A spirited quest

August 15, 2021

In the book under review, Saikandar Hayat talks about the separatist movement through an appraisal of a decisive moment in the history of the subcontinent

A spirited quest

A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan is the latest book by historian Dr Sikandar Hayat, who has an abiding interest in discussing the various contours of the history of Pakistan movement. He has taken a leap in historiography by focusing on the actors and not on the act. The book under review, talks about the separatist movement, through an appraisal of a decisive moment in the history of the subcontinent.

Hayat has refreshingly used an instrumentalist method of creating a symbiosis between political aspirations and human development: bench learning. It involves learning effective practices to be adopted when dealing with specific circumstances. The process is not limited in its approach; it is integrative by virtue of being flexible. The author discusses the idea of separation that ultimately materialises with the emergence of a separate state.

Very wisely, he makes a choice of six eminent persons, each towering in their own right – Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Sir Aga Khan, Syed Ameer Ali, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Allama Muhammad Iqbal and finally Quaid- i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. It is refreshing to note that these diverse leaders had a common cause – to instill in the Muslim mind the value of the opportune moment – to accept the political challenge as India was becoming a territory of concern for Muslims. These leaders shared the choice of rational over emotional, while envisaging identity as a key factor. Their concerns were similar, yet each one of these leaders had different perceptions for a meaningful critical discourse.

These leaders of eminence were deconstructing and reconstructing almost conflicting aspirations. In a climate of mistrust and suspicion, political and moral quest was the main concern. The author has uncovered some very difficult but important truths in a compelling narrative, untangling age-old issues. These leaders initiated an odyssey to emphasise the realm of knowledge for moving forward. Their stated aim and not stated intention was to lead knowledge formation, so that Muslims could realise the urgency to match their footsteps mapping the political mindset for their future.

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan grasped the moment. He was bold enough to challenge Muslims for their belligerent state of mind and fallacious sense of by-gone grandeur. He diagnosed modern education as the harbinger enabling Muslims to accept changing times, for a distinct political identity. Khan has not been given the attention and the credit that he deserves as the first voice among Muslims to impress upon them the value of separatism. He was sure that this could never be realised until the Muslims came to understand the value of modern education. He is accused by many of keeping Muslims away from active political participation in the event of Indian National Congress. Such criticism is blind to a basic element, Khan was deeply concerned that without a proper education matching the needs of the times, the Muslim “Quam” will not be able to establish itself in political endeavours. He was rightfully convinced that to make success political claims Muslims had to prepare and equip themselves with modern knowledge.

The education was profound enough to meet the challenges of the times and was the sure path to development. Khan faced the worst opposition and insults over this issue, but this did not deter him from his mission. He believed in social reconstruction needed to recognise the principles of justice and liberty. Here was a man who initially opposed political participation without essential education and later established that education had a political motive: to empower the Muslims to familiarise them with the idiom of the day. As Hayat shows Aligarh College was to bring into focus an organisational climate of opinion that would serve as an equaliser. This is when Khan perceived the inevitability of political participation of Muslims so that they do not remain ignored as rightful citizens.

Aga Khan institutionalised the political question. He believed that a political organszation was the key to conflict resolution. For Aga Khan, this was one way to provide peaceful interaction among the two contending communities. For Muslims, most importantly, a recurrence of conflict could be prevented by being actively involved in social institutions. Hayat emphasises Aga Khan’s contribution in the meltdown of the planning epoch of Muslim representation in the separatist movement of India.

All these leaders initiated an odyssey to emphasise the realm of knowledge for moving forward. Their stated aim and not stated intention was to lead knowledge formation, so that Muslims could realise the urgency to match their footsteps mapping the political mindset for their future.

Proceeding with the political schism, Syed Ameer Ali joined in a systematic way, and very confidently led the Muslims to show respect to constitutionalism, thus highlighting the impact of bench learning. While charting out a distinct scheme of things, to avail practical advantages of organisational performance, Ali advocated elections for a separate entity, so that all the previous efforts do not evaporate as a mirage.

Maulana Muhammad Ali, a passionate believer in the supremacy of Muslim politic beyond borders, and an ardent believer in Muslim renaissance, was known for his power of pen to express his idealistic predilections. His anti-British stance exposed in the Khilafat Movement, was a proof of a separatist movement related to Muslims.

Interestingly Allama Iqbal’s cultural reconstruction of the Muslim mind began with a different premise. Yet, he recognised the plight of Indian Muslims and felt for their compromised condition. His role in the achievement of a separate state can never be emphasised enough. He was a great admirer of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and wholeheartedly followed the former’s two nation theory. When Iqbal pleaded for the establishment of a separate Muslim state in India, it was not another independent territorial unit in the subcontinent. In his address of 1930, he emphasised the life of Islam as a cultural force in India, very largely depended on its centralisation in a specified territory. He was of a firm belief that there could be no possibility of peace in India unless and until the Muslims were recognised as a nation under a federal system.

Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a leader of unparalleled political insight and constitutional acumen came full circle in engaging himself with the idea of a separate state for Muslims - a numerical minority. It was he who etched in the Muslim thought process that history is not only a collective memory, but also a collective conscience to lead to a life of equity and dignity. It was nothing less than a miracle in an ambience of selfish and mutilated negotiations. Jinnah was conscious that the worst weakness was the dissension within the Muslim community, a hardship that was most difficult to surmount. Yet nothing could deter him from achieving his goal of a separate state. In the introduction, Hayat has hinted to the reader:

“…through the conscious, careful and deliberate role played by the Muslim political leadership in promoting and securing Muslim interest in an inherently biased system of representative government introduced in the country. This role was political and for political ends.”

Overall, the book is a pleasant and refreshing read, while adding to the scholarly literature on the subject. The title of the book, borrowed from Homer, reflects the parallel that the author draws with the tribulations and obstacles of times and heroes, encountering the unknown, to end in a resolution of the identity conflict.

It is a serious read, presenting the facts of the times through the eyes of great leaders, each taking a different path to a common destination, building a compelling narrative, that the effort for the separate state and empowerment of the Muslim minority was not an individual act, but a collective movement in which, while each leader took a different approach, all were united in their struggle for a separate nation for the Muslims.

The book is well researched, relying on primary resources, hence presenting an accurate analysis of the circumstances and the choices made by the great leaders, to build the separate nation brick by brick. True to its title, the book is a self-realisation and a spiritual quest, of the varied and wide opinions on the subject, to find and share the common thread within the diversity. The author’s deep knowledge and keen understanding of the history is reflected in his ode to the separatist movement, where great leaders rose to the opportunity to create new and varied interpretations to the future existence of the political minority of Muslims. Even as Hayat has explored the various approaches, he has stayed loyal to the subject, keeping the focus on the common goal of nationhood.

A spirited quest

A Leadership Odyssey

Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan

Author: Dr Sikandar Hayat

Publisher: Oxford University Press, 2021

Pages: 340

Price: Rs 995

The reviewer is a noted intellectual, educationist and scholar

A spirited quest