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Smokers’ Corner: The map man

Smokers’ Corner: The map man

Standard text books in Pakistani schools all describe Chaudhry Rehmat Ali as the man who coined the word Pakistan. He is also defined as being one of the main architects of the idea of a separate Muslim homeland in South Asia — an idea that was echoed some years later by poet and philosopher, Mohammad Iqbal, and eventually shaped into reality by Mohammad Ali Jinnah in August 1947.

Not much else is mentioned in these text books about Rehmat Ali. He is presented as a one-shot wonder, someone who came up with the name and idea of Pakistan but then just simply vanishes from the pages after 1940!

Late last year while going through some piles of books at a second-hand bookstore in Karachi’s Boat Basin area, I came upon a grubby thin publication called Pakistan: The Fatherland of Pak Nation.

This book that I ended up buying (for just Rs100) was a 1956 reprint of a 1934 pamphlet authored by Rehmat Ali. It’s a fascinating read! More so because it can actually help one understand the intellectual (and maybe even psychological) disposition of a vital character in the history of the making of Pakistan, but someone who never managed to get more than a paragraph or two in most text books.

After reading the book one can also understand why this happened. The book reproduces a 1934 pamphlet that Rehmat Ali wrote when he was a student in England.

In it he outlines a theory that suggests that Muslims of the region should be working towards carving out their own sovereign homeland not only because a Hindu-majority India was detrimental to the political, cultural and economic interests of the Muslims, but also because such a homeland already existed across various periods of history.

After the creation of Pakistan in 1947, many religious parties picked up Rehmat Ali’s idea and began to claim that the seeds of Pakistan’s creation were first sowed by the invading forces of Arab commander, Mohammad Bin Qasim (in the early 8th century), but Rehmat Ali’s imagined history actually went back even further.

To him the separate homeland in the region that he was talking about first emerged in a time period he calls ‘The Dawn of History.’ Though he doesn’t attach any date or year to this, but with the help of a map (titled ‘Pakistan at the Dawn of History’), he explains how the civilisations that first emerged beside the mighty Indus and those that sprang up around the banks of River Ganges were somewhat separate.

But to Rehmat the ‘dawn’ fully appears in the 8th century when the Arab Umayyad Empire extended its reach into Sindh, situated on either sides of the mighty Indus. This he also explains with the help of a map. The Sindh part on the map is labelled as ‘Pakistan.’

Thus follow 13 more maps covering various periods from the eighth to early 20th centuries. The area that Rehmat Ali calls Pakistan expands and shrinks, enlarges and then contracts again across the Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal era, and the early British period, and all the way till 1942.

The last of these maps is titled ‘The Pak Millat 1942’. The Pak Millat constitutes all of what is Pakistan and Bangladesh today; and pieces of Muslim-majority areas in central and north India which Ali describe as being ‘Usmanistan’, ‘Farooqistan’, ‘Siddiqistan’ and Haideristan.’

Rehmat Ali’s style of writing is almost frantic, impulsive and that of an alarmist, warning the Muslims of India that a Pakistan or ‘Pak Millat’ that he was purposing is already out there and needed to be reclaimed.

So in a way, instead of actually propagating a new Muslim homeland, Rehmat Ali was really asking the Muslims to reclaim (and declare) geographical areas that had always been their home.

When Rehmat Ali first published his pamphlet (and 13 maps), he was largely ignored by a bulk of Muslim political leaders and intellectuals in India. Some even saw him as being an overexcited youth lost in the mad haze of political fantasies, if not a downright crank!

Alyssa Ayres in her book Language and Nationalism in Pakistan quotes Jinnah, describing the pamphlet as ‘ravings of a student …’

One should be reminded that till Iqbal decided to (albeit tentatively) use Rehmat Ali’s word ‘Pakistan’ in 1940, Jinnah was still very much interested in maintaining a united India.

In fact, according to author and scholar Ayesha Jalal, Jinnah was still trying to work towards reaching a workable post-colonial relationship between the Muslims and the Hindus of region till the early 1940s!

Though the word that Rehmat Ali had coined (‘Pakistan’) eventually managed to stir the imagination of millions of Muslims and their leaders, its inventor was soon at loggerheads with most of these leaders.

According to famous historian, K.K. Aziz, Jinnah saw the name as a throwaway anomaly, and an impulsive invention of certain students (i.e. Rehmat Ali).

In a 1943 speech, Jinnah told a crowd in Delhi that before 1940 the word Pakistan had been used more by the Hindu and British press than by the Muslims; and that it was actually imposed upon the Muslims of India by these two communities.

However, in the same speech, Jinnah announced that he will embrace the word because now it had become synonymous with Muslim struggle in India.

Rehmat Ali had actually met Jinnah in 1934, only days after he had authored his pamphlet. According to K.K. Aziz, Jinnah, after noticing the restless and impulsive nature of the young ideologue, told him ‘My dear boy, don’t be in a hurry; let the waters flow and they will find their own level …’

Jinnah’s level-headed and unruffled disposition ran against Rehmat Ali’s impulsive and volatile personality. He remained in England during most of what became known as the ‘Pakistan Movement;’ and even after the creation of a Pakistan that he had first theorised in his explosive pamphlet in 1934, Rehmat Ali arrived in the new country almost a year after its formation.

He vehemently criticised Jinnah and his party (the Muslim League) for compromising the ‘full idea of Pakistan’ and getting only a portion of what he had envisioned (in his pamphlet).

Though Jinnah too wasn’t satisfied with what he got (as Pakistan), he (and the League) had decided to make the best of whatever they had managed to win.

Rehmat Ali continued to deliver his scathing criticism. But soon after Jinnah’s unfortunate death in 1948, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan (a close confidant of Jinnah), lambasted Ali and ordered him to leave the country.

Rehmat returned to England. Three years later he was found dead in his bedroom. He had passed away in his sleep. His body was found a few days after his demise. He was 55.

As Alyssa Ayres puts it in her book, Rehmat ended up becoming nothing more than a footnote in the history of Pakistan — a country that he had theorised had existed since the ‘dawn of history.’

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 21st, 2015

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