Heady Politics of the 1970s

Dr. Manzur Ejaz

Within a few months after I joined Punjab University in 1967 and met Dr, Aziz-ul-Haq, the radical scientist and a leading intellectual of the punjabi Left, a protest movement against the dictator Field Marshal Ayub Khan went into full swing. This began as a students’ movement and started, ironically, in the cantonment town of Rawalpindi, the heartland and base of the Pakistan Army. A number students of a polytechnic institute in Rawalpindi Marched in protest against Ayub Khan’s regime and were gunned down by the police.

In Lahore’s Punjab University, New Campus, we started taking out processions to restore the students Union which had been banned and had morphed into six societies with different names. Member of Naey Log, the Left’s literary forum founded by Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq amongst other, was one of the prominent societies to replace the Union but they readily joined the movement and led the agitation for the restoration of the Students Union. Students belonging to the Right wing and Islamist Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba (IJT) did not participate in the Protests. As the student uprising spread throughout the country, Punjab University was shut down and we were ordered to vacate our hostels. I went back to my ancestral village in Sahiwal to lead the area’s maiden anti-Ayub demonstration. A few Naey Log activists walked along with us in the Sahiwal protest, keeping a safe enough distance to make the police believe they were not part of the protest, if the need arose. To us this was an indication of Naey Log’s departure from the movement.

When the university reopened, after General Yahya Khan had taken over in 1968 by inposing another martial law, we returned to Lahore but much more politicized. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq and Prof. Aziz-ud-Din had decided to launch a students’ organization to implement their agenda. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq would coach us on ideological issues while the organizing was left to Prof Aziz-ud-Din who would visit my hostel room almost every day to disuss strategy. We wanted to bring fresh blood to the movement because the old guys at Naey Log were only interested in literature and were not willing to accept the rules of an organization.

We had to find new and uninitiated students who had the gumption to bring about change. I recruited a few new students like Shuja-ul-Haq, Fayyaz Baqir, Arif Raja, Chaudhry Nazir Ahmad and others. There is a story attached to each of them regarding how I found them and persuaded them to join the organization: some of them were crusading against religion in politics or were carrying guns aiming to single-handedly start a revolution. Zaman Khan, a student of the Lahore Law College, was introduced to us by Prof. Aziz-ud-din in his customary style, “There is a boy called Zaman Khan; have a look at him.”

So, six or seven committed students got together and took out the first political demonstration against a visiting American delegation for which the reception was being arranged by Shahid  Mahmood  Nadeem & Co. Zaman Khan and 1 began raising slogans against American imperialism and a few of our other friends joined in. That day, outnumbered, we would have been beaten up badly by the IJT squad if Palestinian students studying at the Punjab University had not come to our rescue. It was memorable for us as our maiden act of defiance. It helped us to establish our identity in the university.

To move forward and establish a students’ organization, we arranged a gathering of the Lahore’s Left leaning students at Lawrence Gardens but nothing came of this meeting. So, we decided to launch a students’ organization with our own cadre which included Imtiaz Alam (now Secretary General of Safma) and Khalid Mahmood. The formation of the Nationalist Students Organization (NSO) was announced in the front lawn of Punjab University’s Old Campus in front of the historic Kim’s Gun on Lahore’s Mall and Imtiaz Alam was appointed its chief Convener while I was made Convener of New Campus where the core cadre was located.

For the next couple of years, NSO-led students’ alliance dominated Punjab University politics in every respect. The IJT was overwhelmed by our zealots in our off-and-on fights. The Jamaat-i-islami, parent organisation of the IJT, after taking beatings for a year or so, brought in professional gangs and recruited fighters from amongst students. Nicknamed “Fooqa Terror”, Rana Farooq, presently PPP MNA from Gojra was one of them. Neither Dr. Aziz nor Prof. Aziz could match the JI’s resources. So, our members and sympathizers had to fend themselves.

The NSO led alliance contested elections against IJT till it ceased to exist. In the first two elections Jahangir Badr, now of the PPP, was nominated as the presidential candidate on Prof. Aziz’s recommendation because he was the one who knew students beyond New Campus. Mr. Badr has never been a NSO member but he was nominated because he had been the president of the students’ union of Hailey College of Commerce, a very large constituency in the Punjab University election. Our strategy was that he would carry his own college and we would deliver the rest of the university. Our alliance won the elections but Sheikh Imtiaz, the Principal of Lahore Law College and chief of elections, deprived us of the victory, declaring Hafiz Idris and his panel the winners.

We presented Jahangir Badr as our presidential candidate for the second time against Hafeez Khan, a chap who wore bell-bottoms, was handsome and had good speaking skills. Javed Hashmi, now a leading member of the Nawaz League, was the IJT’s candidate for General Secretary in that panel. The IJT panel won the election fair and square except for Rashid Butt who won the Vice President’s post due to his mastery in feudalistic manipulations. From that election onward, the NSO led coalition began to fail due to lack of motivation and resources. It is interesting to note that students from the Institute of Education Research (IER) and natural sciences overwhelmingly voted for IJT candidates. Most of the students from IER and natural sciences were rural and lacked social consciousness despite their high intelligence. One now finds that many young men from such scientific backgrounds have gravitated towards political Islamism.

The first division within the NSO came in 1970 on the issue of supporting Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the general election. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq was in favour of using the occasion to side with the PPP and try to radicalize its workers. On the contrary, Prof. Aziz-ud-Din was against such a strategy because he considered the Bhutto-led PPP a bourgeois formation. Our group agreed with Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq and campaigned for the PPP; and Prof. Aziz-ud-Din along with Imtiaz Alam chose to remain on the sidelines. The clash was tackled amicably where individual members were allowed to choose their preference in the election. However, the conflict over the Pakistan Army’s military action in East Pakistan in 1971 led to a permanent split between the Azizes and the NSO.

I still remember the ridiculous debate between the Azizes at the artist Mian Ijaz-ul-Hasan’s Lahore residence. Both sides had come ready to quote a lot of Marxist literature like a religious munazira (debate). As in religious munaziras, Prof. Aziz-ud-Din was assisted by Zaman Khan and Aziz-ul-Haq by Khalid Laddoo or someone else. No compromise was possible because Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq wanted unconditional support for the Bengalis’ right to secede from Pakistan while Prof. Aziz-ud-Din thought that the movement was led by non-progressive bourgeois elements and should be opposed. The split between the two and subsequently within the NSO was inevitable. Therefore, siding with Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq our group comprising most of the founding members except Fayyaz Baqir and Imtiaz Alam left the NSO and got busy in the formation of Young People’s Front (YPF).

As a prologue to a formal declaration of YPF, Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq arranged a seminar at the YMCA Lahore to lay down the basic theoretical foundations. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq formulated that Pakistani society was facing four major contradictions: people’s contradiction with imperialism; class contradiction; nationality contradiction where the oppressed nationalities have the right to secede and contradiction with the neo-colonialist state structure. In his view the contradiction that took priority kept evolving and revolving. For example, with Pakistan’s military action in East Pakistan, the question of nationality had taken precedence over dealing with all other contradictions.

To his credit, Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq was a pioneer in highlighting the importance of the nationality contradiction. At that time most Left groups in the Punjab did not recognize this contradiction or were not vocal about it. Some poets and intellectuals (Ahmad Salim etc) opposed the military invasion of East Pakistan and were jailed but no progressive group or party defined this question as clearly as Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq did. Prof. Aziz-ud-Din and many others did not concede the right of a nationality to secede leading Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq to launch his own group in the form of the YPF. Later on, after the fall of Dacca, Professor Aziz-ud-Din and his followers began embracing this view.

However, Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq’s rigid anti-India stand was incomprehensible. I think he had developed this approach in his earlier period while working with Hardial Bains, Secretary of the Communist Party of Canada. After coming to Pakistan without completing his degree in Canada, Aziz-ul-Haq was closely associated with Zahid Chaudhry who authored several books on Pakistan’s history before his death. I met Zahid Chaudhry a few times: he was a reclusive person with a thorough knowledge of Marxism and Pakistan’s history. Zahid Chaudhry had lived in China and his anti-India views were influenced by Chinese Communists. Furthermore, Mr. Chaudhry, Dr. Mubashar Hasan and some others used to be called the “Muslim League Communists”. I think this group, with its India obsession, worked as the main theoretical force behind the YPF.

The YPF was established in 1972 with its head office on Lahore’s Ferozepur Road. The group consisted of our university cadre including Izzat Majeed, who was then teaching at the Department of Public Administration. Mr Majeed is now a leading international businessman and maker of music par excellence. The group also included Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq’s coached group from Mughalpura; and Rana Zubair and a few other labour unionists from the Kala Shah Kaku industrial area along with Saeed Chauhdry. Rabia Sumbal and Iftikhar Jalib. Mrs. Sumbal, then wife of Saeed Ahmed, a minor industrialist, was attached to Aziz-ul-Haq’s project because his parents had rented the upper portion of their (Rabia and Saeed’s) bungalow. Eventually, lftikhar Jalib. Rabia Sumbal and Khalid Mahmood Laddoo became leaders of this group after Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq died. Our university group was never comfortable with this second tier leadership and especially with Rabia Sumbal’s prominence. 1 had confronted Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq on this question a couple of times with no positive outcome.

As mentioned earlier. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq was not good at organizing. He was an intellectual of excellence and best at articulating new ideas but not fit for managing people in day-to-day activities. His old comrade, the late Hardial Singh Bains. Secretary General of the Communist Party of Canada, with whom Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq had started his early activism agreed with me. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq used to talk of Bains so often that 1 had to search him out when 1 went to Canada. 1 found him and we reminisced about Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq on my several visits to him.

YPF never became an organized group. Everyone from the group had a direct relationship with Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq and not with the group. Most of the time he was providing psychotherapy to individual members and political work became secondary. Sometimes I used to feel that YPF was a psychiatric clink with too many patients and one doctor. This was one of the main reasons for the group’s dissolution after Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq’s death.

Before his death, Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq had started crusading against the Pakistan Peoples Party once Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto came to power and began his authoritarian rule. Bhutto had started reigning in the radical elements of his party and Leftist Mukhtar Rana’s imprisonment and disqualification as member of the National Assembly was part of it. Mukhtar Rana’s sister, Zarina Rana decided to contest in the by-elections to fill her brother’s National Assembly seat. Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq along with Rabia Sumbal and others went to Faisalabad to canvas for Zarina Rana. It was very late when they returned and Rabia Sumbal was afraid to go back to her home. Therefore, Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq had to sleep on his driving seat while Rabia Sumbal slept in the back seat of the car. Outraged, her husband Saeed Ahmad came and shot both of them and then shot himself. Both Saeed Ahmad and Dr. Aziz-ul-Haq died on the spot while Rabia Sumbal survived.

It was the gloomiest day of my life: 1 had lost a friend, an intellectual guru and for nothing.