By Wajid Shamsul Hasan
Leaders make history and history makes nations. For me to have survived to see Pakistan’s 71st Jashne Azadi has been special gift of God to me. I passed the hour of Independence with sobs, sniffles and smiles and my former colleague at the Pakistan High Commission—a commodore from Pakistan Navy serving the mission as head of Naval & Defence Division during my tenure—made my day by sending me video-clip of Saree-clad singer—a Bengali Pakistani—Shahnaz Begum– rendering the ever green “Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhey” by Delhi-born famous poet Jameeluddin Aali.
The officer’s note with the video of blossoming Shahnaz Begum was extremely poignant. He wrote (I can’t reveal Officer’s identity as I did not seek permission to quote him): “Irony of our history is that our top national songs & most popular motivational songs even to-date are all sung by Bengali3 singers.” Indeed, Jameeluddin Aali’s lyrics sung by Shahnaz Begum was so motivational that Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto walked to the stage behind the famous composer Sohail Rana and his orchestra of kids and joined the chorus “Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhey”. Aali Bhai’s lyrics and passionate rendering by Shahnaz Begum were so powerful that they bypassed Hafeez Jullandhri’s composed national anthem in popularity even to this day. “Sohni Dharti” and “Jeevay Jeevay Pakistan” are even on the lips of everybody today.
I could have penned my Jashne Azadi article by going into the undistorted narration or nailing of General Zia imposed version of history by laying bare Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s populist dream of a secular, social welfare state guaranteeing equal rights to its citizens irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender. Since I had passed the Sohni Dharti video clip to many youngsters who read me, I got a thought provoking comment from a young teacher of Pakistani/Kashmiri origin.
I produce here the comment as I received from her. “Oh! Interesting stuff! What were Bengalis doing singing in Pakistan, they weren’t the good old East Pakistanis were they?“ I thought it needed a fair and unbiased explanation about the perceived notions about the Bengalis who our big bosses with their batons used to dismiss as
“Bingos” before the military operation that attempted genetically to convert them. More or less, second class citizens.
No doubt poet Jameeluddin Aali’s lyrical rendering and singer Shahnaz Begum’s full-throated, melodious echoing voice were both motivational and inspirational; it was dynamic leadership of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto that picked up the pieces, reunited a bitterly fractured and truncated country into a cast-iron constitution of 1973 that has survived a roller-coaster existence, blunted several attempts at extra-constitutional and Praetorian interventions.
The struggle for the restoration of democracy spearheaded by martyred Benazir Bhutto against the dictatorship of President General Pervez Musharraf and finally draped in her pristine blood, opened flood gates of democratic changes of far-reaching consequences despite political engineering by the powers that be. Holding of third elections and transfer of power to yet another elected government headed by PTI’s Imran Khan is surely crowning glory for hard earned democracy.
“Sohni Dharti Allah Rakhey” has such immortal wordings that one swings with it as it cascades us out of our dark pages of history when everything even hope was lost. In that dismal hour each and every word addressed to the Creator to keep “Sohni Dharti” protected, (land of Pakistan) injected a breath of fresh air and new life. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who walked to the gallows in defiance to acquire nuclear glow to keep our heads high for ever—transformed the nation into a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, that is what leadership is.
Since our history has gone through sledge-hammering by General Ziaul Haq, younger generations would continue to ask unless told, that Shahrah-e-Suhrawardy or Khawaja Nazimuddin Avenue or Liaquat Bagh were named after some of the front rank leaders of Pakistan movement who were not born in what we have of Pakistan today.
They will have to be told real history and not Zia version that it were Bengali Muslims who spearheaded Pakistan movement backed by Muslims of the minority provinces. Except Sindh that voted for Pakistan, rest of the provinces including Punjab had not much of contribution in the freedom struggle.
If you look back starting December 1906 when All-India Muslim League was formed in Dhaka, it were Bengalis who spearheaded the Pakistan movement and when Justice Munir as Law Minister of Field Matshall Ayub Khan was asked by his military boss to broach the subject of separation in 1962 to his senior Bengali colleague in the cabinet, he was conveyed that East Bengal was real Pakistan. In his forthright book “JINNAH TO ZIA” Justice Munir lays hare Ayub’s scheme of getting rid of East Pakistan by now described as “basket case” by West Pakistani bureaucrats. The answer given by Bengali Minister was: ‘We are PAKISTAN, if you want to separate you separate’. Bengalis never had any issue with Pakistan. Issue was with us in West Pakistan where feudal class held the key to power and resources and they wanted parity opposed to principle of rule by the majority.
In conclusion while welcoming the new Prime Minister Imran Khan and his gigantic commitment for change, I reproduce here the inspirational Naghma to keep insight the goal envisioned by the Quaid —as reiterated by Chairman PPP Bilawal Bhutto Zardari that he would continue the vision for equality sans discrimination of caste, creed, colour or gender to establish an egalitarian, peaceful, prosperous and progressive Pakistan. PTI Chairman and Prime Minister-designate has the same dream. He has started well by seeking pastures new through much needed national reconciliation. Indeed, an all inclusive approach is needed to clean the Aegean Stables.
(The writer is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to UK and a veteran journalist.)
By Wajid Shamsul Hasan