Sikander Hyat Khan


Please note that the family name is hyphenated and spelled HYAT-KHAN and not HAYAT KHAN as is commonly mis written in history texts.

Punjab figures prominently in the history of the Pakistan movement and illustrates also the crosscurrents in twentieth-century Muslim politics. Stretching from Delhi to the Indus, pre-partition Punjab was distinguished from any community worldwide by its religious and geographic diversity. According to the 1931 census, Muslims made up a little over 56 percent of the population, concentrated in the western part of the province. Sikhs were an important minority both within the predominantly Hindu Jullundar division and within the predominantly Muslim Lahore division in the center of the province. In general Hindus predominated in the east and Muslims in the west, with Muslims composing over 80 percent of the population in the far western Punjab districts bordering on the Jhelum and Indus rivers.

Much continues to be written on the topic of India’s partition depicting views from various angles. Unarguably, it is with an unequivocal voice that all accounts, be they in any language, stress the importance of the role of Sikander Hyat-Khan for the one simple reason this man played one the most critical roles in the creation of Pakistan, from struggling to achieve dominion status for India, to consistently driving a balance between communal interests in a province inhabited by Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and others.

In a year where Democrat Grover Cleveland was re-elected as President of United States; Tchaikovskys ballet The Nutcracker was performed for the first time in Russia, and Rudolf Diesel patented the first internal combustion engine in Germany, Sikander Hyat-Khan was born on June 5th 1892 on a hot summer morning at Multan in western Punjab. He belonged to the highly connected family of landed aristocrats whose members were often styled as Sardars and Nawabs for twenty-three generations descended from Sultan Mahmud Ghaznvi. His father, a topic for a novel unto himself, Nawab Sardar Mohammed Hyat-Khan was the first Muslim Indian appointed as an Assistant Commissioner, and later as a Divisional Judge and Sessions Judge in 1887 in the entire East India Empire.

His mothers family was equally aristocratic. Sikander Hyat-Khans mother came from a family of highly reputed administrators. She was the daughter of the Nizam of Kapurthala State. In addition, his other highly honored family members included his elder brother, the Prime Minister of Patiala Sir Liaquat Hyat-Khan, and his cousin Nawab Muzaffar Ali Khan, etc.

Sikander Hyat-Khan received his early education at home from a Hindu teacher. He was placed under the fostering care of Master Kala Ram, the family tutor, for the first seven years. Thereafter he was admitted to the M.A.O. High School in Aligarh. He proved himself a keen scholar by always topping in the school examinations, and by participating in social and athletic meets. He captained both hockey and cricket teams in school. Later he acknowledged, It was in the playground that I learned the benefits of team spirit and to play for the side, and not for ones individual self.

After matriculating, Sikander Hyat-Khan proceeded to England in pursuit of higher education. He was accepted at University College, London (now University of London). It is in London that his interest in politics grew tremendously, urging him to speak frequently at the renowned Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. His interest in Indian politics grew, and after a two year sojourn in London, he returned to India.

The noble aristocratic family background of over-achievers, the impact of a Hindu teacher, and his stay at Aligarh and London were factors that must have cast diverse influences on young Sikander, and tended to mould his character and temperament. His father, Nawab Mohammed Hyat-Khan was a long time trusted friend and supporter of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, and the latters powerful influence must have filtered down to Sikander Hyat. No sensitive youth from India could have remained immune from the strength and glow of Englands academic, parliamentary and other institutions. Besides, England in those days was a base for Indian revolutionaries like Savarkar. There are indications that Sikander Hyat-Khan did come in touch with such Indian militants, and developed appreciation for their fearless patriotism, however maintained his distance accordingly.

As a non-official, Sikander gave ample proof of his leadership acumen. Through careful management and modern methods, at the age of 22, he turned his family estate of tea plantations at Palampur into a profitable concern. He acted as the non-official President of the Small Town Committee of Hasanabdal. Sikander actively participated on the Board of Directors of eleven different corporations including three national Railway Companies.

On the outbreak of the First Great War, Sikander Hyat-Khan offered his services to the ruling government. He was appointed Honorary Recruiting Officer, and was also granted a commission. In 1919, during the Third Afghan War, he acted as a Company Commander. He was the first Muslim Indian to command a Company in active service.

In the post-war era, he held the rank of a First Class Magistrate up to the year 1929. In 1921, he was elected to the Punjab Legislative Council. In 1926, he served as a non-official member of the Police Inquiry Committee. In 1928, he became the Chairman of the Punjab Reforms Committee to work with the Simon Commission.

In 1929, at the age of 37, Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan was invited to join the Governors Executive Council. He was called upon to officiate as Revenue Member for a period of three months. In 1930, he became a full-fledged Revenue Member of the Governors Council.

Scaling new heights in rapid succession. In 1932, and again in 1934, Sir Sikander acted as the first Muslim to govern Punjab since the rule of the last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. But he refused to move to the Government House, saying, I have no reason to, I have my own home. Already a Member of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), he was promoted to be a Knight Commander of the Civil Division of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) in 1933. Later that year, he received a Doctorate of Oriental Learning from The University of the Punjab.

In February 1935, Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan was appointed Deputy Governor of the newly created Reserve Bank of India. Again, setting a record for being the first non-British to hold such office.

When the Second World War started, he was the Prime Minister (Chief Minister) of Punjab, and undoubtedly an extremely powerful and sagacious personality in India. He supported the War Effort unilaterally and did his best in providing recruits and resources for the War. In a letter to Jinnah he writes:

We are faced with a situation fraught with grave and imminent danger to the safety of our country. The menace from the east is rapidly approaching our borders, and is growing in volume. The threat from the west and north-west has momentarily receded, thanks to the valiant resistance put up by the Russians, but it may reappear at any moment, and perhaps in a more aggravated form, as a result of the anticipated Nazi attempt to break through Turkey, and French North Africa. My views on the war effort are well known to you and the members of the Working Committee. You are aware that I have from the very outset of this war pleaded for a policy of whole-hearted and unconditional support, because it is my fixed conviction that bringing this war to a successful conclusion is of vital importance to India, and the Muslims throughout the world, as it is to Great Britain. Recent developments on our eastern frontiers have only helped to strengthen that conviction it is equally true that by withholding our support at this critical juncture we will be jeopardizing the safety of our country as also of our neighbors among other of Burma, Dutch East Indies, and Malaya in the east, and Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Turkey, and Egypt in the west. If God forbid, the Nazis and Japanese succeed in this war all our political aspirations, and ambitions of a free and equal partnership, will be frustrated for good. The fate of ninety million Muslims in this country and of an equal or even greater number elsewhere, together with 300 million of our non-Muslim countrymen, and a multitude of nations outside India is in the balance. It ill-becomes a Muslim to waver or hesitate when the whole world is in the throes of a life and death struggle and even the slightest weight on one side or the other may tilt the balance in our favor or against us.If India survives and it can only survive if Great Britain survives there will be time enough after the war to press our demands. At the moment all our energies and resources must be devoted, exclusively, to save India, and ourselves, from enslavement by the Japanese and Nazis.

He had his sons enlisted in the armed forces; and visited with the Allied Forces Commander Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery at El-Alamein along with Indian soldiers on the Western Front in Egypt and Sudan, thus playing a vital role in encouraging and inspiring them through his personal contact. It was at El-Alamein that General Montgomery fought back the anti-Axis powers of Field Marshall Rommel with the support of Indian soldiers, majority from the Punjab, which became the turning point for victory of the axis powers against Hitler. In many ways, both Indians and Pakistanis, Muslims and Hindus alike owe sincerest thanks to Sir Sikander for his support of the War Effort in helping the world rid itself of Nazism. And this was demonstrated by the people of the Punjab and India who demanded his last resting place to be at the footsteps of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore.

His Premiership lasted for seven years ending abruptly in 1942, and is regarded as the Golden Age of the Punjab. As Revenue Member and as Prime Minister, Sir Sikander worked relentlessly to improve the condition of the peasantry. A Rural Reconstruction Movement was launched. Irrigation facilities were extended, roads were laid and the Panchayats were established and strengthened. Unparalleled communal harmony between Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus was fostered and flourished as a result of his leadership.

Sir Sikander was a towering noble personality. He was a devout Muslim, observing the duty of prayer and fasting. He considered Islam a religion of love and not bigotry. His faith in God was unshakable, and most of his important decisions were taken after the morning prayers. His role in the making of Pakistan is grossly misunderstood as one who didn’t support Pakistan, when in fact he authored the original Lahore Resolution, which eventually came to be known as the Pakistan Resolution. He did not support the notion of a nation built at the expense of a split Punjab (call it Indusstan, or Pakistan). For him, a united Punjab was all that mattered. He believed the Punjab was Indias backbone a splintered back would result in a hunched Pakistan. Right or wrong, to this end, he relentlessly pursued reserving dominion status for India on his terms with Sir Winston Churchill, who along with President Franklin D. Roosevelt eventually supported him to become the first Governor General of India after the British rescinded rule. All this while other leaders pushed their personal agendas on the home front. Herbert Matthews wrote in the New York Times (1941):

One might get an impression that the Muslim League and its leader, Mohammed Ali Jinnah were all powerful. Here in Lahor one gets a better perspective. Mr. Jinnah does not matter nearly as much as the Premier, Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan, who has a tight grip on the reins of government. He is here, while Mr. Jinnah is far off in Bombay. The Premier is a soldier and agriculturist, whereas Mr. Jinnah is a lawyer and urbanite. Sir Sikander is a Punjabi, while Mr. Jinnah is a foreigner, and that alone would make all the difference. When the Punjabi villagers say they are Muslim Leaguers and followers of Mr. Jinnah, it is because Sir Sikander has spread this gospel after an accord with Mr. Jinnah in 1937 (The Sikander-Jinnah Pact, Lucknow), not because Mr. Jinnah himself has won the converts. When it comes down to a showdown between Mr. Jinnah and Sir Sikander which is bound some time to come no one here doubts that the Punjabis will follow their Premier. And they did by joining the Muslim League.

Being of noble descent, having reached great heights due to his own efforts, for Sikander Hyat-Khan, the governorship of a post-war India was less important, but rather that it should be governed by a native Indian, and not a Briton. He provided unconditional support to Mohammed Ali Jinnah by joining the Muslim League purely because of his belief in Islam and love for the Punjab, much to the dismay of vested interests who purport his support being of a malicious nature. The Quaid was his ally, and together they enjoined to push forward the agenda of a new nation where Muslims would be free to practice their ideals. The difference in their zeal was that, the Quaid was somewhat rushed into accepting a Pakistan within a coterminous boundary, and Sir Sikander was pursuing dominion status for India where, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus would all live in communal harmony as he had justly demonstrated possible through his leadership of the Punjab.

On a cold winters night in December, The Honorable Lieutenant Colonel Nawab Sardar Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan K.B.E, M.B.E., passed away due to heart failure at the young age of 50 at his residence in Lahore. He left behind ten children ages ranging from 22 to 9. The subcontinent suffered a major twist of fate. Elsewhere in the world the Eighth army had already seized key German positions near El-Alamein in a dawn raid in the west, in the east British troops advanced down the Malay peninsula pushing the Japanese back into Burma, and a group of physicists led by a Enrico Fermi achieved the first controlled nuclear chain reaction, opening the way to both an atomic bomb and nuclear energy.

Unfortunately for both India and Pakistan, the Quaid was suffering from tuberculosis and lacked the energy to lead his new nation and his pillar (the Quaids words referring to Sir Sikander) Sir Sikander had already passed away prematurely due to heart failure leaving behind a splintered India and a bleeding Pakistan. One can only imagine a United States without the leadership of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, a Greece without Alexander and Ptolemy, a Rome without Caesar and Marcus Antonius – the subcontinent had lost two of its greatest leaders at a time when they were most needed. And such remains our legacy and inspiration.

Kio [kai?] din men yahan phir

Daur-e-Akbar ane wala hai

Sikander hai Abul Fazl

Aur Manoharlal, Todarmal.

(Before long will come here again The regime of Emperor Akbar [the Great]Sikander is Abul Fazl And Manoharlal, Todarmal.)

Maulana Zafar Ali Khan upon the election of Sir Sikander to Premiership of the Punjab

Sir Geoffrey de Montmorency (the last British Governor of the Punjab): By the sad death of Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan, the political stage in India, at a critical time, is deprived of a leader of outstanding wisdom and vision. But the blow to the Punjab and India as a whole is even more severe, for it loses a leader. One who for many years past had with unfailing hand steered the ship of its destiny through fair and foul weather upon an even keel. He stood for all that was best in Punjabi tradition and history. He came of a soldier family that had made its mark in the rough school of war and battle of the North West frontier of India and beyond. He himself served with distinction as a regular officer in the Indian Army in the Great War. He thus represented the point of view of the fighting races of the Punjab. He was the owner of broad acres, deeply interested in the welfare of his tenantry and the development of his estate, and never happier than when he had the leisure to be among them at his estate in Wah. He was also keenly attracted by business and industry and was associated with European and Hindu Colleagues in many well conducted enterprises, such as the Wah Cement Company. These varied interests endowed him with a width of view, a range of experience and an elasticity of judgment which he placed at the service of the Punjab when he entered political life. First and foremost, a cultured Muslim gentlemen, he used his culture not to exclude the ideals of others, but to help him to understand them. First and foremost, a Punjabi patriot, he worked to secure synthesis of the divergent elements in India’s political life, which would give India a central Government as beneficent and as secure as that which his own province had already so happily attained.

Mr. Amery (Secretary of State for India): Not only the Punjab but all India and the British Commonwealth has sustained a grievous loss in the premature death of Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan. His was the statesman that looked beyond sectional differences at the common good which aimed at peace and strength through unity. It is thanks to that statesmanship that the Punjab in these years has not only enjoyed internal peace, but has played so conspicuous and honorable a part in the great issues in which the future of the world is being decided. How much that statesmanship might have contributed to the attainment of India’s self-determined destiny we shall never know. We shall only hope that his example will inspire others to carry on his work for India in the same broadminded spirit of comprehension and service.

Sir Winston Churchill: To the Government and People of the Punjab and India: My sincere sympathy with the great loss they have sustained by the premature death of their wise and valiant leader, Sir Sikander Hyat-Khan. I had the pleasure of meeting him in the Middle East on various occasions and recognizing in him both a gallant soldier and a true statesman with a broad and valiant outlook: loyal to his province, loyal to India and to the common cause of Freedom.

May God Bless His Soul. Amen.