Written By: Prof. Dr. Riaz Ahmed
Sir Aga Khan’s Contribution in the Pakistan Movement 1906-1947
His Highness Sir Sultan Muhammed Shah, Aga Khan III GCSI GCMG GCIE GCVO PC was the 48th Imam of Ismaili Shia Muslims. He was the first President of the All-India Muslim League. He was born in Karachi on November 2, 1877, but passed away in Versoix, Switzerland on July 11, 1957. After Sir Syed Khan, he played a leading role not only in strengthening the political role of the Muslims of the Indo-Pak subcontinent, the cause of Aligarh Muslim University but also the Pakistan Movement. He was in close liaison with Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan in all the critical moments of the Movement.
Aga Khan Leads Simla Deputation to Lord Minto, October 1, 1906
For starting the political role of the Muslims of British India, the Simla Deputation to Lord Minto, the Viceroy, on October 1, 1906 headed by Sir Aga Khan III did play a pivotal role. This Deputation consisted of 35 leading Muslim leaders from all parts of British India. It was considered as the first all-India Muslim gathering under the leadership of Sir Aga Khan which was representative of all the provinces, regions and parts of British India. In his memorandum Sir Aga Khan presented the Muslim demands for grant of separate electorates to the Muslims under the new reforms and pleaded permission from the British Government to allow the Muslims of India to form their own political party. Lord Minto, in his address, responded positively and promised to redress the Muslim demands under the new reforms. It was in consequence of this that the All India Muslim League was formed at Dhaka on December 30, 1906 at a meeting of the All India Mohammedan Educational Conference presided over by Nawab Viqar-ul-Mulk on a motion of Nawab Salimullah for the purpose of protecting the political and other interests of Muslims of British India.
First President of All India Muslim League, 1908-1913
First meeting of the All India Muslim League was held at Aligarh on March 18-19, 1908. In this meeting it was announced that HH Sir Aga Khan III has donated Rs.500/- for the Muslim League fund out of which Rs. 50/- were credited to the account of the League as the admission and membership fees. It was at this session that Sir Aga Khan III was unanimously elected as first President of the All India Muslim League. Second session of the AIML was held at Amritsar in December 1908. At this session also it was announced that the HH Aga Khan, permanent President of the party, donated Rs. 1500/- for the Muslim League fund. Actually, Presidents of the Party were of two kinds. First there was the permanent President who was elected for three years. The other pattern was that some prominent Muslim leader of the country was asked to preside over the session, but his position was temporary and honorary.
HH Sir Aga Khan, the permanent President, presided over the 3rd session of AIML held at Delhi on January 29-30, 1910. He delivered a long presidential address in which he surveyed the current political situation and guided the Muslims on how to move forward in advancing their demands. In a resolution passed by this session the Muslim League unanimously adopted the following resolution in which Sir Aga’s services to the cause of the Muslims were thus appreciated: “The All India Muslim League places on records its appreciation of the great services rendered to the Mohammedan cause by His Highness Aga Khan, GCIE, and assures him of its continued confidence and trust in his statesmanship and in his leadership of the Musalmans of India”. Sir Aga Khan was also present at the 4th session of AIML held at Nagpur, on December 28 and 30, 1910 and presided over the deliberations. The honorary President Syed Nabiullah delivered the presidential address. The 5th session of AIML was held in Calcutta on March 3-4, 1912. Honorary president of this session was Nawab Sir Salimullah of Dhaka who delivered his presidential address. The services of HH Agha Khan for the “caves of Mohammedans” were highly appreciated at this session as well. It was at this session that HH Aga Khan was elected for the second tenure as President AIML.
Since 1912, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had started his efforts for the Hindu-Muslim unity. Though he was not member of the AIML before 1913, he was invited to attend the meeting of the AIML Council on instructions from the Aga Khan by the Secretary of the AIML Syed Wazir Hasan. It was at this meeting under the presidentship of HH Sir Aga Khan that the AIML adopted its new policy of “self-government suitable to India” on a motion by Quaid-i-Azam. It was ratified by the next session held in March 1913. HH Aga Khan also attended the next 7th session of AIML held at Agra on December 30-31, 1913 where the Hon. President was Sir Ibrahim Rahimtoola, a Bombay business magnate, who delivered his presidential address. HH the Aga Khan, as President of the Party, himself moved a resolution for the creation of “Muslim National Fund” whose aim was the “the political progress and advancement of Musalmans” at every provincial level. This resolution was passed with great “acclamation”. Seconding this resolution the Raja of Mahmudabad appreciated the vision of HH Aga Khan. In matters of discussion on other resolutions also, the presence of HH Aga Khan had sobering effect on the proceedings of the Muslim League. Thereafter, HH the Aga Khan resigned from the presidentship of the AIML. Despite his resignation from the AIML, HH the Aga Khan had close contact with Jinnah especially during his efforts for the Hindu-Muslim unity during 1914-1916.
Contributions in the Pakistan Movement
Sir Aga Khan was also the president of the All Parties Muslim Conference held in 1928-29. During 1930-33, he attended the Round Table Conferences (RTCs) held in London for settling the future of the Muslims as delegate. Quaid-i-Azam was also in attendance the first of two conferences in London. Both jointly pleaded the cause of the Muslims. They were very close to each other and were in regular private and confidential correspondence, apart from the participation in the committees of the RTCs in London. They shared a lot of private consulation regarding the future of the Muslims. Sir Aga Khan’s letters of January 20, 1931, March 29, 1931, June 20, 1931 and many others indicate the kind of consulation both had regarding the future of the Muslims before going to different sessions of the RTC. This showed that both the leaders were highly confiding in each other and jointly making strategy regarding the future of the Muslims in British India.
He was nominated to represent India at the League of Nations in 1932, where he continued to work until the outbreak of the World War II. He was an excellent statesman and was elected President of the League of Nations (replaced by the United Nations) in July 1937. He was the only Asian to have been appointed to this high office.
During the Pakistan Movement Sir Aga Khan signally contributed towards the Pakistan Movement. Quaid-i-Azam and Sir Aga Khan were regularly in contact with each other for the furthering of the Pakistan Movement. They remained in contact even when the AIML became united at the time when Pakistan Movement was to be started and 24th session of AIML was held in Bombay on April 11-12, 1936 exhibiting the unity of the Muslim Conference and the All India Muslim League. The contribution of Sir Aga Khan was thus recorded: “There was no person in India except His Highness the Aga Khan who could make all the parties unite on one platform”.
During 1940-1947, at all the critical times, Quaid-i-Azam and Sir Aga Khan remained in close contact with each other and had a lot of consultation with each other on the issues such as Gandhi-Jinnah Talks, Cabinet Mission Plan and the Partition issues during May-August 1947.
Sir Aga Khan fell ill in 1954 during his visit to Dhaka and from then on struggling with ill health, passed away on July 11, 1957, in Switzerland and is buried in Aswan, Egypt. On the occasion of his birth anniversary on November 2, we pay tribute to a great Muslim leader by renewing our pledge to make Pakistan a prosperous and advanced country.
The writer is Ex-Director, National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, and Professor at Quaid-i-Azam Chair (NIPS), Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.