The Twin Gifts of the Sophisticates
By Ayaz Amir
The Urdu-speaking population which migrated from India at the time of Partition came in two categories: 1) the upper-crust or the elite class which settled in such places as Clifton, Bath Island, PECHS and later Defence; and 2) the somewhat less well-off which settled in Nazimabad, Liaquatabad and later Korangi, etc.
Regardless of class differences, this migrant population as a whole was literate, cultured and gifted – in many ways more sophisticated than the Punjabi farmer, the Sindhi Hari, the Pathan labourer or the Baloch camel driver.
There was no television back then, only newspapers…concentrated in two large centres, Lahore and Karachi. Lahore newspapers were Punjabi dominated; Karachi newspapers, which soon outnumbered any other, were dominated, as to a large extent they still are, by Urdu speakers.
The Punjabi feudal class, very much a part of the ruling elite, was mainly interested in preserving its privileges and its landholdings. As an expression of its conservative if not reactionary political outlook, it was also in favour of joining up with the western camp as cold war warriors. Even if India had not been a security concern, the Punjabi feudal was socially and historically programmed to look towards Washington and London, not Moscow.
This was an ingrained reaction, part of the Punjabi feudal’s psyche. But insofar as the new state started developing a conscious thinking, a set of beliefs and convictions, this process was heavily influenced by the Urdu-speaking elite. Steeped in the ‘tehzeeb’ of Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal and Hyderabad Deccan, Urdu speakers had articulation and eloquence at their command. They also had a certain moral standing in that they could claim to be the progenitors or the vanguard of the Pakistan movement.
Allama Iqbal indeed delivered his Allahabad address, in which the germ of the Pakistan idea can be detected, but the Pakistan movement, the idea of a separate state, really developed in the Urdu-speaking heartland of north, middle and south India.
The holocaust of Partition took place in Punjab, the Muslim setting upon the Sikh and the Hindu, and the Hindu and Sikh setting upon the Muslim. The East Punjabi migrant came with the clothes on his back. But the Urdu-speaking elite of Delhi, Lucknow and the Deccan…they were men of ideas. They brought their distinctive thinking, their good ideas and their prejudices, with them. And it was only natural that these ideas and prejudices would become part of the thinking of the new state.
So from this elite we got the obsession with India, the overriding concern with security, the sense of a land under siege, threatened by conspiracies and enemies. Surrounded on three sides by India and on the fourth by the sea, East Pakistan had greater reason to feel threatened. But here it was the other way round. West Pakistan, or at least its elites, felt threatened by India. The Bengali intelligentsia was more concerned by the economic and political domination of West Pakistan. Both parts of Pakistan thus had their burdens but of a different kind.
So the one gift, from the Urdu-speaking elite, was that distinct brand of thinking later to be known as the ideology of Pakistan. The second gift, but much later, was from the non-elite Urdu-speaking class: the MQM. It is a matter of opinion which is the tougher nut to crack, the ideology of Pakistan or the MQM. As things stand, there is no escaping the one or the other.
Other nations may be in the business of creating wealth and improving the living conditions of their people. In Pakistan we are still stuck with arguments about the meaning of Pakistan – 67 years after the country’s founding. Equally vexed is the status of the MQM. Successive governments, successive military commands, have tried to tame it, or at least defang it…its fangs known to be pretty sharp. The effort has failed although for the first time we may be getting the sense that it is getting somewhere.
I forget. Two other gifts from the same wellspring are also worthy of mention: 1) the Urdu TV drama which has its diehard votaries but which, all in all, is perhaps a mixed blessing because watching it you get the feeling that the marriage gone wrong, or the marriage encountering the mother-in-law problem, is Pakistan’s foremost problem, perhaps even graver than its relationship with India; and 2) the Jamaat-e-Islami, Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi being also a migrant from India. If he had not chosen to come and if he had done his preaching there, to India’s lasting benefit no doubt, wouldn’t some things have been different in Pakistan?
Punjabis by weight of numbers and other things dominate the Pakistan left by the departure of East Pakistan. Punjabis are a gifted race, no doubt, but also bull-headed in many ways. They were the slowest to wake up to the implications of Partition. It should have been obvious that if the call for Pakistan reached the point of no return a line would be drawn through the heart of Punjab. But Punjab lay totally unprepared. So when Partition came it hit it like a tidal wave, sweeping all before it.
Still, it goes to the credit of the Punjabi – both the one who was here and the one who came from across the border – that the process of assimilation was so successful, this constituting one of the success stories of Pakistan.
Somewhat less successful has been the saga of ideology. Punjab played second fiddle in the drama by the name of the ideology of Pakistan. It did not invent it or write its script. But through a process of transference the bell or talli of this ideology now hangs around its neck, and so where the Punjabi bullock plods this bell rings.
I hasten to add that this is not so at the mass level. The ordinary Punjabi couldn’t care less if the school of ideology went out of business tomorrow. But when it comes to claptrap and ideology – whether neo-conservatism in the United States, Hindu revivalism in India, or born-again Islam in Pakistan – a professional class of thekedars or contractors comes into being…and long after the rest of the world has moved on these contractors keep on ploughing their angry furrows.
The funny thing is that some of the best and brightest in the Urdu-speaking community have moved to greener pastures in the Gulf, Canada and the United States. But the insecurities and anxieties which marked the intellectual life of their community have become the thinking of the Pakistani establishment.
Pakistan as a fortress of Islam…this is the highest expression, the distilled essence, of the ideology of Pakistan. As a sign of the growing maturity of the Pakistani mind, mercifully it is heard less and less. Those mouthing it even look slightly embarrassed at times…which of course is another healthy sign.
But the MQM remains, a bone difficult to throw out and difficult to swallow. But for the first time the agencies concerned are opting for the indirect approach, taking on the MQM not frontally but from the flanks, and employing the principles of psychological warfare, applying pressure drip by drip. This is putting the MQM on the defensive.
Tailpiece: Although the agencies could still be slightly more intelligent with what they are doing. For instance, since when did condemned prisoners start recording video messages from their death cells? And since when did dons or political leaders start ordering assassinations on open telephone lines, that too from London? The whole Saulat Mirza expose sounds pretty amateurish. Surely the agencies, with their long experience, can do much better. - The News