The "universally respected genius of India" this was how the late Sir Annand Sarup Sahabji Maharaj, once referred to Sir Shah Sulaiman, Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court.
There are, indeed, very few people in India to whom this reference could be applied more appropriately, and there is hardly anyone whose versatile accomplishments in the realms of law, education and science deserve a similar tribute. The brilliant career of Sir Sulaiman has been and indeed shall remain unique in the annals of Indian history.
Sir Shah Sulaiman was born in a family of lawyers and scientists which can boast of such a brilliant thinker like Mulla Mahmood of "Shams-al-Bazigha" fame. Sir Shah was a brilliant student of the University Muslim Hostel at Allahabad. I often used to hear old inmates speaking of a student whose devotion to and concentration in his work always remained the despair of the more turbulent among his contemporaries in their efforts to rag the college authorities for their insistence on "more work and less play".
At the B.A. examination of 1906, Sir Shah stood first class first and won several medals and was selected for a United Provinces scholarship and in that year he set out for Cambridge. He obtained the Mathematical Tripos in 1909, the Law Tripos in 1910 and was awarded LL.D. by the University of Dublin the same year.
In 1911, Sir Shah Sulaiman started legal practice as a junior to his father, Shah Muhammad Usman, for a year in Jaunpur and then shifted to Allahabad in 1912. His early triumphs as a barrister impressed Sir Henry Richards and Sir Grimwood Mears and he was offered a seat on the bench as a Judge at the early age of 34.
He was a member of the Special Bench constituted by the Late Chief Justice Sir Henry Richards since his appointment. He acted as Chief Justice in the absence of Justice Sir Henry Richards when he was 43 and at the age of 46 became the permanent Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court. Five years later he was elevated to the Federal Court, a record in the British Commonwealth and perhaps in the judicial world.
He was the senior member of the Peshawar Enquiry Committee which was appointed to enquire into the riots at Peshawar in 1930, and his bold recommendations were fully given affect to by the government of India. He was also a member of the Capitation Rates Tribunal along with Lord Dunedin and Lord Tomlin and on the recommendations of the Tribunal, the
Government of England agreed to bear a portion of the military expenditure in India.
As Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court, Sir Shah's judgement in the Meerut Conspiracy case will stand as a landmark in the history of judicial administration of India. The case had taken two years in the Magistrate's Court and four years in the Sessions Court while the arguments in appeal in the High Court were expected to last four months. The hearing of appeal and the judgement were all finished in just eight days.
Speaking of his judgement in the Federal Court case No 1 of 1938, J.H. Morgan, a well-known English constitutional lawyer, while delivering his Togore Law lectures at the Calcutta University said:
"Now I have just been reading the judgements of the Federal Court at Delhi in that important case. One of those judgements stand out conspicuous and prominent and may well prove to be Locus Classicus of the law on the subject. It is a judgement worthy of the highest traditions of the House of Lords as an Appellate Tribunal and of the Privy Council itself.
I refer to the brilliant judgement of Justice Sulaiman. In depth of thought, in breadth of view, in its powers alike of analysis and of synthesis, in grace of style and felicity of expression, it is one of the most masterly judgements that I have ever had the good fortune to read. Everyone in India interested in future development of the Constitution should study it".
A different episode, which has made history in the United Provinces in maintaining the independence of the judiciary by holding that under the letters patent the responsibility involved was not of the government but entirely of the High Court.
Sir Shah Sulaiman was a great educationist and one of the original founders of the Muslim High School, President Madarasa-I-Subhaniah, Secretary of the University Muslim Hostel, Member of the Courts of the Aligarh and Allahabad Universities and also of the Executive Council of the latter and of the Finance Committee of the former.
As President of the United Provinces Muslim Educational Conference at Badayon in 1924, he revived the Educational Conference. In the following year, he was Chairman of the Reception Committee of the Educational Conference at Allahabad and in 1928 he presided over the All-India Mohammedan Educational Conference at Ajmir. In his address Sir Shah Sulaiman advocated definite change in the educational policy and laid stress on the practical side of learning and training in technical subjects.
Sir Shah Sulaiman's services to the University of Aligarh as Vice-Chancellor must ever remain a monument of industry, devotion and selfless work in the cause of education. In 1928, the controversy between the late Sahebzada Aftab Ahmed Khan and Dr Ziauddin Ahmed resulted in the appointment of the Rahmatullah Enquiry Committee.
The members of this Committee recommended far-reaching changes and Sir Shah was in the same year appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University. All the rules and regulations some of which had become absolute were, within a short span of six months, brought into line with modern requirements and in conformity with the recommendations of the Rahmatullah Committee. Only a jurist of his ability could perform this task. His efforts further succeeded in obtaining a lump sum grant of fifteen lakhs rupees from the Government of India in September, 1929.
The members of the teaching staff in his tenure were asked to enter into definite terms of contract till the age of 55.
Their vacations were cut short and they were induced to work for longer hours. Urdu was made an independent subject in B.A. and also the medium of office routine.
Education for women, which had hitherto been advocated to a limited extent, was given a definite scope for expansion. For the first time, degree classes and the Teachers Training College were opened for women in the university under separate pardah arrangements. The sound finances maintained under Sir Shah's vigilant supervision in spite of continued expanding expenditure helped the inception of schemes concerning water works, Agricultural and the Technological Institute and Housing Assessment.
While the buildings of the Aligarh University received an adequate share of his attention, his desire to make Aligarh a centre for higher scientific research had stimulated healthy spirit of competition among the students.
Sir Shah Sulaiman had evidently accepted the vice-chancellorship at a considerable inconvenience to himself. He visited Aligarh at the week-ends without remuneration.
Higher scientific and historical research had been given a fresh impetus which soon took a concrete form. Sir Shah's interests in education are not limited to any particular community.
The inaugural address delivered by him at the Hindustani Academy, Allahabad, and his presidential address at the All India Adult Educational Conference at Delhi deal with problems in a manner which reveals complete impartiality towards any one class of people. He was also President of the Delhi Anglo Arabic College. The mathematical tradition in Sir Shah's family has found prominent expression in his private researches.
Sir Shah pointed out that there is no reason why the velocity of gravitation should be infinite. Starting with a finite velocity, he has shown that the Newtonian equations would require a slight correction on account of the motion of the source.
By the application of the principle of retarded potential to Newton's Laws he deducted an equation which is identical with Einstein's so far as the planets of the solar system are concerned. Accordingly he has obtained the same value for the rotation of the orbit of Mercury as Einstein has done, which the Newtonian theory was wholly unable to account for.
But in the case of a high velocity, like that of light, his equation differs from Einstein's in a small term which, however, causes an appreciable difference.
There appear to be only two astronomical phenomena in which the influence of the Sun's gravitation is exerted on light itself. Confident of the soundness of his theory, Sir Shah boldly predicted before the Solar eclipse of June 19, 1936 that in these two cases the values would be in excess of Einstein's and announced their amounts.
Light rays coming from distant stars, which happen to be just behind the edge of the Sun at the time of a solar eclipse, are attracted by the Sun and therefore slightly bent towards it as compared to their straight paths six months later when the Sun does not intervene between the stars and the Earth. Einstein's value for such bending of light is just double of that under Newton's law. Sir Shah's value is even thirty percent more than Einstein's. Observations made at some previous eclipses have shown an excess over Einstein's value, which in the absence of any other theory was attributed to errors of observation.
The results of the observation made by a Russian observer at the time of the 1936 eclipse supported the theory of Sir Shah. It is also found that lines in a spectrum of light coming from the Sun are shifted slightly towards the red side of the spectrum, when compared with the spectral lines of similar atoms observed in a laboratory.
Sir Shah's theory predicted that the shift of the light from the edge should really be about double of Einstein's value and he published his prediction before the eclipse of 1936. The Government of India financed an expedition, led by Dr T. Royds of Kodikanal, to Japan to observe the total solar eclipse of that year. Dr Royds' observations were announced in July, 1937. It was a remarkable confirmation of Sir Shah's prediction that the extent of the spectral shift of light from the edge of the Sun was actually found to be just double of Einstein's value.
Sir Shah Sulaiman's theory, which is now gradually obtaining recognition even from orthodox quarters, is his singular and outstanding contribution towards the advancement of scientific knowledge.