MAH Ispahani and Chaudhry Kaliquzzaman
The indefatigable Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah remains the indisputable leader of Pakistan and his birth anniversary furnishes an opportunity to highlight the role of his lieutenants who ably assisted him in the struggle for the creation of an independent homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. The list of these lieutenants is quite exhaustive including leaders such as Liaquat Ali, Raja of Mahmudabad, Nawab Ismail Khan, Nawab Chattari, Abdur Rab Nishtar and Jahan Ara Shahnawaz to name a few but today we shall focus on MAH Ispahani’s role before partition and Chaudhry Kaliquzzaman’s life after partition as highlighted by Professor Roger D Long in his just published “A history of Pakistan”.
The circumstances surrounding the association of Mirza Abol Hasan Ispahani (MAH Ispahani), who belonged to a rich industrial family of Bengal — MM Ispahani Ltd — with Jinnah are quite unique.
Ispahani first met Jinnah at Cambridge in 1920 when the latter was invited to deliver a speech to the ‘Indian Majlis’ and the second meeting took place a few weeks later at a dinner in London hosted by his uncle in which he played billiards with Jinnah while most of the guests danced to the tunes of a jazz band because Jinnah himself was not fond of dancing whereas, as an aside, Liaquat Ali, another trusted lieutenant and ‘right hand’ of Jinnah was fond of singing and playing harmonium. The third meeting took place almost sixteen years later, when, to the astonishment of Ispahani, he received a letter from Jinnah inviting him to attend an important meeting of the Muslim League at Lahore in 1936 after which the two developed a lifelong friendship that continued till the day of death of the Quaid because on 11 September 1948, Ispahani sent a telegram from Washington informing that he had made arrangements for an American doctor to travel to Pakistan to treat the “Father of the Nation.” From 1936 to 1947, Ispahani held important positions in the League; became Jinnah’s most loyal confidant in Bengal notwithstanding Khawaja Nazimuddin and Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy; and was the only person who had the imagination and the guts to offer frank comments, sharp advice and criticism of Jinnah, all of which were seriously taken by the Quaid.
Ispahani’s most crucial contribution was the creation of a situation that brought the Muslim majority province of Bengal in the orbit of the League. The Government of India Act 1935 had granted considerable authority to the provincial chief ministers and their governments. The chief ministership of Bengal was in the hands of ‘Sher-i-Bengal’ A K Fazlul Haq, who despite being a mover of the Lahore Resolution in 1940 “protested against Muslim League interference in Bengali politics,” which in plain words meant resisting the will and authority of Jinnah, who headed the Muslim voice at the all-India level.
An opportunity arose in August 1941 when Haq accepted the membership of the Defence Council set by the British government to fight the possible Japanese invasion of India. The League demanded that as it had not authorized Haq therefore either he should resign from the Council or face disciplinary action. Though Haq continued as the chief minister; under pressure of the League, he resigned from the Defence Council as well as the Working Committee of the League. To dethrone Haq, Ispahani spearheaded an energetic campaign in which not only the students were galvanized throughout the province but the press was also used to the maximum effect, particularly the League’s newspapers and Ispahani’s own newspaper the ‘Star of India’. Haq’s move to silence the critical press boomeranged. Ispahani kept Jinnah fully informed about what was happening in Bengal and it was the result of Ispahani led incessant onslaught that caused Haq’s supporters to desert him in droves, forcing him to eventually resign from the chief ministership in March 1943. Professor Roger D Long concludes that “Without Bengal falling in behind the League, the demand for Pakistan would not have had the power behind it. For this, Pakistan owes a great deal to Ispahani…”
The story of Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman, another lieutenant of the Quaid is a bit tragic. He was Jinnah’s point man in the United Provinces and along with Raja of Mahmudabad funded the provincial organization of the League in that province. He has dealt in detail about his role in the struggle for a separate Muslim state in his autobiographical work ‘Pathway to Pakistan.’ What happened to him after partition is quite instructive.
When the All-India Muslim League transformed itself into the Pakistan Muslim League, he was unanimously elected its Convener. With the passage of time, this unanimity in the League gave way to power struggle and he resigned from his post when Liaquat Ali donned two hats—premiership of Pakistan and the presidency of the League because Khaliquzzaman thought that a person could not ride two horses at a time. The euphoria of liberation gradually gave way to disillusionment because of the way the subcontinent was partitioned and how the governments of India and Pakistan conducted their affairs. It was expected that he would stay back after partition to lead the Indian Muslims in the absence of Jinnah but he crossed over to the new homeland where he found himself homeless despite the fact that he was from a very well-off family that had a three-storied house in the city of Lucknow; a hotel in the city centre; and agricultural lands in the suburbs. Though he did find a house in Larkana through the courtesy of his friend Ayub Khoro where he intended to live a retired life; politics however, pulled him to the centre stage as he was appointed the governor of East Pakistan during the government of Jugto Front, where he successfully resisted the pressure of Governor General Ghulam Muhammad who wanted him to invoke Section 92-A to pave the way for the martial law in the eastern wing of the country. Subsequently, he resigned from the gubernatorial office and lived in considerable financial hardship because whatever money he had, he utilized it in setting up and running a charitable organisation ‘Shaubul Muslamin’ which sent several people for charitable work in various Muslim countries and in the process got bankrupt because the debts accrued for this welfare organization had to be paid off by selling the husking factory that was allotted to him after partition. There was some relief in his dire straits when he was assigned ambassadorial positions in Indonesia and the Philippines.
Khaliquzzaman had saved the eastern wing from martial law but couldn’t thwart it when it was clamped on the whole of the country. Being a senior founding figure of Pakistan, almost every notable politician approached him to lead the movement for the restoration of democracy and when he agreed to lead, he was ditched by Khawaja Nazimuddin, Raja Ghazanfar Ali and Mumtaz Daultana; this act of betrayal hurt him deep. In spite of the betrayal, he did manage to become the Convener of the Convention Muslim League and the day after the formation of this party, Ayub Khan sent a business magnate who presented a blank cheque to finance the party but Khaliquzzaman tore up the cheque and told the messenger to buzz off, however, he could not save the party for long because ultimately the crown of the party was put on the head of Ayub Khan.
All this is quite instructive because when he wanted to lead a quiet retired life, politics pulled him back into the thick of public life, however, when he himself wanted to lead from the front, the mechanics of politics pushed him into a life of political wilderness and isolation never to return.