Written By: Prof. Sharif al Mujahid
Abdullah Haroon was actively associated with the All India Muslim League (AIML) for barely five years (1937-42), yet he stood high in its second cadre leadership echelons from 1938 onwards. All said and done, what had set him apart was essentially his pioneering role in conceptualizing the idea of “Pakistan” as it later came to be embodied in the Lahore Resolution of March 1940. To quote Reginald Coupland, who did a three-part Report on the Constitutional Problem in India (1942-44), Abdullah Haroon was “the only Muslim politician of any standing who had so far [till early 1939] taken a public part in the constitutional discussion” on the Pakistan proposal. Thus, though Haroon did not live long enough to see his “dream” come true, he had yet etched for himself a niche in the national pantheon as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan.
By the late 1938 when he seriously launched upon a campaign to popularize the Pakistan idea, Abdullah Haroon had been in politics and public life for some twenty-five years. He had entered public life in 1913, if only as an extension of his role in advancing social causes designed to help materially the indigent, the orphaned and the disadvantaged to become educated and skilled, so that they become job-worthy and financially self-reliant, thus ceasing to be a burden on the society. In conformity with this penchant he had helped to build institutions in the spheres of education, health and human resource development – institutions that would help make groups and communities become productive and self-sustaining, step by step, in terms of their requirements in these areas. And he liberally opened his coffers to dole out huge sums to finance a good many social causes, all through his life. In fact, his philanthropy knew no bounds when it came to alleviating the sufferings of the poor, the orphan, and the needy.
Ere long, however, he found that social awareness among the downtrodden masses was a must, in order to accelerate the accomplishment of these goals. Hence he barged into public life. This he did once he had securely established himself in business. And by the late 1890s, he became increasingly involved with civic problems and activities in Karachi. By 1917, when both the pan-Islamic movement and the demand for Home Rule had gathered momentum, he decided to barge into national politics. And except for Rais Ghulam Mohammad Bhurgri (1878-1924), he was among the foremost Muslim leaders of Sindh whose activities had impacted significantly on the all-India mainstream politics. Thus, he was active, at one time or another, with the major all-India political organizations – the Indian National Congress (1917 f.), the All India Khilafat Committee (1919-29), Sindh Provincial Political Conference (1920-30s), the All Parties Conference (1928-29), the All Parties Muslim Conference (1930-34), the Azad Sind Conference (1930), and the Muslim League (1937 ff.).
A strenuous advocate and campaigner for the separation of Sindh from Bombay Presidency since his induction into the Central Assembly in 1923, he came to realize that without the active support of the pan-Indian Muslim community at the all-India level his cause for an autonomous Sindh would have no takers, and would indeed be lost forever. Hence, he strenuously lobbied for it, proposing resolutions at all-India moots such as the AIML session at Aligarh in 1925 and the Lenders’ Conference in Delhi in 1926. He repeatedly urged the Aga Khan (1877-1957), who led the Muslim delegation to the Round Table Conference (1930-1932) and Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948) to get the Sindh separation issue settled favourably during the London confabulations. Along with Muhammad Ayub Khuhro (1901-1980) and Syed Miran Mohammad Shah (1898-1963), Haroon had played the leading role in getting Sindh acquire an autonomous provincial status in the Act of 1935.
This certainly was one of Haroon’s great political accomplishments. Yet it would be overshadowed by his pioneering role in canalizing the course of mainstream Muslim politics, late in the 1930s. His electoral defeat early in 1937 led him to wind up the Sindh United Party which he had set up along with Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto in 1936 to fight the provincial elections. While Bhutto opted for a government job and a safe sanctuary in Bombay, Haroon undauntingly chose to face the music. For one thing the emerging political scenario was obviously unchartered and unpredictable, but he swerved not from boldly undertaking the almost impossible task of canalizing the miniscule Sindhi political elite towards playing its due part in all-India politics. And what helped him the most at this juncture was that he had the vision, the imagination and the intuition to see the problems of Sindh in an all-India context. He, therefore, sought to establish organic linkages between Sindh and the sprawling pan-Indian Muslim community, and inducted Sindh into the mainstream Muslim politics. That the politics at that juncture were encompassed by the AIML. Hence he not only joined the Muslim League in 1937, but also followed it up by establishing contacts and rapport with its top leadership at Lucknow in October 1937, and organizing it subsequently at various tiers in the province. And that to a point that, in concert with Shaikh Abdul Majid Sindhi (1889-1978) and Pir Ali Muhammad Rashidi (1905-1987), he was able to successfully organize the First Sindh Provincial Muslim League Conference in Karachi, early in October 1938.
Except for its nomenclature, it was by all means an all-India moot. Participated in by some twenty leaders of all-India standing and presided over by Jinnah himself, it included, among others, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Nawab Ismail Khan, Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Begum Mohamed Ali, Raja of Mahumdabad, Raja of Pirpur, Maulana Jamal Mian of Farangi Mahal, Syed Ghulam Bhik Nairang, Maulana Abdul Hamid Badayuni, Nawab Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani, and the premiers of the Punjab and Bengal – Sir Sikander Hayat Khan and Fazlul Haq. Such a galaxy had never assembled at a provincial moot before. Indeed, it read like a “who’s who” of Muslim India at the moment. Nor were the topics discussed or the decisions taken confined to Sindh.
Here, Haroon who was Chairman, Reception Committee, called the shots. Indeed, his welcome address set the tone for the conference. Uncharacteristically radical and militant, his address commended an ideological goal. Unless adequate safeguards and protection for minorities were duly provided for, declared Haroon, the Muslims would have no alternative but “to seek their salvation in their own way in an independent federation of Muslim states”. He drew a parallel with Czechoslovakia which had been partitioned to provide safeguards to the Sudeten Germans, and warned, almost prophetically, that the same might happen in India should the majority community persist in its “present course”. “We have”, he declared, “nearly arrived at the parting of the ways and until and unless this problem is solved to the satisfaction of all, it will be impossible to save India from being divided into Hindu India and Muslim India, both placed under separate federation”. This was indeed radical stuff. No one had spoken from the League’s platform in such a strain before.
In contrast, Jinnah, who spoke next, was characteristically mild and moderate. Yet he could not help getting infected by Haroon's tone and tenor. Thus, at two different places, he did make some vague references to the Sudeten German case, and to the Congress trying to create "a serious situation which will break India vertically and horizontally", warning the Congress at the same time to "mark, learn and inwardly digest" the lessons provided by Sudeten Germans. Fazlul Haq and Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, who followed Jinnah, also made fighting speeches.
In a more pronounced way was the main resolution at the conference cast in Haroon's mould. Though formulated by Abdullah Haroon, he allowed it to be moved by the unpredictable Shaikh Abdul Majid Sindhi because of the latter's threat to walk out on the conference were he was to be denied the privilege. Though diluted in the Subjects Committee deliberations at the insistence of Jinnah himself who was characteristically not too keen to show his hand prematurely before Muslims were fully organized and public opinion galvanized behind the ideological goal, the resolution yet retained enough of its clout to become a trend setter and to warrant attention.
For one thing, it had put forth a common position by the Muslim leadership in the majority and minority provinces. The Lucknow League (1937) had lambasted the Congress for its totalitarianism, for exclusion of Muslims from the portals of power in the Hindu majority provinces, and for its blatant Hindu bias in administration, in its educational, social, cultural and linguistic policies, but it was silent on the Congress' machinations in the Muslim majority provinces. This the Sindh Conference focused upon, along with the Congress' conduct in the Hindu provinces. Thus, inter alia, the resolution charged that “the Congress has in open defiance of the democratic principles persistently endeavoured to render the power of the Muslim majorities ineffective and impotent in the North-Western Frontier Province, Bengal, the Punjab and Sindh by trying to bring into power or by supporting coalition ministries not enjoying the confidence of the majority of Muslim members and the Muslim masses of these provinces". This conjunction of interests of the Muslim majority and minority provinces represents a milestone in evolving a common goal for the entire Muslim community and towards enunciating the concept of Muslim nationhood. And the resolution argued the case of separate Muslim nationhood, not merely in terms of transient factors such as "the caste-ridden mentality and anti-Muslim policy of the majority community", but more importantly, in terms of durable factors such as "the acute differences of religion, language, script, culture, social laws and outlook on life of the two major communities and even of race in certain parts". Thus, the concept of Muslim nationhood was spelled out not merely in political and immediate terms, but on an intellectual plane, spelling out the basics and bases of that nationhood. Equally significant, this was also the first time that the Hindus and Muslims were officially pronounced by the Muslim League as two distinct "nations".
The operative part of the resolution ran as follows:
This Conference considers it absolutely essential in the interests of an abiding peace of the vast Indian continent and in the interests of unhampered cultural development, the economic and social betterment, and political self-determination of the two nations known as Hindus and Muslims, to recommend to [the] All-India Muslim League to review and revise the entire question of what should be the suitable constitution for India which will secure honourable and legitimate status due to them, and that this Conference recommends to the All-India Muslim League to devise a scheme of Constitution under which Muslims may attain full independence. (italics added)
And in the historical perspective, this resolution became the precursor of the Lahore Resolution of March 1940.
Between this conference and the Lahore session, Abdullah Haroon had also made by far the most significant contribution in popularizing the ideal of a separate state for Muslims. He chaired the Foreign and Domestic Sub-Committee of the All-India Muslim League, which produced working papers and literature, and corresponded extensively with prominent Muslim leaders throughout the subcontinent.
Abdullah Haroon also availed of the Aga Khan's presence in India to seek his guidance. And the Grand Old Man wrote back in matter-of-fact terms: "Is your League likely to advocate Pakistan as the final policy of Moslems? If so the sooner the public opinion is prepared gradually the better." A week later (December 28, 1938), Abdullah Haroon assured him, "The League, I feel, has no other alternative but to secure a separate Federation and the trend of thought in the League circles has lately begun drifting in that direction".
Presently, in order to give a jump start to the partition proposal and psychologically prepare the intelligentsia for it, he got Dr. Syed Abdul Latif's book on The Muslim Problem In India (1939) published and circulated. In his "Foreword", he shunned the circumlocutory language of the Karachi resolution for a more categorical enunciation of the still evolving Muslim goal, asserting that:
The Hindu-Muslim problem in India has grown so serious since the inauguration of the Provincial Autonomy in the country that the Muslims see no other way of consolidating their future except [for] carving out cultural zones or separate homelands for themselves. What they insist upon is equality of freedom for every community – freedom for all and not for the majority community only … the Muslims are anxious to have for themselves separate homelands where they might live a life of their own and from where they might be in a position to work with their Hindu brethren living in similar homelands of their own for the common good of their country as a whole.
Finally, the sub-committee, which he headed, prepared a comprehensive report which became the basis of the Lahore Resolution. This explains why Coupland had singled out Abdullah Haroon as having made a significant contribution to the constitutional debate of the late 1930s, leading to the partition demand.
In perspective, the resolution sought to break new ground: it was truly epochal. Indeed, it represented the penultimate step to, and prepared the ground for, the adoption of the Lahore Resolution at the Muslim League session in March 1940. And herein lies the significance of Haji Abdullah Haroon as a trend-setter in modern Muslim India’s politics, and as a “shaper” of history in the larger sense. Thus, Abdullah Haroon carved out for himself a niche as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, although, as indicated earlier, he did not live long enough to see his dream materialize in 1947.
The writer is HEC Distinguished National Professor, who has recently co-edited UNESCO’s History of Humanity, vol. VI, and The Jinnah Anthology (2010) and edited In Quest of Jinnah (2007); the only oral history on Pakistan’s Founding Father.