A brave attempt to understand the sectarian realities in Pakistan, this book sketches the predicament of millions of Indian Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from north India in quest of a separate homeland, writes Arvind Gupta
September 20, 2009
Partition and the Making of the Mohajir Mindset: A Narrative
Author: Brigadier AR Siddiqi
Publisher: OUP, Karachi
Price: Rs 395 (Pakistan)
AR Siddiqi has had an interesting journey. His experience through the turbulent times of Partition and the divided politics thereon within Pakistan makes for an interesting and poignant reading of the book Partition and the Making of the Mohajir Mindset. Well-versed in Urdu and Persian, Siddiqi obtained his masters degree from St Stephens in Delhi and worked as a journalist for the Dawn in Delhi and for the Civil and Military Gazette in Lahore, Peshawar and Rawalpindi. He then joined the Pakistan Army as a public relations officer in 1950 and served for 25 years. As the head of the Inter Services Public Relations during General Tikka’s regime, he experienced the nature and the dynamics of sectarian politics. Noted for his work on civil-military relations, Siddiqi’s latest book sketches the predicament of millions of Indian Muslims who migrated to Pakistan from Delhi, Lucknow, and other places in north India lured by Jinnah’s ‘two nation theory’ and the alluring idea of a separate homeland. Little did these beleaguered Urdu speaking migrants, called the Mohajirs, realise that they would be treated with contempt and regarded no more than refugees in the newly founded Pakistan for which they left their home and centuries old composite Hindu-Muslim culture.
The author, himself a Mohajir from Delhi, examines with rare sensitivity the plight of the Mohajirs, who to their disappointment discovered that Pakistan’s polity was dominated by the Punjabis in collusion with the Pathans. While the Sindhis, the Bengalis and the Baloch had strong territorial base which they could call as their homes, the Mohajirs had no place which they could claim as their own. A bulk of the Mohajirs chose to settle in Sindh, particularly in Karachi and Hyderabad bringing them in conflict with the local Sindhis. The conflict continues to this day and has claimed countless lives.
The dominant Punjabis-Pathan community accounts for the sorry state of other ethnicities in Pakistan. The Bengalis, who were in majority in Pakistan at the time of Partition, eventually rebelled against the Punjabi domination and created Bangladesh. The erstwhile Urdu-speaking Pakistani citizens, largely Biharis who lived in East Pakistan and sided with the Pakistani Army in 1971, suffered the worst fate of all. They were abandoned by Pakistan and rejected by Bangladesh. In examining the predicament of the Biharis, the author draws a parallel with the Mojahirs and warns that unless the latter change their ways they would suffer the same consequences. The author describes the present day Mohajirs as being radically different from their forefathers. Even the language of today’s Mojahirs is different from the Urdu his ancestors spoke. Faced with unemployment and lack of education, they are easily excitable and rebellious and, not surprisingly, spend much of their time fighting discrimination.
Based on the author’s firsthand account of the events, the book unfolds some very interesting perspectives. Through his own journey, the reader gets an account of the politics and trials and tribulations of Partition. For example, what was the ensuing situation in Delhi when the author migrated? What did his Hindu acquaintances and friends make of the developments? What difficulties he and his family faced on reaching Pakistan? How was Jinnah regarded in the different provinces of Pakistan, particularly in the NWFP where he dismissed the elected government of Khan Sahib? The first five chapters are personal memories and the description of the political developments is a historical awakening. In the remaining four chapters, the author candidly analyses the key developments during the years of Ayub, Bhutto, Zia, Benazir, Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf. Except for Musharraf, who was a Mohajir, all of them had an anti-Mohajir mindset.
In spite of his sympathy for the Mohajirs, Siddiqi has no qualms about his unflinching support for Jinnah and the idea of Pakistan. But he is perceptive and sensitive enough to gauge through the layers of discrepancies between the idea and the reality of Pakistan. The inability of Pakistan to come up with a federal structure which would give equal treatment to its various ethnicities and provinces has been the undoing of Pakistan. The author also saw how Jinnah tactfully changed his position and took resort to Islam to keep Pakistan’s various ethnicities together. However, being a supporter of Jinnah, the author stops short of directly criticising him but quotes several of his friends to indirectly criticise Jinnah.
Mohajirism remains the core of the book and the author examines at length its meaning. The Mohajirs felt themselves to be culturally superior to the ‘natives’ and had exaggerated notions about their greatness and glorious past as rulers of India. They refused to mix with the local populace and failed to see that after Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan, they did not have leaders who could promote their cause. They now remain politically weak and easily exploited.
Soon after the breakup of Pakistan in 1971, the rise of the All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organisation in Karachi University and later the founding of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement in 1984 seemed to give the Mohajirs a political voice. But the MQM failed to sustain its movement beyond the main city of Sindh. Dogged by infighting and lack of leadership, the MQM itself has been split with one section close to the military and its charismatic leader Altaf Hussain being forced to live in exile in London. The author fights back his nostalgia for a Ganga-Yamuna culture that he has imbibed and structures his argument on the realities of the time thus suggesting that the MQM needs to reorient itself and drop its demand for a separate Mohajir province and instead promote greater integration of the Mohajirs with mainstream Pakistan.
In recent years, a number of Pakistani authors have begun to unravel the idea of Pakistan. Farzana Shaikh, for example, deftly examines the role of Islam in Pakistan. Ayesha Siddiqa has courageously written about the corporate interests of the Pakistani Army. AR Siddiqi’s book can be categorised as a brave attempt to understand the sectarian realities. Written in a non-polemical style with liberal use of Urdu and Persian couplets to make serious observations on life and its vagaries, the book, for many of its readers, remains clinically objective. While that may be so, the author’s fascination with Jinnah and the idea of Pakistan often prevents him from expressing forthrightly the misplaced two-nation theory and the misery it brought to the people of the subcontinent.
Arvind Gupta holds the Lal Bahadur Shastri Chair in Strategic and Defence Studies at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi