Feb 12 - 18, 2007

Muhammad Rafi Butt was a young and enterprising industrialist of undivided India who rallied to the Quaid-e-Azam's cause for the regeneration of Indian Muslims. After the holocaust of 1857, the Muslims had gone downhill and now stood on the lowest rung of the economic ladder. Soon after the passage of the Pakistan Resolution in 1940, the Quaid focused his attention on strengthening the economic and industrial base of the new state he had in mind. Rafi lauded the setting up of the Muslim League Planning Committee. In his letter to the Quaid dated January 22, 1944 he wrote: "I admire your enthusiastic efforts to elevate the Musalman on a level beyond criticism. Your programme for the economic, social uplift and state industrialisation of our community in the Pakistan zones in particular, deserves special approbation". He looked to the Quaid to awaken the Punjab Muslims from their slumber. Rafi was convinced that if Muslim businessmen and industrialists were effectively mobilised they would stand effectively behind the league and thus ensure the future of the Muslim nation. He, however, feared that this would not be achieved unless "we have true well-wishers of the Muslim nation at the helm of affairs in the administrative sphere."

The apathy of the Muslims and their economic plight could be gauged from the fact that the Quaid, in his presidential address was constrained to ask them: "Would they be content to remain merely 'bidiwalas' and 'chamrawalas' or would they play a part in the development of industry, trade and commerce of the country?" (Madras 1941)

In the decade before independence, almost all industrial and business activity in steel, cotton, coal, jute, banking, insurance, newspapers was in the hands of the Hindus. Rafi was, perhaps, the only industrialist/banker of note who broke this barrier and succeeded in gaining a foothold in an area that was considered an exclusive Hindu preserve.

Contrary to the view held by some critics, the Quaid was more than aware of the economic dimensions of the Pakistan Movement. It is inconceivable that a person who was in politics to achieve a homeland for Muslims would not think and plan for the economic development of the new state. To the Quaid, economic strength and political strength were interwoven. Under his leadership, the establishment of Muslim business and commercial organisations became a policy objective of the All India Muslim League.

Muhammad Rafi Butt was born in 1909. Assuming the reins of his father's business at the age of 16, he soon transformed a modest paternal inheritance into a flourishing business empire. His meteoric rise was amazing. He became a business tycoon at 24, and founded the first Muslim bank in northern India, the Central Exchange Bank, at 27. The All-India Trade Directory and Who's Who dedicated in 1942 issue to him with the following words: "To Muhammad Rafi Butt Esq., the youngest industrialist and business magnate in the province who by dint of his natural ability, business acumen and liberal outlook today not only possesses large factories and offices but commands great respect and esteem."

Rafi combined travel with serious pursuit. He acquired advance training in the steel industry at Birmingham, UK in 1936. On return he built a modern state-of-the-art surgical instruments factory, "Ghulam Nabi & Sons" which the Quaid visited in 1942. He also branched out into Enamel Works, Chemical Fertilisers, Cold Storage and Refrigeration, Steel and Metallurgy.

Muhammad Rafi Butt came into contact with the Quaid-e-Azam in the late thirties. His correspondence reveals that he was motivated and encouraged by the great leader. The Quaid trusted his business acumen and asked him to provide "some information as to who are the others who can be of help to us in this (Planning Committee) undertaking." (Letter dated 28 January 1944) The Quaid explained that it was important to obtain "the help of real practical businessmen, technicians and scientists." (ibid)

Replying to the Quaid on February 27, 1944 Rafi offered his services to the Planning Committee and hoped to contribute to the field of industrial development. He explained that as an industrialist and Chairman of Central Exchange Bank, "the only Muslim bank in Northern India," he would like to assist in the process relating to planning for the betterment of Muslims. His main concern, of course, was the Punjab, his home province. In his reply to the Quaid's query about "others who can help" Rafi said, "In the Punjab, we have only a few who can do something in this direction." He suggested the name of Sir Maratab Ali of Lahore. He also gave names of six other individuals from the Punjab who, according to him, could contribute to the planning programme of the League.

The Quaid valued Rafi's judgement and flair for economic planning. He picked him out from a host of names and appointed him Member Planning Committee and Chairman of the sub-committee on Mining and Metallurgy. "I consider it a great pleasure," he wrote to the Quaid, "to have been asked to serve on the Planning Committee. Needless to say that my services are completely at your disposal." (Letter dated 16 April 1944)

That Rafi came up to the Quaid's expectations can be judged from his meticulous and comprehensive report on Mining and Metallurgy. The report was characterised by vision and many of its aspects still hold true for present day Pakistan. One of its main points concerned the vast material resources of Pakistan. It was on the basis of Rafi's report that the Quaid told the Associated Press of America on 8 November 1945 that there was a great future for Pakistan, with its still untapped iron, petroleum, sulphur, coal and other mineral deposits.

The Quaid's vision of a strong and stable Pakistan became his own vision. In his letters he offered the Quaid timely suggestions of much economic and political import.


"I shall be glad to submit for the consideration of the Planning Committee of the League a detailed memorandum setting out the lines on which industrial development can benefit the community and shall also offer all the help and assistance on the basis of my experience as an industrialist."

Letter dated February 17, 1944

"Since I wrote to you last I have been giving further consideration to the question of organising a first-class English daily in Lahore ..... If the proposal meets with your approval, I shall be able to render some help in this connection.

Letter dated April 16, 1944

The daily appeared as The Pakistan Times in February 1947.

Rafi also proposed:

(i) setting up of an industrial and commercial finance corporation.
(ii) reorganising of old abandoned factories.
(iii) seeking expert foreign advice and assistance.
(iv) drawing on his own contacts in the U.S. for making Pakistan economically stronger.

Rebuilding the infrastructure of the proposed "Pakistan areas" was Rafi's primary concern. He often said that what Pakistan needed was a school where common-sense and science would be taught. Knowledge of science he stressed was the need of the hour if one were to survive. What admirable foresight! Today the whole Muslim world, without exception, stands in dread of America's cyclopean arsenal of deadly, sophisticated weapons.

Rafi was a true patriot. He wanted to do so much for his new country but his desires remained unfulfilled. He passed away in the prime of life at the age of 39. With his death, Pakistan lost one of its most promising sons. Had he lived longer, he would have left an everlasting mark on Pakistan's industrial and economic landscape. "Mere longevity," says Gabriel Heather, "is a good thing for those who watch LIFE from the sidelines. For those who play the game, an hour may be a year, a single day's work, an achievement for eternity." Rafi Butt was not a man to watch LIFE from the sidelines. He played the game and played it well.

Today, his son, Imtiaz Rafi Butt, an intrepid entrepreneur and founder of the Jinnah-Rafi Foundation, is making every effort to keep his father's legacy alive. Considering the zeitgeist, it is, indeed, amazing that he has been able to do so.