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August 23, 2017

With Altaf out of the picture, can  APMSO revive the Mohajir cause?


August 23, 2017

KARACHI: At a time when three major offshoots of the Muttahida (formerly Mohajir) Qaumi Movement inch closer in their attempts to annihilate MQM founder Altaf Hussain's personality cult a year after the local leadership distanced itself from him, students affiliated with the party’s politics still appear to be battling an identity crisis that stemmed from Hussain’s ouster from the party.

Earlier seen as a synonym for the Mohajir cause the party championed for over 30 years, the MQM founder, stationed in London since the early 90s, was denounced by the party’s leaders in Karachi following his anti-state speech delivered on August 22, last year.

However, while activists associated with the All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO) - the student wing that gave birth to the mainstream MQM - are clear in their criticism of Hussain’s anti-state rhetoric, some still hope to see a ‘reformed Altaf Hussain’ making a comeback in the country’s politics.

“The Mohajir cause cannot be separated from Altaf Hussain,” asserted a student attending an Independence Day celebration programme organised by the APMSO at the University of Karachi’s Arts lobby – the area from where the student wing has been operating since 1978.

“Something has gone wrong. Why would a person whose ancestors sacrificed their lives for Pakistan’s creation would speak against the country?” commented another student requesting anonymity. “But we are here, celebrating Independence Day in the face of MQM founder’s orders of observing a Black Day on August 14.”

Nonetheless, a number of students at the event opined that Hussain was not relevant to the country's politics anymore. “With his senseless rhetoric against the country and its institutions, he has severely dented the Mohajir casue,” said a female APMSO member, who too requested to not be named.

“He [MQM founder] owes the country an apology. But we don’t feel it right to cuss at him the way [PSP chief] Mustafa Kamal does,” she added.

However, the APMSO’s 10-member committee, constituted on an ad hoc basis by the MQM-Pakistan (MQM-P) after Hussain’s Aug 22 speech, does not shy away from lashing out at the Hussain’s statements made against Pakistan and the MQM-P.

To respect or not to

In an interview with The News, at the MQM-P's Bahadurabad office, APMSO activist Sheharyar Khan while denouncing Hussain said he respected him as a founder of the party. However, his fellow activist, Zohaib Azam, took no time to cut off Khan mid statement asserting that, “We will not respect him anymore if he continues with his diatribe against our motherland!”

Known for his debating skills, Azam, who is also a member of the committee, categorically stated that, “We will not tolerate any rubbish against Pakistan and our party leadership in the country.”

“Altaf Hussain’s videos being circulated on Facebook by the London faction are very disturbing,” he added.

Ahsan Ghori, in-charge of the student wing, while stepping in the discussion said it is the young student cadre that is now at the helm of the APMSO's affairs. “We are not an Altaf-centric group anymore. Since his departure from the country’s politics, we have been running the affairs in a very democratic fashion, without any fear of being dictated from London.”

The MQM founder should realise that nobody will jump off a four-storey building anymore on his orders, Ghori added.

Hard to believe

President of the Pak Sarzameen Party’s (PSP) student wing, the Students Federation of Pakistan (SFP), however, was not sold on AMPSO's statement of having distanced itself from the MQM founder.

“Having formerly served as APMSO’s in-charge, I don’t see them coming out of Altaf Hussain's shadow anytime soon,” said Tauseef Ejaz, who jumped ship to the PSP after former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal announced formation of the party on March 3, 2016.

“A vast majority of MQM-P and APMSO activists still respect the man who has repeatedly been insulting the Mohajir community, let alone the country and its respected institutions,” he said. “The MQM founder’s presence still looms large over the party’s cadre.”

But the incumbent APMSO in-charge reasserted that the student wing had completely distanced itself from its founder.

“He [Altaf Hussain] chose to remain in self-exile in London since the early 1990s. Practically, we were politically nurtured under the leadership of Farooq Sattar,” Ghori said.

“We don’t need any party’s certificate of loyalty,” he added.

Responding to the question about what would happen of the party’s famous slogan ‘Ham ko manzil nahin, rahnuma chahiye [The destination holds no importance for us, our leader does], Ghori burst out laughing saying, “Now, we don’t need that leader. Our destination is the well-being of the Mohajir community and we will do our best to achieve it.”

Altaf Hussain is no more a uniting force in the party’s ranks, the only binding force is the Mohajir cause, he reinstated. “There is no place left for any goons in the APMSO.”

The story of survival

“Our family members urged us to put up statuses on our Facebook and Twitter profiles expressing our allegiances to Pakistan and its institutions following the MQM founder’s speech against the country and instigating party workers to attack media houses,” Ghori recalled. “Nobody was expecting this from the party supremo,” he added.

“Most of us did not take part in any violent activity, nor did we raise slogans against Pakistan,” he clarified.

The APMSO remained dysfunctional till November last year, he said. “But we have now reorganised ourselves in all major educational institutes in the metropolis.” Ghori said that last year was the toughest time in the APMSO’s history.

“Distancing from a party founder is an unprecedented decision ever taken by any political party in the country,” he said. “I don’t know what else do we need to do to make the state intuitions believe us.”

Post-Altaf APMSO

A journalist who has extensively written on MQM’s Mohajir politics in the city, Ahmed Yusuf said the post-Altaf APMSO would have to struggle a lot to reclaim the city’s political scene.

“A movement thrives in unfavourable conditions. The Mohajir politics has naturally been closer to left-wing politics.” But APMSO won’t be able to survive if it too adopts PSP’s student wing’s narrative of denouncing Mohajir politics altogether.

In his opinion, student wings cannot be non-violent if criminal elements dominate mainstream politics since the former is a shadow of the later.

“Both the MQM and the establishment should reflect upon their policies and reconcile for the betterment of Karachi. Neither of them is innocent!”