Abdullah Haroon: An Institution-Builder and Political Thinker

(On the occasion of the death anniversary of Abdullah Haroon on April 27, 1942)

Among the All India Muslim League’s (AIML) second cadre leadership, Abdullah Haroon was actively associated with it for barely five years (1937-42). Yet he stands high in its echelons. What sets him apart is his pioneering role in conceptualizing Pakistan as it came to be embodied in the Lahore Resolution (1940). To quote Reginald Coupland, who did a three-part “Report on the Constitutional Problem in India” (1942-44), 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” materialize, he is yet reckoned among Pakistan’s founding fathers.

By late 1938 when he seriously launched his campaign to popularize the Pakistan idea, Haroon had been in politics and public life for some twenty-five years, if only because of his penchant to cause awakening among the downtrodden masses and work for their amelioration and emancipation.

Politics to Haroon, as to Jinnah, was a means of serving the community and the country, not a source of amassing wealth. Like Jinnah, Haroon had built for himself (and his family) a solid financial base before he barged into politics. This means that unlike latter day leaders, Haji Abdullah Haroon did not live off politics, nor did he intend to make a profession out of it. This reminds me of what Khasa Subba Rao, editor of the Indian Express, once wrote about Jinnah. About the turn of the century, when Jinnah had already established himself at the bar, he was asked as to why he was not taking active part in politics. Jinnah's reply was characteristic of the man who would later be acknowledged as the most incorruptible politician in the country. He said that he was awaiting the day when he had saved up enough (and he named a figure, considered enormous at the time) to afford to involve himself in politics since he did not want to live off nor make a profession of politics


abdulaharoon.jpgLike Jinnah, again, he financed his political activities out of his own personal funds. More significantly, he contributed generously to meet in part the running of the party he was involved with. Thus, in one of his last letters sent posthumously, he told Shaikh Abdul Majid, “... you know very well that I have no more funds left and the Working Committee of the (Muslim League) Assembly Party, except a very few, none yet sent in their help, though they had promised to do so. As yet I have been financing all the expenses of the Muslim League Branch here.”

Along with political activities, Haroon had helped to build institutions in the education, health and social welfare sectors that would make groups and communities become self-contained and self-sustaining in terms of their dire requirements. And he liberally opened his coffers to dole out huge sums to finance a good many social causes. Nor did his philanthropy know any bounds when it came to alleviating the sufferings of the poor, the indigent and the needy. And this continued unabated till his last breath. Simultaneously, he also built several institutions for them. From July 1941 to late April 1942 – that is, during the last ten months of his life – he had given away a princely sum of Rs. 88,961 to charities, which would be equivalent to about Rs. 10 million at current prices

Today there are in Pakistan tycoons and industrialists who are a lot more affluent than Haji Abdullah Haroon, and yet how many of them have involved themselves in promoting education, health, religious charitable institutions, orphanages and such other activities, designed to alleviate the lot of the poor and accelerate social development.

Inter alia, I feel the beneficiaries and legatees of Haji Abdullah Haroon also need to emulate his example. At his forty-seventh death anniversary commemorative meeting at Karachi in 1989, I had suggested that a trust be set up with a sum amounting to the par value at current prices of his total charities during the last ten months of his life, that the proceeds from it be utilized to set up a research centre after his name, and that this centre should sponsor meaningful research studies not only on his life and times, but also on Sindh and Pakistan. Such a research centre, I feel, would be a more befitting tribute to Haji Abdullah Haroon than mere commemorative meetings and anniversary articles once in a year. The Abdullah Haroon Foundation on the lines of Carnegie or Rockefeller Foundation would hopefully break new ground and bids fair to become a trend setter in Pakistan. That suggestion, I feel, needs to be taken seriously. Since it sits well with his role model posture in advancing social causes materially, and helping the indigent, and the disadvantaged to become job worthy, skilled and financially self-sufficient, and cease to be a burden on the society.

As hinted earlier, Haroon’s politics were ancillary to his campaign for the human resource development of the community. And once he had securely established himself in business, which he did by the late 1890s, he became increasingly engaged in civic activities in Karachi. Later, he became pro-active in major political organizations – the Indian National Congress (1917), the All India Khilafat Committee (1919-29), Sindh Provincial Political Conference (1920-30s), the All Parties Conference (1928), the All Parties Muslim Conference (1930-34), the Azad Sindh Conference (1930), and the Muslim League (1937 ff.)

His electoral defeat early in 1937 led him to wind up the Sindh United Party which he had set up along with Sir Shahnwaz Bhutto, father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in 1936 to fight the provincial elections. While Bhutto opted for a government job and a safe sanctuary in Bombay, Haroon undauntedly chose to face the music at Rome. He decided to barge, once again, into all-Indian politics – a decision at once momentous and fateful.

The emerging political scenario was obviously unchartered and unpredictable, yet he was determined to canalize the miniscule Sindhi political elite towards playing its due part in all India politics. He had the vision and the imagination to see the problems of Sindh through an all-India prism, and to establish organic linkages between Sindh and the larger pan-Indian Muslim community, and mainstream Muslim politics, encompassed by the AIML. He, therefore, joined the Muslim League in 1937, established contacts and rapport with its top leadership at Lucknow in October 1937, and organized it at various tiers in the province. Assisted by Shaikh Abdul Majid and Pir Ali Muhammad Rashidi, he was able to successfully organize the First Sindh Provincial Muslim League Conference in Karachi, early in October 1938.

In terms of the themes discussed and the standing of the participants, it was an all-India moot, except for its nomenclature. Presided over by Jinnah, it was participated by a galaxy of Muslim leaders drawn from the NWFP to Hyderabad (Deccan), from Bombay to Bengal – such as Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Nawab Ismail Khan, Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung, Maulana Shaukat Ali, Begum Mohamed Ali, Raja Sahib of Mahmudabad, 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.


Here, Haroon who was chairman of the Reception Committee, called the shots. His welcome address, which set the tone and tenor for the conference, was uncharacteristically radical and militant: it commended an ideological goal. Unless adequate safeguards and protection for minorities were duly provided, declared Haroon, the Muslims would have no alternative but “to seek their salvation in their own way in an independent federation of Muslim states,” warning that, “We have nearly arrived at the parting of the ways and… it will be impossible to save India from being divided into Hindu India and Muslim India, both placed under separate federation”.
Interestingly, the main resolution at the conference was cast in Haroon’s mould. 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.

Briefly stated, the concept of separate Muslim nationhood was spelled out not merely in political and immediate terms, but on an intellectual plane, laying down in categorical terms the ideological basics and bases of that nationhood. This was also the first time that the Hindus and Muslims were officially pronounced by the Muslim League as two distinct nations. It called for “the political self-determination of the two nations known as Hindus and Muslims.” This explains why Coupland had singled out Haroon as having made a significant contribution, leading to the partition demand.

In perspective, then, the Sindh Conference resolution sought to break new ground; it was truly epochal. Indeed, it represented not only the penultimate step to, but also 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 a larger sense.

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.

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