The Left in Pakistan - 2
By S. Akhtar Ehtisham
Bath , NY
Capitalists, imperialists had hitherto cherished the same hope as the Soviet communists did. They wanted fascists and communists to annihilate each other.
With the prospect of the imminent collapse of the Soviet regime leaving Hitler free to concentrate on and overwhelm the allies in Europe and monopolizing resources of the colonies, they rushed in massive amounts of arms, ammunition, logistic and financial support to the beleaguered country.
Communists of India were in an ideological quandary. They were faith-bound to support Soviet Union. They had to find a face-saving formula to find some merit in hitherto despised class enemies, the imperialists/capitalists. They fell back on Marxist doctrine. Capitalism was a necessary precursor of socialism, an essential step to achieving a classless society.
The colonists had asked for Indian National Congress (INC) support in the war effort. As a price of its support INC, in its turn, had demanded an unequivocal declaration from the British Government of intent to grant independence to India after hostilities were over. They also wanted control over the department of defense in the government of India. The British were not willing to make a firm commitment, neither were they prepared to countenance an Indian directing the activities of the British commander-in-chief in India.
INC ministries resigned in a huff, and Gandhi gave a call for Quit India movement.
Congress Party of India (CPI) had to take an extremely unpopular stand of supporting the colonial masters, against the tide of overwhelming public sentiment. They had to rechristen, what had the day before been an imperialist/capitalist war, as peoples war. Communist stalwarts and staunch fellow travelers willingly accepted army commissions. Only the initiated can appreciate it, but Faiz must have looked a sight in a military uniform. He was the leading leftist-revolutionary poet of Urdu. He taught English in a college and was to be the Chief Editor of the leading publishing house of the country, Progressive Newspapers of Pakistan and a recipient of Lenin Peace Prize. He was, as is the wont of academics, bohemian in his habits and did not quite fit the image of an officer in a spit and polish army. He joined All India Radio and was given the rank of Captain. (He eventually rose to the rank of Lt Colonel.)
But the CPI had to pay a heavy price for supporting the colonial masters. They were accused of supporting anti-national interests, of being traitors to the cause and were effectively marginalized by the INC.
In any event, the conspiracy was such an amateurish affair; more akin to a school prank than a serious attempt to wrest power from an entrenched regime. Key members in their cups - apparently there is no conflict in being a Jihadi and drinking good whisky- 9/11 highjackers also used to temper their zeal with alcohol- confided detailed plans to fellow officers, many of whom were in the intelligence wing of the Army.
The conspirators were apprehended. PM Liaquat made a great speech on Pakistan Radio, castigating ideological foes of the nation, pledging his life to integrity of the country and complimenting security services for the good job they had done.
He was able to get the nation to close ranks, at least for the time being.
It was widely believed that he was going to use his enhanced standing to get the better of his detractors in the ruling party. His earlier declination to visit the Soviet Union appeared to have been vindicated. He implied as much in his denunciation of the plotters. An empowered Liaquat had become an existential threat to the landowners. They killed him.
Sajjad Zaheer, the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), after a prolonged incarceration in jail, was sent to India. Hasan Nasir was released reportedly at the intervention of Pundit Nehru. His mother took him to Switzerland. Faiz wrote some of his best poetry in Hyderabad jail.
As an interim measure, the establishment persuaded Khwaja Nazimuddin to step down from the office of Governor General to that of PM and appointed Ghulam Muhammad, a bureaucrat, to the GG’s office.
Ghulam Muhammad orchestrated the first ‘Musical Chairs’ sacking Nazimuddin, appointing Muhammad Ali a virtual nobody in the context of PM office, then dissolving the Constituent Assembly and so on.
Ghulam Muhammad died. He had been nom-compos for a long time. He was reportedly suffering from G.P.I.* He had to be kept in the office, Mafia Don style, so the power brokers could take any decisions in his name without falling out among themselves, till his last breath. But now the man was dead.
The Quad was a bit uncertain that they could replace him with one of their own who would maintain the collegiality of power distribution.They could not put his mortal remains on the throne Pharaoh style, and continue ruling in his name. In the event they managed to replace him with a past master of the art of divide and rule, Iskander Mirza. He had been trained by colonial bureaucrats themselves and had served as a political officer in tribal areas. He had military background too.
Mirza manipulated members of the new national assembly like puppets on a string. He managed to entice Suharwardy and many others with lure of office and power. A new political grouping was concocted. Even Dr Khan Sahib, an icon of Pushtun nationalism and secular politics, who had been the pro-INC Chief Minister of the Frontier province in 1947, joined the new group, christened Republican Party.
All the cards, feudal establishment, bureaucratic cadres, the armed forces and the mullahs, were stacked against East Pakistan. Despairing of the hope of ever attaining their rightful goal of commanding majority of seats in the central assembly proportionate to their population, East Pakistan leaders capitulated and agreed to parity between the two wings. Suharawardy though walked out of the assembly, but he commanded the votes of his party alone, numbering twelve out of a total of eighty.
Bengalis perhaps consoled themselves with the hope that after general elections under a duly passed constitution, they would get access to, at least, half the resources of the country. They had, hitherto, been doled out less than a third of investment and expenditure even though the wing had earned more than half of the country’s income through export of jute.
It was decided that all the provinces of the Western wing be merged into one unit and given parity with the Eastern wing. The pretext was that neither of the two wings would be able to dominate over the other. Members of the smaller provinces were forced to vote in favor of the unholy union, some literally at gunpoint. One recalcitrant member Ghulam Ali Talpur, scion of an ancient house of rulers of Sindh, was abducted, put on a camel’s back and left to fend for himself under scorching sun in the middle of the desert in his own domain. He was an old man, and barely survived the ordeal.
*General Paralysis Of the Insane, the terminal stage of syphilis, which is a venereal disease. Prior to the invention of Penicillin, the affliction inevitably ended up as GPI. Its effects are manifold, too technical to discuss, but they include loss of coherent speech, though mentation is not much affected. I am again indebted to Shahab for the following story but I have a suspicion this one might be anecdotal. On an independence day Ghulam Muhammad decided that he was going to address the nation live on the Radio. He could not enunciate a word clearly. They had hitherto got away with some one reading the speech on the man’s behalf. Bokhari, the Radio Pakistan supremo, hit upon a plan. He would record the man’s speech and play it to him. That would finally convince him that none other than his keepers understood him. When the recording was played back to him, the man lost it completely, threw a shoe at Bokhari and screamed. The keepers told Bokhari that the big man wanted the latter to be sacked instantly. If he could not even record the speech of the Head of the State, what good was he?