A rare politician

Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch may be remembered for founding and leading the highest number of political parties in Balochistan

A rare politician

On the night of February 25, a disturbing report went viral on social media. Veteran Baloch nationalist leader Dr Hayee Baloch was reported to have died near Bahawalpur. Later, some family members confirmed that he had died in a road accident near Jalalpur Peerwala on the Multan-Sukkur Motorway on his way to Lahore from Hyderabad. The tragic accident marked the end of the career of arguably the most well-known Baloch nationalist politician who was not a tribal chieftain.

Hayee Baloch was born in February 1945 in Chalgari village in the Kachhi district of Balochistan, located 162 kilometres southeast of Quetta. After acquiring his basic education in Balochistan, he completed his degree in medicine at Dow Medical College Karachi. During his time as an MBBS student, he joined student politics. He was the founding chairman of the Baloch Students Organisation (BSO) in 1967. He soon quit the BSO and joined the National Awami Party ahead of the monumental 1970 elections.

In the 1970 elections, the 25-year-old Hayee Baloch ran against Prince Yahya Jan, a son of the Khan of Kalat, for the NW-137 Kalat I constituency of the National Assembly and won by a convincing margin. That was his first introduction to mainstream national politics. Although he made history by defeating the son of the former ruler of a princely state at the tender age of 25, this was also his last direct election victory.

When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto removed the NAP government in Balochistan and later banned the party, Hayee Baloch was imprisoned along with other NAP leaders. After his release from prison under the Zia ul Haq regime, Hayee Baloch joined the Pakistan National Party (PNP) of Ghaus Baksh Bizenjo. In the late 1980s, he formed Balochistan Youth National Movement, which later became Balochistan National Movement (BNM). Hayee Baloch became the first president of the BNM. In 1994, he was elected to the Senate of Pakistan. He remained a senator till 2000.

Rasheed Baloch, a political analyst based in Quetta, says that most of the present-day nationalist political parties of Balochistan have their roots in the BNM of Hayee Baloch. “BNP-Mengal, BNP-Awami, and National Party all have their roots in the BNM,” he tells TNS. “Even Sardar Akhtar Mengal started his politics from the platform of the BNM. Without Hayee Baloch’s help, he would not have made it big into the politics of Balochistan,” Baloch adds.

In 2003, Hayee Baloch was at the forefront of efforts to unite Baloch nationalist parties. The same year BNM-Hayee and BNDP merged to form National Party. Predictably, Hayee Baloch became the first president of the National Party. He served in that capacity at a very crucial time when Balochistan’s latest insurgency was kicking off. Although Hayee Baloch had significant political clout in Balochistan, he played safe during this period so as not to earn the ire of Baloch separatists or the state of Pakistan.

After the 2013 elections, the National Party came to power for the first time. Dr Malik Baloch, who had succeeded Hayee Baloch as president of the National Party, became Balochistan’s chief minister. In November 2014, elections were held to pick a new president for the party and it was a contest between Hayee Baloch and the late Hasil Bizenjo. Hayee Baloch lost the election and quit the party he had founded, alleging that the elections were rigged against him.

His political career and approach were the opposite of many budding politicians in Balochistan, who measure success in the political arena in terms of financial gain. In that sense, Hayee Baloch was indeed a rare breed.

Rasheed Baloch, who covered the National Party election, says that Hayee Baloch and his supporters alleged at the time that the inclusion of party councillors from the Punjab, Sindh and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the last minute tipped the scales against Hayee Baloch. “Hayee Baloch maintained that councillors from Balochistan should have more weight in election then councillors from other provinces since National Party was predominantly a Balochistan-based party,” Baloch said.

Shahzada Zulfiqar, a senior analyst covering Balochistan for four decades, says that the election dispute in 2014, which led to the departure of Hayee Baloch from the National Party was due to the fact that Hayee Baloch always wanted to be the president of the party and some people were opposed to that. “[Hayee Baloch] could not have remained president of the National Party for life. His unrealistic approach resulted in the parting of ways with the party when it was at the pinnacle of its power,” Zulfiqar tells TNS.

After leaving the National Party, Hayee Baloch founded the National Democratic Party (NDP) in 2018 and became its founding chairman. He retained this position till his death.

In Balochistan, Hayee Baloch holds the record for founding and leading the highest number of political parties. Despite this, only twice did he make it to the parliament and never won a provincial assembly election in his 52-year political career. Why a youngster who made a mark in the politics of Balochistan at the age of 25 could not have a more successful career is a point to ponder for students of the politics of Balochistan.

Rasheed Baloch is of the view that Hayee Baloch always contested elections against powerful tribal chieftains from Kachhi district, which is still a very backward area. There were not enough people in the constituency to appreciate his progressive political appeal.

Zulfiqar points out that Hayee Baloch could not do better in electoral politics because he lacked financial resources. “He belonged to the middle class and was not a corrupt person. So he did not have the means to make the required expenditures to carry out a strong election campaign,” he says. He concludes that politics is not an affordable activity for middle-class people in today’s Balochistan.

Hayee Baloch could be seen all the time walking the streets of Quetta. Some said that he walked to maintain his health, which is possible because he was exceptionally healthy for a 77-year-old. Others noted that he could not afford to buy a vehicle.

Zulfiqar agrees with the latter assertion and confirms that Hayee Baloch frequently let acquaintances pick him from or drop him at his home located on Sariab Road.

Hayee Baloch spent 52 years of his life doing politics. He did not practice medicine despite qualifying as a doctor. Still, he was not successful electorally and financially. His political career and approach are the complete opposite of many budding politicians in Balochistan, who measure success in the political arena in terms of financial gain. In that sense, Hayee Baloch was indeed a rare breed.

The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on twitter: @iAdnanAamir.

A rare politician