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People Aur Politics

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Smokers’ Corner: Exit stage left-NADEEM F. PARACHA

Posted by admin On January - 17 - 2016


Photo by the writer
While going through some of the literary fragments left behind by my father (after he passed away in 2009), I stumbled upon two books.

The books were both authored by Sheikh Mohammad Rashid, one of the founding members of the PPP.

After reading through them, I realised how conveniently Rashid had been forgotten.

The books were in Urdu and published between 1969 and 1980. Islam Ka Muashi Nizam Aur Tehreek-i-Pakistan (Economics in Islam and the Pakistan Movement) is largely Rashid’s take on the PPP’s ‘Islamic Socialism’ — an idea originally concocted by intellectual, Hanif Ramay, who weaved socialist doctrines and mid-20th century fusions such as Ba’ath Socialism together with the populist South Asian strands of Islam practiced by the majority of Pakistanis.

In the second book, Juhd-i-Musalsal (Continuous Struggle) Rashid elaborates his own struggle to turn Pakistan into a truly socialist entity.

Has the man who symbolised the socialist conscience of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto been forgotten?
The PPP was launched in late 1967. By the time the 1970 election approached, three strands emerged from within the party.

The radical left component of the PPP was headed by Marxist ideologue, J.A. Rahim; socialist, Mubashir Hassan; the fiery former student leader, Miraj Mohammad Khan; and the veteran trade unionist, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid.

The centrist ‘moderate-left’ lobby was headed by intellectual and author, Hanif Ramay’s ‘Islamic Socialism’ group.

The ‘moderate right’ lobby was dominated by ‘progressive’ elements from the landed classes and white-collar professionals, such as Mustafa Khar, Hafeez Peerzada, etc.

This lobby also included some influential spiritual leaders (Pirs) and ‘progressive’ Islamic scholars, such as Maulana Kausar Niazi.

Rashid was already a political veteran and activist when he became one of the founding members of the PPP.

As a young man, he had been a member of Jinnah’s All India Muslim League (AIML) and was close to the League’s ‘left faction’ that was headed by pro-Jinnah socialists such as Mian Iftikharuddin.

After the creation of Pakistan, Rashid quit the League, accusing its post-Jinnah leadership of coming under the influence of feudal lords.

With Mian Iftikharuddin, he formed the left-wing Azad Pakistan Party. However, he quit this party as well because he believed its manifesto didn’t go far enough to demand radical land reforms. In 1954, he formed a peasants’ front in the Punjab called the Kissan Morcha.

Morcha campaigners often occupied lands owned by powerful landlords in the Punjab and demanded that the lands be distributed among the peasants. In the early 1960s he quit the Morcha, and joined the time’s largest left-wing group, the National Awami Party (NAP).

But Rashid’s stay in NAP too was turbulent. Noting that the party’s top leadership (mostly made up of senior Pashtun, Sindhi and Baloch nationalists) had inherent links with middle-level landed elites of former NWFP, and with tribal sardars in Balochistan, Rashid concluded that the party would not be able to fully implement its socialist programme.

Rashid was close to the Punjabi and Urdu-speaking communists to the Maoist faction of NAP that was being led by the Bengali firebrand, Maulana Bhashani.

In 1967, the year NAP split into two factions (one pro-Soviet and the other pro-China), Rashid was contacted by J.A. Rahim. Rahim urged him to join the PPP which he was about to launch with the charismatic, Z.A. Bhutto.

Rashid thus became a founding member of a left-leaning populist party that would go on to become one of the country’s largest political entities till its eventual electoral collapse 48 years later, in 2013.

With his organisational skills and experience as an activist, Rashid was instrumental in setting up dozens of party offices across the Punjab. He even persuaded radical labour unions and peasants’ committees associated with the Maoist faction of NAP to switch sides and join the PPP.

Phillip E. Jones, in his detailed study of the rise of the PPP wrote that in 1969, many offices operated by NAP turned into PPP offices, almost overnight.

Rashid’s organisational zeal was such that apart from organising pro-PPP mohalla (residential) committees, workers unions and peasant groups in the Punjab, he even formed a ‘Children’s PPP’ in Lahore!

In his study, Jones also noted the emergence of a power struggle between the PPP’s left wing and the lobby populated by ‘progressive’ landed elites. Rashid was in the thick of it. As the 1970 election approached, the left lobby protested when Bhutto handed out some party tickets to landlords in the Punjab.

Bhutto worked out a compromise between the two warring wings by increasing the number of tickets given to middle and lower-middle-class candidates, especially in Punjab’s urban areas.

Rashid’s hectic organisational work for the party succeeded in gathering grassroots level support from across the Punjab. As a result, the PPP managed to sweep the province in the 1970 election. Rashid also won an NA seat from Lahore.

When Bhutto became President in December 1971, he made Rashid chairman of the Federal Land Reforms Commission. But Rashid’s radical suggestions were often thwarted by the party’s moderate wing, leaving him frustrated. However, some of these suggestions were implemented in 1972 and then again in 1976.

Bhutto then made him Minister of Health. This was when Bhutto had begun to purge the party’s radical left faction. Only Mubashir Hassan and Rashid survived the purge.

Though largely sidelined during the second half of the Bhutto regime, Rashid stayed with the party when the regime was toppled in a reactionary coup orchestrated by General Ziaul Haq in July 1977. He was arrested and jailed and then flown into exile to the UK.

Unlike most senior leaders of the PPP who were ousted by PPP’s new chairperson, Benazir Bhutto, or had changed sides, Rashid remained loyal. He returned to Pakistan in 1988 after Zia’s demise. He was expected to repeat the same organisational feats that he had pulled off in 1970.

But times were changing and so was the Punjab. Rashid struggled. The conventional left was withering away. He lost his seat from Lahore in the 1988 election. In 1993 he was made the party’s senior vice president by Benazir Bhutto.

The post-Cold War world baffled this once active socialist. He now seemed exhausted and disoriented.

He became reclusive and quietly passed away in 2002. Pakistani media only briefly mentioned his passing. But, interestingly, a detailed obituary on him appeared in one of UK’s leading newspapers, The Guardian.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, January 17th, 2016

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