Rahmat Ali – the real founding father of Pakistan A Biography by K.K. Aziz

A Book Review by Nasir Mahmood on the occasion of 70th death anniversary of a national hero

The nation cannot prosper unless we place our freedom fighter heroes at right place. This is time for incumbent government to initiate a thorough inquiry regarding the reasons to neglect Rahmat Ali’s remarkable contribution and Establishment’s decline to allow him to live in Pakistan and his burial. It is a general demand of lawyers’ community as stated by Mr. Hashmat Habib, President Tehreek e Tahaffuz e Adlia.

Rahmat Ali was the first Indian Muslim to argue the two-nation theory in irrefutable syllogism, to demand a sovereign Muslim state on the sub-continent and to establish a movement to realize the ideal, and to invent a beautiful and apt name for the country which was still in the womb of time. What he said and did between 1933 and 1947 grants him a pivotal position in the origin, evolution and consummation of the idea of Pakistan, and makes him one of the truest founding fathers of the state of Pakistan. 3rd February is the 70th death anniversary of Rahmat Ali.

“Rahmat Ali – A Biography by K.K. Aziz” is the life history of Rahmat Ali who was Cambridge man par excellence. He joined the university in January 1931, studied at Emmanuel, settled down to live in the town, wrote all his works and published them there. Fell ill and entered a hospital on the outskirts of the town, died there on 3rd February 1951, and was buried in the town cemetery.

Hounded out of Pakistan when he came to live here, betrayed by his friends, ignored by the leaders of the Pakistan movement, neglected by scholars and historians, and libeled by the Establishment – he yet lives in our history as a figure of heroic proportions and the real founding father of Pakistan.

It took Professor Khursheed Kamal Aziz 15 years to draw his portrait. Using all the Rahmat Ali papers within his reach, interviews with his contemporaries, newspapers reports of that period and a vast amount of other sources, he wrote a book which fits the importance of the subject. Immaculate documentation, a graceful style and unaffected erudition combine to make it probably the finest biography ever published in Pakistan. It is a daring and memorable piece of historical scholarship first published in 1987 by Vanguard Books, Lahore. The book has also been translated in Urdu by Iqbaluddin Ahmed, first published in 2017 and second edition in 2020.

The writer, late Professor Khursheed Kamal Aziz was born in December 1927 in village Ballamabad near Faisalabad. He was educated at the M.B. High School, Batala, Forman Christian College, the Government College Lahore, and the Victoria University of Manchester. He had been on the academic staff of the Government College Lahore and of the Universities of the Punjab, London, Khartoum and Heidelberg. He delivered occasional lectures at the Universities of Karachi, Peshawar, Dhaka, Islamabad, Hull, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Geneva, Oxford and Bergen. During intervals snatched from teaching abroad he had served at home as Deputy Official Historian to the Government of Pakistan, Chairman of the National Commission on Historical and Cultural Research, and Special Policy Advisor to the Prime Minister. He was author of over a dozen books, and a historian of rank with and international reputation.

According to Book, the attitude of the Muslim League towards Rahmat Ali, his plan and the name he gave it, is an interesting study in ingratitude, obscurantism and slander. There is so much mystery about the way the League treated Rahmat Ali that a full investigation of their relationship is required. Three questions demand an answer. Why did the Lahore Resolution of March 1940 fail to use the word Pakistan for the partition plan it formulated? Why did the League never own the fact that it had borrowed the term Pakistan from Rahmat Ali, even after its own demand had come to be universally known as Pakistan? Why Jinnah did use the arguments and even the words and phrases of Rahmat Ali without acknowledging their origin?

Rahmat Ali was the first person to present the concept of a divided India in a comprehensive form. A former chief justice of Pakistan believed that it was his farsightedness that ultimately culminated in a separate homeland for the Muslims and that if the rulers at that time had subscribed to Rahmat Ali’s views they would have succeeded in avoiding the excessive bloodshed. The Pakistani High Commissioner in London claimed wrongly in 1956 that the country had not forgotten Rahmat Ali, who had worked like a mad man for the Pakistan Movement in Britain. He regretted that “though he had christened the country of Pakistan, yet on his return to Pakistan he was not only disallowed to live there but also did not find two yards of land for his grave”.

Pir Ali Muhammad Rashdi said “Rahmat Ali occupies the same place in the Pakistan ideology as does Carl Marx in Communism. If there is any difference in their positions, it is this that whiles the people who profited from Marx’s intellectual labours remembered him; those who gained from Rahmat Ali’s intellectual exertions have forgotten him.” Rashdi argued for the transfer of his remains adding that the “Pakistan Memorial in Lahore will be a meaningless thing until Rahmat Ali is not buried there – the man who gave us the name Pakistan and taught us the principle of a partition of the subcontinent.”

Since his death a large number of people in Pakistan had been calling for the transfer of Rehmat Ali’s mortal remains from Cambridge and their reburial in Pakistan. As he was buried in a strong wooden box lined with zinc, not just wrapped in a shroud, the general impression was that this was done to facilitate a later reburial. The demands for reburial began in earnest in 1954. “Will Rahmat Ali’s nation ever have the honour of bringing the coffin of its great son from a foreign land to its own soil?” asked one admirer.

It may be mentioned here that since 1948 the attitude of the successive governments of Pakistan has been one of active hostility against Rahmat Ali and everything associated with him. In fact the campaign against him was started by the government of Liaquat Ali Khan. Rahmat Ali was treated like a common criminal and ordered to leave the country. His money was frozen in a Pakistani bank and he was not allowed to transfer it to England. His writings were proscribed, but this edict was not published in the press. Requests by his relatives and friends to permit his reburial in Pakistan were turned down.

Rahmat Ali finds no mention in the hundreds of official publications put forth since 1947 on the country’s history. There is no entry on him in the 23-volume Urdu Encyclopedia of Islam, the most comprehensive work of reference produced in Pakistan, that’s planning, preparation and publication by the University of the Punjab took 36 years. The 209-page article on Pakistan prepared by the editorial board dismissed him in 8 lines, saying that he gave a name to Iqbal’s 1930 demand, established a party in London in 1932, held public meetings in England, and that his Pakistan comprised the Punjab, NWFP, Kashmir and Baluchistan (with Sindh omitted). The 12-member committee that managed and supervised the Encyclopedia project consisted of 8 civil servants, one retired general and 3 professors of Urdu, Persia and Islamiat.

All school textbooks are prepared by government employees and approved by official Textbook Boards. Naturally they don’t contain correct information on him. Books used for teaching in colleges and universities present the same picture. Radio and television transmissions are a part of the federal ministry of information and broadcasting, and follow the official line or rather prescribe it. The bulk of the rest of the press is either indifferent or too cowardly to run the gauntlet of official displeasur.

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