November Issue 2014
The Genesis of ‘Peoples’ Power’
“After many years of struggle for a revolutionary change the leaders of our party seemed to have run out of steam and we were lying, idle and frustrated on the thara (projection in front of a shop). Then Bhutto came and put up his carnival tent (mandva lagaya) and all of us scrambled across to join the show.”
Thus Bhola, known throughout Lahore’s walled city for vending delicious chikkar-chholay explains why he and scores of left-leaning activists chose to join the nascent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). His remarks unmasked two important factors that contributed to the PPP’s meteoric rise: first, that it came at the right time when the strong winds of change were blowing across Asia; and, secondly, it succeeded in attracting a large number of political workers, who had been awakened to the possibility of overthrowing their oppressors.
The country was in ferment. Ayub Khan’s spell of stability and development was coming to an end. In the eyes of the common man he had failed the nation by losing the 1965 war with India and betrayed the people of Kashmir at Tashkent. Worse, he had dispensed with the services of Bhutto, who had not only revived the Kashmir issue but had also brought the country into the worldwide movement against imperialism. The Vietnamese victories over a superpower had galvanised not only the intelligentsia but also the masses. Public rage against the Ayub regime could be felt in educational institutions, industrial establishments, bar rooms, market places and homes. To a large number of people Bhutto appeared to be the saviour they needed because he had upheld the cause of Kashmir and defied Ayub Khan. And as a member of the elite he could gain power.
The issues dominating the debate — Kashmir, the tussle with India and the Tashkent Declaration — were primarily Punjab ’s concerns and it was there that Bhutto found a platform to launch his party. With the exception of East Bengal ’s J. A. Rahim, Sindh’s Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi and Rasul Bukhsh Talpur, nearly all of Bhutto’s first associates were from Punjab . But the Punjab governor, former army chief Musa, had designs to confine Bhutto to his estate in Larkana and he appeared to have the means to do so. Thus, when a couple of hundred people gathered on the lawns of Dr Mubashir Hasan’s house in Lahore to launch the Pakistan People’s Party, the affair was seen as an adventure. The mid-level political workers had to break through police cordons to reach the convention venue.
The stars at the foundation convention were Zulfikar Ali Bhutto himself, J. A. Rahim, Dr Mubashir Hasan Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, Hayat Sherpao, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, and Sheikh Mohammad Rashid. Several mid-level political figures, such as Hamid Sarfaraz, Hanif Ramay, and Mir Hamid Husain were also present and the rear was brought up by young student activists like Amanullah Khan and Iftikhar Ahmad. When Malik Aslam Hayat, known for his hold on the Lahore district bar association, opened his modest house on Hotu Ram Road for a post-convention reception it was considered an auspicious start for the new party.
The party at its birth derived its strength from the political cadre developed by the National Awami Party, which was now lying largely idle after the party’s split into Wali NAP and Bhashani NAP. Workers from both parties flocked to the Bhutto banner — those in the Wali Nap as they were already opposing the Ayub regime, and those in the Bhashani NAP as they were unhappy with the party’s decision to go on backing Ayub Khan.
The most remarkable thing about the PPP’s birth was its foundation papers that spelt out the people’s agenda of change in 11 articles. One of these papers was written by Bhutto, another by Dr Mubashir Hasan, four by J. A. Rahim and five were drafted by Sikandar Rahim and finalised by J. A. Rahim. A paper on the party’s constitution was expected to be provided by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, who had considerable experience in drawing up profiles of new political parties, but when the paper did not arrive till the convention day, J. A. Rahim himself put together a draft of the party’s constitution and told Dr Mubashir Hasan how he had made the chairman’s actions subject to the executive committee’s approval.
There is considerable speculation about the role some European friends of J. A. Rahim and Bhutto played in the preparation of the foundation papers. According to one old party worker, J. A. Rahim had consulted Jean Paul Sartre and Bertrand Russell. But all available evidence suggests the party’s agenda had wholly indigenous origins though there were reports that the foundation papers were shown to Bertrand Russell after the convention.
Later when the time for writing the party’s election manifesto came, the task was assigned to a team led by Dr Mubashir Hasan and Safdar Mir.
In a way the PPP derived its strength from the fact that it had attracted most of the left-of-centre groups in West Pakistan. What was common among them was a strong desire to move ahead on the anti-imperialist wave generated by the Vietnam war. In the PPP dream each of these groups saw fulfillment of its own aspirations. For Sheikh Rashid the PPP stood for peasants’ emancipation. Mukhtar Rana thought the day of the Faisalabad workers’ victory had come. Mahmood Ali Kasuri was attracted by the prospects of respect for civil liberties and rule of law. Meraj Khaild had his own ideas about a small peasants’ crusade against the landed aristocracy. Hanif Ramay thought the intelligentsia had a majot role to play in creating a new society. But the central force in the party was provided by the middle-class professionals who wanted the hegemony of the 22 privileged families to end. The slogan of roti, kapra aur makaan became the battle cry of the have-nots across the land.
Unfortunately, the PPP did not have the time to develop its party apparatus. The party constitution was rarely taken out of J. A. Rahim’s briefcase. The success Bhutto had in establishing a rapport with the masses in both cities and villages reinforced his belief that in countries like Pakistan political parties had a very small part to play and that the people could be ruled through fear and timely use of the state apparatus. As a result of Yahya Khan’s mad adventures and the disintegration of Pakistan, the PPP, like the Muslim League before it, came into power before it had developed the requisite internal cohesion, unity of purpose and a culture of collective decision-making. The left factions fought among themselves more bitterly than their common enemies. They fell out one after the other and by 1976 Bhutto was left only with the remnants of the ancien regime that the people had defeated in 1970. But that is another story — a story that no one in the halcyon days of 1967 had foreseen.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s November 2014 issue.
Mr. I.A. Rehman is a writer and activist living in Pakistan. He is the secretary general of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretariat.