnah seems to have an all India strategy.

The correspondence between the two is little in terms of volume, but speaks volumes about their reliance on each other, particularly in the context of the Punjab, and also on their respective thrusts. Iqbal wrote to Jinnah 13 letters between May 1936 and November 1937. These were published after lqbal’s death with a foreword by Jinnah. Unfortunately, the replies sent by Jinnah are not available anymore as the trustees of lqbal’s estate, much to Jinnah’s disappointment, could not trace them. Introducing Iqbal’s letters, Jinnah wrote that lqbal’s “views were substantially in consonance with my own”.

The immediate context of the letters is the politics of the Punjab. Following the 1935 Act, elections had to be held in the province. The Unionist Party had already been in power. League contested the elections but lost. Jinnah got into an agreement with Punjab’s premier, Sir Sikandar Hayat, as a result of which League accepted to reduce its role in the Punjab, while the Unionists accepted Jinnah as the representative of the Muslim-majority province in negotiations with the government for the realisation of the central part of the constitution on which Indian organisations had yet to agree.

Jinnah wishes to accord a role to Iqbal in making the League effective. Iqbal takes great interest in the task. He emphasises the need to make the League a mass organisation and also speaks forcefully for addressing the economic problems. However, Iqbal also thinks that Muslim cultural protection and expression had priority over economic considerations. Despite his reservations about the Communal Award, he accepted it for it recognised the separate political existence of the Muslims.

MISS Fatima Jinnah looks at a portrait of Allama Iqbal during a visit to his home in Lahore in the 1960s. | Photos: The Allama Iqbal Collection.
MISS Fatima Jinnah looks at a portrait of Allama Iqbal during a visit to his home in Lahore in the 1960s. | Photos: The Allama Iqbal Collection.

Iqbal also thought that the redistribution of the country should be done in a manner that may consolidate Muslim-majority areas. Earlier in his 1930 Allahabad address, he had denounced the Lucknow Pact, which, to him, “originated in a false view of Indian nationalism and deprived the Muslims of India of chances of acquiring any political power in India”. None else but Jinnah was the architect of the Pact which had brought to him the title of the ‘Ambassador of Hindu Muslim unity’. Iqbal criticised the Pact because it gave weightage to non Muslims in the Punjab and Bengal in return for getting in the Hindu-majority provinces weightage for the Muslims.

Iqbal thought that this compromise hindered the realisation of Muslim power in their majority provinces. Now in his correspondence, he goes to the extent of saying that “the Muslims of north west India and Bengal ought at present to ignore Muslim-minority provinces”. This he thought would be in the interest of the Muslim-majority provinces. One does not actually know what precise replies Jinnah gave to him, but it seems that at least at that stage Jinnah continued with his all India strategy for the resolution of the communal issue and making a convincing case for the Muslims of India.

Reproduced below is a selection of lqbal’s letters, generally beginning with “My dear Mr. Jinnah” and ending with “Yours sincerely, Muhammad lqbal”:

AUGUST 23, 1936

My dear Mr. Jinnah,

There is some talk of an understanding between Punjab Parliamentary Board and the Unionist Party. I should like you to let me know what you think of such a compromise and to suggest conditions for the same. I read in the papers that you have brought about a compromise between the Bengal Proja Party. I should like to know the terms and the conditions.

MARCH 20, 1937

It is absolutely necessary to tell the world both inside and outside India that the economic problem is not the only problem in the country. From the Muslim point of view, cultural problem is of much greater consequence to most Indian Muslims. At any rate it is not less important than the economic problem.

APRIL 22, 1937

As the situation is becoming grave and the Muslim feeling in the Punjab is rapidly becoming pro-Congress for reasons which it is unnecessary to detail, I would request you to consider and decide the matter as early as possible. The session of All-India Muslim League is postponed till August, and the situation demands an early restatement of the Muslim policy. If the Convention is preceded by a tour of prominent Muslim leaders, the meeting of the Convention is sure to be a great success.

MAY 28, 1937

Our political institutions have never thought of improving the lot of Muslims generally. The problem of bread is becoming more acute. The Muslim has begun to feel that he has been going down and down during the last 200 years. Ordinarily he believes that his poverty is due to Hindu money-lending or capitalism. The perception that it is equally due to foreign rule has not yet fully come to him. But it is bound to come. The atheistic socialism of Jawaharlal [Nehru] is not likely to receive much response from the Muslims. The question therefore is: how is it possible to solve the problem of Muslim poverty? And the whole future of the League depends on the League’s activity to solve this question. If the League can give no such promises I am sure that Muslim masses will remain indifferent to it as before.

After a long and careful study of Islamic Law, I have come to the conclusion that if this System of Law is properly understood and applied, at least the right to subsistence is secured to everybody. But the enforcement and development of the Shariat of Islam is impossible in this country without a free Muslim State or States. This has been my honest conviction for many years and I still believe this to be the only way to solve the problem of bread for Muslims as well as to secure a peaceful India. If such a thing is impossible in India, the only other alternative is a civil war which as a matter of fact has been going on for some time in the shape of Hindu Muslim riots.

It is clear to my mind that if Hinduism accepts social democracy, it must cease to be Hinduism. For Islam the acceptance of social democracy in some suitable form and consistent with the legal principles of Islam is not a revolution but a return to the original purity of Islam. The modern problems therefore are more easy to solve for the Muslims than for the Hindus. But in order to make it possible for Muslim India to solve the problem, it is necessary to redistribute the country and to provide one or more Muslim States with absolute majorities. Don’t you think that the time for such a demand has already arrived? Perhaps this is the best reply you can give to the atheistic socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru.

JUNE 21, 1937

You are the only Muslim in India today to whom the community has right to look up for safe guidance through the storm which is coming to north west India, and perhaps to the whole of India. I tell you that we are actually living in a state of civil war which, but for the police and military, would become universal in no time.

I have carefully studied the whole situation and believe that the real cause of these events is neither religious nor economic. It is purely political, i.e., the desires of the Sikhs and Hindus to intimidate Muslims even in the Muslim-majority provinces. And the new constitution is such that even in the Muslim-majority provinces, the Muslims are made entirely dependent on non Muslims.

The only thing that the Communal Award grants to Muslims is the recognition of their political existence in India. In these circumstances it is obvious that the only way to a peaceful India is a redistribution of the country on the lines of racial, linguistic affinities.

Personally I think that the Muslims of north west and Bengal ought at present to ignore Muslim-minority provinces. This is the best course to adopt in the interest of both Muslim-majority provinces. It would therefore be better to hold the coming session of the League in the Punjab, and not in a Muslim-minority province.

AUGUST 11, 1937

Events have made it abundantly clear that the League ought to concentrate all its activities on the north west Indian Musalmans. The enthusiasm for the League is rapidly increasing in the Punjab, and I have no doubt that the holding of the session in Lahore will be a turning point in the history of the League and an important step towards mass contact.

OCTOBER 7, 1937

I suggest that the League may state or re state its policy relating to the Communal Award in the shape of a suitable resolution. In the Punjab and I hear also in Sind attempts are being made by misguided Muslims themselves to alter it in the interests of the Hindus. Such men fondly believe that by pleasing the Hindus they will be able to retain their power.

NOVEMBER 1, 1937

For the present I request you to kindly send me as early as possible a copy of the agreement which was signed by Sir Sikandar and which I am told is in your possession. I further want to ask you whether you agreed to the Provincial Parliamentary Board being controlled by the Unionist Party. Sir Sikandar tells me that you agreed to this and therefore he claims that Unionist Party must have majority in the Board. This as far as I know does not appear in the Jinnah­-Sikandar agreement.

NOVEMBER 10, 1937

After having several talks with Sir Sikandar and his friends I am now definitely of the opinion that Sir Sikandar wants nothing less than the complete control of the League and the Provincial Parliamentary Board. In your pact with him it is mentioned that the Parliamentary Board will be reconstituted and that the Unionists will have majority in the Board. I wrote to you some time ago to enquire whether you did agree to the Unionist majority in the Board. So far I have not heard from you. I personally see no harm in giving him the majority that he wants but he goes beyond the pact when he wants a complete change in the officeholders of the League, especially the Secretary who had done so much for the League. He also wishes that the finances of the League should be controlled by his men. All this to my mind amounts to capturing of the League and then killing it. Knowing the opinion of the province as I do I cannot take the responsibility of handing over the League to Sir Sikandar and his friends. The pact has already damaged the prestige of the League in this province; and the tactics of the Unionists may damage it still further. 

Yours sincerely Muhammad Iqbal Bar-at-Law

Correspondence has been excerpted from Letters of lqbal, edited and compiled by B.A. Dar, and published by Lahore-based Iqbal Academy Pakistan, 1978.


The writer is Adjunct Professor, Pakistan Study Centre, University of Karachi.


This story part of a special report on Iqbal under the banner of ‘70 years of Pakistan and Dawn’. Read the report here.