Wednesday May 22, 2024

From Kerala to Karachi: the travails of B M Kutty - Part II

By Dr Naazir Mahmood
September 02, 2019

In the first part of this article published yesterday, we discussed the Indian episode of Kutty’s life. In this column, we discuss his early life in Pakistan. In his book ‘60 Years in Self-Exile’, Kutty discusses some interesting rumours circulating immediately after Partition.

One was that the Nizam of Hyderabad was in conversation with the Portuguese colony of Goa so that an alliance or union could be formed giving western coastal access to the Hyderabad state which had decided to remain independent without joining India or Pakistan. Another rumour was that the Nizam was trying to create an independent country called Moplistan State.

A similar situation emerged in Balochistan when the Khan of Kalat State declared independence on August 11, 1947. While Hyderabad was a princely state under the influence of the British Indian Empire in Delhi, Kalat was directly under the British Crown of London, meaning that after the departure of the British, Kalat would automatically become an autonomous state. According to Kutty, another difference was that in Hyderabad most of the people did not like the Nizam and supported the merger with India, whereas the Khan of Kalat had developed a political mechanism with a bicameral parliament.

After migrating to Pakistan, Kutty found some people from Kerala who had been living here; one of them was M A Shakoor who worked for Dawn. Kutty cites one of the first attempts to censor the press in Pakistan when Shakoor told him that on the orders of PM Liaquat Ali Khan, the news of Nawab Ismael Khan’s arrival was not allowed to be published. Ismael Khan was a big name in the Muslim League and one of the most respected leaders who had not migrated to Pakistan, and one wonders how L A Khan felt it important not to allow him any publicity in Pakistan.

After just three months in Karachi, Kutty moved to Lahore and started working as assistant manager at India Coffee House where he interacted with some of the best-known intellectuals of Lahore such as Manzur Qadir (who later became foreign minister of Pakistan), Abdullah Malik, and many others. Kutty writes fondly about how he befriended Ghulam Kibria, how he visited the barber’s salon of singer Muhammad Rafi’s brother, and the bungalow of film director A R Kardar. Kutty also sums up the story of the first four years after Partition.

Kutty opines that the Indian National Congress had emerged as the party of an educated middle class which also had emerging capitalists in its fold. Whereas in Pakistan the situation was different where the ruling class and the ruling party did not have any defined principles. It was a hotchpotch of divergent elements where the local landlords and businessmen all belonged to the elite. Those who had migrated from India, the trading class, and the colonial-era bureaucrats all united to control the reins of leadership both at the national and provincial levels.

These were the people who considered themselves the masters of the country’s destiny and lacked any semblance of patience, tolerance, and did not brook any criticism or difference of opinion. According to Kutty, the early leadership of Pakistan did not realize that tolerance and difference of opinion were the foundation of any democratic system. In the years following the death of Jinnah, opposition leaders and activists were arrested and persecuted; Abdul Ghaffar Khan and many other activists and leaders of the Red Shirt Movement were put behind bars. Almost all progressive political workers were hounded in both wings of Pakistan.

Kutty lamented that India was able to draft a new constitution by November 1949, which was promulgated after two months in January 1950 and India was declared a republic, leading to the first general elections in 1952. In Pakistan, L A Khan presented an Objectives Resolution in the constituent assembly and sowed the seeds of religious sectarianism. This was a denial of Jinnah’s assertion that in Pakistan nobody would be treated as a religious minority. L A Khan’s undue stress on religiosity terminated any hopes for a secular state.

An important shift occurred in Pakistan’s foreign policy when L A Khan preferred the US over the USSR for his foreign visit – despite the fact that the Soviet Union had invited him much earlier. L A Khan, in his visit to the US in May 1950, requested for American assistance and help in both civil and military matters. That was the time when B M Kutty was not only observing political developments but has also come into contact with some left-wing comrades in Lahore. He frequently visited the offices of the People’s Publishing House and the Pakistan Times.

In Lahore, Kutty also interacted with Mian Iftikharuddin, a former Congress leader who was a sympathizer of the left-wing. Kutty notes with interest that Iftikharuddin was one of the richest feudal lords of Punjab but kept a pretty soft corner for communists. He had joined the Muslim League in 1946 after the Communist Party of India mysteriously decided to support the demand for Pakistan and accepted the ‘Two-Nation Theory’. The decision, Kutty recalled, was to haunt the party in later years.

Soon, Mian Iftikharuddin was elected as the president of the Punjab Muslim League and organized ‘the direct action’ movement that forced many leaders from the Muslim elites on to the streets. Progressive Papers Limited (PPL) was a brainchild of Mian Iftikharuddin who launched the ‘Pakistan Times’ in English and daily ‘Imroze’ in Urdu. Many progressive intellectuals such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Zaheer Babur, Hameed Hashmi, Mazhar Ali Khan, Hameed Akhtar, Ahmed Ali Khan, I A Rehman, joined the PPL. Kutty informs us that Mian Iftikharuddin had to quit the Muslim League because his progressive ideas were not acceptable to Liaquat Ali Khan and others.

A new party called the Azad Pakistan Party was formed to fight against the reactionary forces that were threatening not only Punjab but all of Pakistan. The Muslim League was using the Public Safety Act as a tool to target all opponents in a manner that was not even used against the Muslim League by the British. Kutty became a member of the Azad Pakistan Party in Lahore. Some other parties that emerged around that period were Nawab Mumdot’s Jinnah Muslim League, Suhrawardy’s Awami Muslim League, Fazlul Haq’s Krishak Siramik (Workers and Peasants) Party, the Kalat National Party, and the Pushtoon Party.

Kutty recalls an incident in which L A Khan was addressing a public gathering in Lahore in which he called Suhrawardy a ‘political orphan’, prompting a participant to protest but who was quickly nabbed by the crowed. This reminded Kutty of another incident in which L A Khan while addressing a rally in Kerala before independence had repeatedly called Pakistan a “laboratory for Muslims where they would display the highest Islamic values”. According to Kutty, this laboratory has been experimenting with all sorts of obsolete ideas for the past many decades.

In January 1951, Kutty married Birjees Siddique whose family had migrated from Amroha, Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India. The same year, Kutty was also an eyewitness to the first provincial elections in Punjab that had been under governor’s rule for over two years. According to him, that first election was marred by massive rigging by state organs that paved the way for all future riggings in the country. For example, Mirza Ibrahim who was one of the most well-respected trade union leaders in the Subcontinent was clearly winning his seat and unofficially he was declared a winner.

The next day the then president of Punjab Muslim League, Ahmed Saeed Kirmani, requested for a recount in which Mirza Ibrahim was defeated. The recount was ordered by SS Jafri the deputy commissioner of Lahore. Kutty also recalls the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan and how the two top bureaucrats – Ghulam Mohammad and Chaudhry Mohammad Ali – manipulated the situation to demote Khwaja Nazimuddin who was later removed as prime minister by Governor Ghulam Mohammad.

To be continued

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