By Salima Ansari
A banker by profession, Salim Ansar has a passion for history and historic books. His personal library already boasts a treasure trove of over 7,000 rare and unique books.
Every week, we shall take a leaf from one such book and treat you to a little taste of history.
BOOK NAME: Punjab Prelude
AUTHOR: L F Loveday Prior
PUBLISHER: John Murray - London
DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1952
The following excerpt has been taken from Pages: 167 — 171
ORIGIN OF THE MUSLIM LEAGUE
“The Muslim League, originally invented by Mr. Jinnah to off-set Mr. Gandhi’s Congress Party, had managed to form League Governments only in Bengal and Sind: The North-West Frontier Province, under the leadership of the ‘Khan Brothers’, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, ‘the Frontier Gandhi’, and Dr. Khan Sahib, brought the Province under Congress, the link not being any mutual love but a common wish to remove the British. This Province wished to see the British go, because the population is largely a Pathan population and their sympathies lie with the penned-up and ever turbulent trans-frontier tribesmen.
“Politics in the Punjab were influenced by the soil. It is a farming province. It was neither League nor Congress, but a Province of big and little landholders (called Zamindars, a sort of squirearchy and yeomanry, and not to be confused with the iniquitous ex-tax-gatherer Zamindars of Oudh and Bengal). The overwhelming party, founded by the late Sir Fazl-i-Hussain, and brought into power by Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, was the Unionist Party. This party, very suitably, represented the dominance of agricultural interests over those of the urban trading classes. It was a Zamindar coalition with the Muslims under Sir Sikander, Hindu jats under Sir Chotu Ram, and the Sikh Khalsa Nationalists under Sir Sundar Singh Majithio. Neither the League nor Congress, both city growths, could gain representation on the Provincial Legislature in the face of this combination based on the Province’s greatest interest, the Land.
“The Unionist Government excellently suited the temperament and interests of the Punjab, and permanent officials of the Civil Service, both Indian and British, had no difficulty in serving its Ministers. Though the Muslims were the majority community, the weightage given to minorities, especially the Sikhs, made it impossible for them to rule as a single party and stable government could only be achieved with the co-operation of the Sikhs and Hindus. This co-operation of landowners was not at the expense of an exploited peasantry. A very large proportion of the Punjab peasantry owned its own land, and all of it lived in a style better than that of the peasant Spaniard, for example. The Coalition brought great advantages, and Sir Sikander’s lifetime effort was to keep the Muslim League at arm’s length, for a Muslim reaction was bound to splinter the very prosperous Punjab. This effort was maintained by Sir Khizr Hayat Khan (Sir Sikander’s successor, not his son), a Provincial statesman of great dignity, incorruptible integrity, and devotion to the true interests of his native Province. All parties and leaders trusted him. Sir Khizr belongs to a great Punjab tribe, the Tiwanas, who claim Macedonian origin from Alexander’s time. In person Sir Khizr is very tall, olive-skinned, dark hair parted in the middle, and in features like a member of the Spanish Royal Family: he is affable and impressive. Politically he was only overwhelmed by the communal passion unloosed by the British decision of March, 1947, to transfer power in August, 1947, which fell upon all India like a bolt from the blue.
“The Sikh community form one of the most obvious and important features of the Punjab. The Sikh Nationalists (Khalsa) figured in the Punjab Coalition: upon the decision to transfer power, this party was merged in the Akali Party (Shromani Akali Dal), the organization which earlier had reformed the Gurdwaras. The Sikh colonies fall into certain regional groups but in the East Punjab lies the great Sikh State of Patiala, under its own independent Prince. This State forms the lodestone and hope of the Sikh community at large: for Sikhism is a militant faith and a militant party and every Sikh is looking for the’ re-establishment of the kingdom of the great Ranjit Singh. For the moment they have failed in this, but they are both the sword-arm and the terror of Hindustan. Perhaps the most notorious Sikh politician is the apostolic-looking Master Tara Singh, whose utterances form a useful excuse for Sikh demonstrations. An Arora Sikh of Pindi and a former schoolmaster, his observations lack import and he has no political sense, but as a political weather-cock and communal agitator he has had great success. Congress have now put him in jail. Certain other groups of Sikhs have strong Congress and Communist associations.
“Another notorious former member of the Education Service, Allama Mashriqi, a half-crazed megalomaniac, founded the Khaksars, a sort of Muslim private army, in imitation of Hitler’s Brownshirts. The Muslim League, which had its own League National Guard, would not tolerate this bullying and parading communal organization. As an emblem of social service, the Khaksars carried a spade which was, however, razor-sharp. The Khaksars were never a party.
“Punjabi Hindus were not very actively political. Except for the sweeper castes, they were all in trade and middlemen’s jobs: many also in professional and clerkly work, the Brahmans being in these two callings almost to a man. Nearly all the Government clerking was done by Hindus (for the Muslims are not bureau-minded and think clerking sissy work) which is one of the reasons why the Pakistan Government has been rather slow in finding its feet: all the Punjab army of clerks vanished like snow and Pakistan was left facing forests of uncharted files and wastes of correspondence. Punjabi Hindus of course had an eye on their Congress co-religionists eastward. Secretly they all wished the British off the scene: but they also knew perfectly well that if we were to go, they would get short shrift-so as Punjabis they in point of fact wished us to stay. Besides, prosperous tradesmen the world over know that they are the first to lose by disturbances: Punjabi Hindus therefore might dream secret and perilous dreams, but they sat very tight and quiet. Among the city Hindus, however, worked a dangerous, semi-secret, and seditious organization, the Rashtriya Sewak Sangh, affiliated to the Hindu Congress Party, or else a branch of it. Ostensibly this organization was a sort of athletics network-there are many such wrestling and gymnastic clubs in North-west India-but actually it was a subversive political net, quite unscrupulous and extraordinarily adept at camouflaging or removing evidence of its political activity.
“The Sikh and Hindu interests made up rather less than half the Punjab; and while of course the Sikh and Punjabi Hindu will always stand side by side if it comes to religion, they are substantially divided politically, on account of the landed interest of the Sikhs, and the Congress interest of the Hindus.
“Communism is well entrenched in India. Though it is difficult to see how any Hindu can be a Communist, social misery under the Hindu system, and workers’ misery under the ancient money-lending system, or modern factory system, are great: and wherever there is misery or discontent, and no enlightened contrary gospel, there is a good chance for Communism. Moreover India suffers from a more than usually irresponsible sort of intelligentsia to man the command.
“The Communist Party of India is as old as most European Communist Parties and has in its hierarchy the usual galaxy of Moscow-trained stars. It is interesting to note that both Mr. Nehru, now virtually a reactionary dictator and King-maker and un-maker, and his famous sister learned their revolutionary art in Moscow. Up to 1947 Communism in India was largely centred in the towns, with its headquarters in Bombay, with Mr. P. C. Joshi as Secretary-General. There were the usual” front” and “mass” organizations. The famous Meerut conspiracy, featuring Messrs. Pollitt, Pratt and Bradley along with the Indian Comrades, first revealed to the public at large the extent of Party activities.
“The Punjab presented something of a special problem to the Communist Party. However there were willing workers. The Ghadr Party of America-consisting of Sikh emigrants had placed themselves at Moscow’s disposal and from them recruits were trained and infiltrated into the Punjab from 1934-8. Their agitation resulted in the formation of the Sikh Kirte-Kesan (Workers’ and Peasants’) Party. As these members had difficulty in accepting the leadership of Bombay Hindu intellectuals the movement in the Punjab and north-west lacked cohesion. It was most successful in the Jullundur and Hoshiarpur regions, where holdings were small and un-economic and where there was a large influx of emigrants with foreign experience. In general the Punjab is not sympathetic to Communism because the peasants have substantial holdings, and in Pakistan the effect of Communism is so far negligible.
“In India at large, following the encouraging examples of China and Burma, Communists are now aiming to convert the countryside, especially in Madras. Meanwhile the domestic policy of Hindustan is, for its own sufficient reasons, which are not the same as ours, now firmly anti-Communist and in some Provinces the Party is outlawed.
“It is also interesting to note that Hindustan has now more political agitators lodged under lock and key in prison, than the British ever had at any time.”
Curtsey:The News: Tuesday, September 30, 2014
*Jaag Punjabi Jaag by Amer Ahmed Khan*
By Aamer Ahmed Khan
The writer is head of the BBC Urdu Service (email@example.com)
It was a priceless line, coming from one of the most powerful politicians in the Punjab. Speaking to BBC’s ‘Newshour’ in the aftermath of Data Darbar’s bombing, Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif said he thinks the term Punjabi Taliban is: “an insult to the Punjabis, because we never say Pukhtun Taliban, Sindhi Taliban or Baloch Taliban.” He went on to say that it was a term coined by Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik and that he condemned him for it.
Does he really believe that? Can you really believe that he actually thinks this? His statement brought back an odd memory from a couple of years ago. It was a private conversation so I cannot name the lady, who is a close personal friend of Shahbaz Sharif. “Aamer”, she said, “I cannot really understand people who think Shahbaz Sharif is an ordinary person. He comes from an extremely conservative, deeply religious background and is heir to a financial and political empire. Yet, at the risk of losing all that, he took on his entire family to marry a woman who is the most controversial female author in the country’s history. You think any ordinary man can do that?” I did not disagree with her and murmured something to the effect that I am keen to see his personal radicalism creep into his political life. But his statement about Punjabi Taliban is evidence that we are unlikely to see that happen. Admittedly, Mr Sharif carries a heavy burden dating back to his party’s birth. The Muslim League that he heads today sprang from the womb of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad, an amalgam of several religious groupings and secular political non-entities that were all ideologically dominated by the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI).
The original political base that his party commanded in its battles against Benazir Bhutto’s PPP rested mostly in the conservative trading and merchant class, transporters, petty bureaucracy and a conservative urban financial elite spawned by General Zia’s long, dark years.
Many believe that had it not been for the former JI chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed’s infatuation with turning it into a people-based populist party, the Jamaat would still have been holding the Muslim League’s ideological reins. The Muslim League’s organic link to religious conservatism may have weakened after the death of Mian Sharif, more popularly known as ‘Abbaji’. But it is proving to be a stubbornly tough umbilical cord to sever.
A clean break in this umbilical connection is exactly what the country needs to break free. It is important because Punjab matters. It may be unpalatable for the smaller provinces, but Punjab alone has the numbers and the political power to stand up to radical Islam. And until something really dramatic happens, the Sharifs alone can fire up the province to say no to uncounted mass murderers or mini-Osamas running amok.
When the Sharifs returned to power in 1997 with their legendary heavy mandate, many analysts and columnists flirted with the idea that they could be the vanguard of a moderately religious if not secular, urban middle-class political wave that would sweep aside sectarianism which, in the pre-9/11 world, was the major religious scourge known to Pakistan. The Taliban at the time were busy fighting for Kabul.
Of course these flirtations came to a sorry end when Nawaz Sharif started toying with the idea of becoming Amirul Muslimeen. But they were revived again when the brothers returned from exile, sworn to wresting Pakistan’s political control away from the military. Nawaz Sharif was the born-again democrat and Mr Principles. Many felt that between his new-found relationship with Benazir Bhutto, his commitment to charter of democracy and his hatred for military rulers, he, along with his brother, have finally acquired the vision to lead Pakistan out of the muck that repeated military rule had led it into.
Sadly, that vision is nowhere in sight. The Pakistani state has used radical Islam as a weapon of war for over a quarter of a century. It now needs to swing completely the other way. And that cannot happen for as long as the likes of Shahbaz Sharif continue to believe that it is Rehman Malik, and not the Punjabi Taliban, that is tearing Pakistan apart.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 4th, 2010