Having given this background let me start by saying that Mian Sir Fazli Hussain, who was an Education Minister in the dyarchy system following the Montagu Chelmsford Reforms, was a very eminent Muslim. During my experience of meeting politicians I would place him very high because he had an extraordinarily good mind, and was a very staunch nationalist as well as a very strong advocate of Muslim rights. As Education Minister I remember attending a meeting of the Punjab Legislative Council. The opposition brought a vote of no confidence against Sir Fazli Hussain. He stood up to defend himself. I very vividly remember, this was roundabout 1924 or 1925, by saying that I am glad of the opportunity to defend my acts through this vote of no-confidence which has been moved against me, so it gives me an opportunity to tell this House what I have been doing as Minister of Education.

Before his time, the Muslims were backward in education. The enrollment until then in all Government institutions was entirely through merit, but he introduced a system where a certain percentage was reserved for the Muslims who would be able to get into these Government institutions not entirely through merit but also through a quota. Later on he became a member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy and there again he was a very powerful figure and he was able - in the Imperial Services, which were the Indian Civil Service, Indian Accounts Service, Indian Medical Service, Indian Postal Service, and Indian Railway Service - in all these cases he introduced a quota system which enabled the Muslims to get into these services. Otherwise to my knowledge out of a few hundred Muslims who were members of the Indian Civil Service I can think of only three or four who came just through merit. The others came through the quota system which Mian Fazli Hussain introduced. So when he retired from Government service after his five years in the Executive Council, he came and settled down in Lahore. He had a legal practice in Lahore and was a very good lawyer. He also at one time became a member of the Indian National Congress. He was a [an Indian] nationalist, there was no doubt about that although he tried to promote and safeguard the interests of the Indian Muslims.

He thought that the Punjab being an agriculturalists [farmers] province, where the majority of Muslims was marginal, not more than 54% at that time, meant that you could not form a government purely on a religious basis. That would not give you [a sufficient] majority. So you had to coalesce with other members so as to form the government. He thought a coalition would always be a weak Government so he started the Unionist Party, that was the basis of the Unionist Party, which he started - he was thinking probably earlier in 1935 - but he actually came out with it in 1936. This was to safeguard the interests of Muslims and particularly the agriculturalists class, which was largely Muslim. Most of the agriculturists in the Punjab [were Muslim], although there were also very large landowners [who were Muslim], but barring four or five Muslim landowners, they were all indebted as well.

He started it [the Unionist Party] in 1936. Unfortunately his health had been very delicate from 1934 onwards, so when he launched it in 1936 he was a sick man. He also wanted to ensure that the party would continue and have a leader who was capable of taking this party to the polls and making it a success. At that time Sir Sikander Hayat Khan had been Revenue Minister after Mian Fazli Hussain left for the Government of India. Being Senior Minister, Sir Sikander had officiated as the first or second Indian Governor in the whole of India [when the British Governor was temporarily absent]. So he sent for Sir Sikander who was then Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, which had started a year earlier. He called Sir Sikander and told him that I know you have a higher salary and your position is higher and you will probably be the first [Indian] Governor of the Reserve Bank. But you owe something to Punjab, the province from where you became all these things. It was the Punjab, which promoted you as Revenue Member, as acting Governor of the province and now as Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank. He showed him the doctor's reports [on his own health]. So he got him to come back [to Punjab]. After this conversation took place, Sir Fazli Hussain passed away. So Sir Sikander who had decided to come back to the Punjab at the end of 1936 came even earlier.

I again had a role to play with the Unionist Party. Sir Fazli Hussain was a friend of my father. After completing my studies at Government College [in Lahore in 1927] I wanted to go to Oxford or Cambridge and then study for the Bar. My father and my uncle were partners in the business and I being the eldest child, they did not want me to go abroad as a student or even qualify as one [but rather] be initiated in business to carry on because they were becoming old. So I was deprived of that opportunity. Because of my father's friendship with Sir Fazli Hussain, when I pressed both my uncle and father finally they agreed [to] go and consult Sir Fazli Hussain. So he asked me this question: why do you want to go and study Bar? Will you practice law?

I said no Sir, I don't want to practice Law, but the Bar and legal knowledge would give me the knowledge to be a good politician. So he said that is not necessary. He said [when] I went to England and qualified for the Bar, I had to practice. When I started my practice in Sialkot, if I earned 100 Rupees, I thought I was doing well in that time. It took me twenty-five years to establish myself as a lawyer before the door opened for me in politics. If you are a good businessman - and he named a few businessmen from Bombay who were politicians - he said that if you are a good businessman, then the doors can and also do open for you to enter politics.

[Later], when he started the Unionist Party he called for me and said you wanted to enter politics, now this is your chance. I have started this party and if you agree I will appoint you the Resident Secretary. So I became the Resident Secretary of the Unionist Party. When Sir Sikander came, he took over the leadership. The deputy leader was Sir Chotu Ram, who was a [Hindu] Jat from Rohtak [district in eastern Punjab].

Now the Hindu Jats were also agriculturists. Sikh Jats were agriculturists and the Muslim majority was agriculturists. Now all these agriculturists in the Punjab were somehow or the other indebted to the moneylender and this moneylender was largely the Hindu, the non-Jat Hindu. And as I mentioned, I will be repeating again that barring four or five names and I can name those four or five who were not indebted, the rest, even those who had incomes of two or three lakhs [hundred thousand] a year, they were all indebted to the Hindu moneylender. So the Unionists Party's main aim was to protect the agriculturist community of the Punjab, whether they are Hindus, whether they are Sikhs, whether they are Muslims. During the tenure of the Unionist Party, which started in 1937, I was returned [in elections] from district of Ferozpur where my grandfather started business. I became a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1937 and was appointed as the Private Secretary of the Premier of Punjab.


Amjad Ali Home | Intro | Interview | Audio | Images