The phenomenon that was born out of the death of a female student, Bushra Zaidi, in the 1980s is today breathing its last on a ventilator – with most onlookers eagerly awaiting the death announcement.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) has witnessed numerous phases. In the 1986 elections, it was this party that swept the Jamaat-e-Islami out of the city. Thirty-two years down the line, the same party has been swept out of Karachi. And it has no one to blame but itself.
The contradictions that have been a part of Karachi’s DNA since the time of Partition sharpened during the 1972-1973 language-based riots. People were naturally frustrated. Facilitated by the puppeteers, party founder Altaf Hussain and his saathis [partners] took it upon themselves to channelise the contradictions and subsequent frustrations into a well-organised political machine. A street-fighting culture was incorporated in Karachi to further oil the machine.
Josh Malihabadi, a renowned Urdu poet and an important intellectual from the Urdu-speaking community, predicted well before the All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO) was born that if the government failed to pacify the Urdu-Sindhi riots, Mohajir nationalism would become inevitable and the conflict may haunt Sindh for a very long time. He articulated his fears during a meeting with the then governor of Sindh, Mir Rasool Bux Talpur. But the PPP-led government of the time did not pay heed; Mumtaz Bhutto continued to run the show and figures like Talpur were sidelined. These contradictions not only remained unaddressed but in fact aggravated with each passing day. What followed was General Ziaul Haq’s lust for power. His desire to cut the PPP down to size and the eventual mass influx of population from different provinces as well as Afghanistan birthed the first middle-class parliamentary force in Pakistan.
The MQM finally emerged during the Pashtun-Mohajir riots of 1984-1986, encapsulating all the contradictions and, at the same time, managing to unite migrants from different parts of India. These migrants did not share a common culture or geography before migrating to Pakistan. Yet the MQM succeeded in blending all their distinct Indian identities into that of the Mohajir. The nascent MQM, with its youth-based cadre, capitalised on the insecurities of the Mohajir community. Gradually, it metamorphosed into a part-militant and part-parliamentary force.
The Mohajir community, with all its deep-rooted fears stemming from the authoritative and economic domination of the centre as well as Sindh and the mass influx of local and Afghan migrants, began counting on the MQM as a saviour. Unfortunately, the MQM failed to evolve and did little to pursue a progressive solution for the unique power-sharing structure in which the Mohajirs found themselves. Instead, the party relegated itself to the permanent role of the Night’s Watch. While this role had helped the party garner popularity when it launched, it could not serve as a permanent grounds for politics.
The MQM built its entire political narrative on a single-point premise: the insecurities plaguing the Mohajirs. In order to continue oiling a machine that has little strength in its founding structure, the party assumed every form of right-wing opportunism. It used street power to challenge the centre’s authority and fascism to challenge provincial chauvinism. On top of that, it used all kinds of legal and illegal means to slow down the process of migration from other provinces. What did it gain? The party survived. However, it lost almost each and every battle thanks to the compromises it made at crucial historical moments with various kinds of powers just so it could have another day to live and another battle to fight. It was a constant battle with insecurities – and no end in sight.
The party offered little progressive solutions for the welfare of the community it claimed to represent. Whenever it would face the heat from state authorities, it would always end up resorting to slogans of a Mohajir province or a Mohajir state. Similar emotions were evoked when the party began losing credibility in the Mohajir community. The MQM knew very well that the demand for a separate province was an unachievable target. Yet it would renew the demand each time it landed in a situation from which it would see no way out. And this worked for quite some time. Disheartened supporters would reconcile, and this would then give the party a chance to threaten state authorities with its strong-arm tactics, especially regarding the law and order in Karachi. The strategy to strike deals with the provincial and federal governments as well as other institutions of the state worked throughout the 1990s, until recently.
It is true that every parliamentary party has displayed right-wing opportunism from time to time. However, given the unique power-sharing options as a party whose power base is restricted to urban Sindh, the MQM turned its opportunism into a political philosophy. This not only hurt the masses but the party itself as well. The opportunism displayed by the MQM since 2002, whether out of fear of another military operation or out of greed for benefits of the system, has rotted the party to its core. Examples of such opportunism include acting as stooges for imperialist powers, legitimising General Pervez Musharraf’s rule, facilitating privatisation and benefiting from real-estate tycoons and the land mafia.
This opportunism affected the very structure of the party, including the ‘ideological’ wing and the unit-level cadre. Extortion and China-cutting were at their peak when Hammad Siddiqui took over the Karachi Tanzeemi Committee. Party units even took over parking spaces across the city. As the MQM kept inducting, breeding and promoting goons to higher offices, party workers who were genuinely sincere decided it was time to go home. They also had little choice, especially at a time when the MQM’s violent tactics had directly started victimising Mohajirs.
In the 2013 elections, the MQM gauged for the first time the extent to which this opportunism had hurt the party. The PTI emerged as a challenger on the MQM’s turf despite the former not having a proper organisational structure in the city or significant campaigning strategies for the election. This is when the MQM tried to subdue the public sentiment against it by dismissing many office-bearers. Altaf Hussain publicly admitted that party leaders and workers were involved in land-grabbing and other criminal activities. But it was too little, too late by then. The public support during the Azizabad by-elections proved to be just a ventilator for a body that had long been rotting under corruption and opportunism. As the machine continued to fall apart, the opportunist tendencies of the party served it yet another blow when the once-mighty MQM fragmented into various groups.
Unfortunately, despite all that, the MQM has failed to learn from its past mistakes. It put its traditional right-wing opportunism on display once again when it decided to back the PTI after the recent general election. The decision to back the PTI came alongside allegations that their new allies were brought into power via rigged elections. The MQM, which is now restricted to only six National Assembly seats, is well aware of the fact that any development work in Karachi will now strengthen the PTI’s hold in the city. The MQM, on the other hand, will be cursed for every failure. That should serve as the last nail in the coffin.
Perhaps the MQM’s leaders know that the time has come, and the cancer of opportunism is in its last stage. Perhaps they want to do away with the ventilator of public support.
The writer is an educationist and
former central organiser of the
National Students Federation (NSF).