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Leader with vision

April 27, 2015


The writer is HEC Distinguished National Professor.
The writer is HEC Distinguished National Professor.

AMONG the All-India Muslim League’s (AIML) second-cadre leadership, Abdullah Haroon, who died on April 27, 1942, has a prominent position. What sets him apart is his role in conceptualising Pakistan as it came to be embodied in the Lahore Resolution (1940). To quote Reginald Coupland, 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 he did not live long enough to see his “dream” materialise, he is reckoned among Pakistan’s founding fathers.

By late 1938, when he seriously launched his campaign to popularise the Pakistan idea, Haroon had been in politics and in public focus for some 25 years. 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. Cosmopolitan in outlook and approach, he reached out beyond the parameters of Sindh, to help sustain worthy causes. His philanthropy extended to the entire subcontinent and the Middle East.

Haroon’s politics were ancillary to his human resource development campaign. And once securely established in business, which he was by the late 1890s, he became increasingly involved with civic activities in Karachi. Later, he became proactive in the major political organisations — the Indian National Congress (1917), the All-India Khilafat Committee (1919-29), Sind 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).

His electoral defeat in 1937 caused him to wind up the Sind United Party that he had established with Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto in 1936 to take part in provincial elections. While Bhutto opted for a safe sanctuary in Bombay, Haroon chose to face the music. He decided to take part, once again, in all-India politics — a decision at once momentous and fateful.

Abdullah Haroon
Abdullah Haroon

The emerging political scenario was obviously unchartered and unpredictable, yet he was determined to canalise the minuscule Sindhi political elite towards playing its due part in all-India politics. He had the foresight to look at 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 AIML.

He, therefore, joined the Muslim League in 1937, established contacts and rapport with its top leadership at Lucknow in October 1937, and organised it at various tiers in the province. To a point, assisted by Shaikh Abdul Majid and Pir Ali Muhammad Rashidi, he was able to successfully organise the First Sind Provincial Muslim League Conference in Karachi, early in October 1938.

In terms of the themes and the participants’ standing, it was an all-India moot, except for it nomenclature. Presided over by Mohammad Ali Jinnah, it saw the participation of a galaxy of Muslim leaders drawn from the NWFP to Hyderabad Deccan, from Bombay to Bengal. Indeed, it read like a who’s who of Muslim India at the time.

Here, Haroon, who headed the Reception Committee, called the shots. His welcome address, which set the tone for the conference, was quite radical: it was in favour of an ideological goal. Without adequate safeguards for the minorities, said Haroon, the Muslims would have no option but “to seek their salvation in their own way in an independent federation of Muslim states”. He warned 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.” This was indeed radical stuff.

Interestingly, the main resolution at the conference was cast in Abdullah Haroon’s mould. Though watered down in the Subjects Committee deliberations as Jinnah was not in favour of revealing much before the Muslims were organised and public opinion was galvanised, the resolution had nevertheless enough clout to warrant attention.

Briefly stated, the concept of separate Muslim nationhood was spelled out not only in a political way but also on an intellectual plane, laying down in categorical terms the ideological basics and the basis of that nationhood. Never before had the Hindus and Muslims been officially pronounced by the League as two separate 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 demand for partition.

In perspective, then, the resolution sought to break new ground; it was truly epochal. Indeed, it represented the penultimate step to, and prepared the ground for, the adoption of the Lahore Resolution by the AIML in March 1940. And herein lies the significance of Haji Abdullah Haroon as a trendsetter.

The writer is HEC Distinguished National Professor.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2015

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