Friday, 1 October 2010

Think Long-Term

The following is a revised version of my article published as Friday Feature in Dawn today.
The birth of All-India Muslim League on December 31, 1906 in Dacca was the biggest consensus ever achieved in the history of Islam. It brought together diverse sects of Muslims under one banner. Twenty years earlier, Muslims of the sub-continent had set their goal to become “a real nation” rather than “a nation only in name”, and that goal was now achieved. Hence the stage that had started in the modern history of the community in 1887 came to an end.

The League offered a new goal. It was to win separate electorate for Muslims in the sub-continent. Since they were a minority in the region, their newly realized nationhood could only be preserved if they were represented as an organic unity in the legislatures (the idea had been originally presented by Syed Mahmood, son of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, in 1896).

This became the explicitly stated goal of the League, which described itself as the means through which this goal was going to be achieved. Hence a second stage could be said to have started in 1907 and completed in 1926 when separate electorates were effectively achieved and exercised (as described below in more detail).

However, it may be helpful to remember that membership of assemblies at that time was through nomination. General elections had not yet been introduced in the sub-continent (and were not conceded until 1919). Hence separate electorate was not something that concerned a citizen in daily life. If still the ordinary people became interested in it then obviously they were thinking long-term.

Hence pursuing separate electorate also meant embracing a new ideal, “Think Long-Term”. This did not mean that all details ought to be laid out in advance, since the future generations were likely to discover new ideals of their own. Therefore, commitment should not be to any particular ideology but to the society itself. A generation should pick a goal that everybody considers most important for conserving the common ideals. Things should be readjusted according to this goal but it should be remembered that tomorrow would be another day: the future always exists as an open possibility.

This approach can be best illustrated through a statement of Muhammad Ali Jauhar about the birth of the League itself. Jauhar said (ironically while presiding over an annual session of the Congress) that the birth of the League was a result of the MAO College founded at Aligarh nearly thirty years earlier in 1877 (“In obedience, as it were, to a law of nature,” he said. “Once more after nearly thirty years after the foundation of the College, there came into being a political institution of the Muslims.”)

Interestingly, the founder of the Aligarh College, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, had advised his followers to stay away from politics. Yet, his arch-disciple Jauhar not only named him as the major catalyst for the birth of a political party but also regarded him as the pioneer of Muslim political activity in the sub-continent.

This is often very difficult to be understood by scholars steeped in the Western academic paradigm but from the perspective of “long-term thinking” as practiced by Syed and Jauhar, our real identity is not defined by our specific opinions. It consists of our ideals, goals and the means we leave behind for achieving goals. Superficially, Jauhar and his colleagues seemed to be the antithesis of Syed but in terms of ideals and goals they were continuing the initiative started by him. Hence Jauhar addressed him ecstatically in a famous poem, “You are the one who taught us all this rubble-rousing. If we are the height of it, you were its genesis.” (Sikhaya thha tumhi nay hum ko yeh shore-o-shaghab sara/ Jo is ki inteha hum hain toe is ki ibtida tum ho).

It seems that the demand for separate electorate fired the imagination of the common people in such a manner that the ideal, “Think Long-Term” sunk into the hearts too. Tendency of seeing beyond immediate environment seemed to increase as the demand for separate electorate gained momentum. This could be judged from the way the community responded to the affairs of far-off places like Balkan, Tripoli and Gallipoli. After their Hindu compatriots conceded separate electorate by signing the Lucknow Pact in 1916, Muslims of the sub-continent went to the extent of joining them in the Non-Cooperation Movement of the early 1920s. They even went ahead to boycott Election 1922 on behest of Indian nationalists, although direct voting had been introduced for the first time on that occasion and the voting was to be done through separate electorate.

Think long-term, because you are part of a bigger picture, which is alive and breathing. This much was understood instinctively by a Muslim – especially the unschooled one, whose consciousness was less tainted by foreign education.

It was an ideal that could be epitomized and conveyed, not less effectively than the poetry of Allama Iqbal and the heart-to-heart journalism of Muhammad Ali Jauhar and Zafar Ali Khan, by even a balled written by a little-known poet and sung in the streets in the days of Khilafat Movement, “Bolien Amman Muhammad Ali ki/ Jaan beta khilafat pay day doe” (“Said the Mother of Muhammad Ali: O Son, lay down your life for the Caliphate”). Think long-term because you are part of a bigger picture.

By pursuing the ideal of long-term thinking, the community finally achieved its stated goal. Election 1926 witnessed a historic turnout. Non-Cooperation Movement was long over. Masses thronged to polling stations and cast their votes through separate electorates. The League had served its purpose. It was time to discover the next ideal and set a new goal.


Unknown said...

"Think long-term, because you are part of a bigger picture, which is alive and breathing"
hmm... so we are contributing to this big picture...

How did they discovered their ideal one by one?

Akhtar Wasim Dar said...

”Think long-term, because you are part of a bigger picture, which is alive and breathing. This much was understood instinctively by a Muslim – especially the unschooled one, whose consciousness was less tainted by foreign education. ”

It is not surprising how this is understood instinctively, it is just like the great migratory flights of Monarch butterflies that undertake a mammoth journey of thousands of miles and each one of them migrate southward in the autumn guided by the sun's orbit as they travel through North America. If they can be instinctively guided by sun, one can well imagine the conscious and subconscious power of Muslims to connect with their source of inspiration.

CN said...

This line "Think long-term..." with Dar Sahib's wonderfully alive and breathing metaphor hits home in universal ways as well. I'm happy to see the metaphor about the Monarch butterfly as this has been a special natural happening between our little mountains nearby and a Mexican sanctuary. You may want to see this short video: which should be a reminder to North Americans of the Creator's guidance when we get in touch with that.

Congrats on the ongoing positive articles and sharing these with us all. Nothing could be more important at such a time.

Namrah Mahmood said...

Without having the power to safeguard their own interests, a vaccum could envelope the newly found Muslim nationhood. It now seems that the definitions set earlier demanded the Nation to make a place for themselves in the country they lived in, from where they could experiment and spread their newly found ideals and hence develop their thoughts and line of action further.
Although general elections had yet not come still the masses who had attended the sessions of Educational conference were aware of the value of their thoughts in the Life of their Nation. Perhaps that was the reason they showed their concerns for the question of separate electorates.
And to achieve this goal they were ready to put in every effort they could (from supporting Non-cooperative movement to boycott the elections of 1922)

And I think Sir Syed's advice of not entering poilitics was for a nation which still had to 'seek consensus'. Without achieving this consensus there was every possibility of politics leading the Nation astray from achieving purposeful Unity. The Nation was now ready to take its political decisions in its own hands.