Born into a Muslim family of aristocratic status and considerable means, Muhammad Shafi was educated first at the Vernacular Middle School of his village, then in Lahore at the Central Model School, then Government College and Forman Christian College. In 1889 he left for England to study Law, enrolled at Middle Temple and was called to the Bar in 1892. Returning to India he became one of the leading lawyers of the Punjab Chief Court in Lahore, while also playing a leading role in various organisations promoting Muslim interests. He served as a Member of the Punjab Legislative Council (1909-1916) and Imperial Legislative Council (1911-1919), and then on the Viceroy’s Executive Council (1919-24), also serving as Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Council of State from 1922-1925.
Shafi was a leading Muslim delegate in the British Indian delegation at the conference.
For additional biographical information, see the official delegate Who's Whos. See also Emery Kelen's caricature, from his portfolio of delegates at the Round Table Conference.
- 1915: Shafi raised a question in the Imperial Legislative Council regarding India’s international status. The Secretary of State responded on 16thJune 1916, which the New Delhi Reforms Office noted in 1931, led directly to India being represented directly at the Imperial War Conference of 1919 (National Archives, New Delhi 31.137.2).
- 1925: the Muslim League reiterated its commitment to federation, with the backing of Shafi, Jinnah, and the Ali brothers. (Moore, 1974:24)
- 31st December 1928- 1st January 1929: the All Parties Muslim Conference at Delhi, presided over by Aga Khan, and attended by Shafi from Punjab, Ghaznavi from Bengal, Shafa'at Ahmad Khan UP, and Muhammad Ali from UP proposed a federal system with complete autonomy and residuary powers in the states and separate electorates as well as one third of central seats for Muslims. It amounted to a rejection of the Nehru Report. (Moore, 1974:38)
- 1930: September 25th: Shafi issued a statement to the Timespointing out that within a few weeks the RTC delegates would start arriving in London, where they could meet the dominion representatives attending the Imperial Conference and start engaging in the sort of informal work so vital to international meetings: “The opportunities which informal but close contact will provide to exchange opinions and information on Imperial and other problems must help to dispel the many misconceptions which unfortunately exist at present on both sides.” (The Times)
- 1930: October 10th, Benn wrote to Irwin explaining that at the Imperial Conference, Bikaner had taken on the ceremonial role while Shafi had dealt with constitutional matters. (British Library 6)
- 6th November 1930: Benn invited members of the British India delegation who were in London ahead of the opening of the conference to join him in a “committee of seven” (Sir Hubert Carr, Jayakar, Jinnah, Sapru, Sastri, Ujjal Singh and Shafi) to discuss agenda and procedure (Daily Telegraph).
- 16th November 1930: Shafi was part of a compromise agreement reached with the Aga Khan, Jinnah, Sapru, Jayakar and Moonje that proposed joint electorates in the provinces and centre with reservation of seats for provincial minorities on a population basis except in Bengal and the Punjab. Muslim delegates rejected the deal, preventing a joint Hindu-Muslim front. Shafi was pressured to adhere to the policy of only accepting a federal constitution once communal safeguards were in place. (Moore, 1974:127, 144)
- Shafi was confirmed as a member of the Federal Structure, Minorities, North West Frontier Province and Defence Committees
- 9th December 1930: MacDonald called together a small informal meeting of Hindu and Muslim leaders, including of the Aga Khan, Shafi, Jinnah, Sastri, Sapru, Jayakar, Moonje and Benn. (NMML: Moonje Diary)
- 10th December 1930: a further meeting of Hindu-Muslim leaders took place at 10 Downing Street, at which Shafi insisted that Muslim minorities were poor economically and lacking in education, and thus required protection (NMML: Moonje Diary)
- 13th December 1930: the Hindu and Muslim leaders were called to Chequers, the Prime Minister’s country retreat, in an attempt to reach a deal on the communal question, meeting a 3pm. Shafi and Jinnah felt that their backers in India would not back any of the proposed solutions.
- 24th December 1930: having opened the conference willing to sacrifice separate Muslim electorates, pressure from India forced Shafi to insist upon them by Christmas. (Moore, 1974:160)
- 6th January 1931: WH Lewis of the Indian Reforms Office wrote back to his colleagues in New Delhi that: “Shafi has been patchy. On some occasions he has touched a level higher than I believed him to be capable of: at other times he has been disappointing and ineffective.” (National Archives: 30.173)
- 2nd October 1931: an informal meeting of Hindu and Muslim leaders took place in St James’s Palace, including the Aga Khan, Jinnah, Shafi, Moonje, and Gandhi. Moonje noted in his dairy that the Muslim delegates continued to speak with one voice, while Hindu delegates were divided. (NMML Moonje Diary)
- Shafi served on the Minorities and Federal Structure Committee. In the latter he argued for the creation of a Supreme Court.
- 8th October 1931: in the Minorities Committee Shafi responded to Gandhi’s suggestion that a communal settlement had proved impossible because the conference delegates were nominated by government, not elected by the people. He insisted that all major political parties in India were represented, and had been selected after dialogues with the working committees of those parties and, in Gandhi’s case, by the INC choosing their own and only delegate: “In these circumstances, I venture to submit that the British Indian Delegation is thoroughly representative of the peoples of India; and if, in spite of this fact, we have not been able to arrive at an amicable settlement of the communal problem, all I can say is this, that the sense of humiliation and sorrow to which Mahatma Gandhi has given expression has gone deep into the hearts of some of us. It is heart-breaking indeed that in spite of the efforts made by those who firmly believe that the future of India rests entirely upon Hindu-Muslim unity, upon a satisfactory settlement of the communal problem and a settlement of the Minorities question in India, we should not have been able to arrive at an agreement, and we most deeply regret this breakdown.” (Second Session, Proceedings of Federal Structure Committee, Vol. I)
- 9th October 1931: at an afternoon meeting at Malaviya’s flat Moonje heard Shafi propose arbitration of the communal issue (NMML Moonje Diary)
- 26th November 1931, on his last day at the conference Shafi delivered this parting statement to the Federal Structure Committee: “Lord Chancellor, I go back to India with my heart full of grief that these communal questions have not been settled as a result of mutual agreement between the representatives of the various communities themselves. So far as the Muslim delegation is concerned, I do not wish to put the blame of this failure to arrive at an inter-communal settlement upon any party whatever. But this much I do say, that the Muslim Delegation have tried their level best. They tried their best last year, and they have tried their best this year, to bring about a satisfactory settlement of the inter-communal problems. We have failed, and the heart of every sincere well-wisher of India’s constitutional progress must be full of sorrow and same, because of that failure. But does not His Majesty’s Government have the responsibility cast upon its shoulders because of that failure to come to a decision with regard to the various issues involved in this controversy? On whom does the constitutional responsibility ultimately rely?” (Second Session, Proceedings of Federal Structure Committee, Vol. II)
- 7th January 1932: Shafi died in Lahore, at the age of 62.
- 14th January 1932: Lord Sankey wrote to Lady Shafi, following the death of her husband: “Let me send you all my sympathy in your great loss and sorrow, It is very difficult to know how to give or to get comfort in such grief, but the knowledge that many thousands in India and many thousands in England are sympathising with you will, I hope, be some consolation. I think the passing of my old friend, Sir Muhammad, is a grievous loss not only for the Moslems of India but for all Englishmen who want to see peace and prosperity in India. We shall miss his wise counsel and his delightful personality. With kind regards to yourself and to the Begum Shah Nawaz.” (University of Oxford: C539)
- National Archives, New Delhi: Home(Public)/1931/137/2/31; Reforms/1930/173/30-R
- British Library, London:IOR/Eur.Mss./C152/6.
- Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi: Dr BS Moonje papers.
- Indian Round Table Conference (Second Session) 7th September, 1931-1st December, 1931 Proceedings of Federal Structure Committee and Minorities Committee (Volume I) (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publications Branch; 1932): https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.206390
- Indian Round Table Conference (Second Session) 7th September, 1931-1st December, 1931 Proceedings of Federal Structure Committee and Minorities Committee (Volume II) (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publications Branch; 1932): https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.206391
- University of Oxford, Bodleian Library: Papers of John Sankey, Viscount Sankey of Moreton/C539.
- The Times, “Dominion Statesmen and India: Sir Muhammad Shafi’s Views”, Issue 45627 (25 Sep 1930), p. 11
- Daily Telegraph, “Agenda of India Conference: Committee Chosen to Prepare it”, Issue 23550 (6 Nov 1930), p. 8
- R.J. Moore, The Crisis of Indian Unity, 1917-1940 (Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1974)
- Who Was Who: https://doi.org/10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U216922
- “Sir Muhammad Shafi”, in Eminent Mussalmans (Madras: G.A. Natesan & Co.; 1926), pp. 209-247: https://archive.org/details/eminentmussalman031205mbp/page/n239
- The Times, “A Moslem Indian Statesman”, Issue Number 46025 (8 Jan 1932), p.9
- The Islamic Review, Vol. 20, No.2-3 (Feb-Mar 1932), pp. 41-46; available at http://www.wokingmuslim.org/pers/sir-m-shafi.pdf
- M.M. Ahluwalia, “Shafi, Muhammad (Sir)”, in Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. IV (S-Z), Ed. S.P. Sen (Calcutta: Institute of Historical Studies; 1974), pp. 138-140: https://archive.org/details/dictionaryofnationalbiographyvol.4szsens.p._196_A/page/n209