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Truly Madly Deeply: Pakistan and Rahmat Ali

It was in the upper deck of a London bus that the name ‘Pakistan’ or ‘Pakastan’ first flashed before the eyes of Choudhry Rahmat Ali. He finally settled for ‘Pakistan’, which meant ‘land of the pure’ and doubled as an acronym of Punjab, Afghan(meaning the people of the North-West Frontier Province), Kashmir, Sind and Baluchistan. These were the areas of north-west India where Muslims were in a majority; Bengal,in the east,did not come into the equation at this point. In 1933 Rahmat Ali published a pamphlet under the title ‘Now or Never’. Although its proposals grew out of Iqbal’s speech,it was the first conception of total national separation. The new nation, he wrote, symbolized ‘the proclamation of our freedom from British-Bania domination; the release of our nation from the bonds of Minorityism’
Little is known about Rahmat Ali, who vigorously pursued his ‘Pakistanian’ campaign from a bessit in Cambridge, bombarding politicians and dignitaries with pamphlets. Some reports say he was a Bengali, others that he came from the North-West frontier. In fact he was a Punjabi, from a poor background, born in 1897 and educated at Islamia College, Lahore. He became tutor to the Nawab of Bahawalpur( who at the age of five had saluted King George V at his Delhi durbar), and securd a place at Cambridge in 1931 owing to the recommendations of his teachers. The uncertainity about his life even extends to the question of his facial hair: when he was in his twenties living in Lahore,’some say he was clean shaven, and some report that he had big moustaches which curled at the extremities, some adding that he sported a short, elegant beard’.
Rahmat Ali was intense and deeply religious, a confirmed bachelor, and, according to his biographer, ‘a Cambridge man par excellence’, with gravitas and a strong sense of ‘mission’. Like Jinnah he smoked Craven A cigarette and was immensely fastidious, even making his landlady in Cambridge leave his dishes to drip dry, as he thought tea towels were unclean. This devotion to hygiene was not enough to secure a meeting with Jinnah: in 1934 he made efforts to see him for discussions, but the great man was too busy. In later years, as their aims diverged, Rahmat Ali launched aggressive attacks on Jinnah. His own ideas became progressively more eccentric, and by the time of his death from a chill in 1951, he was proposing a total of ten Muslim ‘stans’ across ‘Pakasia’, ranging from ‘Maplistan’ in southern India, through ‘Siddiqistan’ and ‘Haideristan’, to a union of Bengal and Assam with the wondrous name of ‘Bang-i-Islam’. They would form part of a series of homelands for the world’s Muslim community, or millat.
It is clear from contemporary documents that Rahmat Ali’s scheme for a Muslim homeland gave form and a name to an existing sentiment. His ‘Pakistan National Movement’ is even mentioned in a German book on Islam, published in 1933 in Berlin. In 1940 he was to return to Karachi, but his apparent extremism led to hounding by the authorities. Rejected, as prophets are meant to be in their own lands, he was later refused a Pakistan passport, and he began to suspect he was being poisoned. Desperate, rejected, and slightly deranged, he disappeared into exile in October 1948 and was buried in an unmarked grave in Cambridge, leaving substantial debts.
-Liberty or Death: India's Journey to Independence and Division,
Patrick French


  1. The original invention of ‘Pakistan’ can be traced back to variety of locations. Purists usually begin with the suggestion by the radical British MP John Bright in 1858 that the Indian Empire might be broken up into several smaller states; then proceed erroneously to the intellectual influence of the college at Aligarh founded by the nineteenth-century Mughal grandee Sir Syed Ahmed Khan; and stop off at a meeting in Allahabad in 1930 at which the Punjabi barrister and Urdu poet Muhammad Iqbal proposed the ‘two-nation theory’ – that India was fundamentally divided between Hindus and Muslims. Iqbal was, like Jinnah, a barrister from Lincoln’s Inn, and he was also a respected Islamic scholar and philosopher. At this meeting he proposed that irreconcilable differences between Hindus and Muslims meant separation was the only way forward. He did not yet envisage an independent state, but rather ‘the creation of a Muslim India within India’.

    Page 88, Liberty or Death by Patrick French


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