Monday October 25, 2021

A legacy of commitment

September 28, 2021

Sheikh Muhammad Rashid (1915-2002) known as Baba-e-Socialism was one the founding leaders of the PPP. He stood for socialist ideas throughout his life and never compromised on his principles.

September 12 was the day of his 19th death anniversary, which was – as has been the case over the years – ignored by the party. It seems PPP leaders have gradually forgotten one of the party’s well-known socialist leaders.

No official activity was organised to pay tribute to the services rendered by Sheikh Muhammad Rashid to the party and to the people of Pakistan. Only his family and some political associates organised a seminar to highlight his political role and ideas. This year, due to Covid-19, his grandson Raza Ashfaq organised an online webinar to pay tribute to Baba-e-Socialism.

Since joining the party in 1967 to his death in 2002, he remained loyal and committed to the party. But he was alienated in the 1990s as the party moved to the right. He tried to defend the basic ideas and programme of the party, but the left was weak within the PPP.

One can argue that it was necessary for the party to adjust its politics in a fast-changing world. The Soviet Bloc had collapsed. Social Democracy abandoned its radical reformist policies and socialism. Neoliberalism and the market economy became the dominant ideology in the capitalist world.

The PPP tried to embrace new realities. In the process, it embraced neoliberal free market economic ideas. This process alienated many left-leaning activists in the party. The process of adjustment went too far and turned into capitulation with the establishment, ruling class and imperialism.

One reason for ignoring Sheikh Rashid’s death anniversary may be that his radical and socialist legacy is not compatible with the current ‘centrist’ politics of the party. His legacy of land reforms, generic scheme for medicines, anti-imperialist stance and popular anti-feudal and socialist politics and ideas are too radical.

This attitude towards Baba-e-Socialism and other socialist leaders and ideologues is not surprising because the party has the same attitude towards the radical policies of the Bhutto era. The party has adopted an apologetic position on the nationalisation of the economy during Bhutto’s time.

Sheikh Rashid defended the basic ideas of the party adopted in the founding conference at the residence of Dr Mubashar Hassan on November 30, 1967. He fought for democracy, equality, social and economic justice and the interests of workers and peasants. His politics was centered on the rights of the exploited classes and the poor.

He was the first president of PPP Punjab and played a leading role to organise the party in Punjab alongside other radical leaders. He laid the basis of a strong, vibrant and radical left-leaning party structure in Punjab. Sheikh Muhammad Rashid also played a key role in the victory of the PPP in Punjab in the 1970 general elections. The combination of the charismatic and popular leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the radical programme and slogans, and the well organised party machine led by Sheikh Rashid enabled the party to dominate the elections in Punjab.

Sheikh Rashid played a leading role in awarding party tickets to ideological party workers – middle class activists, trade union and peasant activists. He first opposed the inclusion of big landlords in the party and later tried his best to deny party tickets to them.

From 1967 to his last breath in 2002, he indulged in a constant ideological struggle within the party with the right wing. That perhaps led to him not being made the chief minister of Punjab. The provincial presidents of PPP Sindh and PPP NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) were made chief ministers of their respective provinces.

But this principle was not applied in Punjab. For the larger interests of the party, he withdrew himself as candidate to allow a smooth transfer of power to the PPP.

In my view, it was a mistake to let him withdraw, and the PPP is paying the price of this mistake even today. He could have transformed Punjab via agrarian reforms and progressive policies.

As federal health minister, he introduced a generic scheme of medicines, which helped reduce drug prices in the country. The drug industry and doctors oppose this policy. He tried to implement land reforms despite staunch opposition from feudal lords and big land-owners.

Sheikh Muhammad Rashid was an icon of socialism and struggle. His politics was not enriching himself or his family but to serve the people.

The writer is a freelance journalist.