RECENTLY my bank official virtually begged me to buy at least one bundle (100 pieces) of the 75-rupee currency note that was issued by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) on the 75th anniversary of Pakistan’s independence last year. Unfortunately, I found almost every one to be reluctant to accept the new, crispy note in the market. I wonder why.

However, spending time with the current notes, I realised that the design is reflective of the biases that have hampered our progress towards true nationhood. The four pictures are those of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Allama Muhammad Iqbal. The first prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan, has been ignored, as if he had no role in the independence movement.

There is absolutely no doubt that Sir Syed was a great reformer of the downtrodden Indian Muslims in the 19th century, providing the main vehicle of Muslim education in India, though not of religious reformation.

It is interesting to consider what Sir Syed had to say about himself. Ziauddin Lahori has compiled a book, Khud-Nawisht Hayat-i-Sir Syed, from numerous writings of Sir Syed. A few excerpts from the book, originally in Urdu, are quite relevant here (translation by the writer).

“From the very beginning of my adult life I have been in the service of English government … I am the first man of my family who entered the British service and rose to a subordinate judicial post”. Since he served obediently, he was able to rise from the position of a munshi in the East India Company, which also conferred on him a number of honorary titles from time to time.

Sir Syed always dubbed the 1857 uprising of Indian Muslims ‘a mutiny’ and had this to say about the colonial masters: “It was the will of God that India be entrusted to the rule of a wise nation whose system of governance follows the law of wisdom. Verily, in it there was a great hikmat of God … We wish that English government in India should remain in place not only for a long time, but eternally. This wish of ours is not for the English nation, but for our own country”.

I wonder why Sir Syed’s picture is on the currency note marking the country’s independence, while ignoring Liaquat Ali Khan, although the former played absolutely no role in Pakistan movement. In fact, he had died eight years before even the founding of the All-India Muslim League in Dhaka in 1906.

In 1938, the Quaid-i-Azam remarked in Patna that Liaquat Ali Khan was the greatest asset that the Muslims of India possessed. The SBP should explain why it chose Sir Syed to feature on the landmark note and why was Shaheed-i-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan ignored.

Shameem Ahmad
Karachi

Published in Dawn, March 24th, 2023

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