TODAY is the 76th death anniversary of Abdullah Haroon, a pivotal player in the history of the Pakistan Movement. A successful businessman, entrepreneur, philanthropist, founder of several educational, religious and social institutions, Haroon was also a visionary, and a leader of exceptional merit.
While establishing himself in business, he immersed himself in social causes in Karachi and Sindh, and he was drawn to politics largely because of his desire to improve the lot of the masses. This cause motivated him, to take up, for instance, the issue of the separation of Sindh from the Bombay Presidency.
At the All India Muslim League (AIML) session at Aligarh in 1925, he demanded a resolution on Sindh’s separation; at the Leaders’ Conference at Delhi the next year, he put in a resolution on the issue; and from 1928 onwards, argued against the financial solvency requirement for the separation of Sindh, stipulated in the Nehru Report. Of all the Muslim leaders of Sindh, Haroon had the most long-term impact on all-India mainstream politics. After he joined Congress in 1917, he remained closely associated with the Khilafat movement, contributing generously to it and opening his house for Khilafat activities, and for visiting Khilafat leaders. President of the Sindh Provincial Khilafat Committee for five years from 1919 till 1924, he was elected president of the all-India Central Khilafat Committee in 1928.
The 1920s saw his debut in electoral politics and all-India mainstream Muslim politics. In 1923 he contested and won a seat in the Bombay Legislative Council, and in 1926 in the Indian Legislative Assembly, which he retained till his death in 1942. In 1920, he was elected president of the Provincial Muslim League, and from 1925 onwards was active in the AIML. Secretary of the All India Muslim Conference, set up to counter the Nehru Report, he became its president in 1925. Throughout this period, he worked tirelessly for its amalgamation with the AIML in order to bring about solidarity in Muslim ranks.
To see the problems of Sindhi Muslims in an all-India context displayed a rare vision. However, his impact on all-India politics was impressive in the regional context as well and he was president of at least six all-India conference and bodies.
It was the period from 1937 onward, when he began to work on setting up a provincial chapter of the Muslim League, that saw his stellar political career reach its zenith. He was the moving force behind the First Sindh Provincial Muslim League Conference in Karachi in October 1938, which can be considered his most important contribution in channelling the course of Indo-Muslim politics. Though a provincial moot, it was not only presided over by Jinnah, but a galaxy of Muslim leaders was among its participants.
Moreover, the topics discussed or the decisions taken were not confined to Sindh. Haroon’s welcome address set the tone. Radical and defiant, it extolled an ideological goal. In the absence of adequate protection for minorities, he declared, the Muslims would have no alternative but to work towards an independent federation of Muslim states. “We have nearly arrived at the parting of the ways and until and unless this problem is solved to the satisfaction of all, it will be impossible to save India from being divided into Hindu India and Muslim India, both placed under separate federations,” he said.
Such blunt words had never been spoken from the League’s platform. The main resolution passed at the conference also bore the imprint of Haroon’s unequivocal stance.
For one thing, as against the Lucknow League resolution, it articulated a common position in the majority and minority provinces. While the Lucknow League had lambasted the Congress for its totalitarianism, its exclusion of Muslims from the portals of power in the Hindu-majority provinces, and its blatant Hindu bias in administration, as well as its educational, social, cultural and linguistic policies, it was silent on the Congress’ machinations in the Muslim-majority provinces. The Sindh Conference focused on this aspect, along with the Congress’s conduct in the Hindu provinces.
The conjunction of interests of the Muslim-majority and minority provinces represents a milestone in evolving a common goal for the entire Muslim community. It also was a definitive step in enunciating the concept of Muslim nationhood in terms of fundamental aspects such as “the acute differences of religion, language, script, culture, social laws and outlook on the life of the two major communities and even of race in certain parts”. This was also the first time that the Hindus and Muslims were officially pronounced by the Muslim League as two distinct “nations”.
With the benefit of hindsight, one can say that the Sindh Conference Resolution became the progenitor of the Lahore Resolution.
The writer is an HEC Distinguished National Professor.
Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2018