In 1936, Jinnah had not completely given up on Indian nationalism, but he was beginning to show signs of change. He had met with Iqbal a number of times in England and they had long been colleagues. But 1936-8 was a period in which Iqbal became Jinnah’s self-attested ‘spiritual support’.

We know little of the ideas exchanged between them during this crucial period, except for what exists in Iqbal’s letters to Jinnah, and Jinnah’s own comments on them. Tragically, Jinnah’s replies are missing, but he did later write that Iqbal had ‘played a very conspicuous part’ behind the scenes in uniting Muslims in minority and majority provinces.

As he also confessed, Iqbal’s views (which were at any rate ‘substantially in consonance’ with his own) had ‘finally’ led Jinnah to the ‘same conclusions’ as Iqbal regarding the ‘constitutional problems facing India’; and they were later given ‘expression’ in the ‘united will of Muslim India as adumbrated in the Lahore resolution’ (the League’s most famous resolution, which demanded Muslim independence).

At any rate Jinnah’s political decisions, his speeches and statements provide ample evidence of the gradual, but definite ‘ideological’ shift from ‘secular-Muslim’ to simply ‘Muslim’, in the Quranic sense of the term.

By 1938, this shift would be complete; but it was not a ‘religious’ change. Jinnah had no theological discussions with anyone, at least not on record. The letters of Iqbal, influential though they were, contain statements not on Islam as a ‘religion’, but on ‘Islam as a moral and political force’.

In the end, Jinnah’s ‘conversion’ would actually come as a result of his political experiences in this period. Possibly, the very first time that Jinnah used the term ‘nation’ instead of ‘minority’ was on April 12, 1936, when the League resolved to contest the elections.

He remarked that the Muslims needed to ‘organise themselves’, to ‘compel the Congress to approach them for cooperation’. Then ‘the Muslims could arrive at a settlement with the Hindus as two nations, if not as partners’.

That this occurs in 1936 is also significant, in that it is the earliest direct indication of Iqbal’s influence. Both the words ‘nation’ and ‘partner’ appear here. ‘Partner’ is indicative of Jinnah’s long-held belief in Indian nationalism, in which Hindus and Muslims were to politically become one unit. ‘Nation’, however, is a word Jinnah had never used before; and most importantly, he would almost never repeat it over the following three years.

In view of the time gap, it is almost as if Jinnah in 1936 was about to test a theory. Were Hindus and Muslims capable of acting as two partners, as he vainly hoped, or was Iqbal’s theory of two nations about to become an established fact?

    This is an extract from Secular Jinnah and Pakistan.