It would not be an overstatement to say that daily ‘Jang’ has influenced at least three generations of Urdu readers in the Subcontinent. Though at the time of Independence, there were other newspapers such as ‘Anjaam’ and ‘Nawa-e-Waqt’, it was ‘Jang’ that emerged as the most widely circulated and read broadsheet.
Of course the credit for this goes to the founder of the newspaper, Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman, and the teams that he was able to assemble for the enhancement of quality journalism in Pakistan. One of the most important factors behind Jang’s success was the variety of opinions and topics it offered.
Literature is something that was closer to Mir Sahib’s heart and he tried to attract as many literary figures as possible to become associated with ‘Jang’. His idea of a good newspaper was not confined to political coverage alone. The outstanding editors and writers that he selected for his newspapers and magazines contributed greatly to the literary contribution of ‘Jang’, in addition to its everyday political pages. Sadly, many of the new generation of editors, journalists, and even readers are not aware of what good journalism looked like. Which is why there is a need to write more about the journey of journalism in Pakistan.
There are not many writers who have produced good books on journalism and the struggle of journalists in Pakistan. Zamir Niazi, Ahfaazur Rahman, Dr Tauseef Ahmed, and Prof Mehdi Hasan have written marvellous books and documented the history of journalism in the country; there have also been some other writers who have produced works of mediocre quality. My recent visit to Karachi afforded me an opportunity to attend the launch of Dr Qamar Abbas’s magnum opus work titled ‘Roznama Jang Ki Adabi Khidmaat’ (The literary services of daily Jang). Senior journalists such as Ghazi Salahuddin and Wusatullah Khan spoke very well on the occasion.
But you need to get the book and read it to see what a gem Dr Qamar Abbas has produced. Dr Qamar Abbas is a book reviewer and a regular contributor to ‘Jang Sunday Magazine’. Writing book reviews is a challenging task that was earlier done by senior journalists such as Shafi Aqeel and Anwer Sen Rai. In addition to being a journalist and researcher, Dr Abbas has established himself as a chronicler of literary personalities that he writes about in his sketches. Who would have thought that he would come up with a comprehensive review of Jang’s literary services with his almost a decade-long labour on his doctoral thesis?
In the seven well-defined chapters, Dr Qamar Abbas has reviewed nearly all literary articles and columns that appeared in ‘Jang’ since 1947. He has also covered literary editorials, correspondence, literary news items, and other related pieces of writing sent by poets and writers. He has also devoted an entire chapter to writings in ‘Jang’ about regional literature, and while doing so has also been critical of some of the stances the newspaper took over the decades. On the completion of his thesis, he was awarded a PhD by the Pakistan Study Centre headed by Dr Jaafar Ahmad at Karachi University.
It would be wrong to suggest that Dr Abbas was concerned only with ‘Jang’. Though the focus is on ‘Jang’, the historical background of the history of newspapers starting from the pioneering publication of ‘Jam-e-Jahan Numa’, gives us a detailed perspective in which ‘Jang’ emerged. Towering personalities such as Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, Abdul Majeed Salik, and Zafar Ali Khan have been discussed in detail, and so are publications such as ‘Makhzan’, ‘Urdu-e-Mualla’, ‘Nigaar’, ‘Tarjumanul Quran’, daily ‘Ehsaan’, ‘Adab-e-Lateef’, and others. Before discussing ‘Jang’, the author also analyses some other newspapers, especially their literary pages.
One of the most interesting sections is where the Bangla-Urdu controversy is discussed. The stance taken by Baba-e-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq, Raees Amrohvi, and ‘Jang’ is critically analysed. We know that after the creation of Pakistan, 55 percent of its population lived in the eastern wing. Bengalis had a legitimate aspiration and claim to have Bangla too recognised as one of the official languages, alongside Urdu. Unfortunately, the ruling elite which mostly came from the western wing mocked and ridiculed Bangla, and antagonised the majority in the country.
There was nothing wrong in being staunch supporters of Urdu, as Abdul Haq and Raees Amrohvi were, but outright rejecting Bangla, and over-reacting at the slightest mention of Bangla as one of the possible official languages was wrong, as rightly pointed out by Dr Qamar Abbas. In one instance, a sympathetic statement towards Bangla issued by the then prime minister, Muhammad Ali Bogra, invited the wrath of Urdu lovers. All hell broke loose and columns and poems were written condemning the prime minister, who himself was a Bengali.
Another interesting episode is about the treatment the Progressive Writers Association (PWA) received at the hands of almost all newspapers in the country. Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Mian Iftikharuddin, Syed Sibte Hasan, and others were spearheading progressive thought in the country and were closely associated with or working for the PWA. As we know, the state right from the beginning was dominated by conservative elements who were more interested in mixing religion with politics; any attempt by progressive writers wanting to promote a secular agenda by insisting on separation of religion and politics was not tolerated.
As highlighted by Dr Qamar Abbas, initially ‘Jang’ was also critical of the PWA but gradually it mellowed its stance and started writing and even advocating freedom of speech for everyone including the progressive writers. It also started giving space to writers such as Syed Sibte Hasan some of whose articles have been excerpted by Dr Abbas, and give an informative and interesting read. Soon, ‘Jang’ struck a balance between the conservative and progressive elements and accommodated both points of view. This was unprecedented, as in the past almost all newspapers had only one ideological side represented in their pages.
For example, ‘Imroze’ had a clear-cut left-leaning approach and vociferously advocated a progressive agenda against a capitalist and feudalistic hegemony in the country that was emerging after independence. ‘Nawa-e-Waqt’, on the other hand, was a devoutly conservative and anti-India newspaper that did not brook any soft corner for those who were mildly towards the Left. Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman was someone who tolerated both, and espoused a middle path. He was more of a pragmatist who understood that both schools of thought were sincere in their love for Pakistan in their own way and needed to be accommodated and heard.
Maulana Mahirul Qadri was one of the leading opponents of the progressive movement and was ruthless in his criticism of almost all liberal, progressive and left-wing activists and intellectuals. Dr Abbas analyses how Qadri considered progressivism a byword for obscenity as it is being done now. Those who think that the outcry against the Azadi March on Women’s Day recently is a new phenomenon will learn that such moaning and wailing is not new in the name of obscenity. Another accusation against the progressives was their alleged anti-state activities. Again, this not new. In the next part of this article, we will discuss some more specific examples.
To be continued
The writer holds a PhD from the University of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.