Mian Iftikharuddin has been largely forgotten in Pakistan, Pakistani historians ignore him because he was too modern, secular and liberal for them, and the Indians ignore him because he was Muslim League’s brightest young star. Like many in the Muslim League, Iftikharuddin started his career firmly in the Congress fold. He was far left of centre within that organization, and a very close friend and comrade of Jawaharlal Nehru. Winning over brilliant idealists like Iftikharuddin was Jinnah’s and the League’s greatest triumph. Nehru was furious. In his personal diary of September 4th 1941 Nehru writes:
“Iftikhar, disillusioned Iftikhar, seeing no light except in a compromise with the League- which of course enrages me. I shout at him till I am hoarse”
Iftikhar went farther than a compromise, Jinnah realised the potential this young and sophisticated Punjabi held. His Punjab strategy had long been the victim of petty feudal conflicts between the conglomerate of Punjabi Muslim aristocracy. He wanted fresh blood, with the right kind of political training and Jinnah more than anyone else knew that there wasn’t a better organization than the Congress with its long political history. Mian Iftikharuddin was the best thing that ever happened to the Punjab Muslim League. Once he became convinced of Jinnah’s cause, Iftikhar put his considerable resources at the League’s disposal. This also resulted in his most concrete contribution to Pakistan yet i.e. The Pakistan Times. Founded in January 1947 under the patronage of Jinnah himself, this paper sought to present the League’s point of view with a leftist spin. It was Iftikhar then who chose the great Faiz as the Pakistan Times first and most able editor.
The Pakistan Times was the leading light of Pakistan’s left oriented journalism. It also was perhaps the best attempt at creating a modern democratic and secular society in Pakistan. In its editorial the ‘End and the Beginning’ the morning after the bifurcation of the Muslim League into two separate bodies i.e. one for each successor state, the editorial penned by Faiz called for a just and secular society in Pakistan based on inclusiveness and equality. It was a wonderfully written editorial giving logical reasons for such a dispensation in Pakistan, and was impressive enough for Jinnah to save in his papers. The same Pakistan Times that was founded by Jinnah and Iftikhar was later to suffer the most horrible death in the state they had created. Pakistan Times, once hailed as a great mouth piece of league, was routinely suspected of anti-national activity, especially after the horrible ‘Rawalpindi conspiracy case’. The Progressive Papers Ltd. was taken over by the Military Government in 1960s, which mutilated it and then handed Pakistan Times over to a delusional right winger Qudratullah Shahab. This same Shahab berates Iftikharuddin as a formerly ‘Nehru ki mooch ka baal’ in his book ‘Shahab Nama’.
In 1947 however, Mian Iftikharuddin could have hardly imagined such an outcome. It was the effective civil disobedience movement against Unionist Government of Khizer Hayat that won him national recognition. It was the presence of men like Iftikharuddin in the Muslim League fold that forces us to review the simplistic TNT= Pakistan thesis something both the Indian nationalists and the right wing forces in Pakistan keep shoving down our throat. After June 3rd plan was announced Jinnah looked increasingly towards young men like Iftikhar to help Pakistan stand on its feet, and so Iftikharuddin was chosen to be the Pakistan Minister for rehabilitation of refugees after partition. This was a good choice because Iftikhar was a fair man free of any bias against any group. Later he won a lot of praise for the effective manner in which he discharged his duties. In his speeches and statements discussing the nature of Pakistan, Jinnah echoed the fine ideals of equality fraternity and justice that men like Iftikharuddin lived by. He remained part of the ruling party for as long as the ruling party adhered to the promises that Jinnah had made during that first crucial year of Pakistan’s existence. After Jinnah’s death, the distance between Iftikharuddin and the rest of the league started to grow. The first wrong turn that Government took was the objectives resolution. Iftikharuddin was the only Muslim MP to speak out against it. Later he jumped off the League ship, and formed his ‘Azad Pakistan Party’ committed to liberal secularism in the country. Though big names like Dr. Khan Sahib and the Khudai Khidmatgars were attracted to it, Azad Pakistan Party soon faded away in history.
None the less Mian Iftikharuddin continued his struggle for civil liberties and secular democracy in Pakistan. He sounded an ominous warning to Ghulam Muhammad against the dissolution of the Pakistan constituent assembly. He warned against the one unit scheme which he thought would poison Pakistan into ethnic conflict, and he rejected the 1956 constitution for being against both national interest and Islam. Always a fair man, Iftikharuddin called the Indian constitution prepared by Dr. B R Ambedkar a far more Islamic document than the constitution under deliberation in the Pakistan constituent assembly. He was continuously spurned by those in power in his own country. They even took away his most precious creation i.e. the Progressive Papers’ Ltd. Yet he continued to bequeath his country gifts, a building here and a library there. One such gift was the ‘Sohail Iftikhar Research Institute’ at the Quaid-e-Azam Campus of the Punjab University. During the period when Pakistani universities were under the sway of the left this institute, named after his dead son, became the bastion of progressive and Marxist activity in Pakistan.
Clever Nehru at this time was trying to wean away as many brilliant men and women (like Quratulain Hyder) from Pakistan as possible. Despite his tremendous disillusionment with the establishment in Pakistan, Mian Iftikharuddin attempted all such attempts, preferring to live and die as a Pakistani.
He was the epitome of the saying: