By Amir Suhail Wani –
” A sacred phenomenon like religion should never be made a decisive element and common unity should never be fractured” (Muhammad Iqbal)
If politics is, what Harold Lasswell defines as “who gets what and what”, Writes Hafeez Malik, “then Iqbal could not be considered an actor on the political scene of the Punjab or of India. In a Laswellian sense, the true politicians of the Punjab were Mian Muhammad Shafi, Fazl I Hussain, Chaudhry Shahab-UD-Din and Sikander Hayat Khan. In practical politics, Iqbal played second fiddle to these political professionals. But if politics is viewed as a milieu ‘in which the actor strives for the attainment of various values for which power is a necessary (and perhaps also sufficient) condition’, then Iqbal was a statesman par excellence and surpassed all of his contemporaries”. It does seem baffling at times for a person of high intellectual standards like Iqbal to meddle with as coarse a phenomenon as politics, which required a skillset Iqbal was devoid of. Of course, Iqbal wasn’t chasing the false ideals of “philosopher King” while making his entry into politics, nor was he inspired by misplaced sycophancy or complacency that made him jump into what Javed Iqbal defined as thorny field of practical politics. What then prompted Iqbal to participate in 1926 provincial politics of Punjab and initiate his lifetime romance with politics despite the fact that earlier in 1923, when his friends pressed upon Iqbal to participate in electoral politics, he ignored the suggestion. What changes took place externally and internally within these three years that Iqbal not only participated in electoral politics but was forced by situations to perform political praxis, which he would have considered at odds with his personality.
The reasons were enumerated by Iqbal himself in one of his letters to Zamindar on July 20, 1926. Iqbal went on to exclaim that “Muslims know it well that I refrained from electoral politics because other people were engaged in it. I had carved out another niche for my activities. At this point in time our national problems are calling on me to expand my circle of activities. Perhaps I might be able to render useful services to the cause of our nation – which consumes all of my daily efforts”.
This statement reveals that it was Iqbal’s ideal to serve his people or larger and deeper scale that prompted his entry into politics. The fact must not be ignored that Iqbal was passively attached to ideological politics from the very beginning. He had very early committed himself to the idea of separate nationality, if not a separate nation for Muslims. Though he later went on to say that he was possibly the very first person to dream of unified Hindu-Muslim nation, but conditions and experience revealed to him that this was possible only in theory and not practice. He thus inclined very early to the idea of two nation theory, where nations didn’t necessarily implied sovereign, independent, geographical denominations, but cultural and religious units guaranteeing to Hindus and Muslims the preservation of their cultural uniqueness and religious traditions without the fear of dominance and exploitation at the hands of each other. It was this variant of two nation theory, initially articulated by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, that Iqbal espoused and this led him to come in contact with the British committee of Muslim league immediately and to attach himself to provincial branch of Muslim league as early as 1908. With the passage of time, he kept whetting his political philosophy, like other aspects of his personality and it was the cumulative impact of incidents like reversal of partition of Bengal, Hindu-Muslim riots, Rowlatt act, Jallianwala Bagh massacre incident, Caliphate Agitation, Non-cooperation movement and propagandist movements like Shuddi movement that finally directed Iqbal towards active politics.
Compelled by situations, motivated by his friends and stirred by his sense of responsibility, Iqbal participated in the provincial elections of Punjab in 1926. It was expected that a person of the stature of Iqbal will win unopposed, keeping in view his popularity and high image. To this effect, Mian Abdul Aziz, withdrew his candidature and extended his full support to Muhammad Iqbal, assuring the support of his vote bank too. But Malik Muhammad Din fought against Iqbal with all political sophistry and communal tactics. The election campaigns gained momentum and Malik Muhammad Din used all possible unethical, misplaced, baseless and cheap tactics to tarnish Iqbal’s image and to win voters to his side. Malik had so much progressed in his propaganda against Iqbal that Zamindar published condemnation note, lamenting the unethical policies adopted by Malik Din. Iqbal kept pushing forward his ideal of unity and brotherhood in his election rallies, which, in addition to his existing outstanding credentials won him worthy supporters like M.D.Tasir, Ghulam Rasool Mehr, Abdur Rahman Chugtai, Hafeez Jhalandari and many others. The elections were held on 23-24 November, 1926 and despite multiple malpractices by Malik Muhammad Din’s party like bogus voting and attempts at rigging, Iqbal emerged victorious with a margin of 3,177 votes. The victory was followed by celebration, processions and a wave of joy among the supporters and followers of Iqbal. The details have been given a graphic description by Javed Iqbal in Zinda Roud and Hafeez Malik in Iqbal in politics.
Iqbal joined Punjab assembly whose oath taking ceremony was completed on January 23, 1927. The situations thrusted upon Iqbal to join unionist party lead by Sir Fazli Hussain. But Iqbal soon parted his ways from the party being disappointed by its close up look and machinations operating within the party. To begin with, some people were disappointed with Iqbal joining Unionist party and expressed their critical views. But as rightly pointed by Ashiq Hussain Batalvi that “If Iqbal had not examined at such a close range the machinations of the party, he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish the grand objective during last two years of his life”.
Hafeez Malik recounts that during his term as legislator, Iqbal made a number of significant proposals including:
1. Improvement in the economy of Punjab
2. Grants-in-aid to the poor
3. Support for the improvement of Unani and Ayurvedic system of medicine
4. Transfer of taxing authority to the provinces
5. Compulsory primary education
Iqbal also raised an important and contentious issue of the ownership of agricultural land in legislative council. He challenged the long-held notion that British Raj owned the land and was entitled to receive rent in the form of tax on agricultural produce. He also contested the norm which made levied tax upon all farmers, irrespective of their produce and the amount of land owned by them. Iqbal recommended that as minimum income is fixed for levying income tax, similarly a minimum land measure may be specified, exceeding which the farmer may be subjected to tax. The prevalent irrational taxation system had badly affected the farmers with little produce and scanty areas in possession. As a testimony to his political genius and humanitarian predisposition, Iqbal fought to end these manifestations of economic exploitation. As we will see, Iqbal didn’t confine himself to the day to day, temporary issues confronting his people. But he, in the spirit of a political visionary rose above the everyday flux and awakened Muslims to the issues that concerned their future generations and more importantly their identity too.
(Amir Suhail Wani is a Kashmir based freelancer, Comparative Studies Scholar, and R&D Engineer with SA Power Utilities Pvt Ltd. Feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org)