WHY do we remember Abdullah Haroon year after year on April 27, his death anniversary? Because he is relevant even today. He is relevant because he serves as a role model as he did in his lifetime.
We remember him for what he had stood and worked for and for what he had accomplished. Persons belonging to his calibre generally set a trend for shaping the course of history, a trend which, betimes, becomes a part of their people’s national heritage. And we remember him for the values he had so routinely exemplified in his own lifetime.
Haroon’s role model dimension stems from the fact that he started from scratch, with a limited resource base, and yet found success in business, in politics, in organising and establishing social welfare agencies and charitable institutions, as well as in various other spheres of life.
Consider, in the first instance, his business activities which provided him a solid financial base to dart out into other fields. An orphan at age four, with little formal education, he started out as a messenger and help boy at 14, entered as an understudy in his maternal uncle’s grains business firm at 18, started his own modest business at 24, began importing sugar on a large scale at 32, secured a sound footing in sugar import at 37, and bought the zamindari of Motipur in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, imported equipment from England, and set up a sugar mill at Motipur during 1931-34 when he was about 60.
Twice he suffered heavy losses (in 1907 and 1918), but undaunted, he did not swerve from his chosen path. He believed in initiative, enterprise and hard work. He built up his business step by step, laboriously, strenuously and patiently over long decades.
In short, he rose from rags to riches, and that too without ever resorting to unfair means, to gimmicks, and to ‘business’ tricks. Thus, Haji Abdullah Haroon’s life presents a role model for those latter-day business tycoons and industrialists who are obsessed merely with the idea of getting rich overnight, through means fair or foul.
Now consider his political career. Although he started taking an interest in politics and attending public meetings in 1901, he did not launch himself formally into public life till 1913. That year he was elected to the Karachi Municipal Committee as a member. Interestingly though, before entering upon a public career, he had built for himself (and his family) a solid financial base. This means that unlike latter-day leaders, Haji Abdullah Haroon did not live off politics.
That reminds one of Jinnah who, when asked why he had not yet forayed into politics now that he had established himself at the bar, said that he was awaiting the day when he had saved up enough to afford to involve himself in politics since he did not want to live off anyone nor make a profession of politics.
And like Jinnah, Haroon considered politics as a means of serving the community and country, and not as an agency for merely amassing power and pelf. He spent his own personal funds to finance not only his own political activities, but also those of his party.
Consider Abdullah Haroon’s role in social uplift and development. Having himself gone through the travails that are the fate of orphans in a ‘backward’ and financially downtrodden society, he dedicated himself, once he had become financially solvent and secure, to alleviating the sufferings of the poor, the orphan and the needy.
This dedication led him to found, organise or set up scores of institutions, charities and funds for promoting education, health and self-help enterprises to make the unskilled self-sustaining. During the last nine months of his life alone, he had disbursed a total sum of Rs89,701 in charities. In today’s terms, this sum would be in the millions.
Finally, Haroon’s role in charting the course of modern Muslim India’s history still needs to be delineated — a role which calls for attention even if he had not done anything else. This was the First Sind Provincial Muslim League Conference in October 1938, which he organised and whose reception committee he chaired.
The resolution which he formulated and got adopted represented the penultimate step to, and prepared the ground for, the adoption of the Lahore Resolution in March 1940. And herein lies the significance of Haji Abdullah Haroon as a trendsetter in modern Muslim India’s politics, and as a shaper of history in a larger sense.
As the discussion above indicates, even specific events in the life of great men contain or are inspired by an element of universal truth, which is relevant at all times. As Benedetto Croce, the famed Italian philosopher, says, “The practical requirements which underlie every historical judgment give to all history the character of ‘contemporary history’ because, however remote in time events there recounted may seem to be, the history in reality refers to present needs and present situations wherein those events vibrate.”
As with history, so with the lives of great men who shape the course of history. And the events in their lives become relevant to present needs and present situations. So is the case with the events of Abdullah Haroon’s life.
The writer, an HEC Distinguished National Professor, has co-edited Unesco’s History of Humanity vol. VI and The Jinnah Anthology and edited In Quest of Jinnah.