How we lost Suhrawardy – the last of bridges

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By Wajid Shamsul Hasan

Part I

PAKISTAN was pushed into a throes of ideological confusion soon after the death of Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah. MAJ’s passing into eternity ushered in a period of chaos with no national leader carrying weight as heavy as MAJ’s. At his demise there were only two leaders who could carry the national load on their shoulders—Prime Minster Liaquat Ali Khan and former Chief Minister of United Bengal Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy.

Unfortunately this conflict among the top two leaders was taken advantage by the Punjabi leaders in West Pakistan no better than pigmies but no doubt past masters in intrigues and intra-provincial politics. With Pakistan’s Punjabi Defence Establishment and Punjab- dominated civil bureaucracy calling the shots in decisive state matters created pockets of vested interests. Besides, the Punjabi Feudal class, the Muslim Mashaikhs, the Pirs  and Gaddi Nasheens- became collaborators in arranging  a chessboard according to their own compulsions. Obviously, the Punjabi vested interests put their weight in Liaquat’s support thereby capturing Prime Ministerial house. Husseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy was out-manoeuvred in intrigues and causing deeper conflict. This conflict of interests provided a golden opportunity to Praetorian forces to strike. Disagreement with Liaquat over the handling of issue with Muslim born Kashmiri generals made them join in an failed attempted coup against Liaquat. However failure in the attempted coup led to the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan by Kabuli Pashtoon Sayeed Akbar.

Liaquat’s assassination paved the way for Ayub Khan to get away into prominence into a role that made emergence of a new power sharing game with Gvernor General Ghulam Muhammad, Finance Minister Choudhy Mohammad Ali, Mohammad Ali Bogra as imported Prime Minister to provide a supportive role to the Americans. Interior Minister Mushtaq Ahmed Gurmani was kept no doubt as Federal Interior Minister but had an aura of suspicion as having hand in Liaquat’s murder.   

Notoriously known Indian state of Gujrat for the communal riots has been leading in festering communalism. Irrespective of the demolition of ancient Babri Mosque or killing thousands of Muslims later—-has the unique distinction of sowing the seeds of secular India’s divide.

H.S. Suhrawardy

The first recorded communal riot occurred in 1854 in Godhra in Gujrat followed by Mumbai’s in 1893 against the militant cow protection movement. These proved to be wake up call for the Muslims who had gone to sleep into mire of despondency and decadence as a consequence to the end of Mughal rule when last of the mogul emperors Bahadur Shah Zafar was despatched into exile in Rangoon.

At this critical juncture when all seemed lost there emerged on the scene a Messiah for the Muslims—Sir Syed Ahmed Khan (1817-1898). He had a vision and he ushered in a renaissance for the Muslims of India. Though opposed tooth and nail by the theocrats he pursued the mission of providing western education to the Muslims who had been rendered into “hewers of wood and drawers of water” as described by the historian Sir William Hunter. They were outnumbered by better educated Hindu majority that had geared itself according to the changing needs of the time with the onset of industrial revolution.

Sir Syed was perhaps the first political thinker and visionary among Muslims after the debacle of 1857. He could foresee the future course of India under Indian National Congress. He advised the Muslims not to be part of its game. He perceived the Congress’s demand for a wider role for the Indians in the government as the “thin end of the wedge for monopolising absolute power.”

As member of Viceroy’s Legislative Council visualising the sub- continental scenario when the British would leave India, he raised a pertinent question-pregnant with the genesis of partition: “Now, suppose that the English community and the army were to leave India, taking with them all their cannons and their splendid weapons and all else, who then would be the rulers of India?” “Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations – the Mohammedans and the Hindus – could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other. To hope that both could remain equal is to desire the impossible and the inconceivable… But until one nation has conquered the other and made it obedient, peace cannot reign in the land.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman with H. S. Suhrawardy (left) and Chinese premier Zhou Enlai in Dhaka in 1957

According to him Muslims would not get equitable share in jobs and other areas of socio-economic endeavours. Their best of the brains would be outnumbered by the better educated Hindus. This observation was a manifestation of increasing polarisation on grounds of economic disparities between the two nations despite the fact Sir Syed believed that “Hindus and Muslims are two eyes of the beautiful bride that is Hindustan”.

During the British Raj all the religious communities living in India enjoyed equal rights. They could practice their faiths in full freedom. Where they did not have equitable opportunities were the fields of employment and economic enterprise. And this friction got adequately postulated in Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s 14 points rejected by the Nehrus.

Had the Indian National Congress accepted his proposal a unified India could have been free much earlier and without long struggle and bloodshed. Like Sir Muhammad Iqbal who did not talk of independent Muslim state in his historic Allahabad Address of 1930, the Quaid did not believe in dividing India as the Lahore Resolution of March 1940 specifically wanted recognition of Muslims within Hindustan and not as an independent state. It was a much later after thought that Lahore Resolution became Pakistan Resolution.

Until 1946 Quaid had agreed to be part of confederal India as outlined in May/June 1946 Plan. It envisaged a united India in line with Congress and Muslim League aspirations. The Jinnah-Nehru consensus ended when Jawaharlal Nehru told a journalist that Congress would be in majority and as such it would decide the future of India negating the basis of Muslim demands of ‘political safeguards’ built into post-British Indian laws so as to prevent absolute rule of Hindus over Muslims forcing Jinnah to opt for independence as a last resort.

Many pseudo-historians in Ziaist mould have ever since tried to paint a life-long secular Jinnah into a theocratic crusader misconstruing his linkage of Islam and modern concept of democracy. Quaid in the right-earnest— believed it as an Islamic concept when he said that democracy is in our bone marrow and in our blood since the advent of Islam. Could there be anything more explicit than Islamic concept of Ijtehad, debate, discussion and consensus—for decisions of the state strictly under Huquq Ul Ibad—rights of human beings on each other based on Islamic social justice guarantying egalitarian principle of greatest good of the largest number? Most certainly not!

(To be continued next week)

(The author is the former High Commissioner of Pakistan to the UK, a long time adviser to the martyred Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto and a veteran journalist.)