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September 9, 2019

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


September 9, 2019

After the government of Pakistan banned the Communist Party of Pakistan in 1954, B M Kutty was actively involved in the Awami League of H S Suhrawardy.

But when Suhrawardy became prime minister of Pakistan in 1956, he assumed different colours and displayed a complete disregard for the anti-imperialist sentiments of his left-wing party members. The Pakistan National Party had been formed in June 1956 by some of the most progressive elements in West Pakistan. When Suhrawardy removed Mahmudul Haq Usmani as general secretary of Awami League in December 1956, Kutty and his comrades left the AL and joined the PNP in January 1957.

In East Pakistan also a powerful group in the AL, led by Abdul Hameed Bhashani, quit the Awami League in protest against Suhrawardy’s pro-imperialist policies. In July a new political party was formed in Dhaka in July 1957 with the name of the National Awami Party (NAP) with Bhashani as president and Usmani as general secretary. Later on, the PNP also merged with the NAP and that’s how a formidable left-wing party emerged in which the progressive groups of Jagtu Front and Awami League of East Pakistan, and the PNP from West Pakistan merged.

With G M Syed, Abdul Majid Sindhi, Ghaus Bakhsh Bizenjo, Gul Khan Naseer, Abdul Samad Achakzai, and others, the NAP had its influence all across both the wings of Pakistan. It was the impending victory of the NAP in the elections that prompted Maj-Gen Iskandar Mirza who had become president in 1956, to impose martial law and abrogate the constitution in October 1958. That martial law was essentially to prevent the NAP from winning the elections and forming an anti-imperialist, left-of-centre, and progressive government in Pakistan. On October 27, 1958, General Ayub Khan removed Iskandar Mirza and appointed himself the president of Pakistan.

Kutty recalls that after the imposition of martial law the PPL of Mian Iftikharuddin was confiscated and the most popular progressive newspapers and magazines such as the ‘Pakistan Times’, ‘Imroze’, and ‘Lail-o-Nihar’ became the martial-law regime’s mouthpieces. In addition, nearly all progressive activists and leaders were put behind bars. Fearing his own arrest, Kutty decided to visit India for a while. With his family, he went to his hometown in Kerala where the first communist government was in power after winning elections for state assembly. Kutty returned to Pakistan after three months and was arrested in Karachi in May 1959.

Kutty spent 28 months in jail and endured solitary confinement and other obnoxious methods of interrogation. After six months in solitary confinement, he was put with other prisoners such as G M Syed, Wahid Bashir, Jouher Hussain, Ali Mukhtar Rizvi, Iqbal Memon and others. That was the time when Hasan Nasir was being tortured in the dungeons of the Royal Fort in Lahore and was ultimately killed in confinement there. Kutty was all praise for G M Syed and his erudition. Kutty tells us that G M Syed was one of the most caring, loving, and enlightened leaders he had known.

Some of the other prisoners he remembers from that period included Raza Kazim, Tufail Abbas, Azhar Abbas, Abdul Wadood, Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui, and Iqbal Alavi. Kutty recalls that after General Ayub Khan assumed power, the US started using an airbase near Peshawar from where American spy planes flew over the USSR. One plane was shot down and the Soviet Union put a red circle over Peshawar. As an aside, if some readers want to know more details about that episode, they may watch a very interesting movie ‘The Bridge of Spies’ starring Tom Hanks.

Then Kitty was moved to a prison in Lahore where his mates were Shahzada Abdul Karim of Kalat, Muhammad Khan Saddozai, and Maulvi Ghulam Hashmi who was an activist of the NAP. There Kutty also met an army colonel who was put behind bars on charges of taking bribes. According to Kutty, the colonel used to boast that he was the head of a military court and in that capacity he had sent over two thousand people to jail. Kutty was released after 28 months and then with comrade Raza Kazim tried to set up some seafood business which failed, of course.

Kutty terms the Ayub regime as one of the harshest, anti-democracy, and anti-politics regimes. All politicians were targeted with across-the-board harassment and persecution. Ebdo (the Elective Bodies Disqualification Ordinance) and Proda (Public Representative Offices Disqualification Act) were used to set up special tribunals to register cases against politicians. Over 7,000 political activists and leaders were victimized during the first four years of General Ayub’s rule. Those who think that they are living some new dawn of accountability must read Kutty’s book to learn about how it all was done back then.

Though General Ayub also took some positive steps, they paled in front of his highly authoritarian and dictatorial rule. For example, the idea of basic democracies was a good one but the supremacy of civil bureaucrats over elected representatives killed the essence of basic democracy. When political activities were allowed, Kutty once again became active during the BD elections of 1964. He informs us that Mahmudul Haq Usmani’s home became the centre of left politics in Karachi. Abdur Rehman Malabari and Alauddin Abbasi contested the BD elections and Kutty campaigned for them.

In 1965 presidential elections were held in which Combined Opposition Parties (COP) included Council Muslim League, Awami League, National Awami Party, and Jamaat-e-Islami, all supporting Fatima Jinnah against General Ayub Khan. The COP insisted on restoration of the parliamentary system as opposed to the presidential system introduced by General Ayub Khan. The elections were massively rigged by the state machinery and General Ayub Khan appointed himself president for another five years. Fatima Jinnah died a mysterious death within a couple of years after the elections.

Kutty also narrates the events leading to the 1965 crisis. Quoting Mir Bizenjo from his book ‘In Search of Solutions’, Kutty sheds light on the role played by General Ayub Khan, Abdul Qayyum Khan and Z A Bhutto. Qayyum Khan prepared armed tribal warriors for an adventure to occupy the Kashmir valley. These warriors, more interested in plundering, antagonized the public. According to Kutty, even the NAP had two factions: most leaders from Balochistan and East Pakistan were against this adventure, barring the NAP Chief Maulana Bhashani who hobnobbed with General Ayub Khan. Bhashani was pro-China and hence staunchly anti-India.

Kutty thought that the 1965 war was the most damaging event to harm any chances of India-Pakistan reconciliation in the years to come. After the war, when in 1967 a trade-union leader in India, V V Giri, became president after the death of the first Muslim president of India, Dr Zakir Hussain, Kutty narrates a sad discussion with Mirza Ibrahim who was a pre-partition friend of V V Giri. Mirza Ibrahim lamented the fact the while a trade union leader could become president of India, Mirza Ibrahim was defeated in an assembly election by rigging.

Kutty narrates with a heavy heart how communist leaders such as Professor Jamal Naqvi and Nazish Amrohi, whom he held in high regard, disappointed him with their petty squabbles. Dr Sher Afzal and Anwar Ahsan Siddiqui were expelled from the Sindh Committee of the CPP and in protest Kutty, Hadi Naqvi, and Durrani resigned from the CPP. Saeen Azizullah tried to persuade them to rejoin the CPP but they refused. They continued working diligently for the NAP but the pro-China and pro-Russia divide affected all parties and student organizations.

For example, the National Students Federation had a pro-Russia faction led by Dr Sher Afzal, Amir Hyder Kazmi, Anis Haroon, Dr Mahboob, Anis Baqir and others. The pro-China group was led by Meraj Muhammad Khan, Rasheed Hasan Khan, and Dr Hasan Askari.

In the next and last part of this series we will discuss the latter years of Kutty’s life.

To be continued

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

Email: [email protected]