Reminiscing Moulana Bhashani, his Political Legacies and Missed Opportunities in Pakistan

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Moulana Bhashani with Mr. Syed Muhammad Kaswar Gardezi, author’s father and General Secretary of the (erstwhile) West Pakistan branch of Moulana’s National Awami Party (NAP)

 

by Zahid Hussain Gardezi        24 January 2022

Moulana Bhashani, a progressive political leader of the Pre-partition India who hailed from former East Pakistan and what is now Bangladesh, spent his entire political life fighting for the cause of the downtrodden and against the injustices they suffered.

My introduction to the Moulana

My father Mr. Syed Muhammad Kaswar Gardezi was the General Secretary of Moulana’s West Pakistan wing of the  NAP. I in my younger days thus had ample opportunities to be with Moulana Bhashani as every time he woud visit (west) Pakistan on political tours he stayed at our house.

In this short piece, I would like to reminisce some salient aspects of Moulana Bhashani’s politics and reflect on the relevance of these in today’s Pakistan.

Moulana Bhashani and the National Awami Party

Immediately after the establishment of the Pakistan as an independent state in 1947, Moulana Abdul Hamid Khan Bhashani became a common household name in the then two wings of Pakistan including the West Pakistan .His strong and vocal stand against feudalism and against capitalism, the dominant social and economic systems which were supported by the Pakistan’s ruling military/bureaucratic/feudal ruling aristocracy, touched the hearts of the masses.

Moulana and the down-trodden

 In 1947, after partition of the Indian the Sub-continent into Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan Moulana Bhashani re-commenced his political career in the newly independent united Pakistan, as the founding President of the newly established Pakistan Awami Muslim League (PAML) which he and some of his progressive minded colleagues formed in 1949. However, in 1957, soon after the establishment of the PAML, sharp differences between the Moulana and his left leaning members and the right leaning leaders and their followers resulted in the break-up of the PAM and Moulana and his colleagues formed  the National Awami Party (NAP) with the Moulana as its head. Several progressive political groups in the then West Pakistan also joined Moulana’s new party, the NAP.

The National Awami Party soon became a party of the masses as under Moulana’s leadership the Party consistently raised their awareness among the masses the role of social and economic inequality impeded advancement of the poor and the deprived people of newly independent Pakistan of breaking the shackles of poverty and move forward. As a result, within a very short period of time, NAP established a stronghold among the working class, trade unions, lower-middle class and progressive intellectuals throughout Pakistan.

NAP’s manifesto was inspired by Karl Marx’s famous observation, “human consciousness does not determine man’s social life but social life determines his consciousness” (Marx’s 1859 work A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy). Thus, for NAP, the aim and the struggle of the people of Pakistan is to build a new free, prosperous and democratic society in which not only political oppression, but also economic exploitation and cultural backwardness will end.

The NAP under Bhashani launched a programme of social change in two stages and its programme of change, titled “Humaree Tehreek” was drafted by my father, Syed Muhammad Kaswar Gardezi who was the General Secretary of West Pakistan NAP and a Member of the NAP Central Working Committee.

By mobilising and voicing the aspirations of a large majority of the lower and middle class and progressive minded intellectuals in the whole of Pakistan, NAP also emerged as the major opposition party to Pakistani military regimes for much of the late 1950s and the 1960s.

Peoples’ Democracy’/’Peoples’ Democratic Economy’

 “Humaree Tehreek” envisaged changes at two stages – the first stage would be ‘people’s democratic’ change; and the second would be the construction and completion of socialism.

‘People’s democracy’ would not be an old-fashioned capitalist or bourgeois democracy. The capitalist or bourgeois democracy is the superstructure of the capitalist economy that promotes and sustains inequities, structurally. People’s democracy’ would be a new style of democracy where people would included into and empowered to participate directly into the decision-making processes of the nation

Similarly, ‘People’s democratic economy’ would be based on giving priority to basic industries such as steel and iron, to be set up by the government itself.

The government of people’s democracy would not confiscate private capital but would allow it to grow and flourish. However, the government would control their profits. In other words, markets would not be removed; instead, market would be controlled or guided for the upliftment of the masses.

Bhashani followers and think-tank also acknowledged that ‘People’s democracy’ cannot be established in newly independent countries through capitalist economy, and that the capitalist class cannot lead the democratic movement against imperialism and therefore, the first task of the NAP was to get rid of the imperialist influence in Pakistan and struggle for the abolition of the feudal agricultural system especially in the then West Pakistan. The then East Pakistan abolished Zamindari (feudal) system in 1954.

Moulana Bhashani appalled by and acquainted the people of Pakistan of the grave injustices suffered by them in the hands of the ruling elite after thousands of families who were martyred before crossing the line of divide between India and Pakistan, chanting “Pakistan Ka Mutlab Kia. La illaha illillah” (What is the motto of Pakistan, there is no god but Allah).

The NAP under the leadership of Moulana Bhashani strengthened the resolve to help those impoverished who had lost their loved ones and homes, and had been deprived of livelihoods, and human dignity.

Betrayal by the feudal leadership

Pakistan was facing hardships to resettle a huge influx of refugees following the “Great Divide” that partitioned the Indian Subcontinent. But the betrayal of the Pakistan’s feudal leadership began from day one. The rush to encroach land and property left behind by Hindus and Sikhs crossing over to India and to gain power was the order of the day as the Father of the Nation died within a year of independence. The forces of vested interest in Pakistan lined up at the behest of their colonial masters, to create a mind-set which prevails till this day.

Thanks to the right-wing machinations of the ruling party, soon, the independent sovereign Pakistan became a satellite of imperial powers by joining the US initiated Baghdad Pact or the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) and South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) which compromised Pakistan’s non-aligned status and aligned the country with the Western imperialists. It has been alleged that the entire process was facilitated by the elite class and the civil, military bureaucracy to fulfil their narrow self-interests.

As the decision to join CENTO and SEATO was taken by the Awami League (AL) Government, led by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, reneging the AL’s manifesto. Moulana Bhashani, the co-founder and founding President of the AL did not hesitate to oppose the decision and break away to form the NAP.

The true patriots of Pakistan battled under the leadership of a person dubbed as “Surkha Moulana” (Red Moulana) who frequently raised the battle cry of “Gherao and Jalao” (encircle and burn) the moment he landed in West Pakistan for his political tours.

Moulana Bhashani became a threat to the military establishment, civil bureaucracy, and the feudal and exploitative industrialist complex. The bearded Moulana who embarked on establishing anti-imperialist, non-communal and pro-people progressive politics was frequently labelled by his adversaries and the agents of the ruling class a Chinese agent and a communist Moulana and so were his party leaders

A simple “dhotee kurta”(traditional loose garment of an ordinary male) clad Moulana wore ordinary slippers in his feet and donned a straw hat on his head, an image that lingers till today as the symbol of mouthpiece of the downtrodden.

Regardless of whether he mingled among his people in his village or visiting towns or be in a foreign countries, Moulana never wore anything but his familiar “dhoti kurta”, the dress of the peasants and commoners which he continued to maintain till his death in November 1976.

Moulana was a gallant and dedicated champion for the cause of the underprivileged. His party had an unblemished and impeccable record of relentless struggle for the oppressed and the deprived and had a practical mandate for the peasantry and working class as the NAP’s manifesto.

The Persecution

In time, the NAP became a truly representative opposition party in Pakistan which had gained a strong support among the workers, peasants and middle class of the country and was dreaded by the aristocracy, the feudal capitalist clique and vested interest groups.

As a result, ruthless oppression was launched against the members of the NAP in all the provinces, hounding the Baloch leadership, imprisoning the Sindhi and the Pakhtun activists. To make an example for the others in the feudal Punjab. the harshest repression was perpetuated against the “rebels within their class.”  For example, my father Syed Muhammad Kaswar Gardezi, a notable feudal lord and businessman, who had forsaken his class status and joined Moulana Bhashani, was treated extremely harshly, both physically and materially but the regime did not succeed in forcing him to abort his political beliefs and the cause he fought for – he never abandoned his mission nor his colleagues till the end of his life.

Earlier when Field Marshal Ayub Khan abrogated the constitution to prevent elections of left leaning parties led by Bhashani, the entire business of Kaswar Gardezi was raged to ground and he along with others was held captive in the Lahore Fort terror dungeons.

The 1964 Election and Moulana’s Choice of Ms. Fatema Jinnah, as the Opposition Candidate

When political activities resumed before the 1964 elections, the opposition parties formed a united front, Combined Opposition Party (COP) for restoring democracy in Pakistan.

Nawab Kalabagh Amir Muhammad Khan, the Governor of West Pakistan, a man from the feudal class knew how to forcefully enlist the support of his ilk to Ayub Khan’s cause. He entrusted local deputy commissioners and police chiefs to assemble pro-Ayub Khan votes against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah when Moulana Bhashani had rallied support for the Sister of Quaid against the military dictator. The feudal leadership of Sindh and Punjab succumbed to pressure tactics, but Moulana Bhashan’s colleagues in South Punjab stood firm and suffered.

Moulana Bhashai proposed the name of Fatima Jinnah and announced that the NAP would not agree on any other person for the opposition presidential candidate.  Although many favoured Lt. General Azam Khan, a popular figure, particularly in East Pakistan, due to his pro-people stance as Governor of that province, as the Presidential candidate against Ayub Khan, the United front parties eventually agreed on the candidature of Fatima Jinnah and worked tirelessly in her favour.

During the electoral clash between Mohtarma Fatima and Ayub Khan, the NAP became a popular party in West Pakistan, the media predicted a clear win for Miss Jinnah against the Military dictator. However, the elections being indirect, they were safely manipulated and engineered from behind the scenes, and as a result, Ms. Jinnah was “defeated.” During this time, false propaganda of sell-out was discreetly raised against the Moulana and his compatriots.

Moulana, dubbed a “Traitor”

Finally, a strategy was implemented by a deceitful feudal class leadership that dubbed Moulana Bashani and his party as traitor and anti-Pakistan and mounted actions to get rid of progressive politics pursued by the NAP under Moulana Bhashani and his political vision of Islamic Socialism.

Meanwhile a new political party, the Pakistan People’s Party, was formed presenting itself as the true progressive, and thereby splitting the genuine struggle for the emancipation of the people of Pakistan – a mission that was truthfully spearheaded by the Moulana and his followers in Pakistan since its inception.

My father, Syed Kaswar Gardezi, was detained with others under the so-called “Hyderabad Conspiracy Case” during the regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and NAP was banned for a fabricated London Plan. The establishment in Pakistan and its bandwagon of capitalists and feudal lords with the mindset of “Born to Rule” created hatred, projecting themselves as saviours of country’s sovereignty which was finally dismembered.

The establishment, wealthy capitalists and feudal lords joined hands to become more and more hostile towards the progressive followers of the NAP under Bhashani which had promoted trade unions, such as the Postal Worker Union, Tonga Association, Mazdoor Insaaf Union; and almost every sector became a hot spot of activist workers. The peasantry was not neglected and an exclusive Kissan Committee (Red turbaned) peasants became the trade mark of the struggle to demand land for the landless. The epic of this Kissan Committee activities ensued a mammoth Toba Tek Singh Kissan Conference where Moulana Bhashani agitated the large crowd from all over Pakistan and stated in his historic speech that the Government, representing big capitalists, wealthy and feudal lords, was becoming more and more callous about the plight of the peasants.

The relevance of the Moulana in today’s Pakistan

Pakistan as a whole and more particularly, its poor face many challenges – as per the World Bank estimate poverty in Pakistan stands at 39.3% and risen by about 5% since 2020.

Inflation is now running high pushing common people more and more to poverty and in permanent destitution. So far, no concrete action directed to poverty alleviation has been taken and to say that the Government somewhat indifferent to the issues of poverty and factors that contribute to miseries – the institutional issues – would not be an exaggeration.

Government policies are perpetuating the dominance of the military-bureaucracy complex, the dependence on the US, regional imbalances, and over-centralisation. The people of Pakistan are agitating and are preparing for a protracted struggle for their rights. To achieve this with determination and hope, there is a need for a strong and good leadership to give the people strength and true direction. However, sadly this is lacking in our national political landscape.

The need for a people-centric change

In Pakistan, 63.0% of the population live in rural areas, only 37% live in semi-urban to urban areas consisting of shopkeepers, traders, government employees and labourers. The top 10% of the population of Pakistan earn 27.6% and the bottom 10% earn only 4.1% of the income in Pakistan.

Therefore, a people-centric change is of prime importance for our country.  The principal focus of this mass revolution is the problem of the peasants and the working class. The curse of feudalism has created a serious and disturbing situation in the lives of the peasantry. About 70% of the farmers are either poor or deprived of land; about 27% of the farmers belong to the middle class and the remaining about 3% belong to the elite.

Due to the failure of the government’s agricultural policy, the country is facing a serious food crisis. The agricultural scheme in the country is a disgrace; yet the government has raised dubious slogans of “grow more grain”, with better fertilizer and better seed. Such policies can only help the multinational companies producing fertilizers and seeds. This is like “cutting the root of the tree and watering its head”. The peasants who do not own the land do not also own the plough and hence cannot follow government dictates. No matter how hard the government tries, the food shortage in the country is increasing day by day and today large quantities are being imported.

Our country, which receives foreign aid, is being handed back to the US imperialism through the PL480 project, the first-rate weapon for plunder.  Imperialism and capitalism are sitting on comfortable grounds and robbing the poor peasants of Pakistan. The US government is today facing financial difficulties due to the rising cost of invasions and wars. American imperialism wants to solve its financial problems by placing the bomb-shell on the shoulders of other countries. The Pakistan military dictatorship has offered its shoulders and to achieve this goal, the US has devalued the currencies of many countries, including the Pakistan rupee.

The people of the country in general and the farmers and the peasants in particular are deprived of getting true value of their produce. Therefore, it is necessary to address the national issues in the agricultural sector. People’s revolution for an Awami Raj (People’s Republic) and the solution of national problems depend on the solution of agricultural issues. It has become necessary to get rid of the owners of loot completely. This can be done with a programme that includes:

  • Land to peasant farmers and tillers
  • Abolition of tax on agricultural produce
  • Fair prices for agricultural produce
  • Affordable prices for industrial products

Pakistan exports agricultural produces and imports necessities and value-added agriculture produces. We are very weak economically and politically and our development is tied to foreign aid and loans from the imperialist West and we are unable to oppose American imperialism. The USA is an enemy of peace, freedom, democracy and development and is the most cruel and oppressive imperialism in the world.

The struggle for the establishment of a people’s government in Pakistan is a struggle for liberation from imperialism and the complete abolition of feudalism and this struggle can only take place in the form of a united front. The united front will consist of workers, peasants, intellectuals, middle class, petty capitalists and national industrialists who are against the feudal agricultural system, and imperialist exploitation. The second prerequisite for the success of this struggle is the working-class leadership, because it is this class that can carry on this struggle with perseverance to the end. The third essential condition for the success of this struggle is that the peasant farmers should be conscious and organised because they are the driving force of this struggle. Making them aware and organising them is a long and arduous task; but the struggle can never succeed without awakening them.

There are only two options for democrats – either silent support for imperialists or to join the anti-imperialist power and play their historic role in the development and promotion of true people’s democracy. We have to choose one as there is no third option towards the construction of a people’s democratic republic for socio-economic development of the masses.

The experience of history has shown that a social revolution is impossible without a cultural revolution; so, it is the duty of our intellectuals and political activists to expose the tyranny and oppression of imperialism; clarify the real nature of the US imperialist and its aid which is never without strings.  Political freedom is impossible without economic freedom. There are countless examples of the US imperialism interfering in Pakistan’s politics through USAID. For example, in 1963, when there was a strong united front against US aid to Pakistan, the US ambassador to Pakistan went to East Pakistan and announced that the US was ready to provide all kinds of aid only to East Pakistan to create a division between the people of the two wings of Pakistan.

The Kashmir issue was created by the British imperialist during the partition of the subcontinent so that it could continue to hatch conspiracies in the region and advance its imperialist interests. At the time of the annexation of Kashmir to India, the agreed position was that Kashmir’s status would be decided after an independent referendum of the Kashmiri people. In 1949, the United Nations recognised the Kashmiri people’s right to self-determination; but at the instigation of the imperialists, the Indian leadership always postponed the referendum. During the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war, the global western media and radio kept giving the impression to the world that the Pakistani forces were losing; but when they saw with their own eyes that the Pakistani forces had turned the tide with the help of the people and the open aid of China and Indonesia, they immediately passed a ceasefire resolution so that the Indian army could avoid further destruction.

The Pakistani people are very grateful to China for its courage and support in this difficult time in the region. Needless to say that Moulana Bhashani laid the foundation of the Pak-Sino relationship and thus, he remains alive forever in the hearts and minds of common Pakistanis.

At present, the reign of the government is in the hands of the industrial capitalists, merchants, feudal lords and bureaucrats. Civil liberties are lacking, and the freedom of speech and writing is not permitted.

NAP in Pakistan must revive the vision of its founder, Moulana Bhashani and re-invent its solidarity with the oppressed and fight for their economic, political and social emancipation.

We have already formed a united front with the political parties involved in the movement for people’s democracy. It is the duty of a patriotic political party to struggle for full economic and political freedom of the people of the country; it is also necessary to think of a way to educate people and enable them to be completely free from mental slavery.

Parting thoughts – the Moulana, the Bridge!

The treason to disown people’s verdict generated a political crisis which resulted in the loss of our Bengali brothers, the erstwhile East Pakistanis. A loss that us ordinary Pakistanis still have not quite come to terms with. Our hearts beat together for the sufferings of the downtrodden of Bangladesh and those of Pakistan are the same and therefore, regardless of where we are and how we are situated politically, we believe that humanity will continue to rise and be inspired by and pay homage to Moulana Bashani especially by those who sacrificed their lives and continue to do so, for a just society.

Moulana Bhashani is the only political leader who continues to be remembered and revered by the struggling people of both Pakistan and Bangladesh – the Moulana, a bridge between the common people of these two countries remains an inspiration for the oppressed and a threat to oppressors, the ruling elites even today!

This paper was presented at the Webinar series, organized for the commemoration of 58th Anniversary of Moulana Bhashani’s historic visit to China in 1957, by the Bhashani Parishod, Sydney, Australia.