Posts Tagged ‘India’

The Warfare State

March 6, 2019

By Anjum Altaf

Pakistan should be a welfare state. With millions of people straddling the poverty line, there is no other way forward. Those who believe the market will offer a solution are driven by ideology, blind fundamentalists in the same category as religious fundamentalists.

Only the state can cater for such destitution and the fact that a state has no interest or ability to do so does not mean that the task should be turned over to the market. The plain truth is that the market cares nothing for those without the ability to pay and there are many more in that category than should be acceptable. Not just that, without a strong state the market doesn’t trickle wealth down it siphons it up. The only viable alternative is to force the state to deliver on its responsibility and in the long run the only peaceful weapon citizens have to achieve that is the power of their votes. Let not this power be exhausted by either subverting it or ignoring its claims. The demand for bread can be fobbed off only so long with the promise of cakes.

We should pay heed to the fact that instead of moving towards a welfare state we are consciously turning into even more of a warfare state than we already happen to be. It is in this context that one should consider the most astounding decision of the cabinet delivered without any sense of irony by the Minister for Information at the time of the recent mini-budget: “The country’s defence budget is already low as compared to other states in the region, and therefore it should be increased.”

Hello, Mr. Minister. The country’s budget for everything else — health, education, public transport, environmental sanitation, you name it — is also already low as compared to other states in the region. So why just the privileging of defence? On the contrary, the budget for everything else is being reduced even further to make up for the increase.

The deficit is intended to be made up “through the generation of more revenue” but given that no elite has ever taxed itself voluntarily except under extreme duress, this burden of taxation is also likely to fall on the middle and lower classes through dubious withholding taxes on cell phones and the like.

In actual fact the deficit is being made up by scrounging around for a billion here and a billion there on terms that cannot be disclosed to citizens and by printing money like there is no tomorrow. All that the printed money is causing is inflation that is eroding the purchasing power of the helpless even further. I am sure the poor are ready to sacrifice for the nation but what does the interest of the nation entail? Is it always more guns at the cost of butter? And will the sacrifice ever be equitably shared or will one category continue to be evicted from tiny plots where they have lived for decades while others are allotted plots on which pets live better than the humans who feed them?

Where is the sense of irony in all this? Recall the out-of-the-box policy of some wizard in the Economic Advisory Committee who advocated a ban on imported cheese with the justification: “Does a country that has no foreign exchange afford to eat cheese?”

Hello, again, Mr. Jack-in-the-Box. Granted a country that has no foreign exchange ought not to eat imported cheese but can its leaders still afford to fly around in helicopters and ride in SUVs? Why doesn’t the cabinet set an example by getting to work on camels and setting up offices in tents instead of sprawling complexes with perpetual air-conditioning? And while they are demonstrating how people — all people — ought to be living in a country with no foreign  exchange, why don’t they turn off the hot water as well since that has now been declared a luxury in the New Pakistan?

Have we learned nothing from history? The Soviet Union collapsed ballooning its defence budget while making people wait in endless queues for the necessities of life. Countries that neglect the minimum welfare of their citizens and fight endless futile wars get hollowed out from within and ultimately implode. This insight was obvious even to a President like Reagan who was otherwise not a very bright man. All the US had to do was to engage the Soviet Union in an endless arms race and the latter ran out of space.

Modi is a much sharper politician and he is following the exact same strategy with Pakistan — no negotiations till the room for maneuver disappears. And we are blithely helping him along. When two countries are developing at radically different rates, every day that passes weakens the negotiating position of the laggard till the only recourse left is capitulation or the madness of mutual destruction.

Verily it is said that those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. And when they wish to destroy completely, they make them madder still.

This opinion was published in Dawn on March 3, 2019 and is reproduced here with  permission. Anjum Altaf is the author of Transgressions: Poems Inspired by Faiz Ahmed Faiz published recently by Aakar Books, Delhi.

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Inequality and Its Critique

January 22, 2019

By Anjum Altaf

Oxfam presented its new report at Davos whose main takeaway for India is that:

“Indian billionaires saw their fortunes swell by Rs 2,200 crore a day last year, with the top 1 per cent of the country’s richest getting richer by 39 per cent as against just 3 per cent increase in wealth for the bottom-half of the population.”

Shekhar Gupta at The Print has castigated this report in very strong terms as methodologically flawed and politically motivated.

Please read the news item and watch Gupta’s critique then write a comment with your own analysis. Where do you come out on this issue? [I wish he would stay still while speaking — it is tortuous to watch]

Here is a set of expert opinions solicited by The Print:

Consider the three in conjunction with the following argument which inserts some much needed theory into the debate.

Read this as well. The authors are collaborators of Thomas Piketty who brought inequality on the agenda with his Capital in the Twenty First Century.

Nobody has really thrown out Piketty’s data or methodology. For the most serious critique see the following by Debraj Ray:

Those wishing to push further can read the following response by Branko Milanovic:

I look forward to your contributions.

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Ants Among Elephants: A Portrait of Untouchability in India

January 13, 2018

By Kabir Altaf

One of the frequent topics of debate among those interested in South Asia is the caste system and whether it is unique to Hinduism or features in other South Asian religions as well. Hindu society has traditionally been divided into four castes (or varnas): Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (rulers, administrators and warriors), Vaishyas (merchants and tradesmen), and Shudras (artisans, farmers and laboring classes). A fifth group consists of those who do not fit into this hierarchy at all and are considered “untouchable”. What separates caste from other systems of social stratification are the aspects of purity and ascribed status. Upper-castes consider lower castes to be “impure” and have rigid rules about the kind of social interaction they can have with them. For example, upper castes will not accept food from those of a lower caste, while lower castes will accept food from those above them. Caste status is also ascribed at birth and has nothing to do with an individual’s achievements. A Brahmin peasant remains a Brahmin while an “untouchable” engineer is still an “untouchable”. This system persists in India today, though the government does provide affirmative action in order to uplift members of “backward” castes.

Coming from a Pakistani background, I was not familiar with the operation of the caste system in daily life. Though Pakistan is a highly socially stratified society, this system has no religious sanction. In Islam, all believers are considered equal in the eyes of Allah. Unlike in India, where until recently, “untouchables” could not go into several temples, all social classes pray together in the same mosques. This fact is highlighted in one of the famous couplets from Allama Iqbal’s poem Shikwa (the complaint) which states: “Ek hi saf mein khare ho gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz/ Na koi banda raha aur na koi banda nawaz” (Mahmood the king and slave Ayaz, in line as equals stood arrayed/ The lord was no more lord to slave: while both to the One Master prayed). At least in religious terms, one Muslim is not better than any other, no matter what his social status. Of course, this does not mean that social stratification ceases to exist. To this day, rich Pakistani families have separate utensils in their homes which are to be used by the servants. Punjabi Christians who engage in janitorial work are still known as “chuhras”, a derogatory reference to their pre-conversion caste status as “untouchables”. However, unlike the Hindu caste system, social class in Pakistan is not based on ascribed status. If someone from a low socio-economic background attains an education and a well-paying job, he or she will no longer be treated as belonging to their previous socioeconomic group. This is a major difference from India, where one’s caste remains salient, no matter one’s economic status.

A first hand account of caste in India is given by Sujatha Gidla’s recent book “Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2017). Gidla was born into an “untouchable” family in the southern Indian state of Andra Pradesh. Through the story of her ancestors, she presents a portrait of India from the end of British rule to the 1990s. It is particularly interesting to note that while her family is Christian (a religion in which there is technically no caste), they are still considered “untouchable” in Hindu society. Gidla writes: “Christians, untouchables—it came to the same thing. All Christians in India were untouchables, as far as I knew (though only a small minority of all untouchables are Christian.) I knew no Christian who did not turn servile in the presence of a Hindu. I knew no Hindu who did not look right through a Christian man standing in front of him as if he did not exist. I accepted this. No questions asked” (Gidla 5). Caste is so pervasive in India that it applies even to those groups whose religions formally believe in equality.

Another aspect that differentiates Gidla’s family from that of the typical “untouchable” is their educational attainment. Starting with her grandparents’ generation, her family was educated in missionary schools. Gidla herself studied engineering in India and then moved to the United States for further education. However, these educational achievements did not stop the family from experiencing discrimination based on their caste. After Gidla’s mother, Manjula, passed the exams that qualified her to work as a university lecturer, she was posted by the government to a distant town. When she got there, the principal of the college, a Brahmin woman, refused to let her take up her post. (243-244). Luckily, she was able to return to the job she had just left and her ex-boss was kind enough to rip up her resignation letter. This incident is just one example of the bigotry the family had to face.

Much of the book tells the story of Gidla’s maternal uncle Satyam who was engaged with the Communist Party from an early age and became one of the founders of the Maoist movement. However, caste remained salient even within the Communist movement. Gidla describes how new recruits were given jobs that reflected their caste status: “Barber-caste members were told to shave their comrades’ chins and washer-caste members to wash their comrades’ clothes. Untouchables, of course, were made to sweep and mop the floors and clean the lavatories” (302). Even though Satyam had initially believed that the communist movement should not focus too much on caste, but on fighting for the rights of all workers, he eventually came to believe that upper-caste peasants and workers “couldn’t be won to a truly revolutionary program” (305). When he tried to advocate for the concerns of “untouchable” recruits, he was accused of trying to divide the party and expelled.

Gidla’s book is an illuminating and accessible read. Through the story of one family, she shows how the phenomenon of caste operates in modern India. The book is particularly important for those of us who live in India’s neighboring countries, where caste does not operate in the same way—or at least not to the same extent—as it does in India.

Kabir Altaf is an editor. He graduated from George Washington University with a major in Dramatic Literature and a minor in Music.

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Some Reflections on the Nature of Economic, Social, and Political Change

December 20, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

[This is the text of the 16th Hamza Alavi Distinguished Lecture delivered in Karachi on December 16, 2017, under the auspices of the Irtiqa Institute for Social Sciences and the Hamza Alavi Foundation. The lecture was delivered in Urdu and does not follow the order of the formal written version. A video of the lecture is accessible at the Irtiqa Facebook page.]

An important strand of Hamza Alavi’s work was about change and the agency for change as attested by the two well-known hypotheses associated with his name – those of the middle peasantry (1965) and of the salariat (1987). I intend to use these as the point of departure to offer some tentative reflections on the nature of change and on the scenarios facing us today in Pakistan and more generally across the world.

Economics, the Importance of Rules, and Collective Agency

My own academic interest in the subject arose not with reference to politics or sociology but via a study of economics. In preparing for doctoral work, I was struck by the centrality of rules in our lives. Everything we do is governed by rules, some of which, such as those enforced by organizations and legislatures, are relatively short-lived, while others, like cultural norms, have comparatively longer lives. Any number of examples can be offered by way of illustration. The most obvious case of the application of rules to action is in the realm of games like chess, cricket and hockey. Industrial behaviour is circumscribed by laws pertaining to labour and the environment, commercial transactions by rules of taxation, social interactions by rules of inheritance and marriage, and history by rules of succession. Extending the argument, it is asserted that all institutions can be characterized as sets of rules that define and govern behaviour (North, 1990).

Once I realized the centrality of rules, it occurred to me that mainstream economic theory was limited in the way it incorporated this fact within its corpus. Recall that in the theory of the firm, for example, the highest virtue is efficiency. A producer is expected to maximize efficiency in the production process within the given set of rules applicable at the time. The last part, however, is left unstated and implicitly assumed as a datum.

I started my doctoral work abroad but my formative experiences had been in Pakistan and this conceptualization of the production process did not ring true to me. I was quite aware that producers in Pakistan cared little about efficiency while investing a lot of time and money in manipulating rules to their advantage. It was an easily observable fact that windfall gains, many times those resulting from being efficient, could be achieved by manipulation of rules. There were examples that I had experienced personally. Consider a rule change that made it mandatory for motorcycle riders to wear helmets. This could multiply the demand for helmets overnight increasing their price in the market. Consider another rule that would prohibit the import of helmets. That would yield another bonanza for domestic producers.

Given this fact, it was quite clear to me that rational economic agents would invest more in trying to change rules to their advantage than in being efficient within existing rules. It was also obvious that rules were not fixed but liable to change and often the object of conscious efforts intended to induce change and that one could differentiate various situations by the relative stability of their rule regimes (1). Based on these insights I set out to investigate how rules impacted economic behaviour by incorporating the rule regime explicitly into the theoretical framework of mainstream economics from which it had been excluded (Altaf, 1983).

A major conclusion followed immediately. The kind of rule changes mentioned above, e.g., mandating the use of helmets, cannot, in general, be engineered by any individual producer in the market. However, we encounter such rule changes quite often. This means that economic theory resting on methodological individualism, i.e., taking the individual as the unit of analysis, could not account for such dynamics. It needed to figure out a way to resolve this limitation.

But let us step back for a moment. Does the fact that an individual is unable to engineer a rule change imply that he or she has no agency? Not at all, because the individual always retains the agency to violate a rule, e.g., to not stop at a red light. The instances of individual firms violating safety and environmental rules are so flagrant that there is no need to belabor the point. Suffice it to say that the economics of cheating is a major area in its own right though not of primary importance for the subject of this discussion.

But consider the flip side – while individuals cannot change rules, groups can. In the realm of economics, these are lobbies associated with various industries like textiles, automobiles, healthcare, hedge funds, etc. Thus an economic theory desirous of incorporating the reality of rule changes would need to take the group as the unit of analysis – only then would something like the economics of lobbying become an integral part of the theory rather than an add-on.

Let us reiterate at this juncture the immense significance of rule changes. The point can be driven home vividly by reference to the mundane sport of hockey. Many people claim that just two rule changes – that of the playing surface from grass to Astroturf and the off-side rule – put paid to the dominance of subcontinental teams in favour of European and Australian ones. The changes lessened the importance of artistry and close ball control in favour of stamina and long passes in which Europeans had a comparative advantage.

In weightier domains, one can think of the differences over rules of political succession that were at the bottom of the schism in Islam right at the very outset. The inability to agree on rules of succession continued to plague Muslim empires throughout history – recall the fact that during the Mughal empire each successive emperor had to eliminate all his brothers to establish dominance. In our own times we see a recurrence of something similar in the emerging rift between Maryam Nawaz and Hamza Shahbaz – different sets of courtiers informing each of them that they are intended for the same role.

Here I would like to recall a fascinating hypothesis I heard first from the late G.M. Mehkri (Altaf, 2009a). He posed the question of why Muslims were the poorest community in India despite over a thousand years of Muslim rule. His speculation was that Muslims in India had persisted with a law of inheritance, one that was appropriate in a desert economy where reproducible assets like animals were the principal source of wealth, after migrating to an agricultural economy in which the principal source of wealth was land, a non-reproducible asset. He surmised further that the reason Memons, Khojas, and Bohras were more affluent amongst Muslim communities was because they had retained their caste laws of inheritance on conversion to Islam. While I am not in a position to validate these specific hypotheses, they do illustrate vividly the possibility of deep and long-lasting impact of rules and rule changes on society.

One of the extensions of this line of thought is the realization that some of the most important interactions in our world (‘games’ in the game-theoretic sense) are played not within given rules but over the rules that are to govern transactions. One needs only to think of global negotiations over rules of trade, intellectual property, and climate change to realize this vital truth. This opens up many issues that are of great interest, e.g., who has the power, authority and legitimacy to make rules, how do groups form and sustain themselves to challenge rules, how do groups opposed to each other interact in the struggle over rules, and what is the role of the rule-maker, often the state, in such struggles? Is the rule-maker a neutral umpire or an active player with interests of its own (2)? 

The bottom line of this argument for me was the following: that the relevant unit of analysis is the group (including the state as an identifiable group) and that groups are not averse to using all means, not just economic ones, to change rules in order to maximize their self interest. Even within the discipline of economics, restricting ourselves to Homo Economicus was to limit the analysis without adequate justification. Humans are really political animals – Zoon Politikon, in the characterization of Aristotle. Thus, for the phenomena that interested Hamza Alavi, economics, sociology and politics come together in a unified social science that sees history as the struggle over rules of games that are continuously played out amongst contending groups aiming to optimize their respective self interests.  

Consider in this light the motivations of Hamza Alavi’s middle peasantry and the salariat. At the conceptual level the characterization presented above would make sense quite independent of whether or not the groups were capable of effecting the changes attributed to them. Between the motivation and the ability there are intervening variables that we will address later in this discussion.

Provincializing Europe

Before doing so I would like to flag an issue that would hopefully nuance the discussion. This pertains to the default backdrop of Enlightenment Europe as an exemplar of the type of change we often implicitly have in mind with its salience regarding the rights of individuals – the transition to an age characterized by the transformation of subject to citizen along with corresponding notions of social contract, citizenship and civil rights. We need to remain aware that the European experience emerged out of the confluence of a very particular set of developments (Johnson, 1999) that need have almost no parallel in our part of the world. Differences matter even within the colonial context as Andre Beteille (2013) observed regarding the evolution of democracy:

“In both India and the United States (US) – unlike in England or France – democracy grew in response to the challenge of colonial rule, but the responses were not the same in the two cases. America was a new nation characterized by social conditions that were very different from the social conditions prevalent since time immemorial in India.”

Even the transformation of subject to citizen in Europe had a particular history modulated by the rise of capitalism. Marshall (1950), in a classic essay, has elaborated the peculiarity of the development in England of the civil, political and social dimensions of citizenship, in that order, each taking around one century to consolidate.

Marshall’s thesis on the sequential development of citizenship rights (Cohen, 2010) is embedded in the specificities of the emergence of capitalism in Europe with its imperatives to protect privacy (of property) and to promote individualism (to make labor a freely tradable commodity). The unintended outcome of these imperatives was the concession of civil rights extending the sanctity of property to the body of the worker, his or her primary asset. This concession of the equality of all bodies, in turn, led to a demand for political rights, an equal say in the election of political representatives. And the need to protect the capitalist system from the pressures for redistribution from below generated by the exercise of civil and political rights led to the progressive yielding of socioeconomic rights.

In the colonies, by contrast, political rights took precedence, being virtually gifted in the historical process, and are still significantly more legitimated than individual and civil rights. Khilnani (1997) observes that “most people in India had no idea of what exactly they had been given. Like the British empire it supplanted, India’s constitutional democracy was established in a fit of absent-mindedness.” Mehta (2003) adds that India’s democratic experiment “was not the object of ideological passion, it was not born of a deep sense of conviction widely shared, but it was simply the contingent outcome of the conflicts amongst India’s different elites, or an unintended by-product of the British having produced too many lawyers adept in the idioms of modern politics.”

Dr. Ambedkar (1949), the author of the Indian Constitution, was under no illusion regarding the nature of the evolution of rights in India: “In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions?”

Teresa Caldeira (2000) has argued convincingly that scholars of “the history of the countries that invented the liberal-democratic model (France, England, and the United States)… have tended to generalize the history so that it becomes the history of the development of rights and discipline in general and the model of what citizenship and democracy should look like.”

“One of the effects of this generalization is to link certain elements as if they always occur together and in a certain sequence. Countries such as Brazil, but also others with different histories (usually colonial histories) and that today have disjunctive democracies force us to dissociate the elements of that history and to question their sequence. They force us to see the possibility of political citizenship without the control of violence, of a rule of law coexisting with police abuses, and of electoral democracies without civil rights or a legitimate justice system… Looking at these histories, we realize that what we think of as the norm – the European history of the control of violence and development of citizenship rights – is only one version of modernity, and probably not even the most common one. When we look at other histories we realize that multiple modernities are produced as different nations and peoples engage with various elements of the repertoire of modernity (monopoly of the use of force, citizenship, liberalism and so on).”

The European historical model of social change referred to above encapsulated what we can call a progressive expansion of the rights of individuals modulated by groups seeking to change rules to extract privileges from other groups standing in the way of their advancement. One can begin with the iconic example of the Magna Carta before progressing through social revolutions characterized by the rise of the bourgeoisie against the aristocracy, political evolution marked by the prolonged struggle of citizens to extend the electoral franchise, and economic amelioration exemplified by the efforts of workers for improved working conditions.

As opposed to the European experience modulated by the rise of capitalism and the politics of economic growth, there were no social revolutions in South Asia which moved from pre-modern to modern forms of governance, midwived by the British, with the same social classes remaining in charge and reinventing themselves in new roles. A more defining phenomenon in the colonies was the waning of imperial power and the politics of decline and economic scarcity in which dominant minorities struggled to safeguard the erosion of their privileges (3). In India after 1857, the British resorted to rule changes that would weaken the nationalist opposition by privileging the divisive salience of religion in governance. This threatened some segments of the Muslim aristocracy when governance inclined towards dependence on electoral representation. Suddenly numbers became a critical factor and the Muslim aristocracy, in turn, sought rule changes (like separate electorates and over-representation) that would protect its privileges despite its lesser numbers. In this framework, the failure to reach an agreement with the dominant community on the rules of the game resulted in the division of the subcontinent.

A similar pattern, but without a similar outcome, was repeated in Sri Lanka in the case of the Tamils and later in Pakistan with the erosion of the dominance of the Urdu-speaking group concentrated in urban Sindh, another phenomenon that was of interest to Hamza Alavi (1989). The point to keep in mind is that such rearguard movements to safeguard against the erosion of privileges, although of immense political significance, do not necessarily lead to progressive change in the rights of individuals. They can sometime, but not always, result in political fragmentation in which a smaller clone of the larger territory can exercise sovereignty within similar sets of rules.

This tendency is strengthened by the fact that civil rights remain weak in South Asia and the primary identity is not the acquired one of an individual citizen but that of subjects subscribing to ascriptive social affiliations related to religion, ethnicity, language, etc. The difference can be illustrated by reference to Marx’s appeal that formed the core of the European class struggle – “Workers of the World Unite.” While workers, an acquired identity, were not able to form coalitions across nations, they were able within nations to wrest many individual concessions encapsulated in rule changes like the length of the working day, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, etc. In the subcontinent, by contrast, the solidarity of workers was much more easily negated by the state’s recourse to divisive ascriptive affiliations of religion, ethnicity and language.

This situation, peculiar to our types of countries, has been formulated conceptually by Chatterjee (2001) in a recategorization of the population between a small civil society comprised of citizens motivated by individual rights and a large political society comprised of marginalized subjects motivated by the acquisition of collective rights. The argument is advanced that civil society has tended to align itself with the state while political society has struggled to find effective means to assert its numerical power.

The bottom line that emerges from this discussion is that in all cases there is a collective agency at play but the dynamics are very different depending on historical specificity. The changes in Enlightenment Europe were driven by the interests of rising economic powers in the context of the emergence of capitalism leading to progressive gains in a particular sequence in the rights of individual citizens. In most colonies, on the other hand, the driver of change was either rearguard action by privileged minorities to safeguard their entitlements or demands by marginalized subnational groups for collective rights leading to repression and/or political fragmentation.

It is of interest to note, if only in passing, the recent emergence of the politics of economic decline in the West consequent upon the playing out of the globalization of capital. One can see the election of Donald Trump in the US and the gains of far-right political parties in Europe in this light. The decision of the UK to quit the European Union also conforms to the predicted pattern.

By contrast, the prospects of progressive politics in present-day Pakistan seem to have faded over time. The labour movement has weakened considerably and while there are numerous disaffected groups in political society, their ability to form effective coalitions resistant to countervailing measures of the state is yet to be demonstrated.  

Here one must return to the salience of identity as a variable in the effectiveness of collective agency via the ability to craft coalitions united in a political struggle. A number of scholars (see Lilla, 2017) have noted that almost all politics in the West has now reduced itself to identity politics. But it may be this very factor that has resulted in the remarkable progress of some struggles that have overcome the barriers of co-existing primordial loyalties, the LGBTQ movement being the most recent example. The nature of the outcome is in some measure a result of the choice of identity that has traction in a particular situation, the choice arising (or being induced) because, as Amartya Sen (2006) has pointed out, identity is multidimensional. Recall that there were few takers for the concerns of the Muslim aristocracy in India till 1937 and it was only the projection of an arguably exaggerated existential threat to religious identity that gave momentum to the movement in the 1940s (4).

Prospects for Change in South Asia

What can one conclude about the prospects of change in Pakistan today? Given the nature of political society and the dominant markers of identity one can foresee the continued festering of demands for ethnic recognition and regional autonomy along lines we are familiar with in South Asia – demands of the Baloch, Seraiki and Hazara come readily to mind. These could be resolved in better or worse ways but are unlikely to proceed to the outcomes exemplified in the past by either Pakistan or Bangladesh for reasons articulated later.

As for progressive change, the prospects along stereotypical revolutionary lines appear slim.  However, there is an emerging perception that sees a different way forward in working with elements within political society (5). It has been noted that of the many disaffected groups in political society there are some, like trade and community associations, that have functioning democratic structures. A number of civil society activists are working with such associations to pressurize the state to deliver on the legitimate entitlements of the latter. Marginalized groups are vulnerable because they often have to break rules to engage the state, e.g., by encroaching on state land and then demanding the regularization of the status quo. But there are other rules defining legal entitlements that remain unimplemented. These pertain to benefits like overtime, disability pay, etc. that are evaded by employers and rights that are promised in the Constitution. The de jure representative state is forced into a delicate balancing game with such groups and it remains to be seen what will transpire if and when such movements threaten to shift the balance of power. It is still likely but not a priori inevitable that the state might be able to finesse these emerging coalitions by recourse to divisive primordial identities as it has in the past.

It is useful to highlight the existing and potential differences between contemporary Pakistan and India in the context of change. While India has also had its demands for regional autonomy they have been handled relatively better except for the states on the peripheries. Marginalized groups have achieved a measure of access to rights to education, employment, food, and information. However, the major difference could lie in the quest for social and civil rights. While one sees virtually no identity-based movements in Pakistan likely to lead to decisive progressive change, the same may not be true in India where one could plausibly envision an alternative scenario. The access to political rights via the vote and the existence of marginalized primordial caste-based identity groups (e.g., Dalits) with significant electoral power has resulted in the latter securing some economic rights through affirmative action to rise up the economic scale. These economic gains have yet to be translated into gains in social status and one can see a collective movement that could evolve in that direction in a period of continued economic growth. The recent surge of campus activism has encouraged the possibility of potential coalitions of such caste groups with more traditional factions of the Left in the struggle for civil rights.

As a necessary caveat one should note that in thinking of the prospects of change the influence of background events such as the Black Death, that hastened the end of feudalism, or the growth of capitalism in Europe cannot be ignored. Three major factors could be mentioned in the case of Pakistan. The first has been the safety valve of emigration out of the country – the actual numbers belie the psychological significance of the fact that till today both the elites and the marginalized have concentrated their efforts on trying to maximize their self-interest by leaving the country rather than fighting to change it (6).

The first academic paper I wrote (Altaf, 1982) articulated the likely political implications of this phenomenon. My conclusion was that “the process may well leave in its wake a newly arisen small-property owning class that could side more readily with narrow reaction than with progressive change.”

The second major factor, evolving under the radar as it were, is that of continuing urbanization. It could foreshadow a non-revolutionary model of change akin to that of Latin America where numerically significant urban middle-class groups demanding better access to essential services like water, power, health, and education were able to wrest concessions from the state and ultimately displace military rule with more representative governance.

The third factor is the displacement of labour from agriculture which would continue in Pakistan. In the absence of the kind of rapid economic growth that marked the Industrial Revolution in Europe or the later industrial transformations in East Asia, we might end up with a huge population parked in the never-never land between agriculture and industry. Given a demographic profile skewed towards the young, this disaffected population would be a potential agent for change but many doubt that its mobilization would be along progressive lines. Just thinking whether the ideology of the ‘revolution’ of such groups would be of the Right or the Left and whether it would be armed or not is sufficient to yield serious misgivings. A thought provoking dimension of such a prospect is the contemporaneous bankruptcy of ideas that might motivate a revolution in Pakistan today. When one thinks of the social revolutions of Europe, one is inspired by the intellectual debates of the times and the stature of the public intellectuals who participated in the debates. The entire foundation of the European Enlightenment emerged out of the contestation of ideas that are studied in academia to this day.

This thought leads me to highlight a seemingly unrelated fact – that almost all progressive change we have experienced in the world has been accompanied by a huge amount of literature in the form of treatises, novels and plays that have paved the way for the acceptance of change by the often subliminal projection of alternate realities (7). The latest example of that has been the phenomenal speed with which the LGBTQ movement has been accepted in the West by populations that were viscerally opposed to its demands on doctrinal grounds a mere few decades ago. The relative dearth of such literature in Pakistan means that a very powerful lubricant of progressive social change is missing (8). On the contrary, the hardening of regressive views continues apace (9).     

A Modest Conclusion

In conclusion, it does appear that we are in a bind. A social revolution is warranted but one can sense that the time for old-style social revolutions of the disenfranchised could well be gone; modern states have too much firepower, instruments of control, and technologies of rule at their disposal to be overthrown in the ways of the past – history rarely repeats itself like that (10). One can also sense that any revolution of the traditional types we are familiar with, in which one class upends all the rules of the game in one go, could easily end up as a horror story (11.

One can infer from this discussion that a major revolution occurred in the West with the transition of people from subjects to citizens. This transition, in turn, irrevocably altered the nature of the playing field on which future battles would be enacted. In brief, the terrain became rule oriented in which the rulers and the ruled were bound by legally protected rights and entitlements. All future changes would be marked by an struggle in this domain over the nature of rules that would be chosen to govern society.

A most vivid example of this phenomenon would be the evolution of capitalism itself. Instead of the outright overthrow of capitalists by workers, a much more gradual process followed in which workers extracted concessions one entitlement at a time. The end result, if one sees the Scandinavian countries as an exemplar, was the virtual attainment of the same quality of life of workers that was posited as an objective of the overthrow of capitalism by socialism.     

The situation in South Asia is complicated by the fact that, as Partha Chatterjee has conceptualized, society remains fragmented between subjects and citizens which means that the struggle for justice and a better quality of life would tend to be a composite of rights-based movements for change, insurrections of the kinds marked by the increasing frequency of dharnas, and more typical local modes of protest like fasts-to-death. Whether subjects and citizens, responding to quite different tensions in society, can unite in the struggle remains to be seen. Their fragmentation provides the major weapon to the ruling class to prolong the status quo via a strategy of divide-and-rule.

Given the above, it can be argued that the most optimistic scenario is for civil and political society coalitions to realize that in parallel with whatever else they may be doing, they cannot but gain by raising the stakes in a more pragmatic joint strategy focused on identifying rules for change that would yield benefits for all. It is not inconceivable that some of these, like those mentioned earlier in the context of hockey, while apparently innocuous could well trigger developments that tip the balance of forces over time. The myriad rules that go into forming the Constitution – recall that institutions are nothing but rules – could provide possible targets. As one example, changing the first-past-the-post rule for elections could well begin sending more responsive representatives into the legislature with a snowball effect (Altaf, 2008). Instead of allowing the state to insert ‘Sadiq and Ameen’ types of rules to manipulate developments to its advantage, coalitions could identify and struggle for non-controversial rule changes that could redound to their benefit.

This may sound like a less than heroic conclusion but it may be a pragmatic complementary approach and a worthwhile endeavour to be adopted in the given circumstances. It would be a decided improvement over either lamenting the existing state of affairs and giving up on the future or being dismissive of small but cumulative gains in the quest of a chimerical revolution.

End Notes

1. In the dissertation, I posited that rule regimes could be stabilized by the introduction of ‘meta-rules’, i.e., ‘rules to make rules’ that would procedurally be relatively more difficult to change.

2. The role of the state was another important strand in the work of Hamza Alavi (1972).

3. All the four theoretically possible scenarios – those resulting from economic growth and decline in developed and developing countries, respectively, are discussed in Altaf (1983). The socioeconomic processes likely to emanate from each are separately articulated.

4. Even then, not all Muslims subscribed to the position of the Muslim League (see Qasmi and Robb, 2017). For the strikingly different attitudes of Muslim women which were given short shrift in a patriarchal society, see (Altaf, 2015).

5. Private conversation with Sarwar Bari, Pattan Development Organization, 2017.

6. A theoretical formulation of this phenomenon is to be found in the celebrated ‘Exit, Voice, and Loyalty’ hypothesis of Hirschman (1970).

7. Note the salience accorded in the feminist movement to the writings of Virginia Woolf, Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Kate Millett, Shulamith Firestone, etc.

8. It is fascinating to speculate that genre might matter in this context – that genres like novels, plays, and films work on attitudes one mind at a time while poetry in a largely oral culture works on the collective psyche. Does the fact that we have a much greater output of poetry, intended to be heard not read, compared to the other genres signify anything in this context? I don’t feel competent enough to answer this question but leave it as a subject for discussion.

9. Based on limited information, my understanding is that a considerable quantity of such literature is now emerging in local Indian languages. It may also exist in local languages in Pakistan unknown to those not familiar with them. Also recall the Russian and Chinese literature that was relatively abundant in the early years of Pakistan.

10. Consider the trajectory of the Naxalite movement in India (Dey, 2017) and the ephemeral Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street Movement.

11. Along the lines of the Cambodian revolution which was initially welcomed by a number of leading intellectuals in the West. But note that in the popular conception the old style revolution remains dominant in Pakistan, kept alive in the imagination by our poets – see the classic ‘ham dekheN ge’ by Faiz immortalized by Iqbal Bano with its stirring lines “sab taaj uchaaley jaaeN ge / sab takht giraaey jaaeN ge (Kamal, 2006).


Alavi, Hamza, 1965. ‘Peasants and Revolutions,’ The Socialist Register.

Alavi, Hamza, 1972. ‘The State in Post-Colonial Societies: Pakistan and Bangladesh,’ New Left Review, I/74.

Alavi, Hamza, 1987. ‘Pakistan and Islam: Ethnicity and Ideology,’ in Fred Halliday and Hamza Alavi (eds), State and Ideology in the Middle East and Pakistan. Monthly Review Press, New York.

Alavi, Hamza, 1989. ‘Nationhood and the Nationalities in Pakistan,’ Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 24, No. 27.

Altaf, Mir Anjum, 1982. ‘The Political Implications of Migration from Pakistan: A Note,’ South Asia Bulletin, Vol. II, No. 2. Accessed at:

Altaf, Mir Anjum, 1983. The Strategic Implications of Varying Environments: Aspects of Decision-Making Under Instability, Unpublished PhD dissertation, Stanford University, Stanford, California.

Altaf, Mir Anjum, 2008. ‘Democracy in Japan – Electoral Rules Matter,’ The South Asian Idea Weblog. Accessed at:

Altaf, Mir Anjum, 2009a. ‘On the Poverty of Indian Muslims,’ The South Asian Idea Weblog. Accessed at:

Altaf, Mir Anjum, 2009b. ‘Justice, Power, and Truth,’ The South Asian Idea Weblog. Accessed at:

Altaf, Mir Anjum, 2015. ‘Muslim Women and the 1946 Elections in India,’ The South Asian Idea Weblog. Accessed at:

Ambedkar, Bhim Rao, 1949. Speech to the Indian Constituent Assembly. Accessed at:

Beteille, Andre, 2013. ‘The Varieties of Democracy,’ Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 48, No. 8, pp. 33-40.

Caldeira, Teresa, 2000. City of Walls: Crime, Segregation, and Citizenship in Sao Paulo. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Chatterjee, Partha, 2001. ‘On Civil and Political Society in Postcolonial Democracies,’ in Civil Society: History and Possibilities, Sudipta Kaviraj and Sunil Khilnani, eds. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 165-178.

Cohen, Mitchell, 2010. ‘T.H. Marshall’s “Citizenship and Social Class”’, Dissent Magazine, Fall. Accessed at:

Dey, Debatra, K., 2017. ‘Contextualizing Five Decades of Naxalbari,’ Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 52, No. 42-43.

 Hirschman, Albert, O., 1970. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

Johnson, Ian, 1999. ‘On Hobbes’ Leviathan,’ accessed at:

Kamal, Daud, 2006. O City of Lights: Faiz Ahmed Faiz – Selected Poetry. Oxford University Press, Karachi. A rendition of the poem by Iqbal Bano can be accessed at:

Khilnani, Sunil, 1997. The Idea of India. Hamish Hamilton Ltd., London.

Lilla, Mark, 2017. The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics. HarperCollins, New York.

Marshall, Thomas Henry, 1950. ‘Citizenship and Social Class,’ in Inequality and Society, Jeff Manza and Michael Sauder, eds. (2009). W.W. Norton, New York. Accessed at

Mehta, Pratap Bhanu, 2003. The Burden of Democracy. Penguin Books, India.

North, Douglas, 1990. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Qasmi, Ali Usman and Robb, Megan Eaton, eds., 2017. Muslims Against the Muslim League: Critiques of the Idea of Pakistan. Cambridge University Press, India.

Sen, Amartya, 2006. Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. W.W. Norton, New York.

Sen, Amartya, 2009. The Idea of Justice. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

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Rotten Tomatoes

November 5, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

Rather than asserting that the military and the judiciary could be criticized if criticism was merited, a distinguished minister has taken the position that parliament is just as sacrosanct and hence above being challenged.

In anticipation of what is likely to follow, this being Pakistan, one cannot afford to lose any time taking to task another minister who has asked for the treatment. I am referring to a news item in which the Minister for Industries, Commerce and Investment has informed the Punjab Assembly that there would be “no tomato import despite mafia’s manoeuvring.”

The minister is said to have elaborated that “now tomatoes from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were being sold at Rs. 70 per kilo in the city and would continue to be sold till prices get further stabilized with supplies from Sindh arriving in the local market.” The justification for the policy is contained in a direct quote from the minister: “Why pass the advantage on to foreign farmers instead of our own?” According to the minister, “an influential mafia” was trying hard for resumption of import from India which would not be allowed to happen.

This minister needs to have a whole load of rotten tomatoes thrown at his head and the party chief responsible for his appointment to the ministry needs to explain the poor selection. Imagine a modern minister for commerce who can publicly state “Why pass on the advantage to foreign [producers] instead of our own?” Just follow through with the implications of the logic — it would put an end to all international trade because the only things traded are those that are made better or at lower cost by foreign producers.

There are a whole host of other problems with the argument. First, note the irony that the statement is coming from a minister in a country where even common pins are being imported from China and garbage collection is being contracted out to the Turks. There has not been a peep about the advantage being passed on to foreigners in these and a slew of other sectors.  

Second, this new-found love of “our own” is confined to producers, setting aside entirely the welfare of consumers who vastly outnumber the former. Why? Are consumers not equally are own? And is the government not elected to enhance the welfare of the majority?

Third, what if someone extends the minister’s argument to the provincial level? Why pass on the advantage to producers in KPK and Sindh instead of our own farmers in the Punjab? Such a person would immediately be labelled an anti-national element even though the logic of the argument remains unchanged.

Fourth, who is this “influential mafia” trying hard for resumption of import from India? What does it have to gain from the import? And, if this is actually a resumption of something that was taking place earlier, why wasn’t this mafia hauled in for anti-state activities at that time? Could it not be a producer mafia trying to block imports? Would a producer mafia not be infinitely more influential than one of consumers?

The point of all these seemingly absurd questions is to highlight the mindlessness of the minister’s statement and the sheer vacuousness of the logic offered for his decision. The fact of the matter is that a blind nationalism is at the bottom of this ridiculous anti-trade stance that is hurting the budget of the vast majority of citizens who have to purchase essential commodities in the market.

At the time when tomatoes were selling for Rs. 300 a kilo in Lahore they were available at Indian Rs. 40 a kilo in Amritsar a mere 30 miles away. But a visceral Indo-phobia, shared by many of our influentials, stood in the way of consumers benefiting from the lower priced supply. It was then that another distinguished minister, the Federal Minister for National Food Security and Research said that “the government will never allow import of any vegetables, including tomato and onion, from India despite record high prices of these kitchen items in local markets due to limited local supply.” He elaborated that “this step has been taken to encourage the local farmers to grow more besides saving huge foreign exchange.”

Our ministers are not alone in articulating such puerile logic emanating from their Indo-phobia. I recall a meeting in which an ex-chief of the ISI similarly railed against trade with India because it would destroy “our own” industry. The specific example he gave was of footwear that was being produced at lower cost across the border and whose import would put Pakistani producers “out of business.” During a break, a participant jokingly enquired about the make of the shoes the chief was wearing — it turned out they were Italian.

The point to note is that this India-centric anti-trade hysteria is shared by many who have no compunctions consuming products imported from all other countries and whose income brackets are such that commodities like tomatoes and onions are a miniscule proportion of their budgets. These are people who tell their car drivers to fill up the tank without ever asking the going price of petrol. They are indulging in the psychic pleasure of “hurting” India at no cost to themselves while pushing millions of people who can afford to buy only a litre of gas at a time below the poverty line.

The ultimate irony is that such callous and shallow prejudice does virtually nothing to hurt India. On the contrary, the gap between the two countries continues to widen while our leaders make fools of themselves trying to prove to a wide-eyed world that India is the “mother of all terrorisms.” It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs and a sign of the extent to which people have given up that nobody even bothers to point out these follies before the narrow window for questioning inevitably draws tightly shut.

This opinion appeared in Dawn on October 27, 2017 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission. An Urdu translation appeared on the Dawn website the following day.

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Partition, My Father, and His Wife

September 2, 2017

By Harbans Mukhia

I was born in 1937 or 38, in a tiny village in the Gujrat district of what is now Pakistan. No one, even in Pakistan, seems to have heard of the village Allaha, though it is on my passport to this day. Our home was a nondescript one – a one-and-a-half room structure on one side of a dusty street; on the other side was a tall, white mansion-like habitat with a weather cock on top, which fascinated us kids for hours.

We moved to Delhi before the Partition – perhaps sometime around 1941. My father responded to the Quit India call and was put in a Multan prison for six months. My mother passed away perhaps in 1943 or 44, leaving behind five young children. My eldest sister, then 12 or 13, was withdrawn from school to look after her siblings. She never held it against us when grew up and found our spaces in life.

A year or so before Partition, my father married his first cousin, his paternal uncle’s daughter, back in Allaha. The marriage procession consisted of the groom and his only son, me; the bidai procession added my new mother. It couldn’t have been simpler.

On August 2 or 3, 1947, my grandmother landed at our home in Delhi and suggested that she and my mother go back to the village and escort the rest of the extended family to Delhi, and bring with them whatever savings they had. Father was aghast at the suggestion and appealed to grandma to hold on for another 12-13 days. After independence – to which he seriously thought he had a personal claim – had been celebrated, he would go there himself, instead of two women going on such a tough mission. Even at this stage, they did not suspect any great mishap in the offing. Grandma insisted and father had to give in.

The two women left Delhi for Allaha. That was the last we ever heard about them. The members of the family they had gone out to rescue, however, found their way to Delhi. Father was heartbroken. Understandably.

Then an incident brought him some hope. He was lightly educated, but was always a stickler for reason and logic for understanding and explaining any phenomenon; God had no place in his scheme. One day, he was whiling away his time on the broad street in old Delhi then called Faiz Bazaar, now Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Road. A road show was on, where a boy lies on the floor “unconscious” and the master of the show keeps asking him about the problems facing members of the audience. Father was laughing away at the tamasha when suddenly the master asked the boy what his, father’s, problem was. To his great astonishment, the boy spelt out his wife’s name and announced that she was hiding in a building in our village, both of which he identified correctly without father even having to ask him to.

He was dumbstruck and his skepticism gave way to a faint hope – who knows, the boy might even be right. So he decided to take a chance. In around October, he travelled to Lahore and then on to the village. He was just short of six feet tall and, with a kullah (Afghani headgear), could easily pass off as Pathan. In Delhi, most of his friends in Darya Ganj, where we lived, were Muslims and he was familiar with their etiquette, besides knowing Urdu well. He faced no problem in looking up the particular building, but there was no trace of his young wife.

On his return, he wrote a short piece titled My visit to Pakistan, which was never published. But I remember some crucial parts of it. In Lahore he stayed with his Muslim friends from Faiz Bazar who had migrated to Pakistan. In the streets of Lahore, the real Pathans were shooting at street lights and in the air because there were no Hindus left to kill. His Muslim friends, who had given him shelter and support, risked their lives and properties for him. The slightest hint that they were knowingly hiding and supporting a kafir from India would give the Pathans the ‘legitimate’ right to wipe them out and plunder their house. But the truth remained with his hosts.

In the end, father couldn’t find his wife. But he was able to reaffirm the one faith he had: that as often as not, human relations override political, national and even religious dividing lines.

Harbans Mukhia is National Fellow, Indian Council of Historical Research. This memory was part of the Wire’s #PartitionAt70 series and was published there on August 15, 2017. It is reproduced with the author’s permission.

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Plain Truths About the Economy

July 30, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

Every so often someone promises to turn Pakistan into an Asian tiger. It is not a bad ambition but it hasn’t happened yet. Not just that, we don’t seem to be moving forward much. All the more reason for an honest examination because knowing where one is starting from is just as important as knowing where one wants to go.

With help of some illustrative numbers one can establish three points. The Pakistani economy is existing at a low level; it is in relative decline; and too many of its citizens are struggling at or below subsistence level. Getting from here to Asian tiger status would require something beyond more of the same.

First, the state of the economy. The Federal Bureau of Statistics website shows that in 2015 per capita income in current prices was Rs. 153,620 per year or about Rs. 13,000 per month (in round numbers) which is also the current minimum wage. This means that if Pakistan’s total yearly income was divided equally among its citizens, each person would get Rs. 13,000 per month – a household of four would have around Rs. 50,000 a month to live on. Add up essential household expenditures and it is obvious this is a survival-level allocation implying that the Pakistani economy in aggregate is a survival-level economy for its citizens.

Easily available data allows for comparisons with Malaysia, an Asian tiger cub, and South Korea, an Asian tiger. Adjusting for purchasing power, the respective yearly income per person in the two countries is five and seven times that of Pakistan. In other words, instead of Rs. 50,000 a Pakistani household of four would require Rs.2.5 lakh or 3.5 lakh per month to attain the average standard of living in Malaysia or South Korea. That is the difference between a survival economy and a prospering one. No wonder people would like to leave Pakistan to work in Malaysia but none would want to migrate in the other direction.

To achieve the status of an Asian tiger like South Korea, Pakistan’s income per person needs to multiply seven times. How long would that take? Even if the economic rate of growth increases from the existing 5% to 7% and is sustained year after year, it would take over 25 years to reach where South Korea is today. Getting there in 15 years would require a growth rate of 12% which is way beyond anything Pakistan has ever achieved.

Second, while the Pakistani economy is growing, it is declining relative to most other developing economies. In 1990, India’s per capita income was 40% lower than that of Pakistan; by 2009 it had drawn level; today, it is around 20% higher. China’s per capita income in 1990 was 50% less than Pakistan’s; today it is 200% higher. At these relative rates, far from becoming an Asian tiger Pakistan will soon be relegated to the status of an also-ran.

Third, if income were equally shared and every individual received a monthly amount of Rs. 13,000 the reality of the survival economy would be inescapable. It is masked by the illusion of opulence created by a highly unequal income distribution – so unequal that half the total national income goes to just the richest 20% of households.  A recent news report discussing salaries of bank CEOs revealed that Rs. 50 lakhs per month was not an outlier. With some individuals living at first world elite levels, it follows there must be others living below the average in order to keep the total income constant. In fact, the majority of individuals in Pakistan have monthly allocations well below the survival level of Rs. 13,000.

Given the extreme inequality, independent estimates suggest that over half the individuals in the country could be classified as vulnerable in the sense that any unforeseen expense can plunge them into poverty. Thus not only is the Pakistani economy a low-level economy in the aggregate, the majority of its citizens are living at well below an acceptable survival income, in fact in various degrees of deprivation.

How do individuals exist at this level of deprivation? By being poorly educated, in fragile health, increasingly indebted, and overworked because of dependence on multiple jobs. Care to follow the story of someone earning the minimum monthly wage of Rs. 13,000 and you will appreciate the real state of the Pakistani economy. Given this human capital, how do its leaders propose to turn Pakistan into an Asian tiger in our lifetimes?

Understanding our existing predicament raises the real question: How did Pakistan get left behind in this impoverished state? Obviously it is not Pakistan’s fault – nothing says this was its fated destiny – but that of those occupying the driver’s seat all these years. How come China and India starting way behind have overtaken the Pakistani economy and moved so far ahead all in a matter of a few decades? Or how a small country like South Korea became so prosperous with limited natural resources? How come Malaysia has leveraged its strategic location and managed its ethnic diversity while Pakistan has not?

As we move into the election cycle we should be asking political parties some tough questions about their visions and development plans. We should not be fobbed off with easy answers. Corruption is not a good enough reason; it exists everywhere and the sizes of scams are in fact much greater in India. Overpopulation is also an unconvincing explanation given that both China and India are six times more populous. We should also not be distracted by the promise of CPEC. Even if it comes off perfectly it will add at best another 2.5% to the rate of growth of national income without any accompanying reforms of a fundamental nature.

Pakistan’s predicament is clearly related to some very poor policy choices, badly misplaced priorities and shockingly abysmal governance. We can infer some of these from the comparative experience of China which trailed us less than three decades back and is now so far ahead that we look upon it as a saviour. Such an exploration would be the subject of a subsequent article.

This opinion appeared in Dawn on July 25, 2017 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission. The writer would like to thank the following colleagues and students for very valuable suggestions on a number of early drafts: Dr. Ali Cheema, Dr. Farrukh Iqbal, Dr. Ijaz Nabi, Dr. Nadeem ul Haque, Dr. Anupam Khanna, Mr. Shahid Mehmood, Mr. Faizaan Qayyum and Ms. Marwah Maqbool. Any residual errors are the responsibility of the author.

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India, Pakistan and Cricket: To Play or Not to Play

July 23, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

Pakistan wants to resume bilateral cricketing ties with India while India refuses to play ball. How would an alien from Mars, unaffected by nationalist biases, assess the situation?

It would be hard to dismiss the Indian position outright. Think of it this way: If you live in a community and a neighbour throws his trash over your wall you would be justified in being annoyed. You might go over once for a friendly chat but if the dumping continues you would be well within your rights to protest and break off relations. The neighbour’s invitation to a friendly game of chess will clearly smack of hypocrisy in the circumstances.

Extrapolate the analogy to India-Pakistan politics. There seems little doubt that Pakistan has been abetting incidents of terrorism in India – the 2008 attack in Mumbai was the most egregious and the most explicitly linked to Pakistan. Add to that unprovoked border incursions like the one in Kargil and one ought not to be surprised if India is riled up. In such a situation the demand to suspend sporting relations with a country exporting terrorism does carry weight.

However, extending the analogy of neighbours to countries is logically incorrect.  Neighbours are humans with agency in the sense that they can decide where and when to dump trash and whether and how to retaliate. Countries, on the other hand, are inanimate entities incapable of doing anything on their own. Rather, individuals or groups, acting in their names, carry out actions. And there is never a complete consensus on any action among the individuals or groups in a country.

The implication is that just as all Muslims are not terrorists, all Pakistanis are not guilty of instigating incidents of terror in India. At the same time, it is not possible to deny that some are and openly so. Therefore, the question to ask is whether the Indian state is justified in punishing all Pakistanis for the actions of a few?

At an intellectual level the representatives of the Indian state know that some rather than all Pakistanis are involved in the incidents of terror in their country. However, their claim is that either the Pakistani state is complicit in the actions of the offending groups or, if not, is not doing enough to put a stop to their actions. Once again, on the basis of available evidence it is hard to deny that there isn’t validity to one if not both accusations. Therefore, the decision of the Indian state to suspend sporting relations continues to merit consideration.

Does this stance hurt or advance the interests of the Indian state? It would seem the latter because although it recognizes that not all Pakistanis are complicit in the acts of terror across the border, the Indian state does not discourage its media from painting all Pakistanis with the same brush, that is, to convey the impression that Pakistan is evil as an entity. This perception generates public support for a political stance which seems to be maintained for reasons other than those of pure principle.

In support of this conclusion one can cite the fact that despite the boycott, the Indian state is not opposed to contests between the two countries in multilateral competitions such as the World or Asia Cup tournaments. A principled stance that India would not play against a state promoting terror would call for a boycott of matches in such tournaments as well. There are precedents for such principled positions — many countries participated in a boycott of sporting relations with South Africa when its government practised the policies of apartheid. Similarly, Israel used to concede walkovers in global competitions if matches were scheduled on Yom Kippur.

One could be forced to conclude that there is more to the position of the Indian state than what it professes. In a period of RSS dominance, could it be too far-fetched to presume that an ideological consideration of the Indian state might actually be to punish Pakistan as much as possible while minimizing the cost of such a policy to itself?

The contradiction in the Indian position on bilateral and multilateral sporting engagements with Pakistan would seem to support the hypothesis. At the bilateral level, global sympathies are clearly on the Indian side and the finances of its sporting bodies are much stronger than those of the counterparts in Pakistan. Thus the relative economic loss from the bilateral boycott is quite asymmetric in favour of India.

The same would cease to be true if the boycott was extended to multilateral competitions. Not only would India diminish its chances of winning such tournaments by conceding walkovers against Pakistan, it would find it virtually impossible to sustain universal public support for such a position. Thus it is not surprising that Indian policymakers refer to contests at the multilateral level as ‘only a game’ while simultaneously allowing their media to paint bilateral contests in hyper-nationalist terms as an extension of war. This allows the Indian state to have its cake and eat it as well.

The Indian state can get away with this contradictory stance as long as the world believes that the Pakistani state is turning a blind eye to the promotion of acts of terrorism across the border. Given this perception the latter’s high-minded claim that sporting relations should be independent of political considerations is rightly seen as hypocritical.

Needless to say, and quite independent of anything else, the Pakistani state should be taking a much more forthright stand on restraining agents using its soil for acts of terror across its borders. However, given the mood of the moment in India, it is not clear if that would be sufficient for the Indian state to end its boycott of sporting relations at the bilateral level.

This opinion appeared in the Express-Tribune on July 22, 2017 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 23

June 30, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Formation of the Communist Party of Pakistan

The Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) was formally established in the Second Congress of the Communist Party of India (CPI) held in February-March 1948 in Calcutta It was in line with the decision taken in the central committee of the party in July 1947 when the policy switch took place between losing P.C. Joshi group and the rising B.T. Ranadive group in the party. Out of about 800 delegates to the Congress only three members represented the areas now forming Pakistan. These included Prof. Eric Cyprian from Punjab, Muhammad Hussain Ata from NWFP (now KPK), and Jamaluddin Bukhari from Sindh. Two other nominated delegates from Punjab, Mirza Muhammad Ibrahim and C.R. Aslam couldn’t attend the Congress as they were reportedly caught in the last moment organising a railway workers’ strike in Lahore. Moreover, Kanwar Moni Singh, Khokha Roy and Kalpana Dutt (69) attended the Congress together with about thirty other delegates representing party organisation in the then East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Because of the partition and resulting transfer of population, the communist organisation in the areas of the newly established Pakistan had suffered a major set-back. In the wake of drawing arbitrary lines of partition of Bengal and Punjab provinces, cutting each into Pakistani and Indian parts, worst communal riots among Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs erupted. In these communal riots, massive killing, arson, torching of homes and commercial properties, and abduction and rape of women on unprecedented scale engulfed particularly Punjab, Bihar, and Bengal. An estimated number of about one and half million were killed, 75,000 women were raped, and about 15 million people were uprooted and crossed the border on either side to save their lives and honour. Most of the prominent CPI leaders and communist workers from Pakistani areas belonged to Hindu and Sikh religion. All of them from Punjab and NWFP barring a few exceptions in Sindh migrated to India, leaving behind a severely fractured and almost dysfunctional party in Pakistan. Western Punjab and eastern Bengal were engulfed in the flames of worst communal riots never witnessed before. The situation was equally gruesome in the Indian parts of the eastern Punjab and western Bengal. The CPI leadership, however, made efforts to reorganize the party structure with the help of local Muslim members in Pakistan including a few veterans of 1920s e.g. Firozuddin Mansoor, Fazal Elahi Qurban and Amir Hyder Khan. These local communists were gradually joined by those Muslim comrades who were immigrating into the new country from the areas now forming India. The party organization was still a part of CPI, with its headquarters in Bombay.

Ajoy Kumar Ghosh had been made in-charge of the activities of the Pakistani communists. He visited Lahore in October 1947 and re-organised the party structure with the remaining Muslim and a few Christian members of the party who opted to live in Pakistan. Punjab Provincial Committee was formed with Mirza Muhammad Ibrahim (secretary), Chaudhry Rehmatullah (C.R.) Aslam, Firozuddin Mansoor, and Eric Cyprian as members. Whereas Jamaluddin Bukhari was made secretary in Sindh and Muhammad Hussain Ata held the position of secretary in NWFP.

The Lahore District Committee had Shamim Ashraf Malik (Secretary), Abdullah Malik, Ghulam Muhammad, Prof Muhammad Safdar, and Abdul Ghafoor as members. Rawalpindi District Committee had Mirza Aziz (Secretary), Dada Amir Hyder, and Soofi Allah Ditta as members. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh was followed by Sajjad Zaheer visiting Pakistan in November 1947 to mobilize party members for the Calcutta Congress. He came to Lahore staying at 114, McLeod Road, the CPI headquarter in Lahore. He extensively toured other parts of Punjab, NWFP, Sindh and Karachi to do his spade work for the Party Congress and held organizational meetings. He also organised a conference of the progressive writers at Lahore on December 5, 1947 at YMCA Hall. He returned to India in January 1948. At the time of Calcutta Congress, the CPI had only four Muslim members in the Central Committee: Syed Sajjad Zaheer and S.S. Yousuf both from the U.P. and Muzaffar Ahmed and Ismail, both from Bengal. Sajjad Zaheer was Incharge of the Muslim front, Progressive Writers Association, and the Editor of one of the party organs ‘Naya Zamana’. Few other prominent Muslim leaders of the party attending the Calcutta Congress, included Mohyuddin Farooqi, Z.A. Ahmed, and Mehmudul Zafar from UP, and Makhdoom Mohyuddin from Hyderabad, Deccan.

The Calcutta Congress of Feb-Mar 1948 approved founding of a separate party for Pakistan namely the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). The Congress also nominated and approved the appointment of Syed Sajjad Zaheer as the first General Secretary of the proposed party. In line with the approved B.T. Ranadive Thesis, the newly formed CPP was to organize a militant struggle to replace the weak and unstable reactionary regime in Pakistan that had just taken over the reins of power in the new country. In accordance with the party Congress decision, the delegates from areas forming Pakistan, together with few other Muslim delegates from India immediately held a separate meeting presided over by the General Secretary, Sajjad Zaheer to formalize the founding of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) in early March 1948. A Central Committee of the CPP was elected with Jamaluddin Bukhari, Muhammad Hussain Ata and Mirza Ibrahim as its members.

In terms of the informal structure of the then Cominform, most of the parties in Europe, America and other parts of the world were to seek ideological and other guidance from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Communist Party of India (CPI) was, however, not reporting directly to Moscow but to the Communist Party of Great Britain. The Communist Party of Pakistan was made subservient to CPI and was not supposed to approach directly to the British Communist Party in London. Similarly, a separate organising committee was formed for the East Pakistan with Moni Singh as its secretary, reporting directly to CPI Calcutta office instead of CPP headquartered in Lahore. On the question of providing initial support the CPI declined to provide any funds to the newly established CPP but, instead, handed it over its three printing presses, one at Karachi and two at Lahore. Peoples Publishing House at Lahore was also transferred to CPP to use its income to meet local expenses. One of the presses was declared evacuee property by the Punjab government after its Sikh caretaker left for India and the other press was taken over by the Industries department. Having not much cash available to meet daily expenses, Sajjad Zaheer decided to sell the Party’s press in Karachi for Rs. 16,000.

To bolster support of the nascent party, Muslim members of CPI were encouraged to migrate to Pakistan and work for organising CPP. Sajjad Zaheer requested his former colleagues and friends in CPI, especially Dr. Ashraf, Z.A. Ahmed, and Ismail to come to Pakistan and help him but they all politely declined. Sibte Hasan (from Azamgarh, UP), Hasan Nasir (from Hyderabad, Deccan) and few others, however, joined him and migrated to Pakistan. Hameed Akhtar who got trapped amid Hindu-Muslim riots in his home town near Ludhiana in East Punjab where he had gone from Bombay to visit his family, somehow managed to escape on a long trail of fire and blood to cross the border and reach Lahore, where the news of his death in the riots in Punjab was already circulating (70).

The First Schism

Even before its formal incorporation at Calcutta in March 1948, the Communist Party of Pakistan experienced its first leadership dispute. Shortly before partition, there already had developed two sub-groups within the Punjab Communist Party; one was led by Sohan Singh Josh and included Karam Singh Mann and Firozuddin Mansoor while the other was led by Teja Singh Swatantar and included Fazal Elahi Qurban and Abdul Qadir, with support from Qadir Bukhsh Nizamani in Sindh. Nizamani was already disgruntled with the leadership of CPI because ill treatment of him in 1941. In the heat of the partition of India and after being expelled from the party, Teja Singh formed a separate ‘Pakistan Communist Party’ in July 1947. He later migrated to India, handing over the leadership of the new ‘Pakistan Communist Party’ to his protégé, Fazal Elahi Qurban. Teja Singh, subsequently, formed an independent ‘Red Flag Communist Party’ in East Punjab in India.

The CPI’s central leadership took Fazal Elahi Qurban’s actions as a violation of party discipline and termed him as ‘disruptionist’. Ajoy Kumar Ghosh during his visit in October 1947 did his investigations and asked Qurban to repent and retrace his steps but Fazal Elahi Qurban evaded signing a statement declaring Teja Singh’s actions and the formation of ‘Pakistan Communist Party’ as ‘anti-party, anti-national and anti-working class revolt’. Ajoy Ghosh accordingly left Qurban out of the interim Provincial Organising Committee. After the arrest of leading communists in Lahore like Eric Cyprian and Firozuddin Mansoor, Qurban with the help of his supporters in the Punjab party attempted to occupy the CPI Punjab office located at 114, McLeod Road, Lahore. Sajjad Zaheer, after assuming his role as the new General Secretary of the CPP formally Issued a charge sheet to Qurban on 18 March, 1948 and finally expelled him and other ‘disruptionists’ from the party in October 1948.

This was, perhaps, the first sign of an under-current in the Communist Party reflecting the brewing conflict between the communists in the Punjab and the dominance of the leaders from other regions, particularly from U.P. The already restless communists from Punjab were even more concerned at the prospect of an impending imposition of a leadership from outside, particularly from UP. Although, Ajoy Ghosh (incharge of Punjab Party) was from Bengal but had mostly lived in the UP, Sajjad Zaheer from UP oversaw the work among Muslims and was a strong and likely candidate for leading the yet-to-be-formed new Communist Party of Pakistan. The sitting General Secretary of the CPI, P.C. Joshi, among other many leading communists, was from Almora in northern UP (now included in the newer province of Uttarkhand) had good working and personal relations with Sajjad Zaheer.

The apprehensions of the Punjabi communists turned out to be quite true with the predominant positions soon occupied by the communists arriving in large number from UP, C.P., and Deccan. With the expulsion of Fazal Elahi Qurban in Punjab and Abdul Qadir Nizamani in Sindh, Syed Jamaluddin Bukhari was hastily sent from Punjab to take over as the secretary of the Sindh Communist Party.

B.T. Ranadive Thesis

The new Secretary General of CPI, B.T. Ranadive’s aggressive policies adopted in the Second Congress in Calcutta in 1948 were soon manifested in the party activities everywhere. A spate of calls for general strikes and revolutionary fervor in trade unions in Bombay, Calcutta, Karachi, and other industrial towns was evident. The party rejected the independence as false and partition of India as an ‘imperialist conspiracy’ and exhorted the people for a renewed militant struggle for a real independence. This policy was translated into a catchy slogan: “Yeh Azadi Jhooti Hai.” (This is a false freedom!). Faiz Ahmed Faiz had put it in a subtler and beautifully poetic way:

Yeh daagh daagh ujala, yeh shab gazeeda sahar
Woh intizar tha jis ka, yeh woh sahar tau nahiN

Nijaat-e deeda-o dil ki ghari nahiN aa’yi
Chaley chalo keh woh manzil abhi nahiN aa’yi


This stain-covered daybreak, this night bitten dawn,
This is not that dawn of which there was expectation

The hour of deliverance of eye and heart has not arrived
Come on, come on, for that goal has still not arrived.


69. Kalpana Dutt was the wife of P.C. Joshi.
70. Hameed Akhtar, Ahwal-Waqyi, Book Home, Lahore, 2005, p. 360.

Chapter 4… Concluded

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A History of the Left in Pakistan – 22

June 8, 2017

By Ahmed Kamran

Chapter Four: The Road to Pakistan – (Continued)

Political Awakening

Like many other riverine societies, the political and economic life of Sindh essentially revolved around the only river flowing through its lands – the mighty Indus. Unlike Punjab with its multiple rivers and located inside the Monsoon catchment area, Sindh is almost out of this rain system. Its economic life is almost wholly dependent on the perennial Indus river which bisects its land and empties itself into the Arabian Sea, forming a large delta east of Karachi. Most of the population traditionally lived along the Indus cultivating only Kharif crop in summer for its living in the silt brought in yearly floods during Monsoon inundating its lands. Traditionally, there was very limited Rabi (winter) crop in Sindh. Others lived a semi-nomadic life in pasture lands. The country was poor and the life for landless peasants (Haris) was particularly harsh.

Like Punjab, British colonial administration in Sindh also intervened in its natural water distribution system by building canals and barrages, albeit on a smaller scale compared to Punjab and other parts of India. The objectives and the planning of this man-made irrigation system in Sindh had been almost identical but the method and policy of distribution of newly irrigated lands in Sindh was different. Unlike Punjab, here very little changed in the relationship between cultivators, landlords, and the state. Because of these significantly large irrigation projects the patterns of new class formations and impact on society as witnessed in Punjab are conspicuously missing in Sindh. The reason for the stark difference in outcomes compared to those witnessed in Punjab lies in selection of different class of people as beneficiaries of land grants in Sindh. Significantly large hydraulic engineering projects in Sindh (Jamrao canal, Sukkur Barrage, Ghulam Mohammad Barrage) didn’t result in any significant ‘social engineering’ of the society.

In the wake of irrigation development works in Punjab, some minor canals were initially built in upper Sindh and Tharparkar district during 1880s. Apart from other objectives, one of the consideration was to provide employment for the disbanded Sikh army after the annexation of the Punjab in 1849. The first sizable project was Laikpur canal in Hyderabad in 1890s but Sindh lagged far behind Punjab in this development work. The first big project undertaken in Sindh was the Jamrao canal in southeast of Sindh in 1899. Due to shortage of surplus Sindhi labour, the project relied on Punjabi and Baloch workers. The administration was concerned that should the Sindhi Hari was diverted from Zamindar’s existing cultivable lands to the construction project the current agricultural productivity might be seriously affected. The project was an extension and significant renovation of the existing eastern Nara Canal system providing water to 934,00 acres of cultivable land, of which only a third was cultivated each year because of limited water supplies. The Jamrao canal was designed to provide water for both Kharif and Rabi crops in a year thereby effectively increasing the cultivable land. This project for the first time brought the issue of colonization of lands in Sindh to the fore, which has since then remained a thorny issue in Sindh’s politics. Of necessity, the British policy of colonization was driven by two considerations: firstly, and foremost, the need to maintain political stability, and secondly, the promotion of modern and efficient (i.e. more productive) cultivation to make it financially viable for capital investment. The revenues from the sale of land and agricultural taxes must at least cover the project cost, and preferably, turn a profit for the government. Unlike Punjab’s clearing of mostly virgin lands or lands belonging to the local Jangli tribes who were politically very weak and marginalized, most of the land in Sindh was already pre-owned by big and locally powerful landlords and Jagirdars. The first concern of political stability resulted in “85% of available land was given to Zamindars whose estates were in or adjacent to Jamrao tract: they automatically had first right of refusal on new squares… This policy was expressed in terms of concern for the pre-existing legal rights held by these Zamindars over the land” (59). Only 12% of land was distributed to settlers from outside of Sindh, mainly from Punjab while 2% was granted to Zamindars from other parts of Sindh. However, they were required to settle on the granted land itself and were not permitted to bring any Haris with them who were already cultivating lands irrigated from government canals in Sindh: they had to recruit locally or import labour from outside Sindh. Remaining 1% lands were given on the same terms to military pensioners and few men of political significance. The Talpur Mirs, living of pensions from the British government, were one of the major beneficiaries who were encouraged to move from their ancestral lands and settle in new land grants. The Collector of Sukkur said in one of his note, “The condition of these Talpurs, gentlemen of high birth with the traditions of hereditary rule to look back upon and now often – literally – hard put to it for their daily bread, has long been well known… and this opportunity that has now been given to them to make a decent livelihood for themselves and their descendants is one which I consider should not be hampered by want to liberality” (60). The chief of Baloch Bugti tribe, Nawab Shahbaz Khan was granted 4,000 acres of land near Sanghar. Apparently, the driver of political stability had overshadowed the consideration of economic viability and productivity enhancement. The Punjabi immigrant settlers, limited as they were, were made to settle in sufficiently large groups to form autonomous communities in segregated villages having separate water courses connected to their farms from nearby Sindhi landlords to avoid possible friction over water sharing. Sufficient land parcels were also reserved for camel breeding for its regular supply to meet the expanding British army needs.

The political awakening in Sindh followed almost the same pattern as had emerged in NWFP except for one but significant difference; unlike NWFP, the urban middle class intelligentsia, business leaders and moneylenders in Sindh were in very large number either Hindu or ‘immigrant’ Goanese, Anglo-Indian, Gujarati, Memon, Khoja, Bohra, or Parsee. The first Sindhi Muslim intelligentsia had class origin in rural Sindh, mostly belonging to rich middle-peasants. They also experienced their initial political awakening in political reformation with nationalist and anti-colonial perspective. Most began their anti-colonial political activism (like G.M. Syed and Sheikh Abdul Majid) in Khilafat movement and in the struggle for separation of Sindh from Bombay to get free from the dominance of Bombay based Gujarati, Marwari and Parsee urban capitalists. The question of separation of Sindh from Bombay was the first political issue that generated an awakening among Sindhi Muslims and helped making the alignment of economic and political interests of different classes and communities clearer. With the Lloyd Barrage over Indus at Sukkur under planning with a promise of large areas of new land becoming cultivable and new economic activities to be spawned in Sindh, the Gujarati, Marwari industrialists, commodity traders, and petty bourgeoisie in Bombay as well as big landlords, rich peasants, and middle classes in Sindh and partly in Punjab were looking at Sindh with hopes of enriching themselves with the upcoming economic benefits. For this reason, while the Gujarati-Marwari capitalists of Bombay and Indian Congress as their representative was opposed to the separation of Sindh, many landlords and rich peasants in Sindh were supporting its cause. However, still many of the Sindhi landlords enjoying personal privileges in the colonial administration were also opposed to the separation believing that owing to their strong local influence and right connections in Bombay government they would be able to reap much of the benefits for themselves. The committee headed by Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto that was formed by the provincial assembly in 1928 to work with the British ‘Simon Commission’ did not support the Muslim League’s demand for separating Sindh from Bombay. Only two members of the committee dissented from the majority vote. On the contrary, Punjab Assembly committee demanded for the separation of Sindh.

Due to preponderance of Hindu Bania moneylenders in Sindh, it also suffered the similar effect of the introduction of modern British commercial laws in 1866 on its land-owning pattern as was witnessed in the Punjab. By 1892, the number of Hindu Bania owners of 200-acres or more of land by way of land transfers had reached to 1,771 from none in 1864. During six years alone between 1890 and 1896, 22% of Muslim-owned land had been either transferred or mortgaged in favour of moneylenders. In 1896, 59% of the Muslim landlords were deeply indebted and 42% of the total cultivable land had passed into the Hindu moneylenders’ ownership. After the Simon Commission report, the First Round-Table Conference was held in November 1930 in London. In the sub-committee on Sindh, Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah and M.A. Jinnah presented the case of Sindhi Muslims. Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah said, “the army that conquered Sindh in 1843 came from Bombay so it was annexed to Bombay. At that time, Punjab was not part of the British India. Had it been so, perhaps, Sindh would have been annexed to Punjab whose traditions, people’s life style, and the revenue and irrigation system are like those of Sindh… Hindus are not in small numbers in Sindh. They are about 25% of the Sindh’s population and their economic power is significant. All Sindhis are held in debt to them. These 25% Hindus own 40% of the land in Sindh and another 30% is mortgaged to them. This way, only 30% of its land is left with Muslim majority” (61). Yet, the big Muslim landlords, Pirs, and Syeds were ensconced in their paramount feudal status enjoying petty luxuries in their homes but displaying slavish subordination to the British collectors, magistrates and police officials in public life.

The Sukkur (Lloyd) Barrage irrigation system commenced operation in June 1932. This system had four irrigation canals on the right bank of Indus and three on the left bank. This increased the Indus-irrigated lands to about 7.5 million acres most of which was already privately owned. After adjustment of uncultivable lands and reservations for public purpose about 1.5 million acres were available for sale. These newly irrigated lands were in Sukhur, Larkana, Khairpur, Dadu, Hyderabad, and Tharparkar in Sindh and Nasirabad in Balochistan. A section of Sindhi Muslim intelligentsia was apprehensive that these new irrigated lands and related economic benefits might be usurped by local and outsider Hindu moneylenders and capitalists. In anticipation of the commissioning of the under-construction barrage in 1925, the Governor of Bombay, Leslie Wilson, wrote to Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State in London, “The political effect of the Barrage is going to cause considerable trouble. The great majority of the land in Sind is at present owned by the old Sind Zemidar, who is a fine type of the old Mohammedan loyalist, but generally out of date, and nearly always extremely lazy. This vast area to be brought under inundation by the canals from the Barrage must mean, if we are to sell the land at all, a great influx of population from the Punjab and from the north and south of Sind, with the result that the Sind zemindari will be in in a very different position to that which now occupies, and the Hindu element will be enormously increased. The Sindhi will not like this at all, but it is inevitable if the Barrage is to be paid for” (62). As before, it was a tradeoff between political stability and economic viability. But now the financial stakes were much higher than the previous occasion and the considerations of economic viability could not be simply set aside in favour of political stability. In the end, 350,000 acres, about a quarter, were allocated for subsidized grants (63) to existing landlords. Next, the Sindhi peasants were offered priority concessionary terms for sale of land on payment in yearly installments spread over 15 years up to 40 years. But the total price payable in long term installments with profit was effectively about three times of that offered to the landlords. Only Sindhi peasants were eligible for these long-term payment terms. All others were offered the market price. 10,000 acres were allocated for servicemen but on the condition of full payment.

In the year, the Sukkur Barrage was commissioned, the Communal Award legislation was enacted in August 1932. The Award distributed the provincial assembly seats in a manner that about 75% of Muslims were allocated 60% (36 seats) whereas 25% of Hindu population was allocated 40% (24 seats), significant enough to hold balancing power and with a few Muslim seats easily bought over the balance may easily be tilted against a fragmented and divisive Muslim polity. The Indian National Congress in Sindh wholly represented the Hindu moneylenders and urban Hindu petty bourgeoisie. Deeply divided along tribal, caste, and class differences and unable to put up a strong united platform, the Sindhi Muslims were, therefore, dependent upon support of Hindu parties and their strong interest groups. The Sindhi Muslim’s early political organizations were made non-communal like Sindh United Party formed in July 1936 on the model of Punjab’s Unionist Party, just in time to contest 1937 elections sending message to Jinnah not to meddle in Sindh’s affairs. All prominent Sindhi Muslim leaders at that time (64) were unwilling to side with the Muslim League till as late as 1938. None of these leaders were even ready to be included in, or associated in any manner with, the reception committee for welcoming Muhammad Ali Jinnah during his visit to Sindh before 1937 elections, seeking Muslim leaders’ interest in nomination as Muslim League candidate.

But, by October 1936, the sponsors of Sindh United Party had split over distribution of seats. Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, Ayub Khuro, and Mir Bande Ali Talpur separated and formed their own Sindh Muslim Party. In 1937 elections, Shahnawaz Bhutto of Sindh United Party lost his seat and the party could win only 18 seats. Sindh Muslim Party won 4 seats, and other independent Muslim candidates won 9 seats. The Muslim League didn’t get any seat. Despite its non-communal intents, Sindh United Party was practically reduced to be a Muslim party as no non-Muslim was elected from its platform. Indian Congress had won 8 seats, Hindu Sabha had 11 seats and the remaining 10 seats were divided among Hindu independent candidates. With the support of British Governor of Sindh, Graham Lancelot and of Hindu Sabha, Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah of Sindh Muslim Party with his only four seats formed the first provincial government in April 1937. With a wink from the governor all other Hindu and Muslim independents queued up to support the government. Despite begging largest number of seats in the assembly as a single party, the Sindh United Party was not favored for forming the government because of its somewhat radical middle peasant (G.M. Syed) and urban petty bourgeois (Hashim Gazdar) character. Unlike Punjabi Zamindars, the Sindhi landlords were unable to attract Hindus in their fold. The Hindu urban middle classes, moneylenders and business leaders remained strongly attached to the Indian National Congress. Drawn from rich peasants and small landholders and jagirdars, the early Sindhi Muslim politicians were under multiple strong pressures: the political dominance of mainly Hindu urban petty bourgeoisie, new trends of commercial economy and monetization of agricultural taxes, and resulting burdens of mounting indebtedness with Hindu moneylenders of mainly Amil Bania and Sethi castes. Increasing agricultural land transfers to city based absentee moneylenders and investors was a frightening prospect. During the times of economic hardship, faced with dwindling rent payments form their tenants but still maintaining an extravagant wasteful lifestyle, and finding no escape from payment of full taxes and water charges to the state revenue collectors, the Sindhi Muslim landowners must resort to borrowing from the moneylenders. The rivalry between Muslim Zamindars and Hindu moneylenders was intensifying and therefore the Muslim Zamindars were gradually distancing away from the Congress. By 1938, they were grudgingly compelled to seek support from the Muslim League. Well-known popular Sindhi nationalist leader G.M Syed switched side and became the architect of a revived Muslim League in Sindh in 1938. He explained his class predicament, “My dreams of a non-communal party government in the best interest of Sindh and ultimately of India were belied both in the Sindh United party which had met with such a cruel end at the hands of its own leader and the Congress party, and it was after protracted deliberation, and not without a pang of pain, that I realized that the only way of arresting the anti-Muslim and anti-masses forces in Sindh was to organize the Muslims, and do so on purely communal lines, so as to create a strong public opinion amongst them, which was so sadly lacking until then” (65). On the other hand, the Hindu moneylenders who dominated Congress leadership in Sindh also helped exacerbating the growing communal divide. Large number of Congress workers attended a conference organized by a rejuvenated Hindu Mahasabah party in Sindh at the end of 1939. The Congress also came out supporting the Hindu’s efforts to eject Muslims from the Manzilgah buildings opposite Sadhbelo, a revered Hindu temple in Sukkur (66). Admittedly, an issue was made from non-issue by certain disgruntled Sindhi Muslim leaders fully supported by the Muslim League in its bid to topple Allah Bukhsh Soomro’s ministry. Manzilgah was a set of ancient caravan inn’s buildings with a small abandoned mosque as its part that were for long in government use as a warehouse. The Muslims laid claim on the whole building as a mosque to be restored and rehabilitated for regular prayers. The demand gained support of Muslim community of Sukkur but Hindus strongly opposed the claim due to its proximity to the ancient Sadhbelo temple. The controversy led to the first serious communal riot in Sindh, in which mainly Hindus suffered significant loss of life and property. The incident played a major role in cementing the split between Hindus and Muslims in Sindh.

Although, modern education was introduced in Sindh since 1880s, the Sindhi Muslim society generally remained bogged down in pervasive illiteracy, traditional and extremely conservative customs and abject poverty. The Muslim elite comprising of big landlords, tribal chiefs, Syeds, and Mirs completely dominated the Sindh politics. Well-known Sindhi educationist and writer Syed Ghulam Mustafa Shah had depicted Sindh’s life in an early writing in 1943. “Of 32 lacs (3.2 million) Muslims [of Sindh], about 300,000 live in towns… remaining 28 lacs live in rural areas and are peasants. Of these 28 Lacs Muslims, 27 Lacs are landless peasants; 14 lacs are wandering gypsies not permanently settled anywhere. They keep changing their landowner employers. Except for probably few thousand, all of those 300,000 living in cities are labourers. You don’t find non-Muslim labour in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and other towns. Of the total non-Muslim population only 8% are agricultural workers and these are also from Hindu ‘untouchable’ castes” (67). Although, not directly connected with mainstream politics of Sindh, there was a military action undertaken against a particular Sindhi community in 1940s. After British occupation of Sindh in 1843, a spiritual leader Pir Pagaro in Sanghar had declared his ‘spiritual community’ of extremely dedicated followers as ‘Hur’ (free) from the British rule. The British had declared Hurs as a ‘Criminal Tribe’ virtually confining them in their reserve or in jails and concentration camps. As the scope of Second World War expanded in Asia threatening the British India, the need for massive military buildup and logistics movement on the borders of Afghanistan and Iran were needed. The British finally removed the irritant of ‘Hurs’. Martial Law was declared in the area from June 1942 to May 1943 and a military operation was carried out against Hurs. Pir Sibghatullah Shah Rashdi II, the sixth Pir Pagaro was captured and tried in a military court. Pir Pagaro tried engaging M.A. Jinnah for defending him in the Military Court in Hyderabad but despite his many desperate messages Jinnah declined the brief. The Pir was hanged to death in March 1943. His two young sons were taken to England as hostages; Pagaro’s sons could return to Pakistan only in December 1951. The elder son, Sikandar Shah Mardan Shah II became the new Pir Pagaro in February 1952 till he died in 2012.

The Sindhi Muslim intelligentsia, with its rural and mostly rich-peasant middle class origin, generally remained isolated from poor peasants and toiling rural classes. Very few ventured to work among down-trodden Haris and landless peasants and organize them for effective class actions. The provincial politics remained mired in tribal and caste rivalries and factional feuds. The earliest communist work in Sindh, probably, was initiated by Narain Das Becher, Qadir Bukhsh Nizamani, Abdul Qadir, and Amin Khuso together with Jethmal Pursram and Abdul Qadir around 1937. Sobho Gyan Chandani, Autar Kishan (A.K) Hangal who after migrating to India later emerged as a known Bollywood film actor, Kazi Mujataba, and Pohumal were also included in the organisation with Qadir Nizamani as the Secretary. They started work in the name of Hari Committee in 1930s as part of larger network of Kisan Sabhas and Kisan Committees in Punjab and other parts of India. Hyder Bukhsh Jatoi joined Sindh Hari Committee in 1945 and led many Hari agitations. Sindh Chief Minister Allah Bukhsh Soomro is said to have sympathy with the communists and many times he had protected them. Once most of the prominent communist party leaders in Sindh were arrested from a meeting being held in Sindh Zamindar Hotel in Saddar Karachi on the charges of anti-war propaganda during the first phase of the Second World War, it was Allah Bukhsh Soomro who helped dropping the charges and releasing the activists.

Sindh Communist Party also had a distinction of being the first party organization publicly coming out in support of the World War efforts only six days after the Hitler invaded Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. The Communist Party of India together with the international communist movement at that time was still in anti-war gear, declaring it as a reactionary imperialist war. With the Hitler’s invasion of Russia, the Sindh’s Communist Party organisation came out with a declaration on 28 June that the character of the war has changed from imperialist war to a peoples’ defence war. This was, however, taken as a violation of party discipline by publicly opposing official line of CPI and the Communist International. The Central Committee took disciplinary action against the Sindh party, expelling Qadir Nizamani from the party and suspending the membership of Amin Khuso, who quickly repented and tried to shift all blame to Qadir Nizamani. After his self-criticism, he was made the secretary of the party in place of Nizamani. On the instructions from the central leadership, Jamaluddin Bukhari from Punjab visited Sindh a few times to look into the local party organisational matters. Firozuddin Mansoor also accompanied him on few visits. Later, when Communist International changed its position on the war declaring it as ‘Peoples War’ and advised all communist parties in the world to fully support the war efforts, the CPI also changed its gear in reverse. Embarrassed with its stern disciplinary action in Sindh, it finally admitted its mistake and restored the membership of Qadir Nizamani. But, by now Nizamani and few other communists in Sindh in sympathy with the rebel group in Punjab were disenchanted with the authoritarian central leadership of the party.

Only after the Congress-backed government of Allah Bukhsh Soomro resigned in 1942, the Muslim League’s supported factions could form their government under Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah. In March 1943, in line with the Muslim League’s 23 March 1940 resolution at Lahore, G.M. Syed moved a resolution in Sindh Assembly opposing a central unified government and demanding for separate states for the Muslims of India. The resolution was almost unanimously approved by the Muslim members, except for Allah Bukhsh Soomro who was absent and 3 Hindu votes against it. Other Hindu members decided to walk out. This was a unique and first of its kind resolution of a provincial assembly in India. In June 1943, G.M. Syed was appointed president of the Sindh Muslim League by Jinnah in place of Ayub Khuro in Muslim League’s bid to win over Muslim middle classes towards the ideal of Pakistan.

But with the rise of Muslim League’s fortunes and the Pakistan movement gaining significant strength and an unprecedented resurgence by 1945 it was keen to finally win over big and influential

Zamindars and landlords in its fold to make a decisive strike for an independent Pakistan. It was also necessary to support its claim to be the exclusive universal representative of all Muslims in India. In this backdrop, the central Muslim League leadership at that stage was not prepared to let the small group of Sindh’s rising middle & rich peasant class disrupt the balance of power in Sindh by factional in-fighting between them and the powerful landlords represented by Ayub Khuro and Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah. When, because of these internal feuds and clannish conflicts G.M. Syed lost support of most of the big landlords of Sindh in his opposition to the Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah’s ministry, he raised the flag of ‘Sindhi nationalism’ and the cause of poor Haris. G.M Syed also agitated against government’s decision in Nov 1945 to allot lands developed after clearing of Lakkhi forest to Punjabi ex-soldiers. These lands were recovered after recent cleansing operation of Hurs in their strongholds. This anti-Punjabi position in Sindh was also counter-productive for a larger ground swell in Punjab for a united front for Pakistan. In his local power contest, G.M. Syed sought support from the central Muslim League leaders in his attempt to overthrow the sitting Muslim League government. Due to their own class interests, the Muslim League leaders were by no means interested in this ‘national’ and ‘people’s’ cause. Secondly, Muslim League’s primary objective at that critical time was to maintain unity of all factions of Muslim interests under its flag at any cost to strengthen its case against the Congress as the only representative party of the Muslims in India. The central leadership of a confident and resurgent Muslim League finally expelled G.M. Syed from Muslim League in January 1946. There was hardly a significant protest on his expulsion. By now, almost all leaders of Sindh had fallen in line for following the commands of Jinnah. In December 1946 elections of the Sindh Assembly, Muslim League won 35 seats, and Congress won 19 seats. G.M. Syed’s group could get only two seats with G.M. Syed himself losing contest against Muslim League candidate Qazi Akbar by a wide margin. The new Muslim League government (12th government in 10 years) of Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah passed ‘Landholders Mortgages Bill’ imposing restrictions on the transfer of mortgaged lands to moneylenders. It also passed the ‘Sindh University Bill’ for setting up a Sindh’s own university and restricting educational institutions of Sindh to have affiliation with any university outside of Sindh. The Indian Congress and an All Sindhi Hindu Conference held in April, 1947 in Karachi strongly opposed both new laws asking Hindu graduates not to accept fellowships in the proposed Sindh University and requesting universities of Bombay, Banaras, and Delhi for extending affiliations to their educational institutions in Sindh. At this stage, Rahim Bukhsh Soomro, a son of former Chief Minister Allah Bukhsh Soomro raised demand of an independent state of Sindh. Jinnah was not in favour of this idea, though, he had supported the similar idea of an independent Bengal and had, in fact, encouraged Hussain Shaheed Suhrawardy to work for it together with Sarat Bose. But soon this issue was killed with the Mountbatten’s decision in Shimla in May that under any circumstances India will not be divided into more than two parts. It is reported that Talpur ruler of Khairpur state had also requested for accepting its accession to India instead of Pakistan but Nehru declined the offer (68). Sindh University Act came into force on 2 June 1947 and affiliation of all educational institutions of Sindh to the University of Bombay ceased to have effect. The Sindh Minister Pir Ilahi Bukhsh issued a statement on 11 June in Delhi inviting Muslim industrialists and investors to come to Karachi for establishing their industry and businesses. He even suggested them to come and take possession of buildings vacated by Hindu businessmen and start their businesses right away.

With the partition of India and the transfer of power from the British Indian government to the new governor-generals of India and Pakistan, a new state of Pakistan emerged. It inherited the fractured state apparatus of the British India in its areas of jurisdiction.


59. Commissioner-in-Sind James to Secretary to Government of Bombay, 08.10.1896, quoted by Timothy Daniel Haines, p. 55.
60. Quoted by Timothy Daniel Haines, p. 59.
61. Zahid Choudhry, Pakistan ki Siyasi Tareekh (Political History of Pakistan), Vol. 6, Ed. Hasan Jafar Zaidi, Idara-e Mutala-e Tareekh, Lahore, 1994, p. 58.
62. Quoted by Timothy Daniel Haines, p. 107.
63. Land grants for existing Zamindars were offered at Rs.15 per acre against a capital cost of Rs. 30 per acre.
64. These included G.M. Syed, Abdullah Haroon, Mir Ghualm Ali Talpur, Pir Ilahi Buksh, Hashim Gazdar, Ali Muhammad Rashdi, Hatim Alavi, Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto and Bande Ali Talpur.
65. Syed Nesar Ahmed, p. 213.
66. Nandita Bhavnani, The Making of Exile: Sindhi Hindus and the Partition of India, Tranquebar Press, Chennai, 2014.
67. Quoted by Zahid Choudhry, p. 93.
68. K.R. Malkani, Thrown to Wolves in SindhiShan, Vol. 7, Issue 3, Jul-Sep, 2008.

Chapter 4… To be Continued

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