Saturday September 25, 2021

Meraj Muhammad Khan — A name synonymous with people’s struggle


Be it in front of a dictator or a civilian administrator, the principled stands of Meraj Muhammad Khan, a politician par excellence, would never be forgotten, for he fought tooth and nail against the corrupt feudal and capitalist politics of the country.

Suffering from respiratory problems for quite some years now, he was recently admitted to a private hospital after his condition worsened; he passed away on early Friday morning and laid to rest the same day. He was 77 years old.

Elected president of the progressive National Students’ Federation (NSF) in 1963, he went on to play a pivotal role in organising students; he stepped down from the presidency in 1967.

It was owing to his dedication that NSF became a symbolic organization that later went on to play a decisive role in the country’s political history, especially the uprising that led to General Ayub Khan’s resignation.

Considered a threat to the status-quo, Meraj, lovingly called Khan Saheb by his followers, was among several leftists exiled from the city for their political leanings.

Having developed a considerable following by the time, he went on to become a founding member of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and enjoyed a close camaraderie with the party’s then chairman Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

A die-hard supporter of the working class, Meraj soon developed differences with ZA Bhutto over the latter’s handling of the 1972 labour movement.

He was appointed Minister for Labour in 1971 in Bhutto’s cabinet but resigned after he saw that the socialist agenda, initially promised by Bhutto to be followed, was not being adhered to. 

Said to be actually affiliated with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) – led by comrade Tufail Abbas -  Khan Saheb reportedly held the party under his charm for his selfless devotion to his political principles.

However, as fissures amongst different factions of the left deepened, the veteran politician went on to form him on political party ‘Qaumi Mahaz-e-Azadi’.

An inspiration for the youth of his time, Khan Saheb’s way of politics later distanced the young from him for his style of working was different from that of other political parties that had established themselves by the time.

The party could not win any seats in any elections and most of its members later joined the PPP. Trained by Meraj, most of the members rose up to become eminent leaders of the party.

However, from ZA Bhutto’s solitary confinement to his faltering support, nothing convinced the man on giving up his principles.

Despite severe difference, he strongly disagreed with Zia-ul-Haq’s decision to hang him to death. He instead became one of the loudest voices against his hanging.

With leftist politics almost out of the picture by now, Meraj Muhammad Khan in 1998 accepted an invitation of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to serve as its general secretary.

He, however, resigned from the post in 2003 after he noticed that his views were not being honoured.

Having developed a respiratory issues in his later years, he could not play a proactive role but as a leader and ideologue his house was always open for leftist parties, trade unions’ representatives, lawyers’ and doctors’ bodies, student groups and anybody representing the poor masses of the country.  Despite his condition he used to speak at length over any issue if invited at a political event.