Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar - An Appreciation
Written by English NewsPaper/Dawn/Others   

During Pakistan’s first troublesome decade, Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar (1899-1958) was one of the nation’s greatest leaders. Indeed, his contribution to national consolidation and integration was perhaps next only to Quaid-i-Azam Jinnah and Liaquat Ali Khan.

That, perhaps, also explains the people’s insistence, backed by Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, on burying him near his erstwhile colleagues. And he was buried on the site reserved for the Quaid’s mausoleum, despite the Noon Government’s serious objections and great reluctance.

As events would have it, the loss of Sardar Nishtar at that critical juncture in Pakistan’s turbulent history was something the nation could ill-afford – for the simple reason that he stood head and shoulders above most of the other Pakistan Movement leaders. First, he was among Jinnah’s closest associates during the middle 1940s. He had enjoyed his leader’s trust and confidence; he was allowed into his inner counsels; and, for all that one knows, he was privy to the working of the leader’s mind. Thus, having been in the mainstream Muslim politics, he was at home with the impulses and the motivations behind the Pakistan movement. Sardar Nishtar was in politics since the emotion-laden hectic Khilafat days (1920-22). He joined the Congress in 1927, and was a founder-member of the NWFP Provincial Congress Committee, which he resigned two years later. During 1929-38, he was involved with the local bodies in Peshawar. He became a member of the NWFP Legislative Assembly in 1937 and Finance Minister when Sardar Aurganzeb Khan for med a League ministry in 1943. And in the All-India Muslim League, he was a member of the Working Committee during 1944-47, and the Committee of Action during 1946-47. However, it was only during 1945-47 that he became an all-India figure, having been chosen by Jinnah himself to represent the Muslims and the Muslim League along with others at two important events and in one institution: at the Second Simla Conference (1946), and the June 3 (1947) leader’s conference with the Viceroy on the partition plan, and in the Interim Government (1946-47). As the story goes, the Congressite Dr. Khan Sahib, NWFP Premier, had embarrassed Jinnah at the First Simla Conference (June-July 1945) when he claimed to speak on Muslim India’s behalf. So a shrewd strategist that Jinnah was, he calculatingly nominated Nishtar as one of the League’s delegates to the Second Simla Conference to overawe and get Dr. Khan Sahib speechless. Indeed, he dared not open his mouth in Nishtar’s presence. Even otherwise, since Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan had become the leader of the Muslim League Assembly Party early in 1946, if anyone could represent the NWFP at the centre, it could only be Sardar Nishtar.

Second, like his supreme leader, Sardar Nishtar believed in service above self. Indeed, his was a life of unremitting service to his people and his country, and he never cared for any office. Even the presidentship of the Pakistan Muslim League which he occupied during the last two years of his life (1956-58) was not of his seeking: he consented to occupy it in the interest of the nation when the various groups in the organization sought him not only as the consensus candidate, but also as one who had the organizational ability, the tenacity, the devotion and the stature to accomplish the onerous task that awaited the future incumbent, with singular success.

Third, amidst various temptations to surrender principles at the altar of office and/or expediency, he stood steadfast and wavered not. His sincerity of purpose, his dedication to principles, and his devotion on to duty were something unmatched in the Pakistan of the middle 1950s. No wonder, they earned for him the gratitude of the nation and the esteem of all, friend and foe alike.

Fourth, Sardar Nishtar was also one of those few men who stood steadfast to the ideology behind the Pakistan Movement, after the fateful events of April 1953 when Governor-General Ghulam Muhammad struck down the legally constituted Nazimuddin government, paving the way for a series of political disruptions in subsequent years. On this precipitate action, Sardaar Nishtar’s comment was summed up in two couplets: {jb_quoteleft}i) Bas itni khata par rahbari cheeni gayee hum say/kay hum say qafilay manzil pay lutwayay nahin jatai (“Leadership was snatched away from us merely on the ground that we cannot abandon the masses at the mercy of dacoits”); and Nairangeay siyasat-i-dauran to dekhiyay/Manzil unheeh mili jo shareek-i-safar na thay (“Look at the irony of contemporary politics/Those who shunned the Caravan, have reached the Destination!”){jb_quoteleft} In any case, amidst the then prevalent gloom, Sardar Nishtar stood as a beacon of light, donning the role of a true and worthy successor to Jinnah and Liaquat. And even as Jinnah and Liaquat died in harness, so did he. In spite of his failing health and his doctors’ advice, he undertook extensive tours during 1956-57, and he worked to the last day of his life, to retrieve the lost ground, to set this nation back to the principles, for which it was conceived and created. And because he was already suffering from several ailments when he took over the League’s presidentship, it may truly be said of him that, like Jinnah, he worked himself to death. Again, like them Jinnah and Liaquat, Sardar Nishtar was a born leader of men, endowed with a personal magnetism all his own. A powerful orator, besides being a poet, he was adept at handling vast crowds. He spoke to them on their wave length and in terms intelligible to them. And he could move them to action.

Indeed, during the formative phase of Pakistani history no leader, except for Jinnah and Liaquat, had become so endearing to the masses as Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar did. He drew huge crowds, wherever he went, whether in the East or in the West. No wonder, his tours in East Pakistan during 1955 were hugely successful. And even in death, he could draw such crowds, although he held no office, nor was the League in power. Anyone who had watched the huge concourse of people preceding and following his bier on M. A. Jinnah Road on that fateful Friday afternoon (February 14, 1958) couldn’t have helped the inescapable conclusion that he was essentially a man of the masses.

Even in the tributes paid to him by leaders of various parties, Nishtar proved himself to be a great national leader – a leader transcending party differences and regional loyalties. It is rather instructive that even his occupying the Pakistan Muslim League presidentship early in 1956 (when the Pakistani political landscape was replete with a host of parties) did not detract in any way from his claim to national leadership.

Since the Governor-General’s coup of April 17, 1953 against the dominant political elites, the Muslim League had increasingly become moribund, and lost touch with the masses. In tandem, most of its leadership had become a coterie of self-seekers. But during 1956-58, as President of Pakistan Muslim League, Sardar Nishtar took upon himself the not-too-easy task of breathing new life into the organization: he organized and reactivated it; he transformed it into a live organization; he had it securely grounded to its foundational principles and ideological moorings. Thus, by 1958, if only because of his endless strivings, the Muslim League had reestablished contact with the masses: it had largely recovered its erstwhile popularity and prestige. And, but for the Mirza-Ayub coup of October 7-8, 1958, it would surely have returned as the single largest party in the upcoming elections, rescheduled for February 1959.

And because of the magnitude of his achievements, he was as of that date perhaps the greatest leader after Jinnah, Liaquat and Suhrawardy. He was also the most active President of the Muslim League since Liaquat. It is obvious that political disruption (such as that represented by the October 1958 coup) would never have occurred in Pakistan but for the dearth of strong, mass-based political parties. Hence, in revitalizing the Pakistan Muslim League Sardar Nishtar’s contribution must be judged, not merely in terms of resuscitating or regenerating a political party in decline, but in terms of providing the country with a truly national party which, in any case, is a prerequisite for national consolidation and integration. Thus his services were not merely for a political party, but primarily and essentially for the nation as a whole.

By the same token, Sardar Nishtar’s death was not merely a tremendous loss to the Pakistan Muslim League, but was also a truly national loss. As Mumtaz Daultana, one of Punjab’s stalwarts in the Pakistan struggle, had so aptly put it, he represented “the last glorious link with our freedom struggle”. And to Maulana Ihtishamul Haq, he was “the last leader amongst the veterans who served the cause of Pakistan and fought to preserve its ideology till his dying moment”. In perspective, then, his loss was all the more irreparable. Indeed, his untimely death created a void in the national leadership which could not be filled in for a long while. —Sharif al Mujahid

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