The student body was radicalized not only in one town but all over Pakistan. It had more or less became a part of the general upheaval which had spread all over the globe. Civil rights movement in the united States and anti Vietnam war movement was a catalyst of this uprising. Pakistani students were not far behind from their counterparts from the USA and Europe. Radical leftwing student organizations sprung up all over Pakistan and in Punjab, National Students Organization (NSO) was one such formation. It attracted most of the left radicals and left leaning students. Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), however, wanted to have a student organization which it could fully control since NSO was rather an independent organization.
A detailed chapter on this account is written and added to this account by Fayyaz Baqir, who became the 3rd convenor of NSO after Manzoor Ijaz was removed after a very short stint and then Imtiaz Alam joined the Mazdoor Kissan Party led by Major Ishaq.
After pitcing and winning most of these fights almost all over Punjab, against Islami Jameet, NSO was a force to reckon with. It’s radical rhetoric and agenda combined with its organizational links with labor, peasants and intelligentsia, became a thorn in the PPP’s more moderate and mostly feudal leadership which after coming to power had replaced the original more progressive leadership. The PPP ended up behind the scene favoring right wing students and organizations instead of NSO in the Punjab.
Bhutto’s legacy is a mixed bag. On one hand he empowered landless peasants with the likes of 5 Marla Scheme by granting 5 Marlas to every family in Pakistan which had no place to live. They mostly lived on the landowner’s property and were evicted at will. This made Bhutto a hero in the eyes of millions and one can find those sentiments alive among rural population of Pakistan. The voice PPP gave to the downtrodden masses through its slogans like, Roti, Kapra aur Makan (bread, clothes and shelter) still reverberate in Pakistan.
People’s Party also incorporated left leaning and liberal intellectuals in different state organs. Regional languages and cultures were also promoted. Sindhis were given special quotas and preferences to offset the effects of Urdu speaking migrants from India who were better educated, better organized and vocal in asserting themselves in Pakistan’s, and Sindh’s, job market.
Pakistanis did not require visa to travel to Commonwealth and many other countries of the world including most European countries but acquiring a passport in those days was a prohibitive task and marred in a lengthy bureaucratic maze that could not be overcome by most uneducated or under-educated masses. There were only five passport offices, one in each provincial capital and one in Islamabad. People had to travel hundreds of miles and a stay of many days was required sometimes to smooth out the passport office official to obtain the documents, and then foreign currency of five hundred was required to travel overseas. Bhutto opened passport offices in almost all district headquarters and lifted the foreign exchange condition for travel. It opened the floodgates of the skilled, semiskilled or unskilled workers to travel to the new oil rich states of the middle East and beyond. Better educated people chose Europe and highly skilled professionals left for North America. It created opportunity for the unemployed and underemployed workers to take their place. A brilliant stroke resolved chronic unemployment of the educated and a very vocal youth. It also provided Pakistan with much needed foreign currency reserves. The remittances from the workers overseas created a boom not only in construction but demand in consumer goods. The real estate prices in some neighborhoods of Pakistani cities went up as high as those in Manhattan. But Bhutto’s rhetoric and slogans did not endear him to the Western powers. He did realize that, and started to work on an alliance of the Islamic world with a conference in Lahore. Any gains from that effort are debatable but the effects of radicalizing of the masses are visible today and they are here to stay for a long while. All consecutive regimes after Bhutto followed that path, and Pakistani society turned from one of the most tolerant societies in the Muslim world into one of the most intolerant ones.
After the PPP came to power, most of the landlords of the Punjab and Sindh joined it in droves; these were the same landlords who the PPP had just defeated in general elections. What the ruling elite lost in elections they won in the drawing rooms deals. Bhutto himself, a secular liberal, changed his posture to appease his new found friends. From Awami Jamhorriat (people’s democracy), socialism hamari mashiat hai, Islamic socialism is our economic system, it came to a new mantra, and Islam hamara Din hai became another popular slogan. When the new constitution of Pakistan was promulgated, Pakistan was declared an Islamic state. No laws were to be made contrary to the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith, and a non Muslim could not be the President or the Prime Minister of Pakistan.
When it came down to agitations and demonstrations by workers or students, Bhutto himself warned the striking workers that street power will be met with state power.
People’s Party got a real boost after the Toba Tek Singh Kissan conference which was held from 23 to 25 March. According to some estimates, as much as half a million people attended that historical conference. Two weeks before the conference, a group of motorcyclist was to ride on the main arteries of Lahore, loudly chanting, challo, challo Tobe challo. Tariq Latif, Tariq Masood and Zaman Khan were the organizers of that group. A special train left Lahore with Maulana Bahshani aboard with a lot of the leaders of the left including Eric Cyprian, Mazhar Ali Khan, Safdar Mir, Arif Abdul Matin, Syed Matlabi Faridabadi, Ahmad Nadim Qasmi, Sardar Shaukat Ali, C.R.Aslam, Abid Minto and hundreds more. Most of the Professors Group was present and almost all members and activist of the NSO and other progressive student organization from all over Pakistan. Veteran Kissan leader Chaudhry Fattah Muhammad was the host of this historical conference. Faiz Ahmed Faiz recited his famous poem there.
Yehen se Uthe ga shoore mehshar, yehin hisabo kitaab ho ga (the end of days will start here and the and the day of reckoning also will be right here).
Habib Jalib recited one of his famous poems, Dastoor: aise Dastoor ko, subhe benoor ko mein Nahin manta, mein Nahin Janta.
(Constitution that was promulgated by Auyb Khan, was declared by Jalib a morning without the sunlight and rejected).
The train carrying Bahshani and the left leadership took a whole day to reach Toba Tek Singh because it was greeted at every little stop by thousands of people. This conference was a great success by any standard. A lot of foreigners were seen at the venue too. Some European girls and boys were also present. I do wonder who those kids were and where they are today?
We had all come to the conference but had not thought through what we would do at night, where would we sleep. Fortunately I recalled that one of my first cousins was married in a village called Bairian walla and that was not too far from Toba Tek Singh. I remember walking with a couple of friends to my cousin’s house and arriving there pretty late at night but we were greeted very warmly by my cousin and her husband’s family. We were offered a wonderful dinner and comfortable beds to sleep.
At the end of the conference, Maulana Bahshani gave a fiery speech but in essence bid West Pakistan goodbye which most people did not realize at that time. His speech turned out to be prophetic. Maulana never set foot in Pakistan after leaving West Pakistan.
After the election, in which Awami League of Mujeeb ul Rehman won overall majority in the Parliament but no seat from West Pakistan, the West Pakistani leaders and the army refused to honor the will of the people of East Pakistan, and a civil war ensued. After a bloody and horrific civil war, East Pakistan gained its Independence from Pakistan and became Bangladesh. The PPP had the majority of the seats in West Pakistan and formed the Government in Pakistan. Maulana Bahshani’s Awami National Party (ANP) had very little following in West Pakistan. Walli Khan was elected leader of ANP Pakistan and this party became a regional party. Most of the radical workers of the ANP from Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan either joined left wing groups, and the PPP gained Hardcores and tampered political workers by default.
After winning election in West Pakistan in 1970, PPP changed its character very fast from a popular mass movement to an entrenched political institution. It started to purge unwanted and radical element from its rank and file. A lot of them joined Mazdoor Kissan Party, Punjab Lok Party, and other left wing parties and progressive groups. But most of the disheartened people began to leave urban centers deciding to go back to their home districts or even to leave the country. The real brain drain of the left started. The mediocre academics, intellectuals, professional and semi skilled people filled the vacuum. Pakistan has, is and will suffer from its effects for a long time to come.
The PPP’s betrayal and outright and open cooperation with the right wing students organizations and the old political system was disheartening for most of the young political activists. Most chose the easy way out and left Pakistan to study or to work, many people I knew and had worked with left Pakistan between 1973-1977, around the elections. By this time, the PPP transformation was utter and complete.
NSO and some other organizations had produced a cadre of very skilled political operatives. The serious mistake was a decision to not take part in elections but to support local PPP candidates. We were supposed to work to get them elected and then keep in the background and have them help advance our agenda. It, of course, did not work that way. The PPP candidates used our organizational skills to their advantage, dropped us in many cases and try to physically harm some of our friends in others. In the 1970 elections in most of the southern Punjab constituencies PPP had no candidates. It took people’s party to beg people to contest elections since no one wanted to run against big landowners. In the long run PPP swept the elections in Punjab and Sindh. If at that juncture left leadership has decided to run candidates on PPP ticket Pakistan today may look a different place. A whole generation of activist was lost, demoralized and wasted. That mistake was repeated to a very little extent in 1977 but PPP was no more a experimental party. They were willing to cooperate only on a couple of seats but that chance was also not availed.
The Author has been a long time member of the NSO.