Sir Syed and then Iqbal distrusted Congress
By: Dr. Rajkumar Singh
Among Muslim stalwarts Sir Syed Ahmed was first to look into the problems of the Muslim society and strive hard for a solution. He led the attack on Hindu domination and asked the Muslims not to identify themselves with the Hindus, to keep aloof from the Congress movement and instead to seek their salvation through cooperation with the British and through modern education. He had to fight on two fronts, to convince his own people to change, and against the British to adopt a more liberal attitude towards the Muslims. He clearly laid down his principles distinctly, which were two in number; to the Muslims he said that they should take to Western education, and to the British he said that the Muslims were not opposed to them; that they were not their enemies no longer; a review in their policy was called for; a reconciliation with the Muslims would be in their own interests; it would win the gratitude of the largest minority in the country who could play a balancing part in politics.
Theme of his vision: Sir Syed gave new life to a dead society which, within a short period, regained its vigour and self-confidence. He urged the Muslims to believe that there was only one way left for survival, namely loyalism in politics and modernism in institutions. The Muslims were, in general, not aware how progressive the West was in intellectual pursuits in the economic sector, in military might and political shrewdness, and he urged them to know, learn, understand and then practice these arts. He went further and said that Christianity and Islam are both good religions, although Islam is better. He believed that there could be a reconciliation between Islam and other faiths, and was convinced that Muslims must study the modern world, including the physical sciences. For the interest of Indian Muslims, he formulated an educational scheme on the Western model and combined this with the basic teachings of Islam, more or less rationalistically interpreted. With the financial aid of the Muslim middle classes and support of the government he founded the Anglo-Oriental College in 1877, which later became Aligarh Muslim University. The educational movements of Sir Syed had its impact on Bengali Muslims. It made them conscious of their backwardness compared to Hindus. Towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, Muslims in Bengal also began to send their children to English schools and colleges, because they could at last realise that unless their children were educated in English, they would have no opening in government employment or other professions.
Impact on British post-Mutiny: In the post-Mutiny phase it was due to his efforts that the British adopted a pro-Muslim attitude or rather became in favour of those elements among the Muslims who were opposed to the national movement. British policy towards them underwent a gradual change and became more favourable. This change was essentially due to the policy of balance and counterpoise which the British Government had consistently pursued. Sir Syed discouraged the Muslims in joining the national movement through the Indian National Congress, formed in 1885. Although he was not opposed to Congress because he considered it predominantly a Hindu organisation; he opposed it because he thought it was politically too aggressive, and he wanted British help and cooperation. He was in no way anti-Hindu or communally separatist. Repeatedly he emphasised that religious differences should have no political or national significance. Later he also supported thw Muslim League, which was founded in 1906 to divert the attention of the younger generation of the Muslims. This new political party initially had two principal objects: loyalty to the British Government and the safeguarding of Muslim interests.
The frustration of the Muslim masses, and social as well as political experience of Sir Syed, found a new meaning in Dr Mohammed Iqbal, a poet, an intellectual and a philosopher. The actual credit for conceiving the idea of Pakistan goes not to Sir Syed but to Sir Mohammed Iqbal in the true sense of the term. Sir Syed had laid the foundation and Iqbal raised the structure which was finally finished by Mohammed Ali Jinnah. Iqbal was popular especially in the younger generation, and began by writing powerful nationalist poems in Urdu and Persian. His popularity was no doubt due to the quality of his poetry, but even more so it was due to his having fulfilled a need when the Muslim mind was searching for some anchor to hold on to. The sensitive heart of the poet was much touched by the despicable conditions of the Muslims after the First World War. His intense love of Islam and the failure of the Muslims to catch the right spirit of Islam made him reflect deeply in order to reconstruct the true Islamic thought.
Vision guided Iqbal and Jinnah: Thus, the idea of a separate Muslim State flashed, for the first time, in Iqbal’s vision, was the by-product of his sensitivity as a poet, discerning mind as a philosopher and his passionate love of Islam as a mystic. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the chief architect of Pakistan, had traced the idea to Iqbal and said, “The idea of Pakistan it is well known, originated in the brain of the late Hazrat Allma Iqbal. He was the mouthpiece of the highest aspirations of his people.” In the then prevailing situation, the dilemma for the Muslims was that if they went too far in cooperating with the Hindus their distinctive way of life might be undermined. But if they did not participate fully in the building of the new nation, they ran the danger of remaining an isolated segment of the population which might be left behind as the Hindus moved toward a modernised society and an industrialised economy. Iqbal drew the Muslim community from this dilemma and in his Presidential address to the Muslim League convention held in Allahabad in 1930, pleaded for a separate state for Muslims and said, “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 the North-West India.”
However, with the change in the political situation, the increasing power of the Congress and the humiliation of the League leadership on the electoral front in which Congress governments were formed in a number of provinces, the idea of Pakistan was revived and made the basis of a new movement. Meanwhile, the currents of modernisation– education, concentration in urban areas, development of indigenous literature– had influenced the Muslims, raised their self-awareness as a community, and, frustrated as they became with democratic politics, accentuated their sense of isolation and separate identity.
The writer is head of the Politcal Science department, BNMU< Saharsa, Bihar, India. He can be reached at: [email protected]