Prof. RA Khan

THIS week with the inauguration of Rafi Butt Road, the Government of Punjab honors a patriot, a hero of his time, like so many others in the early years of the Pakistan struggle, his name was lost in the sands of time. It shall now be set in stone. 

We owe the creation of Pakistan to the Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the stalwarts who stood by him. Those were the men who responded with one voice to the call of their great leader and rallied round the flag of the Muslim League. They carried his message to the four corners of the subcontinent and mobilised the Muslim masses in favour of the demand for a separate homeland. They were the real crusaders, the real soldiers in the vanguard of the freedom struggle. Inspired with a sense of selflessness and social commitment, they considered no sacrifice too great achieve their mission. Among this committed group was a young industrialist from Lahore. His name was M. Rafi Butt.

Rafi Butt was born in 1909 in Nivan Katra near Akbari Mandi, a crowded area inside the walled city. His father’s early death obliged him to assume immense responsibility at the age of 16. With a knack and potential for dealing with the dynamics of business, he soon managed to expand a modest paternal operation into a flourishing empire. A signal accomplishment considering the almost exclusive Hindu holds on trade in undivided India.

He acquired advanced training in steel industry at Canning’s Chrome and Chemical factory at Birmingham. On return, he built a modern, well-equipped factory on Ferozepur Road. This was the factory which the Quaid-i-Azam visited in 1942. Rafi branched out into banking as well and established the Central Exchange Bank, the first Muslim bank in Northern India, at Lahore in 1936.

M. Rafi Butt came in contact with the Quaid-i-Azam in the late thirties. The Quaid’s charismatic personality, unrivalled integrity and total devotion to the cause of Muslim freedom made a profound imprint on his mind. Since that day and till the very end Rafi remained an ardent follower of the Quaid and a staunch supporter of the Muslim League.

Rafi Butt knew that industrial growth was a must for the new state of Pakistan. Economic development became the focus of his deliberations. Rafi never tried of urging the Muslims to wake up from their slumber, develop their industry and bring it on a par with that of foreign nations. Muslims lagged behind in the economic field and were regrettably short of genuine scientists.

The Quaid had confidence in this young man from the Punjab. He appointed him Member of the Muslim League Planning Committee and Chairman of the sub-committee on Mining and Metallurgy. Rafi was, perhaps, the first among the state planners to foresee that metals held the key to the future and could radically alter the economy of the state.

Rafi combined travel with serious pursuit. In 1945-46, he left for the US to study the industrial structure of that country. In 1946, he went to Germany as one of the delegates of the Indian industrial delegation – his inclusion in the group is indicative of his stature in the field. In 1948, he attended the ILO session at San Francisco. He also approached the UK Board of Trade in his personal capacity for the supply of steel to Pakistan, a precious resource needed by Pakistan at the time.

Rafi was not destined to live long. He died in air crash on 26 November 1948. He was 39 at the time.

A prominent social figure, Rafi’s friendship cut across ethnic and cultural frontiers. His friends came from all segments of society and held in the highest esteem. To them he was a man of great charm, a self-made man and one who would go down in the economic history of the Punjab as a Muslim pioneer in the field of industry.