Scale of influence: When a journey goes awry
KARACHI: While in the game of cricket we are seeing more and more left-handed players, the left-leaning in society are growing even fewer by the day. The existing political landscape is all draped in various hues of right. It wasn’t always so.
As for politics of the Left, there was a vibrant and organised party structure in place as early as 1948, reaping the seeds sowed by Progressive Writers Movement. Progressive Papers Limited was an added edge, as it rolled out its operations.
Despite this head-start, today it is a tiny dot on the country’s political map.
The party’s waning into almost total oblivion may have to do with either the religio-nationalist narrative that gained greater currency over time or the internal rifts among the Leftists themselves or the international players who were investing in the region in the wake of Partition. Possibly it was all three of them.
Abid Hassan Minto’s book, Apni Jang Rahey Gi, borrowing the title from the Left-leaning Habib Jalib, tries to answer this question.
On the whipping block are the unmistakable status quo-seeking forces. As trite as the argument may sound, the writer is as resolute as he is articulate. The title of the book betrays the same dogged persistence.
The communist party’s rather vigorous start was stumped by the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case in 1951. The leading lights of the party were sent behind the bars. So were its workers. In 1954 as the jail terms came to end, the party was banned. Exacerbated by the One Unit decree in 1955, divisions among communists started to emerge on ethnic basis. Identity politics took precedence over the grand socialist narrative.
In another book, titled The Emergence of Socialist Thought Among North Indian Muslims (1917-1947), Khizar Humayun Ansari says the leadership and workers, at best, had a tenuous relationship. As a result, the party’s leadership tried to effect change from top as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy case seems to imply.
Communists who thought nothing of taking on the capitalist forces failed to find a common ground between the Russian and Chinese world views. Nevertheless, the pro-Russian National Awami Party (Wali Khan faction) did well in 1970s elections and formed coalition governments in Balochistan and the erstwhile NWFP.
The party even outdid the chimeric Muslim League in frequently changing its name and banner. Now arguably the most heard of name is of Awami Workers Party. Albeit limited, it lays claim to having support from across Pakistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The millennials, an overwhelming majority now in Pakistan, have seen little of this brand of politics.
So this book couldn’t have come at a better time. And who better to write this than Minto who became a member of the party’s Rawalpindi chapter in 1949. The compilation contains some political documents, articles, speeches, interviews and conversations by Minto, covering five decades.
But for the preface, there is no new writing that caters to the latest scenario. Yet besides it archival value and a reflection of Minto’s political and professional career, the book sounds out an alarm that despite clocking 70, the fundamental issues afflicting us remain the same. Hence the panacea Minto prescribed in early 1970s has its use even today.
Three political reports, read out at the socialist party’s conferences and reproduced in the book, giving an overview of the national, regional and international scene, call for introspection among the ranks. The first two reports are a scathing criticism of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s policies, and how it exploited the socialist slogans to hoodwink peasants and workers.
Probing the rot further, Minto says, Leftists generally avoid struggle and want a certain date by when revolution will be here and duties assigned. He says solution lies in connecting with people, being self-critical, resolving internal differences and also by contextualising the 21st century’s issues and circumstances.Their biggest challenge, as Minto argues, is how communists engage with the tech-savvy youth and confront challenges as well as opportunities offered by the information technology.
Then there are some six articles published in Awami Jamhooriat, a party magazine, discussing subjects such as 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, extremism, corruption and privatisation covering the period between 2007 and 2015. The argument, as is expected of Minto, is cogent, yet information seems a little dated. The writer would have done well to have contextualised the wealth of information with a fresh narrative.