Abdullah Haroon and ‘Two-Nation’ Theory
By Prof Sharif al Mujahid

Most anniversary articles on Abdullah Haroon focus on his success as a business magnate, an entrepreneur, a committee man and an organizer, and on his being a philanthropist, founder of several educational, religious and social institutions and a leader of outstanding merit.
His contribution in channeling the course of Muslim politics in late 1930s and in crystallizing the two-nation theory has, however, not received the kind of attention it deserves. This article is meant to fill in this gap.
Of all the Muslim leaders of Sindh, Abdullah Haroon was the foremost to make an impact on the all-India mainstream Muslim politics; (Bhurguri was, of course, in all-India politics before him, but he died rather prematurely, in 1924). The most remarkable thing about Abdullah Haroon was that he had the vision to see the problems of Sindhi Muslims in an all-India context and to establish linkages between the Sindhi component and the pan-Indian Muslim community. The only other Sindhi leader who shared this honor with him was Sheikh Abdul Majid. Not only in the provincial context but also in the regional context, Abdullah Haroon’s impact on all-India politics was impressive.
Haroon’s most important role in channeling the course of Muslim politics came in late 1930s. He organized the First Sindh Provincial Muslim League Conference in October 1938, presided over by Mr. Mohammad Ali Jinnah and attended by a galaxy of top-notch Muslim leaders. Thus, except for its nomenclature, it was an all-India moot, indeed a notch higher than the Lucknow League (1937) in terms of defining the League’s ultimate goal.
Haroon’s welcome address set the tone for the conference: it was radical and militant; it commended an ideological goal. Unless adequate safeguards and protection for the minorities were duly provided, he declared, the Muslims would have no alternative but “to seek their salvation in their own way in an independent federation of Muslim states”.
He drew a parallel with Czechoslovakia which had been partitioned to provide safeguards to Sudetan Germans, and warned that the same might happen in India should the majority community persist in its “present course”. “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 federation,” he added.
This was indeed a radical stuff. No one had spoken from the League’s platform in such a strain before. In contrast, Jinnah, who spoke next, was characteristically mild and moderate. Yet he could not help getting infected by Haroon’s tone and tenor. At two different places, he made somewhat vague references to the Sudetan German case, and to the Congress trying to create “a serious situation which will break India vertically and horizontally”, warning the Congress to “mark, learn and inwardly digest” the lessons provided by Sudetan Germans. Maulvi Fazlul Haq and Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, who followed Jinnah, also made fighting speeches.
In a more pronounced way was the main resolution at the conference cast in the Abdullah Haroon’s mould. Though formulated by Haroon, he allowed it to be moved by the unpredictable Shaikh Abdul Majid because of the latter’s threat to walk out on the conference if he was denied the privilege. Though diluted in the subjects committee deliberations at the insistence of Jinnah himself who was characteristically not too keen to show his hand prematurely before the Muslims were fully organized and public opinion galvanized behind the ideological goal, the resolution yet retained enough of its clout to become a trend-setter and to warrant attention.
For one thing, it put forth a common position by Muslim leadership in the majority and minority provinces. In Lucknow (1937) the League had lambasted the Congress for its totalitarianism, for exclusion of Muslims from the portals of power in the Hindu majority provinces, and for its blatant Hindu bias in administration, in its educational, social, cultural and linguistic policies, but it was silent on the Congress’ machinations in the Muslim majority provinces. This the Sindh Conference focused on, along with the Congress’ conduct in the Hindu provinces.
Thus, inter alia, the resolution charged that the Congress “has in open defiance of the democratic principles persistently endeavored to render the power of the Muslim majority ineffective and impotent in the North-Western Provinces, Bengal, Punjab and Sindh by trying to bring into power or by supporting coalition ministries not enjoying the confidence of the majority of Muslim members and the Muslim masses of these provinces”.
This conjunction of interests of the Muslim majority and minority provinces represents a milestone in evolving a common goal for the entire Muslim community and in enunciating the concept of Muslim nationhood. The resolution argued the case of a separate Muslim nationhood, not merely in terms of transient factors such as “the caste-ridden mentality and anti-Muslim policy of the majority community”, but, more importantly, in terms of durable factors 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”.
Thus, the concept of a separate Muslim nationhood was spelled out not merely in political and immediate terms, but on an intellectual plane. This was also the first time that the Hindus and Muslims were officially pronounced by the Muslim League as two distinct “nations”.
The operative part of the resolution said, inter alia: “This conference considers it absolutely essential in the interests of an abiding peace of the vast Indian continent and in the interests of unhampered cultural development, the economic and social betterment, and political self-determination of the two nations known as Hindus and Muslims, to recommend to All-India Muslim League to review and revise the entire question of what should be the suitable constitution for India which will secure honorable and legitimate status due to them, and that this Conference recommends to the All-India Muslim League to devise a scheme of Constitution under which Muslims may attain full independence.
In the historical perspective, this resolution became the precursor of the Lahore Resolution of 1940.
Between this conference and the Lahore sessions, Abdullah Haroon made by far the most significant contribution in popularizing the ideal of a separate state for the Muslims. He chaired the foreign and domestic sub-committee of the All-India Muslim League, which produced working papers and literature, and corresponded extensively with prominent Muslim leaders throughout the subcontinent.
In order to give a big push in that direction and to prepare the intelligentsia for the partition proposal, he got Dr Syed Abdul Latif’s book on The Muslim Problem In India (1939) published and circulated. In his “Foreword”, he shunned the circumlocutory language of the Karachi resolution for a categorical enunciation of the still evolving Muslim goal.
To quote R. Coupland, who studied the constitutional problem in India in the early 1940s, Abdullah Haroon was “the only Muslim politician of any standing who had so far taken a public part in the constitutional discussion”; he was also clear in his mind as to the solution. Finally, the subcommittee which he headed prepared a comprehensive report which became the basis of the Lahore Resolution.
In thus advancing the cause of a Muslim homeland at a critical stage, Abdullah Haroon carved for himself a niche as one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, although he did not live long enough to see his dream materialize in 1947.
The writer was founder-director of the Quaid-i-Azam Academy.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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