President: 1847-1902 (Calcutta, 1896)
Rahimtulla M. Sayani was born in Kutch on April 5, 1847. He belonged to a Khoja Muslim family which subsequently repudiated the discipleship of the Aga Khan. Born in humble circumstances, Sayani achieved public eminence and professional excellence in the field of law by hard work and perseverance.
He began his public life as an elected member of the Bombay Municipal Corporation (1876) and was elected President of the Corporation in 1888 and the Sheriff of Bombay in 1885.
Sayani served a long spell as a legislator. He was elected to the Bombay Legislative Council (1880 - 90 and 1894 - 96) and the Imperial Legislative Council (1896 - 98). He was appointed by the Government in 1874 as a member of the Commission to consider the laws of interstate and testamentary succession in the Khoja community.
He was associated with the Indian National Congress since its inception and was one of the two Indian Muslims who attended its first session in 1885. He was a member of the committee formed by the Congress in 1886 to consider the question of Public Services.
He was one of the representatives from Bombay on the Congress Executive Committee (Indian Congress Committee) formed in 1899. He presided over the 12th annual session of the Congress held at Calcutta in 1896. His presidential address hailed by a contemporary journal as the "best delivered so far" was notable for the close attention it paid to the economic and financial aspects of the British rule in India.
Sayani urged the Muslims to join the Congress which he regarded as representing "all that is loyal and patriotic, enlightened and influential, progressive and disinterested." Enumerating Muslims' objections to joining the Congress, he refuted them point by point. An advocate of Western education, Sayani considered it particularly essential for the Muslim.
“That we should endeavour to promote personal intimacy and friendship amongst all the great communities of India, to develop and consolidate sentiments of national growth and unity, to weld them together into one nationality, to effect a moral union amongst them, to remove the taunt that we are not a nation, but only a congeries of races and creeds which have no cohesion in them and to bring about stronger and stronger friendly ties of common nationality.”
From the Presidential Address – Rahimtulla M. Sayani I.N.C. Session, 1896, Calcutta.