Mauritius Times – 60 Years
By Satcam Boolell
The Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had staked his vast prestige on a separate homeland for Indian Muslims. His demand for Pakistan took real shape after 1940. From then onwards there was no looking back and Pakistan became a reality in 1947.
But the creation of the state brought in its train so many problems. The division of Punjab and Bengal far from facilitating an exchange of population resulted into a genocide such as the world had never witnessed before. Both in India and Pakistan frenzy and passion were let loose. Another tragic page was added to the sad tale of humanity. It was at that juncture that the Quaid-i-Azam, in his usual wisdom, rose up in the Constituent Assembly and made the historic pronouncement that Pakistan was the homeland not only of the Muslims but also of the millions of the non-Muslims and that they all belonged to one people. Confidence was restored among the minorities and the exodus of population slowed down.
The myth of the two-nation theory was exploded by the very man who originated the idea. It is against this background that we must study the political situation in Pakistan today.
According to its Constitution, Pakistan is an Islamic Republic. While the prime ministership is open to any citizen, Muslim or non-Muslim, the presidentship is reserved for Muslims only. Here we came across a contradiction in the Constitution. During the absence of the President, the Speaker of the National Assembly acts in his place. Now the Speaker should not necessarily be a Muslim. As a matter of fact, the present Deputy Speaker, Mr Gibbons, is an Anglo-Indian. Theoretically he may one day be called upon to act as the Head of the State.
There is a common electoral roll for the electors. The last election was held on a joint electorate. Political parties evolved on national lines. As the example of India next-door was bound to have repercussions in Pakistan, those who still believed in the exploded myth of Muslims belonging to a separate nation began to lose ground. The Muslim League was returned to the National Assembly with only 15 members. Its policy began to be repudiated by its staunchest supporters who transferred their allegiance to new political parties.
Feroz-Khan Noon and Dr Khan Saheb in the West started the Republican Party and Mr Suhrawardy in the East his Awami League. There were also the Congress and the Democratic parties. All these parties returned members to the National Assembly, but none with a clear majority. Government became a coalition. Pakistan obtained prominence as a rival of France. The country marched from one political crisis to another and the Prime Minister temporarily in power became the most harassed individual in the State.
This was the situation which I found when I arrived in Karachi. Mr Suhrawardy had just been forced down from his prime ministerial chair and Mr I.I. Chundrigar precariously seated in his place. An ex-barrister of Bombay, he is the leader of the Muslim League. Many people in Pakistan do not consider him a top-ranking leader but they pay homage to his honesty. He had formed a coalition government with the Republican Party. But the support of the Republican Party, which was already tenuous, was withdrawn as soon as the Muslim League tried to put through a Bill asking for separate electorate for each of the different communities in Pakistan. The Muslim League had to resign and hand over the government to a coalition of the Republican and the Awami League. Feroz-Khan Noon became the Premier. He still is.
If we follow the political evolution of Pakistan from the time of its inception to the present day, we shall be forced to the inevitable conclusion that she is moving away from theocracy, its first aim, towards democracy.
The Muslim League which is losing ground everyday made a last bid under the premiership of Chundrigar to recapture its hold over the country. It reverted to its obsolete pet theory of Muslims as a separate nation. Chundrigar hoped to rally support by raising the slogan of Pakistan for the Muslims. ‘Dawn’ gave the League its blessings and everyday carried big headlines about the “huge” attendance at the League meetings. One afternoon in Lahore I saw a small procession preceded by music moving towards the Railway Station. A blaring noise from a loud-speaker fitted in a car was renting the air. The terrific noise to which the promenader paid little attention was an appeal to the citizens of Lahore to meet Mr Chundrigar at the Railway Station where he was to stop on his way to Peshawar. Unfortunately for the League its appeal did not carry conviction. The old fire had died down. The slogan which fired the imagination of the people was Pakistan for Pakistanis.
The Muslim League is today in the position of a reactionary party. Whereas all other parties stand for a joint electorate, it is the only party which is still shouting its head off for a separate electorate. The forecast for the next election due to be held in November is that the Muslim League will just be swept aside.
It is too early to speculate about the next phase in the political development in Pakistan. As politics is bound up with economics, much will depend on the trend of the economic development of the country. America is pouring huge sums of money in Pakistan to build up another spearhead against Communism. So far, a large proportion of the money has seeped through the State coffers into the pockets of Government contractors. The buildings that are shooting up in fast expanding Karachi are mostly meant for high government officials. The refugees are still waiting at the extreme end of the queue to be settled in decent houses. Half of West Pakistan cannot yet be cultivated for lack of water. The peasant is as badly off as before partition. The semi-skilled workers in the City hardly gets Rs 50 to Rs 60 per month. A Government clerk after 10 years service is still paid Rs 150 per month. The Rupee has been devalued and in consequence imported articles have gone up in prices. Fortunately for the powers that be, the complaints are few. Whatever discontent there is, it is not given much expression. People seem resigned to their fate.
So long as this attitude will persist, the ruling power will not be put to any severe test. But the real challenge will come when the man in the street realises that fate is not always something that is always ordained by the Invisible Power, but it is also in a large measure shaped by the visible hand that holds the reign of Government.
* Published in print edition on 4 February 2022
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