A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism And The Achievement Of The Separate State Of Pakistan

A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism And The Achievement Of The Separate State Of Pakistan
More than seven decades after the creation of Pakistan, the rise of Muslim separatism in South Asia and the circumstances that led to Pakistan are still hot academic topics. In recent years several new works have explored different aspects of the issue with Faisal Devji’s Muslim Zion on the one hand, and Venkat Dhulipala’s Creating a New Medina striking another chord. The remarkable persistence of the ‘Muslim Question’ in India today also keeps alive the matters of the past, not only as steps leading to today but as signs for the future too. Thus, in the developing debate, this book by Professor Sikandar Hayat on the issue is a timely intervention.

After a seminal work on Jinnah as the ‘Charismatic’ leader, it was almost natural for Dr Hayat to then focus on the long arc of the development of Muslim separatism in India. After all, even though Jinnah achieved Pakistan almost singlehandedly in the few years leading up to independence, he built upon the ideas of others and learnt from their experience. In that way, this new work by Dr Hayat is a prequel to his earlier work, and in fact essential read, for anyone who wants to understand the creation of Pakistan.

Title: A Leadership Odyssey: Muslim Separatism and the Achievement of the Separate State of Pakistan
Author: Sikandar Hayat
Publishers: Oxford University Press, Karachi
ISBN: 978-9697340132
Pages: 340pp.
Price: Rs 995

The book is divided into seven chapters, together with an introduction and conclusion. After the first introductory chapter, the six substantial chapters focus on six critical characters in the development of Muslim separatism in South Asia. The six main chapters are both self-contained—delineating the life and contribution of each of them to the development of Muslim separatism, and also closely follow each other as Dr Hayat weaves the intricate web of Muslim separatism which led to Pakistan.

Showing his mettle in political theory, Dr Hayat first tackles the issue of the ‘primordial’ approach versus the ‘instrumentalist’ approach towards Muslim separatism. In a comprehensive historiographical survey, Hayat discusses the works of Paul Brass, Francis Robinson, Farzana Sheikh, Hafeez Malik, Ayesha Jalal, Venkat Dhulipala, and others, to give the reader a sense of the wide debate on the issue. Agreeing with the instrumentalists, who argued that it was the ‘conscious, careful and deliberate role played by the Muslim political leadership’ (12) which led to Pakistan, rather than something pre-ordained, Hayat also makes a critical point that the Pakistan Movement was ‘political’ and for ‘political ends,’ dispelling the oft-repeated ‘religious’ interpretations of the Pakistan Movement in nationalist historiography.

The first chapter gives a broad overview of the origins of Hindu and Muslim separatism in South Asia. Here Hayat argues that even during the heyday of Hindu-Muslim amity under the Great Mughals, ‘Hindus and Muslims remained separate entities even within the body politic,’ (35), in addition to their stark religious differences. Here while Hayat makes a decent attempt to give a sort of ‘pre-history’ of separatism, covering over a thousand years in less than twenty pages discussing a complex theme is almost an impossible task. Thus, the reader ends the chapter with a sense of the trajectory, but with a lot of questions, some of which linger on till the end of the book.

The first of the six luminaries of Muslim separatism discussed is Sir Syed Ahmed Khan. Here, while recounting the career and interventions of Sir Syed, Hayat makes some very key observations. First is the understanding that when Sir Syed mentioned ‘qaum’ he was at best referring to ‘group consciousness,’ (50), as, in the words of Anil Seal, at that time ‘there were no two nations, there was not one nation, there was no nation at all.’ (quoted in 51). Secondly, and significantly, Hayat traces the development of Syed Ahmed’s thoughts on the Muslim nation and its participation in politics over time clearly exhibiting its instrumentalist approach from the outset. Hayat thus rights states ‘…being “a realist in politics” and mindful of the precarious position of the Muslims in the system of government, Syed Ahmed Khan opposed the “yoking together of the strong and the weak”’(68). Wanting that both the Hindu and Muslim ‘eyes’ of India shine with ‘equal lustre,’ Syed Ahmed wanted Muslims participating in politics only after gaining the requisite educational, professional and societal stature.
Hayat makes some very key observations. First is the understanding that when Sir Syed mentioned ‘qaum’ he was at best referring to ‘group consciousness,’ as, in the words of Anil Seal, at that time ‘there were no two nations, there was not one nation, there was no nation at all.’

Hayat’s chapter on the Aga Khan is also significant since his contribution in Indian politics is often overlooked. However, here Hayat does not delve deeper into the Aga Khan’s ideas about the Muslim polity in India and sticks closely to just his role in Muslim politics. A larger engagement with the Aga Khan thoughts, especially as elucidated by Faisal Devji, would have made this discussion richer. Nevertheless, this chapter brings to the fore the Aga Khan’s key role in the politicisation of Muslim separatism in the early years of the twentieth century as well as his central part in being a kind of a ‘father figure’ around whom all shades of Muslim political opinion could unite.

The chapter on Syed Ameer Ali is one of the most interesting parts of the book, bringing to the fore the critical character of an important personality in the development of Muslim separatism in South Asia. A judge and Islamic scholar, the political influence of Syed Ameer Ali is often forgotten and Hayat does a very good job at bringing Ameer Ali’s seminal contribution centre stage. Rightly noting that Ameer Ali’s Muhammadan Association (founded 1877) was the first formal political organization of the Muslims, Hayat argues that ‘Ameer Ali saw politics and a proper political organization as its vehicle to be the only way out for the Muslims…’ (112). Hayat also underscores ‘crucial role in securing for the Muslims the right of separate electorates in 1909…’ (121) of the London Muslim League. A rather interesting recounting of the role of the letter of Ameer Ali and the Aga Khan on the Caliphate in Turkey which might have actually precipitated its abolition then leads onto a chapter on Maulana Mohamad Ali.

With Muslims now in the political mainstream of Indian politics, the role of Maulana Mohamad Ali, who was once a president of the Indian National Congress, is key. Starting from his alliance with Gandhi in the Khilafat-Non-cooperation Movement, Hayat skillfully shows how certain events, people and circumstances led to Mohamad Ali, once very committed to Hindu-Muslim unity onto the path of separatist politics—again highlighting an instrumentalist approach. Here Hayat also points out that Mohammad Ali was the first Muslim politician who realized the ‘“evil” character of British rule, [and] recognized the futility of the politics of mendicancy so forcefully advocated by Syed Ahmed Khan…’ (140). Hayat also notes the significance of the Khalifat Movement as through it ‘the focus of political activities shifted from the upper classes and intelligentsia to the middle and lower classes and the bulk of the masses’ (150). Hayat’s discussion of the Khilafat Movement, however, suffers from an absence of a discussion on Turkey’s participation as a belligerent power against the British in the first world war. The reader is simply never told that Turkey declared war on Britain and then subsequently lost. For an uninformed reader this omission might confuse their understanding. Furthermore, while Hayat uses this episode to highlight an instrumentalist approach, often his words signify his belief that failure on the Hindu-Muslim unity was almost a given—perhaps even primordial? Despite these issues, what is clear in the chapter is that till his end Mohamad Ali tried to secure the interests of the Muslim community within a composite national framework. As Hayat notes, ‘There is no doubt that Mohamad Ali gave full vent to his Muslim group indemnity, based on religion, though in sync with his loyalty to India. He was not prepared to break loose. He did not think of Muslims as a separate nation (163).
With the ‘inevitability’ of 1947 again gaining currency due to events in India, a reminder by Hayat that it was events which eventually forced the hands of Muslim leaders, rather than some primordial eventuality, is certainly welcome

The chapter on Sir Muhammad Iqbal, at just twenty pages, only scratches the surface of the myriad of contributions of this great thinker to Muslim thought, life and politics in India. Starting with Iqbal’s thought on Muslim nationhood and nationalism, Hayat recounts how ideas of Islam’s unitary approach to the material and spiritual, and Muslim solidarity, underpinned Iqbal’s approach: ‘The idea was to secure the integral relationship between Islam and its social structure, and eventually its polity,’ something Hayat emphasizes ‘a Hindu dominated body politic could not help achieve…’ (196). In this chapter Hayat also gives space to the modern(ist) ideas of Iqbal where he commended that a modern ‘Muslim Legislative Assembly’ (183) should exercise the powers of Ijtehad and Ijma, among other things.

Unlike many traditional histories written in Pakistan, Hayat does not simply credit Iqbal for giving the idea of a separate homeland for the Muslims, but following his instrumentalist argument, carefully follows its trajectory. Hayat thus rightly notes that while in 1930 in Allahabad Iqbal was mainly asking for autonomy, by the time he wrote letters to Jinnah in 1936-37, Iqbal ‘made it abundantly clear that he supported a separate homeland, not as an integral part of the Indian Federation’ (192). This trajectory, which Hayat masterly traces, exhibits how it was never a given that Pakistan would be created but that the exigencies of the time led Muslim leaders towards its creation.

It is in the last substantial chapter, on Mohammad Ali Jinnah, that Hayat comes full circle, both in terms of the development of Muslim separatism, and his scholarly command over Jinnah’s life. While most of the chapter has already been covered in Hayat’s earlier work, here Hayat is very careful is giving full space to all the eight distinct phases of Jinnah’s political life, as he moved from the ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’ to becoming the founder of Pakistan.

This intellectual history on the development of Muslim separatism through the lives of six politicians is certainly a useful addition to the still increasing corpus on the subject. While some newer archival material would have enriched it further, and a continuous engagement with scholarship throughout the chapters made it more robust, yet its long arc enables the reader to firmly grasp the development of Muslim separation during the British Raj better than any other work to date. With the ‘inevitability’ of 1947 again gaining currency due to events in India, a reminder by Hayat that it was events which eventually forced the hands of Muslim leaders, rather than some primordial eventuality, is certainly welcome. Hayat rightly concludes that if the Congress had agreed to a federal formula with adequate safeguards early on, ‘…this may have satisfied Muslim grievances at the early stages—in the 1920s—before they really development into core, conflictual issues...’(295). Finally, written by an eminent Pakistani historian its argument that the creation of Pakistan was ‘essential political, not religious, nor religiously motived…’ is a refreshing reiteration at a time when the debate about the nature of the state in Pakistan has again reignited.


The author is a historian at IT University Lahore Pakistan. He can be contacted at: Yaqoob.bangah@gmail.com

The writer is a Fellow at the South Asia Institute at Harvard University and a legal historian. All views personal. He tweets at: @BangashYK