As we look through the lattice of history, we realise that the greatest hindrance to recognising the excellence of a genius comes from his contemporaries. Allama Iqbal was one of those rare geniuses whose excellence in the field of poetry as well as political thinking was recognised throughout the world in his own lifetime. He lived in the period when millions of Indians - Muslims, Hindus and people of other religions - were fastened by the chains of British imperialism. During this dark period of slavery, disgrace and dishonour, Iqbal’s poetry imbibed a new spirit in the people and he himself played a significant role in the struggle for independence of the subcontinent.

Iqbal was the greatest Muslim political thinker of the last century There is a general impression that although he was a great Muslim philosopher and poet of the East, he had throughout his life practically disassociated himself from political struggle. But this is not true. In fact, politics is an important and glittering aspect of his multifarious activities. He understood the political movements of his time in their true perspective, had a glimpse of the future movements and took part in the struggle for independence. Looking into the past, one can easily realise how he was bestowed by nature with the capability of exposing political manoeuvrings to deprive the Muslims of their due rights. He projected the true picture of the situation before the Muslim world. This scribe will describe his struggle for elections on the principle of separate electorate for the Muslims of India.

From the very beginning, Iqbal was pleading the concept of separate electorate for the Muslims. He considered it imperative for removing the sense of discrimination of the Indian Muslims and was not prepared to compromise on it at any stage.

According to Dr Javed Iqbal and Mohammad Ahmad Khan, this was the axis of his political thinking. For this, he continued to fight against the Congress, but did not deviate at all from his point of view. The Muslim leaders of Punjab were also of the opinion that in the political interest of Muslims, the elections should be held on the principle of separate electorate. Since in Punjab, the Muslims were only in a small majority, the Hindus using their economic clout would not allow Muslim candidates, who could defend the rights of the Muslims, to succeed.

Consequently, in case of a joint electorate, the Hindus would form governments, even in the Muslim majority provinces of Punjab and Bengal. These were very strong arguments. Moreover, in the Muslim minority provinces, the Hindus were in such an overwhelming majority that the Muslim voters would be ineffective in changing the results.

The supporters of joint electorate were of the view that as every candidate had to appeal to the voters of the joint constituency, he would have to give up his communal style of address or at least on communal issues would address the voters in a low key. Elections would be contested only on national issues, mostly concerning economic progress and reforms. The leaders, instead of having communal approach, would try to solve the people’s problems from a national point of view. But the supporters of joint electorate just forgot that - in view of the Hindu mentality - there was little chance, almost nil, of a Hindu casting his vote in favour of a Muslim candidate. Even if the joint electorate system was subject to the condition that a certain number of seats be reserved for the Muslims, only those Muslims would have an opportunity to win who, after their success, would be expected to take care of the rights of Hindus, instead of those of Muslims.

In 1916, both the Muslim League and the Congress, after mutual consultation, passed certain proposals constituting what is now called the ‘Lucknow Pact’. One of these proposals was that the principle of separate electorate be adopted for the Muslims. Thus, as the Congress had agreed to it, there was no contention in incorporating separate electorate for the Muslims in the Act of 1919. The Muslims were firm in their demand for separate electorate since 1906. No doubt, Pakistan would not have emerged without this system of elections. Therefore, this clause of the Lucknow Pact has a great historical significance.

After about a decade, on Jinnah’s invitation, a meeting of 30 Muslim leaders was held in New Delhi (March 20, 1927) so that a plan for permanent understanding between the Muslims and the Hindus may be drafted, as was desired by the then Congress President. At that time, Jinnah was of the opinion that the rights of Muslims could be safeguarded even without implementing the system of separate electorate. After a careful consideration, these leaders recommended a proposal later known as ‘Delhi Proposals’.

If the Congress accepted these proposals, then the Muslims will accept the joint electorate. On May 15, 1927, these proposals when presented by the Congress President were accepted by the All India Congress Committee. Sir Shafi, who was present in the Conference held on March 20, refused to accept these proposals on behalf of the Punjab Muslim League and declared that it will never give up its demand for separate electorate.

Iqbal and other Muslim leaders were right in saying that if principle of joint electorate was presented as a common demand of Muslims and the Congress, then the British government would definitely implement it. This would result in the formation of Hindu governments, even in the Muslim majority province of Punjab and Bengal. Therefore, they did their best to prove that Muslims were strongly against the joint electorate and that was true.

On May 01, 1927, a public meeting was held in Barkat Ali Hall, Lahore, under the auspices of the Punjab Muslim League. Sir Shafi presided over the meeting. A resolution proposed by Iqbal was passed in the meeting. In order to defeat the Congress attempts to introduce joint electorate system in India, a Conference was held in New Delhi from December 29, 1928, to January 01, 1929, under the auspices of All Parties Muslim Conference. Sir Shafi presented a resolution, including a statement in which it was emphasised that Muslims would not give up the demand for separate electorate under any conditions or circumstances.

Speaking on this occasion, Iqbal said: “If Muslims have to live in India as a nation, they must make immediate efforts for their progress and reforms and should prepare a separate political programme. There are certain parts of India where the Muslims are in majority and there are other parts where they are only a small minority. In this situation, it is imperative that we should have a separate programme.”

Speaking on the resolution, Iqbal said: “I have a right to say that I am the first Indian, who has realised the significance and necessity of Hindu-Muslim unity. It has always been my desire that this unity should be on permanent basis. However, the present circumstances are not in favour of joint electorate.” The excerpts from the speeches of Hindu leaders, as given by the President (Sir M Shafi), reflect the Hindu mentality. “The Muslims are in minority, are economically backward and lack education. They are very simple and innocent people. The government and Hindus both coax and cajole them easily. I only wonder at the mentality of even highly-educated Hindus.”

If there was no other reason, this was itself sufficient for a demand for separate electorate. It is interesting to note that Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar, while in London, wrote on January 01, 1931 - only two days before his death - a letter to Britian’s PM and explained the standpoint of Indian Muslims. There is no doubt that the state of Pakistan emerged as the Muslim League, under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam, contested the 1946 elections under separate electorate for the Muslims, and won with overwhelming majority. The political vision of Allama Iqbal is highly praiseworthy. He had noticed - as early as the beginning of the 20th century - that the principle of separate electorate was essential to safeguard the rights of Muslims in the subcontinent.

 The writer is an academic.