A nation that does not value its heroes is doomed to destruction. These dedicated men endure trials and tribulations, go through fire and water, nay, stake their very life, for the cause that is dear to their people. It is, indeed, a great tragedy when the nation turns its back on them and fails to show its gratitude in a befitting manner. The dismal way in which we have so far “honoured” the memory of the Quaid-i-Azam and his associates is a case in point. It is high time we enlightened our people with the true significance of the Quaid’s struggle and the manifold deeds of his illustrious lieutenants. It is time we accorded them their due place in the gallery of fame.
Muhammad Rafi Butt was an enterprising young industrialist from Lahore and a devoted lieutenant of the Quaid. He belonged to that small nucieus of honest, well-meaning and patriotic middle class professionals who responded to the Quaid’s call and rallied round him. The Quaid’s charismatic personality and total dedication to the cause of Muslim freedom inspired him with a sense of selflessness and social commitment. He became an ardent disciple of the Quaid and a resolute supporter of the Muslim League.
Rafi came into contract with the Quaid in the late thirties and developed a close rapport with him. Without the asking, he placed his talent, services and resources at the disposal of the Quaid., he acknowledged the Quaid-i-Azam as his sole guide and leader and seldom took a step without seeking his advice and blessings. For instance, in a letter to the Quaid dated October 2, 1945 Rafi stated: “As for the present elections it is my fervent prayer that the Almighty may crown your efforts with success and I hope that the League will sweep the polls … I am not a wealthy man but whatever I possess is at the disposal of the nation … I have informed the Nawab of Mamdot from here of my intention to contest the elections but I am completely in your hands and will be guided by your advice.” (My Dear Quaid-i-Azam p. 35)
Rafi Butt was born in 1909 in Nivan Katra, a crowded locality in the walled city of Lahore. He assumed the reins of his father’s small business at the age of 16. By dint of hard work, exceptional business acumen and grain of luck, he transformed what was a modest paternal inheritance into a flourishing business enterprise. His meteoric rise was indeed amazing. Rafi became a tycoon at 24, founded the first Muslim bank in northern India, the Central Exchange Bank, at 27, met the Quaid-i-Azam at 31, and was appointed Member of the prestigious Muslim League Planning Committee at 34.
Rafi was a forward-looking industrialist. He knew that industrial development was indispensable for the newly emerging state of Pakistan. His speeches and statements testify to his fervour for the uplift of the Muslims and his passion to strengthen, in a tangible way, the economic and industrial base of Pakistan. Rafi wanted the Muslims to awaken from their slumber, develop their industry and bring it on a par with that of foreign nations. “After the attainment of the cherished goal of Pakistan,” he emphasised, “we should devote more of our energy and time to solving our economic problems rather than indulging in power politics. We should follow the American motto of producing more things for more people for better living and this is how we can raise the standard of the common man.” (At Quaid’s Service p.51).
Rafi Butt travelled extensively while still young. He went to the United States and England to study industrial units and acquire the latest know-how to expand and run his business concern. The Civil and Military Gazette published the following news item about Rafi Butt’s visit to the USA:
“New York April 14 (1945): Mr Rafi Butt, a business magnate from Lahore and member of one of the industrial planning panels set up by the Government of India, arrived here yesterday for an industrial tour of the country which will last several months.
“Mr Butt, who owns big hospital supplies and china porcelain factories, will discuss the possibilities of post war trade and study the latest technique in the development of American industry, particularly in regard to cold storage and refrigeration methods. He plans to open a chain of cold storage plants in the Punjab.
“After the American tour, Mr Butt will go to Britain to study industrial and post-war trade matters.” (At Quaid’s Service p.39).
On his return, Rafi wrote to the Quaid on October 2, 1945: “I observed a great similarity between the natural resources of the United States and India and do not see why our great country cannot be developed economically on the same lines as America.” (My Dear Qaid-i-Azam p.34).
The Quaid valued Rafi’s judgments and flair for economical planning. The Quaid had confidence in him and knew that he would be useful in furthering the cause of Muslim uplift and the goals of future Pakistan. He appointed him Member of the Muslim League Planning Committee and Chairman of the sub-committee on Mining and Metallurgy. The fact that he was included in the Indian industrial delegation to Germany in 1946 indicates the status he enjoyed in undivided India. He also the ILO moot at san Francisco in 1948, and took the opportunity of visiting the UK to approach the Board of Trade in his personal capacity for the supply of steel to Pakistan.
When in 1947-48, the country was passing through a crucial phase of its existence and confronted with serious challenges, Rafi rose to the occasion and offered some very practical and helpful suggestions to the Quaid. He did not burden the Quaid with his demands. He did not ask anything for himself. Considering his close association with the Quaid and the losses he had suffered in the aftermath of partition, he could have justifiably done so but did not. His sense of self-respect did not allow him to approach the Quaid with such a request. He decided to start his business afresh. But, sad to say, he was not destined to do much in this direction. He died within a year of Pakistan’s creation and barely two months after the demise of the Quaid. He was 39.
At a time when greed and selfishness have become endemic, when love of the country and respect for the past are at a discount, when the ideals of the Quaid have been cast aside, the life and achievements of men like Rafi Butt serve as a model to inspire the people and particularly the youth of the country and to awaken them to a sense of their own identity and destiny as a nation. Rafi was a visionary, with breathtakingly liberal and progressive ideas far ahead than those of his contemporaries, and a knack for accomplishing tasks with surprising poise and dexterity. The ease with which he treaded the uncharted waters of politics, economics and society for the benefit of the Muslim community, amply indicates the strength of his convictions. Rafi Butt’s unflinching faith in the leadership of the Quaid-i-Azam, his pioneering role as an industrialist and his exemplary sense of honour will not be forgotten and live in the annals of the freedom movement. “Mere longevity,” says Gabriel Heather, “is a good thing for those who watch LIFE from the side lines. For those who play the game, an hour may be a year, a single day’s work an achievement for eternity.” Rafi Butt was not a man to watch LIFE from the sidelines. He played the game and played it well.
Rafi Butt’s services and accomplishments were rescued from oblivion by the tireless efforts of his son, Imtiaz Rafi Butt. He set up the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation in 1989 and discovered his father’s great commitment to the Quaid and the Pakistan Movement. His researches, in fact, led to a double discovery: a son discovered a father and a father discovered his own identity through the leader that he found and acknowledged.