Why Did Raja Sahib Mahmudabad Leave Pakistan On 13 August 1947?

Many Muslim League stalwarts from North India had remained in India because they did not want to lose their property

Why Did Raja Sahib Mahmudabad Leave Pakistan On 13 August 1947?

On October 4, 2023, the honorific title holder of Raja Sahib Mahmudabad, Sulaiman Miyan, died in India. Obituaries were published in both India and Pakistan. Nasreen Rehman’s obituary titled “In Memoriam: Paying Penance for Pakistan” published by Dawn dated October 5, 2023 deplored that although Sulaiman Miyan was an Indian citizen, yet he had been denied the right to inherit his father, the more famous Raja Sahib Mahmudabad, Mohammad Amir Ahmad Khan’s vast properties in India. 

She does, however, mention an intriguing fact. His father who was one of the most ardent and steadfast champions of the two-nation theory and the demand for Pakistan, had shifted to Pakistan from Lucknow when Mohammad Ali Jinnah left Delhi for Karachi on August 7, 1947. However, on August 13, 1947, that is one day before Pakistan was to become a reality, Raja Sahib boarded the flight from Quetta to the Iranian city of Zahedan. As to what made him take such a decision, Nasreen Rehman does not explain. And, that puzzling decision is what this article seeks to shed light on. Before that is done, it is worthwhile putting the famous Raja Sahib Mahmudabad’s historical and political role in perspective. 

Raja Sahib was a scion of the Muslim aristocracy of UP (now Uttar Pradesh). The family belonged to the Ithna Ashari Shia sect which enjoyed the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah, the last ruler of Oudh in North India. In the Uprising of 1857, it had remained loyal to the British. For such loyalty the title of Raja of Mahmudabad was conferred on the patriarch of the family and an estate comprising a palace, hundreds of acres of land and other privileges were granted to him. The Mahmudabad Rajas were famous for being the patrons of Shi’ism and the rituals pertaining to Moharram were held under their leadership. 

Like many other apprehensive Muslim aristocrats of North India, typically epitomised by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, the Mahmudabad Rajas were wary of the nascent nationalist movement led by the Indian National Congress. Although the All-India Muslim League was formed in Dhaka in 1906, the focus of Muslim separatist tendency and its operational base shifted to the Urdu-speaking Muslim belt, much to the chagrin of Muslim leaders of Bengal.

Raja Sahib was a close friend and confidant of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. According to popular perception, Jinnah had great difficulty in having close relations with even his immediate colleagues; the exception was Raja Sahib Mahmudabad who was one of the main financiers of the All-India Muslim League. Jinnah had made him the treasurer of the Muslim League. Consequently, when Muslim separatism transformed into Muslim nationalism in the shape of a concrete demand for a separate Muslim state, Raja Sahib along with many other North Indian Muslim landowners became diehard champions of the partition of India to create Pakistan. Not only that, but Raja Sahib also wanted Pakistan to be an Islamic state. In 1939, he wrote to the historian Mohibul Hassan: 

“When we speak of democracy in Islam it is not democracy in the government but in the cultural and social aspects of life. Islam is totalitarian—there is no denying about it. It is the Koran that we should turn to. It is the dictatorship of the Koranic laws that we want—and that we will have—but not through non-violence and Gandhian truth.”

On that occasion, he was reprimanded by Jinnah whose political strategy was to keep all sides – supporters, opponents and sceptics – wondering as to what sort of a state based on the two-nation theory would be. The Lahore or Pakistan resolution of 23-24 March 1940 epitomised that ambiguity. Later, as I have demonstrated abundantly in several of my books, Jinnah gave a free hand to the powerful and preponderant Barelvi ulema of north-western India to project Pakistan as an Islamic state based on the lofty standards of the Prophet (PBUH) and his pious successors. That such a state would have a Sunni orientation and therefore create trouble for the Shia does not seem to have occurred to Raja Sahib Mahmudabad.

In any case, we now address the mystery surrounding his departure on the August 13, 1947 from Quetta to Zahedan, Iran. In 2002, my article “The fundamentalist dimension in the Pakistan movement” was published in The Friday Times of Lahore in which I had highlighted Raja Sahib’s 1939 powerful advocacy of making Pakistan an Islamic state. 

A day or two later, I received an email from one of the sons of Sulaiman Miyan from England. He requested me to write an article in the Daily Times underscoring that his grandfather had left Pakistan on August 13, 1947, and was therefore not a citizen of Pakistan.

To me, it was a peculiar request, and I did not oblige. I then learned from the Indian press that since 1974, longstanding litigation had been going on in Indian courts: between, on the one hand Raja Sahib’s son (Sulaiman Miyan) and his mother (wife of Raja Sahib) and, on the other, the Indian government. The courts had on some occasions acknowledged their right to inherit Raja Sahib’s properties in India but each time the Indian government appealed against such rulings and in 2017 finally under the Enemy Property Act the claims of Raja Sahib’s family were rejected on grounds that he, the real owner, had migrated to Pakistan. 

So, the reason Mohammad Amir Ahmad Khan, the famous Raja Sahib Mahmudabad had chosen August 13, 1947, to leave Quetta was to indicate that technically he was not in Pakistan when it came into being on August 14, 1947. 

It may be noted the Raja Sahib later lived till 1957 in Iraq, where the Shia holy cities are located, but visited Pakistan and India. He had, however, surrendered his Indian passport. Raja Sahib was later to live for a long time in London, where he died in 1973. However, Sulaiman Miyan and his mother had stayed in India and were therefore Indian citizens.

Now, Raja Sahib was not the only one to take such measures to protect his properties. In fact, many Muslim League stalwarts from North India had remained in India because they did not want to lose their property. The list is quite long. 

Those who did migrate – such as Pakistan’s first prime minister Nawabzada Liaqat Ali Khan, his family and relatives – acquired properties in Lahore and Okara. Mohammad Ali Jinnah himself tried to retain ownership of his famous house in Bombay and even pleaded with Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru not only to declare it enemy property but to rent it out to Europeans (not to any Indian) and have Rs3,000 paid to him as rent. 

That millions of people were devastated by the Partition, losing home, hearth and family, did not prevent many Muslim League leaders from doing all to hold on to their properties. 

The writer is Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Stockholm University; Honorary Senior Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He can be reached at: billumian@gmail.com