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DAWN - Features; January 24, 2006

January 24, 2006

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A politician of integrity

RAHIM Bux Soomro’s best photograph is not the one of him with Mohammad Ali Jinnah or Z.A. Bhutto or even the one with the king of Iraq. These photographs pale in comparison with the one of him standing in the middle of a crush of people smothered with garlands of flowers up to his ears, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. It is a photograph worth a thousand words, the photograph that sums it up; and while Rahim Bux Soomro is remembered by many as a leading politician, that is only part of the picture.

On January 24, it will be a year since he passed away in Karachi at his home off Kashmir Road. While he suffered from some heart and lung problems, Rahim Bux was also deeply affected by the death of his eldest son Allah Bux Soomro in a horrific accident, and was never the same after.

While some people hold memories of a young Rahim Bux who wore sophisticated clothes from London, drove swanky cars in Karachi and had a penchant for classical music, the more enduring image of him is one of a man of unblemished extreme integrity and a man of the people. His integrity as a politician is amply demonstrated by the disciplined and principled stands he took several times in his life against powerful rulers.

In a long career, Rahim Bux Soomro became a member of several cabinets — of Abdul Sattar Pirzada, Yusuf Haroon, Ibrahim Rahimtoola, Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah and General Rahimuddin Khan. He became the only independent candidate in Sindh to stand and be elected in the PPP landslide victory in the 1970s and the first member of parliament to resign in protest against Ayub Khan.

He will also be remembered as the sardar of the Soomro tribe for the people of Shikarpur and as the last surviving member of the 1946 assembly, the son of Allah Bux Soomro who was the first premier of Sindh after provincial autonomy was attained in 1935.

But Rahim Bux was mostly a man who looked after his people, who called him Baba Saeen. “We would fight with him to sleep upstairs with the family,” recalls nephew Yunis Soomro. “But he would insist on sleeping downstairs just in case any one from the village needed help in the night and came to the house.” In fact, people thronged the house straight after Fajr prayers and took over his room, which would be filled with smoke from the villagers’ bidis as they waited their turn to talk to him about their multiple problems. As Hamir Soomro, his son, recalls, the villagers would often dial various government officers’ numbers and insist he take the call in the shower.

Until Ayub Khan stepped in, Rahim Bux and Z.A. Bhutto were close friends and their elders even had joint land holdings.

But despite a stellar political career and many high-profile political decisions, Rahim Bux Soomro had developed no airs and graces or pulled rank on people. He did not use any protocol as a minister and left the gates of his house open so that people could come in as they pleased, a decision that distinguishes him from almost all of today’s politicians and bigwigs. — H.M.

— Today is the first death anniversary of Mr Rahim Bux Soomro.