Round Table Conferences

The Aga Khan III led the Muslim delegation to the first Round Table Conference, held in St. James Palace in London on November 12, 1930, to consider the future of India. There were 57 members of the British Indian delegation, representing all the Indian parties except the Congress. The Muslim Delegation was led by the Aga Khan III and other eminent members, like Mahomed Ali Jinnah, Sir Mohammad Shafi, Maulana Mohammad Ali, Dr. Shafat Ahmad, Sir Zafrullah, Nawab Chhatari and Fazl-ul-Haq. Prominent among the princes were the Maharajas of Bikaner, Alwar and Bhopal, and among the eminent Hindu leaders were Sir Tej Bahadur Supru, Jayakar, Shashtri, Dr. Moonje and others. The Conference was presided over by Lord Sankey. In the delibrations of the Conference, the Aga Khan played a dominating role. At the second Round Table Conference, the British government was keen to secure the co-operation of the Congress, and the Viceroy proposed to nominate Dr. Ansari and Sir Ali Imam. As both were staunch supporters of the Nehru Report, therefore, Sir Fazl-i-Husain (1877-1936) protested and averted all possible dangers to the unity of the Muslim Delegation. The Aga Khan III, as its leader, held at the members together and prevented disruptive tendencies from growing up among the Muslims. Azim Husain quotes a letter of Sir Fazl-i-Husain, addressing to Dr. Shaffat Ahmad Khan on July 28, 1931 in "Fazl-i-Husain" (Bombay, 1946, pp. 251-2), which reads: "Whatever lionising may take place of Gandhi in London, you Muslim members of the Delegation, if you played your cards well, would have a pull over all other communities in as much as you have the Aga Khan, who stands pre-eminently in English public life, and no more popular figure, whether English or Indian, exists there. So, if you held together and acted under the Aga Khans's guidance, no harm could possibly come to you."

The Aga Khan III was better suited than any other Muslim leader for the negotiations that were to ensue. The second Round Table Conference opened on September 7, 1931 and it was attended by the Congress. The distinguished group of newcomers included Gandhi, Sir Mohammad Iqbal, Dr. S.K. Datta, G.A. Birla, Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya, Mrs. Naidu and Sir Ali Imam. M. Abdul Aziz writes in his "The Crescent in the Land of the Rising Sun" (London, 1941, p. 146) that, "The Round Table Conference in London have happily shown us the way how to deal with problems which appeared at first sight to be insoluble, and, in this connection, I desire - and I am sure every Muslim in India desires with me - to pay a tribute to the great services which His Highness the Aga Khan has rendered during the delibrations of the Round Table Conference and the sessions of the Joint Parliamentary Committee to the cause of the Muslims in India."

After the termination of the conference, the British parliament took its turn to consider the question of the future government of India. Thus, a strong parliamentary committee was set up to go over the matter. The committee was in almost unbroken session of 18 months, holding 159 meetings. The striking feature of this committee was the presence in it of some of the delegates from India, who took part in the examination of 120 witnesses and in the committee's private discussion. The Aga Khan III headed the list of 21 key leaders whom the committee consulted at every step. Under the wise and able leadership of the Aga Khan, the Indian Muslims came up with flying colour from the Round Table Conference. He had piloted the ship with skill and courage and brought it safely into harbour. He played his cards remarkably well and with his inimitable tact. The Aga Khan III had also a meeting with Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) in London. This conference continued until 1934, marked the climax of the Aga Khan's involvement in Indian politics.

Writing his congratulations to the Aga Khan III, Sir Abdullah Haroon had routed a telegram to London on December 27, 1932 that:- "On behalf of Sind please convey my heartiest thanks to all Round Table Delegates especially Muslim Delegation whose labours crowned with success. Sind and Muslims of India never forget Your Highness services which you are rendering. May Allah reward you." (vide "Haji Sir Abdoola Haroon" by Al-Haj Mian Ahmad Shafi, Karachi, 1939, pp. 85-6). In addition, Shafaat Ahmad Khan wrote a letter to Sir Abdullah Haroon on January 17, 1932 from Allahabad, wherein he describes, "Aga Khan is our greatest Muslim leader in Asia, and Jinnah is also a man of extraordinary vision." (Ibid. p. 100)

The Aga Khan III had served as India's delegate at the Disarmament Conference since 1932. During the successive sessions of the Assembly of the League of Nations started on February 2, 1932 in Geneva, he had submitted his proposals of peace between China and Japan. In 1934, the British government appointed the Aga Khan as a Privy Councillor, which entitles one to apply the word Right Honorable with his name.

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