Iqbal’s Lesson For Leaders

Obsession, some say, is a bad word. Sometimes, I think that if Kashmir has not become a passion to the point of obsession with me. Whenever, I read a new book, history or fiction I start looking for parallels in it to our situation. Latest in the row has been ‘Iqbal in Politics’ by Hafeez Malik a professor in political science at Villanova University. Comprising twelve chapters and spreading over 316 pages the book   published by Sang-e-Meel Publication, Lahore in 2009   is priced at Rs.750.

A large number of ‘Iqbal scholars’ believe that he is ‘nothing more or less than a poet’.  Iqbal however never thought himself a “real poet”, ‘because he never had the leisure to devote to subtleties of poetic craft. Poetry was to him a mere medium of expression of views. He stated that ‘the objective is to bring revolutionary change in the style of thought and that is end of it….It should not surprising, if the future generation would not look upon me as a poet.’ Iqbal was not a philosopher in conventional sense. He says, “I do not have a philosophical ideology to disseminate.”

 This new book is an in-depth study into his political life, ideology and beliefs. In his introduction to the book the author writes, ‘Some of Iqbal’s contemporary called him the “idealist”, a romantic poetic dreamer” and whatever derogatory term they could invent. If politics can be defined as a struggle for power among competing groups or as in Harold Laswell’s words “who gets what and how, then Iqbal could not be counted as an actor on Indian political scene. But, if politics is viewed as a milieu in which the actor strives for attainment of various values for which power is necessary condition, then Iqbal was statesman par excellence and surpassed all his contemporaries.’

 In his scholarly introduction, the author writes that for Iqbal ‘the highest moral and political value was preservation of Indic Muslims’ cultural entity and their eventual self-determination.’ He believes that it would be injustice to Iqbal if impression were given that he was parochial nationalist, whose mental horizon was not wider than the boundaries of the Muslim national state. M.D. Taseer, also holds a similar view about his mentor and writes, “Iqbal acted and thought politically. He supported a party. He created conception of Pakistan. But he remained a free spirit. He never gave way to blind hatred narrow-mindedness.”

Iqbal was not an eloquent speaker his speeches much more resembled the ‘lectures of a professor in university than the rhetoric of a seasoned politicians. The book provides a deeper insight into the evolution of Iqbal’s concept of Muslim nationhood, which has been gradual. Iqbal articulated consistently between 1930-1934, when M.A. Jinnah was in London the concept of Muslim nationhood, and expressed it eloquently in his presidential address of the Muslim League in 1930 at Allahabad.  Hafeez Malik writes, “After some research and reflection, I have concluded that Iqbal’s views in 1933-34 favored autonomy not partition but by 1936-38, he had swung to the position of a demand for sovereign and independent states. This evolutionary process is discernable in his letters which Iqbal wrote to Professor Edward J Thomson of Oxford University, and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. .. by this period he had passed the Rubicon and had moved ahead of Jinnah.”

The book has chapter on Xinxiang, Palestine and Kashmir. In this chapter author has brought into sharp focus Iqbal’s concern about these problem and his involvement in promoting the Kashmir cause.

The book no doubt is about the deciding phase in the history of South Asia but in the role played by Allama Muhammad Iqbal during most crucial and important junctures of this period, the book when read between the lines has many a lessons for the Kashmir leadership. The contemporary political scene in Kashmir by all standards is comparable to the Muslim political scene in India during thirties. Iqbal at that time was disheartened by dysfunctional nature of Muslim political organizations. There were no less than 20 political parties, claiming Muslim loyalty.  Many of the religious organization followed the Congress line. It was sad tale of Muslim fragmentation, which has been incisively analyzed    in the book. The dismal situation more particularly the role of the divisive religious leadership pursuing their stake had ‘anguished’ Iqbal. The chaotic scenes of disorganization found an expression in his presidential address of March 21, 1932 delivered in the Muslim Conference. In his address he hailed the sacrifices of the Muslim masses for their cause and expressed his distress at the leadership at the role of the leadership.

The then situation of the Indian Muslims is similar to our present situation and suggestions made by Iqbal for dealing the situation hold good to us as well. ‘To reintegrate and discipline scattered forces Iqbal pleaded an organization that could forestall ideological ruptures. He emphasized need for one political organization with provincial and district branches. “Then he added: call it whatever you like.” Hafeez writes that Iqbal understood this gigantic task was beyond his capacity and precisely for this reason he ‘urged upon Jinnah the need of his therapeutic touch in rejuvenating the Muslim League and in framing the Muslims’ political mission in India. Iqbal had emphasized patiently organizing the Muslim League at the grassroots level.

The author makes an assessment of Iqbal’s and Jinnah’s policies. On Jinnah encouraging unionist joining the League en masse  against the wishes of Iqbal, Hafeez writes, “Under Sir Sikander, under since 1942 under successor Khizar Hayat Khan, the Muslim League existed in Punjab only on paper, at least until 1946.” “The League’s landslide of 1946 was very much victory of Iqbal’s strategy, which he had urged on Jinnah ten years earlier.”

The book also debates Islamic internationalism against the concept of territorial nationalism. The debate between Maulana Husain Ahmed Madani and Allama Iqbal  dealt in detail is also relevant to our situation for forging an ideological cohesiveness within Kashmir leadership.

The book, for focusing on last phase of Iqbal’s life that had a bearing in shaping political future is one of the most important additions to his bibliography.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)