The Left in Pakistan - 3
By Dr. S. Akhtar Ehtisham
Prime ministers continued to come and go at the whim of the Governor General. Only the year-long tenure of Suhrawardy gave a feeling of belonging to the people of East Pakistan.
The assembly was, however, able to pass a constitution in 1956. Pakistan was to be an Islamic Republic with a parliamentary form of government. Iskander Mirza was elected the first President of the country.
The left had by then recovered, though not completely, from the after effects of the Pindi Conspiracy.
Hasan Nasir focused on the task of reorganizing and restructuring the Communist Party of Pakistan and as a first step, he gave autonomy to the East Pakistan wing of the party. Many party leaders had made a deal with the government. Hasan Nasir set about removing them from the party (one had been a member of the organizing committee in 1947) and promoted Sher Afzal Malik to the office of in-charge of the student front. The henchmen of the party bosses, not all collaborators, resented the appointment. Most left the party or became inactive. But they never forgot.
Now the stage was set for the first general elections, based on adult franchise. All political parties started campaigning in earnest. Qayyum Khan, a veteran ML leader, led a procession tens of miles long. It consisted of trucks, carts pulled by donkeys and bulls, tractors, buses, cars, bicycles, motorcycles, any mode of transport one can imagine, except tanks and armored vehicles. Scores of thousands of men and women trudged on foot cadging a ride on any vehicle when they could walk no more. It was a carnival making its serpentine way from one end of West Pakistan to nearly the other.
People were euphoric. At last the dark night of illegitimate governance will be over. They would be able to stand tall in the international community. They will be able to face up to their rivals from birth – India - which had had a democratic dispensation all along. The press was rejuvenated. All shades of opinion from radical left to fanatic right had their unfettered say. Suharwardy, Bhashani and Fazal-ul- Haque addressed mammoth crowds in East Pakistan.
Suharwardy would command a following in smaller provinces as well. They would use him as a counter weight to the Punjab. He was accepted in the Punjabi heartland too. That was the core of the support for the Evil Quad.
This was perhaps what frightened them the most. If they lost Punjab to an East Pakistani leader they were well and truly lost. They had nearly lost it to another outsider -Liaquat. Religious parties were conspicuous by the lack of support they could command and would not be of much help. The army was still unsure of its credibility in political domain.
Maulana Bhashani, also known as the “red” mullah because of his radical views, combined in his person a peasant leader, a practicing “pir” with a huge following and a populist politician. In the referendum held in the area in 1947, he was responsible, single-handedly, for getting the Sylhet region of the province of Assam to vote for Pakistan. He had been one of the main pillars of Awami League launched by Suhrawardy, but had broken away and formed his own much more radical “ National Awami Party”. He had co-opted the progressive elements in the western wing.
Support of the party was concentrated in the NWFP, Baluchistan, Sind and urban areas of the Punjab. The redoubtable Hasan Nasir, Secretary General of Communist Party, was in charge of the central office. He provided intellectual and administrative gravitas of the party and wielded far greater influence than his title of office secretary would suggest. He actually kept the disparate elements in the party - feudal land owners, leftists, communists, socialists, liberals, Baluch and Pushtun nationalists, rebels, national bourgeoisie, tribal chiefs, students, peasant leaders, trade unionists - together, exhorting them that the first goal was to defeat the Quad. Bhashani was thus a considerable player on the national scene.
Moulvi Fazlul Haque was a populist par excellence and a cleric/attorney as well. He came from a mid-level land owner family and had the largest following in Bengal until he was overwhelmed by Jinnah. He had also served as Chief Minister in the province and in the central cabinet of Pakistan as well. He could sway the crowds like few others. He had great personal charm and an uncanny sense of theatrics.
I had had an opportunity to observe the rising ferment in Quetta, a Baluchi-Pushtun town. Public meeting were well ordered and generally free of strife. Public listened to all leaders, and attended all the meetings with exuberant enthusiasm. They cheered the speakers when they made a good point and were duly respectful to men of national stature. Rowdy behavior was rare. They jumped on agents provocateurs, and the latter were numerous and well financed, if there was the slightest sign of disruption. The size of the crowd was a good gauge of the speaker’s popularity. Illiterate Third World country masses, routinely derided in the West, analyzed economic, welfare and development issues intelligently.
They were, by and large, well informed. I may be biased, but I have found an average denizen of South Asia much better informed than his North American counterpart. Only Europeans could match them in the knowledge of current affairs.
Holy cows like religion and Kashmir were freely argued over. The inordinate amount of funds spent on maintaining a disproportionately huge, some said parasitical, armed forces establishment at the cost of health, education, creation of jobs and public welfare were freely discussed.
The power brokers could, however, not countenance the possibility of losing even a tiny measure of control. They set about creating chaos as a pretext to unconstitutional takeover, much as they had successfully attempted it as a prelude to Khwaja Nazim’s dismissal (the mullahs had orchestrated anti-Qadiani riots at the instigation of the then Punjab Chief Minister, who was in cahoots with the GG in the campaign to destabilize the Nazimuddin government). Professional job seekers masquerading as politicians played in their hands. Police informers, gangsters, smugglers, petty thieves, and all the anti-social elements financed by the Quad at public expense, got into the act. Mullahs played the most infamous role with a vengeance. Islam was in danger. Bhashani, Suhrawardy, Ghaffar Khan and others were secular. They will subvert the very basis of Pakistan, which was “La Ilaha Illal Lah”; there is no God but God. Bureaucrats used their power, authority and patronage unscrupulously to disrupt public life. Feudal landowners used their considerable muscle.
It was an old game for the relics of the Raj. They had honed their anti-national skills at the feet of the masters in the colonial days. Law and order situation in many places was messed up by design. Frequent fistfights in assemblies were staged. The deputy speaker of East Pakistan assembly was killed when he got in the way of a chair thrown at a member of the assembly.
It was an exciting time.