The following is my article published in Dawn on October 15, 2010, as Friday Feature, 'For a common destiny'. Some of the wording might be slightly different from the printed version.
The election of 1926 was the first occasion when Muslim masses voted in large numbers according to separate electorate. However, in the assemblies that were inaugurated the next year as a result of this election, no single party had emerged as common leader of the entire Muslim community. It seemed as if there was no new ideal, no commonly agreed goal anymore, and hence no means for a collective effort.
This, however, did not last very long. In 1928, Congress demanded through Nehru Report that separate electorates should be abolished. Apparently, it was impossible for an Indian nationalist to understand what a separate electorate meant to a Muslim.
Unity of matter and spirit as a philosophical concept may be incomprehensible by ordinary persons but the activities of the Aligarh Movement and its offshoots in the past sixty years had been sufficient for showing even the most unschooled Muslim how literature, politics, religion and education were interconnected as far as the Muslim community of the region was concerned. Separate electorate appeared to be a tool for formalizing this unity of ideals and reality. Hence when Nehru Report questioned the separate electorates in 1928, Muslim leaders who disagreed on everything else suddenly agreed to disagree with the Hindu majority on this issue.
Against this backdrop, Allama Iqbal, who was also a successful candidate of the election of 1926, presided over the annual session of the All-India Muslim League held in Allahabad on December 30-31, 1930. There, he proposed a new goal. It was “a consolidated North-West Indian Muslim state”, which appeared to him to be “the final destiny of the Muslims at least of the North-West India.”
Thus, Pakistan became the next goal to be achieved (and Iqbal left open the possibility of it being “within the British Empire, or without the British Empire”). Separate electorates then became the tool through which the new goal, Pakistan, was to be achieved.
The ideal to be pursued whilst in quest for Pakistan was “selflessness”, which Iqbal had been preaching at least since 1906. It was embodied in verses that had become proverbial to at least two successive generations, such as the famous line from a 1912 poem, “An individual is sustained by its bonding with the nation and is nothing on one’s own, just as the wave exists in the river and is nothing on its own.”
As explained in his longer poems and his lectures, selflessness (or bekhudi) was an experience through which an individual could annihilate his or her individual ego (khudi) and arrive at the next level, which was the collective ego, thus acquiring a greater wisdom inaccessible to the individual ego alone.فرد قائم ربط ملت سے ہے تنہا کچھ نہیں
موج ہے دریا میں اور بیرون دریا کچھ نہیں
Iqbal’s conception of a collective ego did not mean that one should cease to have personal opinions, or renounce the freedom of thought and expression. Selflessness was not an act of the mind but an act of love, through the heart. It could only be induced through highly entertaining literature (as Iqbal did in his own times) and could never be imposed through repressive legislation (in fact the suppression of individual liberties could become a hindrance, since it curtails selflessness by enhancing mistrust).
This emphasis on transcending the individual ego was timely, since the elections of 1926 had presented a highly egotistical picture of the community. “Things in India are not what they appear to be,” he said in the Allahabad Address. “The meaning of this, however, will dawn upon you only when you have achieved a real collective ego to look at them.”
Selflessness, or rising above oneself, became the new ideal as the demand for Pakistan gained momentum under the leadership of Jinnah, “the Great Leader”, whom his followers came to see as the incarnation of their ideal in flesh and blood. How the new state came into being is a story that belongs to political history. What ought to be noted here is that the goal was achieved through the election of 1945-46 when an overwhelming majority of Muslims voted for Pakistan, especially in provinces where they were in a minority and were not going to be included in the proposed state.
Pakistan could not have come into being without their support but voting for Pakistan meant invoking the almost inevitable wrath of the future rulers of India. They voted, and they paid the price with their blood and tears. Recorded history of the human race may not offer another instance when such a large number of people made a common decision that required such high degree of selflessness.
Iqbal had said in the Allahabad Address, “Rise above sectional interests and private ambitions, and learn to determine the value of your individual and collective action, however directed on material ends, in the light of the ideal which you are supposed to represent.” The Muslim masses of India could not have followed his words more diligently.