Bacha Jee was a true human rights advocate, literary genius and supporter of the exploited
The NWFP, now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, had a history of peasant exploitation since before the partition.
In the late 19th Century, the British Raj turned the Peshawar valley into a canalirrigated colony. A handful of influential individuals became the owners of hundreds of thousands of acres of land.
These landowners mostly belonged to the Mohammadedzai tribe, known for ruthlessly exploiting the peasants and labourers.
Those landlords and khans faced political resistance from Kaka Jee Sanober Hussain Momand and Mufti A Rahim Populzai in the first quarter of the 20th Century. However, it was the Mazdoor Kissan Party founded in 1968 by Sher Ali Bacha and Afzal Bangash that finally gave a tough time to the exploiters.
Inspired by Marxist-Leninist theory, Bacha Jee believed in upholding justice, equality and human rights.
Sher Ali Bacha, widely known as Bacha Jee, was born in 1935 in a notable Hoti family in the Mardan district. Some of his family members, especially his uncle, had played a significant role in the Khudai Khitmatgar Tehrik of Bacha Khan.
Bacha Jee completed his matriculation from a school in Mardan and then took up a government job. He soon quit job and moved to Karachi, where he obtained a degree in law from the University of Karachi.
According to Peshawar-based writer Fayeq Yousafzai, Bacha Jee’s first teacher was his mother who mainly taught him Pashto literature and its historical background.
Bacha Jee was an extraordinary politician, poet and an upright human rights activist. He began his political journey with the National Awami Party, soon rising to be counted among its top leaders and rubbing shoulders with the likes of Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ajmal Khattak and Arbab Sikandar.
The party assigned Bacha Jee and his comrade Afzal Bangash to work for labourers’ and peasants’ rights.
Bacha Jee and Bangash accomplished this by spreading awareness among the oppressed peasants.
Unfortunately, the NAP then expelled Bacha Jee and Afzal Bangash. It has been said that this was part of a conspiracy hatched within the party to appease the exploiters.
They approached the party chairman, Khan Abdul Wali Khan, and requested him to review the decision but in vain. After parting ways from the NAP, they founded their own party called the Mazdoor Kisan Party (MKP) in 1968.
The plight of labourers and peasants was quite miserable in those days, They could not enjoy independence of any type. The big landowners mostly belonged to Charsada, Mardan, Swabi, Malakand and Swat. They treated the peasants like bonded labourers and frequently refused to pay regular wages.
Bacha Jee was an extraordinary politician, poet and an upright human rights activist. He began his political journey with the NAP (National Awami Party). Soon he was counted among the party’s top leaders, rubbing shoulders with Khan Abdul Wali Khan, Ajmal Khattak and Arbab Sikandar.
While preaching of their mission to secure the rights of the oppressed sections of society, Bacha Jee and Bangash went from door to door and visited many villages. After years of working from the MKP’s platform, Bacha Jee was shocked when Afzal Kahn Bangash once again joined the National Awami Party (NAP).
Bacha Jee later renamed his party as Pashtunkhwa Mazdoor Kissan Party and continued with his mission. For his pro-democracy role he was arrested and detained at a torture cell in Bala-Hisar Fort in Peshawar.
Following the shocking execution of the PPP founder, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in April 1979, Bacha Jee offered funeral prayers for him in Mardan. He also said on the occasion, “when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had the support of the poor in the country; he became prime minister. When the rich and the landlords started backing him, he was excuted by a dictator.“
As a staunch human rights defender, Bacha Jee eagerly supported the pro-Soviet revolution (called the Sour Inqilab) in Afghanistan when the Communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (CPDPA) led by Noor Mohammad Tarakai toppled President Daud Khan’s regime in a successful coup in 1978.
To show solidarity with CPDPA, Bacha Jee held a Difa-i-Inqilab-i-Afghanistan conference in Mandani in Charsada. He also sent some party workers to Kabul to show solidarity with the revolutionary setup.
Bacha Jee later formed an alliance with the Pashtun Khwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP of Balochistan under the name of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Ittihad.
In March 1989, the alliance was turned into PKMAP at a meeting in Quetta. Bacha Jee was elected its first secretary-general and served it in that capacity till his death in 1998.
Bacha Jee never desired a luxurious lifestyle. On his visits to Balochistan, he usually stayed in Zhob with late Sain Kamal Khan Sherani’s at his Salyaza home. During his long political journey, Bacha Jee inspired a large number of youths.
His loyal companions included Misal Khan Lala, Ziarat Gul Lala of Mardan, Jango Baba, Sardar Muhammad of Hashnagar, Shirin Bacha of Sher Gharh, Maulvi Muhammad Sadiq, Sattar Lala, Asghar Lala of Mardan, Mamad Khan Kaka of Peshawar, Advocate Muslim Shah of Mardan, Syed Nazif Kaka, Meraghzan Baba and Joseph of Peshawar.
Bacha Jee was a distinguished writer and had great command over literature and history. Bul Mashaloona (Shining lamps) is one of his literary essays discussing the plight of Afghanistan and the root cause of its wretchedness. He also contributed poems to Milli Passon (National uprising).
Here’s an excerpt from Bacha Jee’s work:
As darkness arrives on a
Or a labourer returns home
from a factory,
Or a peasant arrives his hut
from the fields of a landlord,
Or a frustrated beggar returns empty-handed from a
Or an innocent prisoner arrives
in a prison like a motionless body,
O my heart! My beloved
homeland has a similar tale,
By God, it’s not a tale to be heard.
Bacha Jee left an indelible impression on the literary scene of KPK and breathed his last on July 25 in 1998 in Peshawar. He was laid to rest in his ancestral graveyard in Mardan.
The writer is a professor at Government Degree College, Zhob and a columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org