“Do you know why he has come? He wants to know how serious my illness is, how long I would last.” The Quaid-i-Azam is reported to have told Fati (Fatima Jinnah, his devoted sister) immediately after Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan left following a courtesy call to the dying Governor-General at Ziarat, a hill station 8,500 feet above sea level in Baluchistan, in July 1948. When Liaquat arrived Jinnah asked him: “Why Ra’ana has not come with you?” Liaquat and his Begum Ra’ana were both responsible to convince Barrister Mohammad Ali Jinnah to return to India from his Hampstead retreat to take up the responsibility of the All India Muslim League in 1934. Both Jinnah and Liaquat led the Pakistan movement. Liaquat as a Finance Member in the Interim Government of India was responsible for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, a Home Member, to make up his mind to give separate Pakistan in December 1946 itself.
Ultimately, when Pakistan was carved out in August 1947, Jinnah as the Governor General and Liaquat as the Prime Minister were to decide the future of the new Islamic Nation. Unfortunately, both died within a span of just 4 years, the Quaid in September 1948 of tuberculosis (the British reports were of lung cancer) and Liaquat in October 1951 when he was shot dead publicly. Thanks to both jealous women (Fatima and Ra’ana), at one stage differences cropped up between Jinnah and Liaquat.The PM offered to resign. The Quaid responded by telling him: “Let not the relations between these two spoil our long standing relationship.” Jinnah used to say, “I found Pakistan and Liaquat founded Pakistan”.
Ra’ana was born as Irene Ruth-Margaret on 13 February 1905 at Almora, in a Brahmin clan whose founder, Taradutt Pant, her grandfather, had turned Christian. The family was related to Govind Ballabh Pant, the Premier and the Chief Minister (1937 and 1950) of UP who also was the Home Minister of India (1955-61). After MA (Economics) from Lucknow University, Irene joined Diocesan College in Kolkata and later Indraprasth College, Delhi as lecturer. In 1930, she met the upcoming politician from Karnal, Liaquat Ali Khan, Deputy President of the UP legislative council, who was, needless to say, struck by her personality and ready wit.
They were married on 16 April 1933 at the Maidens Hotel in Delhi. Her family was furious since she was to marry a Muslim and that too a married man. But as the longest serving Pak Ambassador to US, Jamsheed Marker, a Parsi, paid a great tribute to the brilliance of her personality: “When she walked into a room, the place would suddenly light up…Begum Sahiba and Quaid-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan carried much love and admiration for each other.” In the recently published biography, “The Begum: A Portrait of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Pioneering First Lady” by Deepa Agarwal and Tahmina Aziz Ayub, Ra’ana is quoted: “His (Liaquat’s) simplicity and honesty (she loved the most).”
Comparing and contrasting the personalities of Jinnah and Liaquat and their marital relationship in particular, Roger Long states: “Both married a modern second wife from a different faith who converted to Islam upon marriage… Of the two men, Liaquat’s marriage was the longest and happiest. Jinnah dominated his wife (Ruttie who died in February 1929) and was the more guilty party upon marriage in the estrangement between he and his wife; Liaquat was highly solicitous to Ra’ana and they exchanged almost daily letters and telegrams when he was on his travels. It would not be entirely inaccurate to say that Liaquat was an uxorious husband.” Once when the Quaid was asked why he didn’t remarry (after Ruttie’s death), his reply was: “Get me another Ra’ana and I would.”
Next Column: Lal Bahadur Shastri on his successors after death!
(The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail: [email protected] )
An uxorious husband Liaqut and charming as well as intelligent Begum Ra'ana (Courtesy: White Star)