It is a great tragedy when a nation turns its back on its heroes and fails to show its gratitude in a manner that befits them. The dismal way in which we have so far “honoured” the memory of the Quaid-i-Azam and his associates is a case in point. It is time we enlightened our people with the true significance of the Quaid’s struggle and the manifold deeds of his illustrious lieutenants. It is time we accorded them their due place in the galleries of history and fame.

Muhammad Rafi Butt was an enterprising young industrialist from Lahore and a devoted lieutenant of the Quaid. He belonged to that small nucieus of honest, well meaning and patriotic middle class professionals who responded to the Quaid’s call and rallied round him. The Quaid’s charismatic personality and total dedication to the cause of Muslim freedom inspired him with a sense of selflessness and social commitment. He became an ardent disciple of the Quaid and a resolute supporter of the Muslim League.

Rafi came into contact with the Quaid in the late thirties and developed a close rapport with him. Without being asked, he placed his talent, services and resources at the disposal of the Quaid, seldom taking a step without seeking his advice and blessings. For instance, in a letter to the Quaid dated October 2, 1945, Rafi stated: “I am not a wealthy man but whatever I possess is at the disposal of the nation  ...  I have informed the Nawab of Mamdot from here of my intention to contest the elections but I am completely in your hands and will be guided by your advice.”

Rafi Butt was born in 1909 in Nivan Katra, a crowded locality in the walled city of Lahore. He assumed the reins of his father’s small business at the age of sixteen. By dint of hard work, exceptional business acumen and a grain of luck, he transformed what was a modest inheritance into a flourishing business enterprise. His meteoric rise was, indeed, amazing.  Rafi became a tycoon at 24, founded the first Muslim bank in northern India, the Central Exchange Bank, at 27, met the Quaid-i-Azam at 31, and was appointed Member of the prestigious Muslim League Planning Committee at the age of 34.

Rafi was a forward-looking industrialist. He knew that industrial development was indispensable for the newly emerging state of Pakistan. His speeches and statements testify to his fervour for the uplift of the Muslims and his passion to strengthen, in a tangible way, the economic and industrial base of Pakistan. Rafi wanted the Muslims to awaken from their slumber, to develop their industry and bring it at par with that of foreign nations.    

While still young, he travelled extensively, going as far as the United States and England to study industrial units and acquiring the latest know-how of business expansion.

The Quaid valued Rafi’s judgments and flair for economic planning. He had confidence in him and knew that he would be useful in furthering the Muslim cause and the goals of a future Pakistan. He appointed him Member of the Muslim League Planning Committee and Chairman of the sub-committee on Mining and Metallurgy. The fact that he was included in the Indian industrial delegation to Germany in 1946 indicates the status he enjoyed in undivided India. He also attended the I.L.O. moot at San Francisco in 1948, and visited the U.K. to approach the Board of Trade in his personal capacity for the supply of steel to Pakistan.

When in 1947-48, the country was passing through a crucial phase of its existence and confronted with serious challenges, Rafi rose to the occasion and offered some practical and helpful suggestions to the Quaid. He did not burden the Quaid with any of his own demands despite their close association. His sense of self-respect did not allow him to approach the Quaid with any personal requests. He decided to start his business afresh, but in a heartbreaking turn of destiny, died within a year of Pakistan’s creation and barely two months after the demise of the Quaid. He was 39 years old.

At a time when greed and selfishness have become endemic, when love of the country and respect for the past have been lost, when the ideals of the Quaid have been cast aside, the life and achievements of men like Rafi Butt serve as examples to inspire towards for the people and particularly the youth of the country. To honour Rafi butt’s services and accomplishments, his son, Imtiaz Rafi Butt set up the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation in 1989 and was to discover through this, his father’s great commitment to the Quaid and the Pakistan Movement.

Rafi was a visionary, with liberal and progressive ideas far ahead of those of his cotemporaries, and with a knack for accomplishing tasks with surprising poise and dexterity. The ease with which he treaded the uncharted waters of politics, economics and society for the benefit of the Muslim community, amply indicates the strength of his convictions. Rafi Butt’s unflinching faith in the leadership of the Quaid-i-Azam, his pioneering role as an industrialist and his exemplary sense of honour will not be forgotten and will live on in the annals of the freedom movement.

n    The writer is the honorary consul of Malaysia based in Lahore.