One crowded hour of glorious life

Is worth an age without a name

We owe the creation of Pakistan to the Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the stalwarts who stood by him. Those were the men who responded with one voice to the call of their great leader and rallied round the flag of the Muslim League. They carried his message to the four corners of the subcontinent and mobilized the Muslim masses in favour of the demand for a separate homeland. They were the real crusaders, the real soldiers in the vanguard of the freedom struggle. Inspired with a sense of selflessness and social commitment, they considered no sacrifice too great achieve their mission. Among this committed group was a young industrialist from Lahore. His name was M. Rafi Butt.

Rafi Butt was born in 1909 in Nivan Katra near Akbari Mandi, a crowded area inside the walled city. His father’s early death obliged him to assume immense responsibility at the age of 16. With a knack and potential for dealing with the dynamics of business, he soon managed to expand a modest paternal operation into a flourishing empire. A signal accomplishment considering the almost exclusive Hindu hold on trade in undivided India.

He acquired advanced training in steel industry at Canning’s Chrome and Chemical factory at Birmingham. On return, he built a modern, well-equipped factory on Ferozepur Road. This was the factory which the Quaid-e-Azam visited in 1942. Rafi branched out into banking as well and established the Central Exchange Bank, the first Muslim bank in Northern India, at Lahore in 1936.

M. Rafi Butt came in contact with the Quaid-e-Azam in the late thirties. The Quaid’s charismatic personality, unrivalled integrity and total devotion to the cause of Muslim freedom made a profound imprint on his mind. Since that day and till the very end Rafi remained an ardent follower of the Quaid and a staunch supporter of the Muslim League.

His correspondence with the Quaid indicates that he was greatly encouraged and motivated by the great leader. Rafi was a man of bright ideas. He offered the Quaid timely suggestions on many issues. For instance, he urged the Quaid to bring out a first-rate daily from Lahore for publicizing Muslim League policies; set up a publicity cell in New York to counter Congress propaganda; enlist the services of eminent economists in the Planning Committee; develop the country economically on the same lines as USA; set up an industrial and commercial finance corporation. Rafi seldom took a political decision without consulting the Quaid. He was convinced that the Quaid-e-Azam was the only man who could save the Muslims of India from the unholy designs of the Congress and the Hindus.

Rafi Butt knew that industrial growth was a must for the new state of Pakistan. Economic development became the focus of his deliberations. Rafi never tired of urging the Muslims to wake up from their slumber, develop their industry and bring it on a par with that of foreign nations. Muslims lagged behind in the economic field and were regrettably short of genuine scientists.

A forward-looking industrialist, he was aware of the colonial psychology of the British and their deep-seated prejudice against the Muslims. His speeches and statement testify to his fervor for improving the conditions of the Muslims and strengthening, in a tangible way, the economic and industrial base of Pakistan. “After the achievement of the cherished goal of Pakistan, we should” he emphasized, “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”.

On his return from a six-month study tour of the United States, he spoke to the press. “Let the Muslims of India”, he said, “Prepare themselves to take their proper place in the economic reconstruction of the country. If they do not wake up now, they will miss the bus again. Let them mobilize their economic resources, set up industrial syndicates and a coordinating economic council if they want to establish themselves on a solid economic footing in the new era in which the world is now entering”.

The Quaid had confidence in this young man from the Punjab. He appointed him Member of the Muslim League Planning Committee and Chairman of the sub-committee on Mining and Metallurgy. Rafi was, perhaps, the first among the state planners to foresee that metals held the key to the future and could radically alter the economy of the state.

Rafi combined travel with serious pursuit. In 1945-46, he left for the US to study the industrial structure of that country. IN 1946, he went to Germany as one of the delegates of the Indian industrial delegation – his inclusion in the group is indicative of his stature in the field. In 1948, he attended the ILO session at San Francisco. He also approached the UK Board of Trade in his personal capacity for the supply of steel to Pakistan.

Rafi was not destined to live long. He died in air crash on 26 November 1948. He was 39 at the time.

A prominent social figure, Rafi’s friendship cut across ethnic and cultural frontiers. His friends came from all segments of society and held in the highest esteem. To them he was a man of great charm, a self-made man and one who would go down in the economic history of the Punjab as a Muslim pioneer in the field of industry.

In Plato’s allegory of the metals, the philosopher classifies men into groups of gold, silver and lead. Rafi was pure gold. There was gold in his flair for astute planning, gold in his warmth and humanity, gold in his tolerance and generosity, gold in his unfailing loyalty and selfless service. The story of M. Rafi Butt’s life should serve as a beacon for the younger generation.