Thursday June 30, 2022

Urdu-speaking to Muhajir politics

March 22, 2017

Journey from Urdu-speaking migrants to Muhajirs may not be difficult to understand if one analyses how politics generally has reshaped in Pakistan from a nation to nationalist and ethnic, particularly in Sindh in the last 70 years.

What went wrong with those millions of people who came to Pakistan in 1947, leaving their homes and properties behind with a strong educated and political class, perhaps, with a vision to rule and make Pakistan a strong nation?

The elite, who are in power today, addressing Sindh and its politics linked to urban Sindh, it is important to understand Muhajir's DNA. Muhajirs also need to seriously look into the problems in their own DNA.

Those who settled in cities like Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Sukkur and developed in the last seven decades, but their mistake was their failure to mould themselves as Sindhis. Political and economic clash also widened their differences and the establishment used both Sindhi and Muhajir nationalists to delink them from national politics.

Muhajir's DNA is simple. Ideologically they are Muslim Leaguers, politically, they are liberals as evident from their role in labour, student and political movements, and the name 'Muhajir' as identity as a reaction to the post-70s politics. Whether it was the right decision or not, the fact remains that the making of MQM has a lot to do with the politics of religious parties in Sindh during and post-Sindhi language bill, which later gave birth to Muhajir Qaumi Movement.

Soon after the Partition, a language controversy made Urdu and Bengali a political issue, followed by constitutional crisis in the 1950s. The Muslim League leadership was also divided into Bengali and non-Bengali and laid the foundation of polarised politics.

Those Urdu speaking, who migrated from the UP or Punjab, came with brilliant minds but with typical middle class attitude. They soon dominated Pakistan's civil service but, equally brilliant minds of Bengalis were ignored.

Few years later, the same Urdu-speaking came out with similar complaints against the predominated Punjabi establishment that it has reduced its share in power. One Unit was one of the biggest political blunders of the ruling elite or in other words of the then establishment, predominated by Punjab and Urdu-speaking civil servants.

Later on, Ayub Khan's martial law changed the political dynamics of the country and in the post-Fatima Jinnah election, the Urdu-speaking and Bengali in particular became his target as the two cities which voted against Ayub were Dhaka and Karachi.

Had Fatima Jinnah's elections not rigged and she would have been voted to power, the tragedy of East Pakistan might not have occurred, as Bengalis had voted for her and their leadership were quite hopeful.

Ayub's establishment did two major things, which led to ethnic polarisation in Sindh. As a consequences to anti-One Unit movement, it felt rise of left movement from Bengal and Sindh, while the then National Awami Party (NAP), after a ban on the Communist Party of Pakistan, also gained grounds in Balochistan and the then NWFP and now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

Therefore, on the one hand, it banned Sindh language in schools, an unprecedented move which not only created hatred against Ayub but also military and civilian establishment. But, then in the aftermath of his election against Fatima Jinnah, his military establishment also decided to reduce Urdu-speaking quota in civil service and shifted the federal capital from Karachi to a new city, Islamabad.

This led to the first movement against shifting of the capital and Karachi for Karachiites. Predominated by Urdu-speaking, the movement was not ethnic based and even other communities, particularly the business community, expressed their fear and concerns. This was followed by a movement, called Karachi Soba Tehreek, led by a communist leader, Mehmoodul Haq Usmani, who lost his NAP membership because of ethnic political approach.

With Urdu-speaking already angry with Ayub Khan after he defeated or allegedly rigged elections, the youth backed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto after he left Ayub's cabinet. Another reason for their support to Bhutto was his anti-India stance, as migrants from India had come to Pakistan it was but a natural reaction.

The 1970 elections led to the division of Pakistan, as polarised mandate was a reaction to political-linguistic controversy, One Unit and economic injustice meted out to a majority. Although, the 1970 election was for the Constituent Assembly, Mujib's six points became unacceptable to the minority. Consequently, the majority opted out, and established a new state, called Bangladesh.

When Bhutto came to power with lots of hope for the rest of Pakistan in 1972, the writing was on the wall that ethnic and nationalist politics would dominate in the aftermath of the East Pakistan crisis.

When the PPP introduced Sindhi language bill, the Urdu-speaking intelligentsia, which was politically dominated by Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan, turned it into a language issue, followed by ethnic riots.

All this led to the rise of Muhajir Qaumi Movement, the religious parties were wiped out, ethnic politics made inroads in Sindh and the only national party of Pakistan, the PPP, could not bridge this gap after Bhutto's execution.

Muhajirs, who have always been seen in the country as the most educated and literate class with upright approach, fallen victim to situation, and the MQM politics, instead of working on these lines, became a reactionary force. It not only started using Urdu as a language of Muhajirs, but also portrayed themselves as 5th nationality, a separate identity. In 1988, the vote for the MQM became vote for Muhajir.

Despite unprecedented victory in local bodies and general elections, the MQM, instead of establishing schools, preparing the youth for CSS and bridging the gap with Sindhi progressive movements, indulged in activities which historically they were hardly used to. With the passage of time, they have been branded and known to the rest of the country as criminals, extortionists, targeted killers, etc. How they were armed and who used them has never been highlighted.

In 1992, when some MQM activists misbehaved with Urdu poet John Elia, just because he did not stand on the arrival of MQM leader, it was the beginning of the end to Urdu-speaking political direction.

Keeping the role of the establishment aside, which certainly used it to divide Sindh and its politics, and used it against the PPP, the fact remains that today Muhajirs may have got the identity but lost the direction. It is time to rethink and revive the actual spirit of Pakistan Day. For Urdu-speaking, it’s time for a fresh look at their political DNA.

  This writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO