By Moonis Ahmar
June 8, 2018
On June 11, 1978, a group of students studying at the University of Karachi formed the All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organization (APMSO) under the leadership of Altaf Hussain. Since then, the slogan of Mohajir nationalism gained ground leading to the formation of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1984 and its subsequent rise as a major political force in Sindh.
The Urdu speaking segment of Pakistan’s population, whose elders migrated from India at the time of partition were known as Mohajirs, and they were primarily concentrated in urban Sindh. Was there any rationale on raising the slogan of Mohajir nationalism when APMSO was launched on June 11, 1978? And how did that slogan lead to the MQM’s rise to power in the November 1988 general elections? Is Mohajir nationalism a myth or reality? How has the erosion of MQM weakened the cause of Mohajir nationalism? These are questions which have been raised in order to understand the dynamics of Mohajir nationalism and its future relevance in Sindhi politics.
The formation of APMSO and MQM were triggered by the alienation felt by Urban Sindh’s Urdu speaking migrants. The introduction of the quota system in Sindh on rural and urban basis during the first PPP government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, allegations of discrimination in employment, educational institutions in the interior of Sindh for Urdu speaking population, failure to repatriate standard Pakistanis holed up in the refugee camps of Bangladesh since 1972 and the influx of people from upcountry and their settlement in Karachi became motivating factors for the youth to support Altaf Hussain and his slogan of Mohajir nationalism.
Allegations that APMSO and MQM were created during the military rule of General Zia ul Haq with a motive to neutralize PPP made some sense. Yet to a large extent, the slogans of Sindhi, Baloch, Pashtun and Punjabi nationalism raised a legitimate question among the minds of Urdu speaking population of Sindh about their own identity because of their firm belief in Pakistani nationalism.
In its essence when APMSO was formed, feelings of alienation among the Urdu speaking youth of Sindh had deepened which became a basis to launch the slogan of Mohajir nationalism. The shifting of federal capital from Karachi to Rawalpindi in 1960, the attacks led by the son of the then President Ayub Khan, Gopher Ayub on Mohajir localities which had supported Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah during December 1964 presidential elections and the introduction of Sindhi language bill in Sindh Assembly in July 1972 also augmented the feelings of Mohajir nationalism.
Those adhering to the slogan of Mohajir nationalism argued that common characteristics like Urdu language, migration from India and erosion of the Mohajir elite’s power since the 1960s contributed to the rise of APMSO and MQM. The rationale of Mohajir nationalism existed particularly in the province of Sindh because of alleged discrimination of Urdu speaking youths in employment and admissions going on since PPP’s first government in 1972. Mohajirs, who considered themselves better educated and professionally sound felt neglected when merit was compromised.
Such feelings of alienation and discrimination were exploited by MQM to establish its vote bank by first winning local elections in Karachi and Hyderabad in 1987 followed by the majority of seats from urban Sindh during the November 1988 general elections.
The ups and downs of Mohajir nationalism need to be analysed in three ways. First, the slogan of Mohajir nationalism was the result of years and years of neglect suffered by Sindh’s urban areas, particularly the lack of civic amenities, illegal settlements, land and drug mafias, acute water and electricity shortages and discrimination in government jobs. But, when MQM swept in local bodies, national and provincial assembly polls and reached the corridors of power, it failed to eradicate these grievances and pushed them into a vicious cycle of violence, extortion and other criminal activities. As a result, the Urdu speaking youths of Karachi who used to excel in competition were pushed into the wilderness.
Secondly, while its critics disregarded Mohajir nationalism as a non-starter, to the Mohajirs themselves it was very real. As long as issues which deepen feelings of deprivation among the Urdu speaking population of Sindh would remain, a sense of Mohajir identity would persist. Supporters of Mohajir nationalism argue that since Karachi contributes 65 percent of Pakistan’s revenue but only gets a paltry amount in return, Mohajir nationalism makes sense, and also because of the PPP’s apparent grudge against the Mohajir community.
In view of all of this, the slogan of a new ‘southern Sindh’ province composed of Karachi’s urban areas and Hyderabad has gained ground. The perception among the Urdu speaking population of Sindh that their unresolved issues ranging from discrimination in jobs under the quota system, lack of civic amenities, severe water and electricity crises can only be resolved if a new province composed of urban areas is created is a stark reality. Sindh’s Urdu speaking population cannot coexist with rural dominated feudal and Wadera culture which happens to be in a commanding position since 1972.
It has also been argued by the proponents of Mohajir nationalism that the PPP is not a federal, but a regional party. It is another version of Jiyae Sindh as many of its leaders strongly advocate Sindhi nationalism.
Thirdly, the feelings among Urdu speaking population in Karachi that they have lost their majority in the city because of the influx of internal migrants from upcountry and elsewhere and the policy of PPP to patronise native Sindhis for their settlement in the city tends to further galvanise nationalistic sentiments among the Urdu-speaking community. The infighting within the MQM and the marginalisation of their founder Altaf Hussain following his controversial August 2016 speech has been a nightmare for Mohajir ideologues, as they expect to lose miserably in the July 2018 general elections. Elder Mohajir leaders are being urged to help sort out differences within the MQM to prevent the division of its vote bank.
Paradoxically, the Muslim minority provinces of India were the forefront of the Pakistan movement, but the new Muslim state called as Pakistan was created in the Muslim majority areas of the Northwest and Northeast. Migrants who had come to Pakistan from India faced a double jeopardy: first they lost their belongings and faced enormous hardships while crossing the border, and second following the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 they were uprooted again. This community made enormous sacrifices for the creation of Pakistan, only to have their patriotic credentials questioned by successive governments.
Moonis Ahmar is Meritorious Professor of International Relations at the University of Karachi.