Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ayaz Amir: between ignorance and dishonesty

Ayaz Amir.
Image from The News International
I have read with great interest the recent article Poet of the soul, thy occasional silences’ by Ayaz Amir published in The NewsInternational on Friday, March 28. I am surprised to see that the esteemed writer is so unfamiliar with facts about the life and writings of Allama Iqbal, and has based his writing on sheer sentiment at the cost of truth.

He complains that ‘in all his work, so much of it transcendent, there is no mention of Jallianwala Bagh, an event which shook India. Nor did Iqbal take a public position on it.’ This is not true. Iqbal wrote a short but very moving poem in Urdu, in which he advised the reader not to withhold tears on the plight of those ‘martyrs’. The poem was published in newspapers at that time and has been included in several anthologies and biographies since then. It can also be found on page 460 in my Urdu biography of the middle years of Iqbal’s career, Iqbal: Darmiani Daur, which covers the period 1914-1922.

I am copying the poem here along with an English translation done by my friend, Akhtar Wasim Dar:

جلّیانوالہ باغ امرتسر
ہر زائرِ چمن سے یہ کہتی ہے خاکِ پاک
غافل نہ رہ جہان میں گردُوں کی چال سے

سینچا گیا ہے خونِ شہیداں سے اس کا تخم

تُو آنسووں کا بخل نہ کر اِس نہال سے

Jalianwalla Bagh Amritsar
The sacred land urges to every pilgrim of the garden
Not to remain inattentive in this world to the ways their destiny works.
Its seed has been watered by martyrs’ blood
Do not withhold your tears from its saplings.

Yet, Mr. Amir chooses to call the poetry of Iqbal ‘poetry at the same time silent on such a tragedy as the Jallianwala Bagh massacre’! We understand that it is really too much for some Pakistani journalists to stop telling lies, but one wonders what happened to the old-fashioned editorial discretion. I mean, seriously, does The New International not have even one well-informed person in its editorial team, who could have taken a look at Mr. Amir’s writing before it went to press? 

Mr. Amir is partially correct in suggesting that the holocaust which occurred in Punjab in 1947 was only indirectly linked to the partition of India and was more directly a result of the partition of Punjab. Yet, again I wonder from where did he get his information that Iqbal and the founding fathers of Pakistan did not foresee it (as he says, ‘Mention should also be made of a failure of the imagination or a failure of foresight, on Iqbal’s part as on that of the League leadership as a whole…the failure to see that if ever the demand for a north-west Muslim state was met, it would surely and inevitably entail the partition first of Punjab and then only of India’).

Talks about the partition of India, and the partitions of Punjab and Bengal, had started in the early 1920s. Therefore, it required neither imagination nor foresight on part of Iqbal and his club to see it – but of course it requires general knowledge and hindsight on part of Mr. Amir to know this (and how much we wish that Mr. Amir was in possession of either of these).

Ironically enough, the person who initiated the discourse about these partitions in 1921 was none other than Hasrat Mohani – the same about whom Mr. Amir has wished so melodramatically that there were ‘a few more Hasrat Mohanis’. Mohani made some bold suggestions to this end in his presidential address to the annual session of All-India Muslim League in 1921, and followed them up with even more radical propositions along these lines.

Lala Lajpat Rai, in sync with Hindu Mahasabha, answered Mohani by demanding the partition of Punjab as well as the partition of Bengal, and a partitioning of India between ‘a Hindu India and a Muslim India’. Rai did that in a series of thirteen articles, collectively titled ‘The Hindu-Muslim Problem’, which were published in November-December 1924 (apparently in view of the impending annual session of the Indian National Congress, since the annual sessions for the two preceding years had been consecutively presided over by advocates of Muslims nationalism, i.e. C. R. Das in 1922 and Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar in 1923, and their views were anathema to obscurantist leaders like Rai). 

Hence the Hindu demand for the partition of Punjab and Bengal was already on the table by the time Iqbal came out with his proposition for a consolidated Muslim state in 1930.

Mr. Amir complains that Iqbal did not say much about Bhagat Singh. Here, one cannot overlook the macabre irony that Bhagat Singh was out to take revenge for the death of the same Lala Lajpat Rai, who had originally demanded the partition of Punjab which Mr. Amir loathes so much (and given the overall quality of scholarship reflected in Mr. Amir’s writing, we cannot be sure if he is even aware of these facts). 

On a more serious note, while it is true that Iqbal did not say much about Bhagat Singh, many other freedom-fighters were also silent on that issue but this is not usually considered as sufficient ground for questioning their bonafide. Even Gandhi didn’t do much to save Bhagat Singh, and this does not bring down Gandhi from his high pedestal.

It seems that the underlying issue which Mr. Amir is trying to reach here is whether Iqbal was sufficiently opposed to British imperialism, and whether Iqbal did something to that effect. It is well-known even to the detractors of Iqbal that he took a very well-defined stand against colonialism, not only as a poet but even as a politician and social activist.

Granted that his stand was in keeping with his worldview, and anybody who disagrees with that worldview, like Mr. Amir does, is welcome to question whether Iqbal’s stand was effective or not. Unfortunately, such an exercise pre-requires a wider range of reading than Mr. Amir seems to be capable of, and therefore he takes the easier path of misleading his readers by stating, in clear contradiction to known facts, that Iqbal did not take a stand against colonialism at all. This is where Mr. Amir crosses the line between ignorance and intellectual dishonesty, in the direction of the latter.

In the passing, I would like to mention just one anecdote about Iqbal’s well-known opposition of British imperialism. The declassified documents in the archives of the former princely state of Hyderabad Deccan have revealed that when the ruler of that state was considering a proposal for granting patronage to Iqbal, he was advised by his counsellors against it on the grounds that Iqbal was too well-known for opposing British imperialism, and any patronage to Iqbal would displease the foreign rulers.

Pakistan is not suffering today because its founding fathers lacked moral courage or foresight, as Mr. Amir has tried to insinuate. It suffers today because a large majority of our educated class and our intelligentsia is unaware of the basic facts of our history, and Mr. Amir happens to be one sorry example of this. Maybe he is too old to change his habits now and start getting his facts right, but the younger lot should rise up to their moral duty and find out those truths about our history which need to be known.

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