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April 29, 2019

Larger than life: Remembering I. Hassan


April 29, 2019

This Monday, April 29, 2019, is the 100th Birth anniversary of former long-time “The News” columnist Inayatullah Hassan who, under the shortened name I. Hassan, wrote the “Cutting Edge” column on the op-ed pages every Tuesday during the first 15 years of the life of this paper.

Inayatullah Hassan, or “Janji” to his family and close friends, had a long and rich life spanning 90 remarkable years — stretching from the days immediately following the First World War to the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. A man of immense innate ability, he constantly evolved and reinvented himself as he sought and faced new challenges in life.

Born into a prosperous family hailing from a village near Kahuta outside Rawalpindi, at the age of 12, in 1931 he was sent off to the Royal Indian Military College at Dehradun — the institution which came to produce the top leadership of the Indian and early Pakistan military. At RIMC Inayat formed life-long friendships with, among others, Lieutenant General Sahibzada Yaqoob Ali Khan and Air Marshall Asghar Khan, both of whom were junior to him. Air Marshall Nur Khan, was also his contemporary junior at RIMC, Dehradun.

Inayat was commissioned in the British Indian Army but was captured by the Japanese during World War II and joined the Indian National Army, broadcasting powerful anti-British programmes to the Sub-Continent from Radio Saigon. In his recent eponymously-titled autobiography, Brigadier Malik Mukhtar Karim, himself a pre-partition Dehradun ‘Rimcolian’ who served for 34 years in the Pakistan armed forces, laments that “(s)adly, Pakistan did not pay tribute to ex-INA officers while India did honour these ex-INA officers. To quote one exampale, Shah Nawaz (ex-INA officer) who belonged to a village near Rawalpindi but stayed back in India after Partition and was greatly honoured in India. After he passed away, he was buried alongside Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad in the graveyard of Delhi’s mosque near the Red Fort. I had the opportunity of offering Fateha during my visit to Delhi for both”.

Inayatullah Hassan regarded the absence of any mention of the role and sacrifices of INA in Pakistani books as a typical example of how we have doctored our history to support latter day exclusionary narratives aimed at blotting out all examples of cooperation among different communities in pre-partition India in the fight against British Imperialism. The University of Cambridge historians, Christopher Bayly and Timothy Harper in their 2007 book, The Forgotten Wars, note that most of the INA’s professional soldiers were Punjabis.

In fact, many of the most prominent members of INA were Muslims. Besides Shah Nawaz Khan and Inayatullah Hassan, these included, among countless other Muslims, Abid Hasan, Mehboob Hasan, ?Mohammed Zaman Kiani, Munawar Hayat Khan Awan, I.A. Dara (Pakistan’s Hockey Captain), Burhan-ud-Din (a brother of the ruler of Chitral), Shaukat Malik, Inayat Kiani and INA Leader (Netaji) Subhash Chander Bose’s Chief of Staff Habib ur Rehman who was the only Indian with Bose at the time of his death in controversial circumstances in a plane crash in present-day Taiwan in August 1945.

Many of these INA officers such as Shah Nawaz and Abid Hassan went on to have high profile public service careers in India while some of these officers had military and civil honours bestowed upon them by Pakistan for their subsequent contributions to post-partition conflicts with India. In a twist of fate – strange though perhaps not entirely atypical of the situation in the first couple of decades after the Partition – during the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, while Shah Nawaz Khan was a Minister in India, his son Mahmud was serving as an officer in the Pakistan Army.

During and immediately after the war, the British interrogated thousands and tried hundreds of people on account of their involvement with INA. The opening of the post-war trials generated strong nationalist sentiment and violence and a series of riots erupted at a scale which the British regarded as “sensational”. Protests spread to include mutinies within the British-Indian Army, including the famous Royal Indian Navy mutiny which started in Bombay. Both major parties Muslim League and the Congress strongly supported the defendants of the INA trials and it was the last major campaign in which the Congress and the Muslim League worked together.

Inayatullah Hassan remained all his life proud of the contribution that he and his other INA colleagues made towards ending British rule in India and frequently used his INA rank ‘Colonel’ as part of his name. Once, a veteran journalist used the word “renegade” in her writing to refer to INA soldiers. Inayatullah was quick to set the record straight in a Cutting Edge column titled “Lesson for all Pakistanis”. He wrote: “It seems that [she] places loyalty to the British above all else, even loyalty to one’s own oppressed people …. Let’s be clear as to who was a traitor – those who sided with the British and upheld their Raj or those who opposed them and fought them?”

According to Brigadier Mukhtar, the British court-martialled Inayatullah Hassan and were about to hang him when Jawaharlal Nehru intervened to have him released from the Red Fort. Reportedly, Nehru refused to talk to the Pethick Lawrence-Stafford Cripps mission then visiting India until Inayat was set free.

After being released, Inayat became an international war correspondent covering the liberation war raging in South East Asia. Imbued with spirit of liberation, he quit journalism and became an advisor to Soerkarno, then leading the war to oust the Dutch and soon to become the President of Indonesia.

Upon Inayat’s return to the sub-continent, Nehru urged him to join his cabinet but he refused telling Nehru, according to Brigadier Mukhtar, that he held him responsible for the division of India. Whereas Shah Nawaz Khan became Minister for Railways in Nehru’s first cabinet, Inayat chose to settle in Pakistan and became a successful businessman and then the Secretary General of Shaheed Suherwardy’s National Awami League. The usurpation of power by Ayub Khan, under whom Inayat had once served uncomfortably in the same unit, forced him to go abroad once more. He settled in London where he became a real estate tycoon earning millions and rubbing shoulders with the who’s who of the British upper crust.

The prodigal son returned to his native land in 1980 and, following his marriage to Khalida Adeeb Khanum – then a respected senior producer at the Radio Pakistan, spent most of the last three decades of his life in Rawalpindi which allowed him to rekindle close friendships with Sahibzada Yaqoob Khan, Asghar Khan and other peers from Dehradun.

His journalistic talents were re-discovered through a chance meeting with Maleeha Lodhi who had then recently left “The Muslim” and was heading a large team preparing to launch a new daily from Rawalpindi-Islamabad to be called “The Independent”. I had the good fortune to work, first as Editorial Assistant and then as Assistant Editor, in this talented team which included many future newspaper editors including Maleeha Lodhi herself, the late D. Shah Khan, Saleem Bukhari, and, last but not least, Talat Hussain who was then a bright spark fresh out of university. Saddam’s invasion of Iraq, together with the near simultaneous overthrow of Benazir’s first government in August 1990, lead to a scrapping of “The Independent” project and Maleeha moved the entire team, lock, stock and barrel, to the Jang Group where the paper, like a phoenix, re-emerged out of its own ashes as the “The News” which, since, has gone on to become the most widely circulated English daily in Pakistan.

Following the stillbirth of “The Independent”, while I decided to sell my soul for a few pieces of silver on my shoulders and traded my pen for a baton, I. Hassan, like most of the rest of The Independent crew, became a part of ‘The News’ family from the very launch of the paper and contributed regularly during the tenures of several editors. His simple yet poignant flowing style won him a large audience who enjoyed his wit and irreverent take on many of our holy cows. He was not the one to pull punches and consequently many a times he put his editors in a spot of bother by refusing to sugar-coat his hard criticisms of powerful actors in the society and the state. His was a sane voice preaching accommodation, tolerance and modern liberal values grounded in individual freedoms, against the backdrop of an increasingly illiberal, retrogressive and intrusive state. An extremely knowledgeable, perceptive and articulate author, he could wax eloquent on any topic under the sun straight off the cuff.

He was a writer, a soldier, a broadcaster, a politician, an advisor to liberation movements, a businessman, a real estate tycoon, a designer, an artist and so much more. Most of all he was an enlightened, honourable, upright, caring and learned human being of the kind one no longer finds in this land torn asunder by intolerance and ignorance.

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