Rahmat Ali: The Condemned Hero
By Asif Javed
The other day, I asked three Pakistani physicians about Rahmat Ali (RA). One thought he had written the national anthem; another claimed he had designed the national flag; and only the third knew he had coined the word Pakistan!
Now, this is what K.K. Aziz writes of RA:
His distinction lies in that he was the first to argue, in detail, in favor of the Two-Nation Theory, to offer a concreate scheme, to give a name to the proposed state, and to establish a movement to achieve the ideal. Some others had made suggestions and then forgotten them or passed on to other things. He alone devoted his life to it and stood like a rock in its cause. He had no material resources to lighten his labors. No crowds applauded him. No public deification buoyed him up in dark hours. No party advanced his name or his plans, or fought for his principles. With none to cheer his lonely exile, not even a wife to share his solitary existence, he literally lived and died with the idea which he had made the sole justification of his life.
RA’s was an extraordinary life. Born in a low middle-class family in East Punjab, he came to Lahore in 1918. Having spent twelve years in Lahore, during which he graduated from Islamia College, taught at Atchison College and worked as private secretary to Mazari Chief, Dost Mohammad, he proceeded to England in 1930. He was to remain in Cambridge for the rest of his life, barring a few short breaks.
Interestingly, those who helped RA in his life included Sir Umar Hayat Tiwana, a landlord from Sargodha, and father of Khizar Hayat Tiwana, later Prime Minister of Punjab. Mr Tiwana kept a house in London that was open to visitors from back home. RA was not only allowed to stay there, but also received a favorable letter of reference from his host that helped him get in to Emmanuel College in Cambridge, an institution where Pitras Bokhari had once been a student. Tiwanas were Unionists and opposed the Muslim League but the man who was to win the first Nobel Prize and the one who coined the name Pakistan, were both helped by them along the way.
RA’s odyssey began on January 28, 1933 when he wrote the pamphlet, Now or Never, from 3 Humberstone Rd, Cambridge. This was followed by the launch of the Pakistan National Movement and a grandiose plan that envisioned ten independent Muslim states in India; he was to spend the rest of his life in the relentless pursuit of this ideal.
There is an interesting version of how RA came up with the word Pakistan: while he had been thinking of this for a while, RA claims to have had a moment of inspiration, while atop a double-decker bus in London when the word PAKSTAN (without I) flashed in his mind. It was later that I – taken from Indus -- was added to make it PAKISTAN. Ironically, the original demand for Pakistan did not include Bengal.
RA travelled often to plead his case. There is evidence that he met Adolf Hitler; the German Chancellor, it may be recalled, had also granted audience to Allama Mashraqi and gifted him a car that can still be seen in Ichra, Lahore; Halide Adeeb, the famous Turkish journalist had been to India, and was about to write a book on India; RA met her in Paris and persuaded her to include a chapter in her book on Pakistan. At her suggestion, he not only wrote the entire chapter himself, but ensured that 500 copies of her book Inside India were purchased by his fellow students in England.
“Those who have read HA’s book,” writes Aziz, “are impressed by richness of RA’s argument. There is hardly any point in favor of partition of India which he does not make. The case for Pakistan is argued in such detail that all the ML statements of the years 1940-1947 did not go beyond repeating, elaborating and clarifying what he told HA. In some cases, the very words and phrases have been borrowed from him.”
RA visited London frequently and met Muslim dignitaries who used to come from India for various conferences. At various times, he met and tried to influence Jinnah, Agha Khan, Iqbal, Khaliq-uz-Zaman among others. KZ has left this account of his meeting with RA:
I took a sincere liking for this tall graceful and well cut figure. When we started talking about the scheme of Pakistan I found that not only had he thought deeply over the question but was earnest about its realization.
Many Muslim students were influenced by RA: Mahbub Murshid, who rose to become CJ of East Pak High Court--and incidentally was also the CEC for 1970 elections--was among them. M. Anwar, later a brilliant lawyer, worked closely with RA; Anwar-ul-Haq, the future Chief Justice of Supreme Court, had also been an acquaintance of RA. Aslam Khattak was one of the four original signatories of Now or Never. Anwar and some other students would go to the famous Hyde Park speaker’s corner to propagate their cause. This was years before Jinnah and Muslim League took up the case of Pakistan.
RA was not a statesman; he was an idealist, a perfectionist, who failed to see the weakness in his complicated plan. He felt let down when Jinnah accepted a much smaller Pakistan than RA had proposed. A deeply hurt RA exercised poor judgement at that point and berated QA; his scathing, and most unfortunate, remarks included derogatory terms like Quisling-e-Azam, and Judas. This colossal mistake was to be his undoing and denied him the sympathies of many.
RA did come to Pakistan in April 1948, quite oblivious to the hostility that awaited him. He intended to enter politics, pursue law practice and bring out a journal. In Lahore, his friends prevailed upon him to apply for a house since he was a refugee and had left property in India. RA agreed and a spacious house on Jail Road, Lahore was allotted to him. RA found it full of expensive furniture and decorations that he promptly sent to the treasury.
The Muslim League government was wary of RA and his life was made miserable: he was followed by CID; his host, a respected medical professor, was threatened and his application for Pakistani passport was denied. It had finally dawned upon RA that he had become a pariah in Pakistan. In October 1948, a disillusioned RA, physically exhausted and broken in spirit, left for Cambridge; he was never to return.
On a bitterly cold rainy day in January 1951, RA walked to the house of his former landlady Miss Watson. He had forgotten his overcoat and umbrella at home, was soaked wet and was visibly shivering. Having collected his letters, he left in a hurry. Within days, he came down with a chill, was admitted in a NH, and three days later was dead; he was fifty-three.
In personal life, RA was a bohemian: he attached great value to time; worked hard and for long hours, often worked late in to the night, was addicted to tea and a chain smoker. His obsession with cleanliness, taboos in food often created difficulties with his land-ladies. His contemporaries describe him as a sensitive and restless soul. He changed his residence often; in Cambridge, he moved through at least five addresses. He never married, never had a girlfriend and never had a female visitor. It seems that he had suppressed the need for female companionship by intense devotion to the one and only cause that was dear to his heart. Those who met him were impressed by his confidence and power of persuasion. Having moved in educated circles in Lahore, he came across as an aristocrat to some.
Financially, he was often in dire straits: while at Islamia College, he had to suspend his studies at times for lack of funds; he supported himself by part-time work in Paisa Akhbar. Only a generous payment from Mazari Sardar enabled him to proceed to the United Kingdom. He was in heavy debt at death.
Sixty-five years have passed since RA passed away in exile. Since then, we have tolerated Ahrars, Khaksars, Jamat i Islami, JUI, Red Shirts and the like; they all had opposed Pakistan. We have made heroes of many corrupt, incompetent politicians and generals. And yet, RA’s role remains unacknowledged in the freedom struggle. There is no sign that the remains of one of our real heroes are coming back any time soon. There have been demands over the years for reburial, the last one by Ch. Shujaat Hussain. We condemned RA years ago for his criticism of QA which, though harsh, was based on principle. QA was and should remain the undisputed leader and founding father of our nation. But that should not deter us from carefully studying the history and giving credit where it is due. QA, writes Aziz, “is to be put on a pedestal and revered, to examine his career is to utter a blasphemy. This line of thought has been given the name of national ideology.”
We are a strange people: when Awami League was denied the right to form government in 1970, hardly anyone spoke. When RA was hounded out of Pakistan, there was virtually no public reaction. When he died, the only sympathetic obituary came from Nawa-i-Waqt. Today, Subash Chandar Bose’s role in the freedom struggle is accepted in India, despite his serious differences with Nehru and Gandhi; Nixon has been rehabilitated in the USA but in Pakistan, RA’s name remains in oblivion.
“He died in neglect, indifference and apathy,” writes K.K. Aziz. “No Pakistani brought him to the hospital, or sat near his bedside, or called to inquire about him, or prayed for him, or mourned him, or took his dead body away.” Aziz laments that the hospital expenses were paid by RA’s former tutor at Emmanuel College, only a few English friends were present at burial and that Pak High Commission in London, though informed had not responded. Here is the description of RA’s last resting place: “It is a mere piece of vacant land, the size of a grave….a nameless, flowerless, cheerless six feet of earth covering a box that contains the bones of a body which suffered much during its mortal span.”
Back to my friends; perhaps, I should have quoted Pir Ali Mohammad Rashdi to them who wrote, “RA occupies the same place in the Pak ideology as does Karl Marx in Communism. If there is any difference in their positions, it is this that while the people who profited from Marx’s intellectual labors remembered him, those who gained from RA’s intellectual exertions have forgotten him.”
This writer, for one, is willing to offer a sincere and humble apology to RA’s memory. As for the rest of our nation, his soul demands, and deserves, an explanation for a glaring injustice. It is long overdue.
(The writer is a physician in Williamsport, PA, and may be reached at email@example.com )