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June 23, 2018

An enlightened mind: Part-II


June 23, 2018

Calling Rasul Bakhsh Palijo ‘an enlightened mind’ elicited mixed responses from readers. The emails and messages received in response to my tribute to Palijo ranged from appreciative to damning. Most Palijo supporters were happy that he was eulogised by a new Sindhi, but there were critics of Palijo – both from Sindhi and Urdu speakers – who found the tribute to be too positive without highlighting the downsides of Palijo’s personality. Some Urdu-speakers or Mohajirs were furious that a ‘chauvinist’ such as Palijo was appreciated by a ‘Mohajir’.

But before discussing the ‘Mohajir’ arguments, let me share with you some of the thoughts of Sindhis – especially left-wing and progressive Sindhis, who thought that Palijo was a not a democrat at all, didn’t practice what he preached and could not tolerate dissent. Prof Mushtaq Mirani wrote that Palijo’s self-righteous attitudes had alienated many of his close associates. There I agree with Prof Mirani; perhaps I should have highlighted Palijo’s over-the-board and aggressive rhetoric that he used to impress and incite his audiences. Probably the grief over his passing away overcame my objectivity.

Let me try to put things in their proper perspective. Nobody can deny that Palijo was an intellectual par excellence. He enriched his land with his discourses and writings that will forever guide and enlighten readers about the history and intellectual landscape of Sindh. Palijo’s literary prowess was marvellous and he could give an ordinary discussion the touch of an animated discourse. He could engage his interlocutors into a long conversation and his readers marvelled at his smooth and smart Sindhi prose. It is true that, at times, he used his rhetoric to sway opinions, but that’s what most intellectuals do.

If his excessive self-love resulted in an overblown ego, he cannot be faulted for his literary achievements. He lived in an era and on a land that was deprived of all rational thinking; being a thinker itself required courage, which he possessed aplenty. His thinking was not always right and his arguments were intolerable at times, but that does not reduce his stature as a political activist and leader who fought against the tyranny of usurpers in Pakistan. Remember, he was born in a province that was awash with turncoats and sycophants who were ever ready to curry favour with dictators.

My father has been a left-wing activist and observer for most of his life. He narrates to me how Palijo was at times intolerable with his jibes at other leftist politicians, especially against those who were not Sindhi. He particularly hated the Communist Party activists and leaders, more so if they were Urdu-speaking – such as Dr Aizaz Nazeer, Jamal Naqvi and Nazish Amrohvi. Palijo thought, and expressed in no uncertain terms, that these left-wing activists and leaders were not sons of the soil and hence could not understand the real problems of the common people here.

Here one tends to disagree with Palijo; there have been many progressive politicians around the world who crossed borders and played an active role in other countries. Perhaps, citing the examples of Marx, Lenin, Bakunin, Proudhon, and Che Guevara will be a bit of a stretch but history is replete with such examples. Palijo’s anger with non-Sindhis is understandable, because most non-Sindhis or new Sindhis kept themselves aloof from the issues of Sindh. They were mostly living in silos of their urban centres and were increasingly isolated from the rest of Sindh.

The emails from Urdu-speaking readers were much more scathing against Palijo, showing a kind of disproportionate dislike that at times Palijo himself exhibited. One reader was angry because I had attributed the creation of the MQM to the Zia regime. In his opinion, it is a ‘faulty rhetoric made in the English press of the country’. A huge organization such as MQM, so the argument goes, cannot emerge in a vacuum at the behest of a dictator; and its creation was the result of ‘long-standing deprivations’ that created the ‘circumstances for a big movement long before Zia’.

That is right; the Karachi Suba Mahaz led by the erstwhile NAP leader Mehmoodul Haq Usmani is a case in point. My father ran his campaign in the 1970 elections when he contested elections on a NAP ticket. But Usmani’s desire to see Karachi as a province was an anathema to Palijo. Can Palijo be criticised for that? Yes and no. Yes, Palijo can be criticised because he thought that all Urdu-speaking people living here wanted to divide Sindh –which, of course, is not true. For example, this writer and his father and their aunt and her dog don’t want to divide Sindh.

But Palijo also cannot be criticised because his desire to keep Sindh intact is legitimate and any Sindh lover would rather like to see all the peoples living in Sindh to live in harmony and mutual respect and work for the prosperity of the common people. Yes, if restructuring is done all over Pakistan for administrative purposes and new provinces are created in Punjab, KP and Balochistan, there is no harm in doing the same in Sindh too. But Sindh alone cannot and should not be divided on a linguistic basis; any such demand will create much resentment and mutual loathing.

Some readers repeated the of-quoted argument which is more of a self-aggrandising statement: those who landed in Sindh were the only ‘comprehensively literate individuals, who performed all writing tasks but their (sic) hard work was encased (sic) by their Punjabi, Pashtun, Sindhi, or Balochi feudal brothers heading these structures’. This is complete nonsense; this is precisely the sort of thinking and superiority complex in some Mohajirs that has harmed this country and especially Sindh. If Palijo abhorred this line of politics and opposed it tooth and nail he was right. This was the thought that created the MQM and pushed Mohajirs into an abyss.

If Palijo incited Sindhis against Mohajirs, which in fact he did many a time, it is a condemnable act. But even more condemnable is the path that most people in Karachi and Hyderabad followed. They did not head the calls of unity given by their left-wing and progressive activists such Dr Aizaz Nazeer, Jamal Naqvi, and Nazish Amrohvi; rather they sided with religious parties such as the JI and JUP and then outright indulged in ethnic politics with the MQM. Before writing my tribute to Palijo, I thought of the likes of Altaf Hussain.

Those who criticise Palijo have every right to do so. But then, they should also appreciate that Palijo never did to Sindh what Altaf Hussain has done to it. The extreme violence and torture; killing of journalists and long and devastating boycott of newspapers was not done by Palijo. One tends to agree that at times Palijo sounded as a chauvinist and crossed boundaries of decency despite being an intellectual of high calibre. But the sheer fact that he stood his ground in the face of extreme adversity is appreciable.

Had he wanted to, he could have become the chief minister of Sindh or a federal minister in Islamabad. If the likes of Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Jam Sadiq Ali and Ali Muhammad Mahar could become CMs in Sindh and Chaudharys, Jamalis, and Jatois could occupy ministerial position at the centre, for Palijo it would have been much easier. He is reported to have received some financial favours for his kith and kin but in comparison to what others did, he appears to be a saintly figure. This discussion is concluded here.


The writer holds a PhD from theUniversity of Birmingham, UK and works in Islamabad.

Email: [email protected]

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