So beautiful and so bitter: Fatima Bhutto and her versions of truth

fatima-bhutto

Photo: Courtesy Mag Weekly

Post updated Jan 2019, on request by her agent, to embed a link to Fatima Bhutto’s profile page with the mention below “to help her to gain more traction and booking requests”. Interestingly the profile mentions an ‘aunt’ who was ‘violently killed’ without saying *who* the ‘aunt’ was… Also updated to add another link: if I can do that for Fatima, why not for Victoria Schofield?

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She’s beautiful and bright (looks so much like her late aunt Benazir) – no wonder journalists (outside Pakistan notably) have been bowled over, leading to an overdose of fawning media attention (Khuswant Singh’s article takes the cake) in which few have tried to go beyond the surface.

Her father Murtaza’s cousin Tariq Islam (Z.A. Bhutto’s sister’s son) is one of the few people to have publicly challenged her version of the truth in at least one aspect. In her recently published, highly publicised book, Fatima Bhutto alleges that Z.A. Bhutto wrote to Murtaza to set up a militant base Afghanistan to wage an armed struggle against the military dictator, Zia ul Haq. Continue reading

Zaheda Hina on Jagannath Azad

Zaheda Hina with Indian journalist Jatin Desai, at a peace seminar in Karachi held to honour Nirmala Deshpande. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Zaheda Hina with Indian journalist Jatin Desai, at a peace seminar in Karachi held to honour Nirmala Deshpande. Photo: Beena Sarwar

Since my article Bring Back Jagannath Azad’s Pakistan Anthem published in The Hindu on Sept 22 (slightly shorter version first published by Dawn on Sept 19) I have learnt that my ignorance on the matter was all the more deplorable given the previously published material that I have since come across. Besides Zaheer Kidvai’s recollections in his blog, that I mentioned in my blog post later, there is Adil Najam’s June 2009 post Prof. Jagan Nath Azad: Creator of Pakistan’s First National Anthem. Najam refers to Zaheer’s post as well as an article by Ashfaque Naqvi in A word about Jagan Nath Azad (Dawn, June 27, 2004), which contains a passing mention of this little known fact about Azad’s authoring of the first national anthem.

Continue reading

Bring back Jagannath Azad’s Pakistan anthem

The death in custody of another ‘blasphemy accused’ once again highlights what many of us have long been stressing: a need to repeal the ‘blasphemy laws’, train the police force, revise the education curriculum to remove the hate-mongering, and enforce law and order with a firm hand.

Below, my article on Pakistan’s first national anthem by Jagan Nath Azad (slightly abbreviated version published today in Dawn ‘Another time, another anthem’)

Prof. Jagan Nath Azad. Photo courtesy: Chander K. Azad, Jammu

Prof. Jagan Nath Azad. Photo courtesy: Chander K. Azad, Jammu

Beena Sarwar

As children we learnt that Pakistan didn’t have a national anthem until the 1950s. My journalist uncle Zawwar Hasan used to tell us of a reporter friend who visited China in the early 1950s. Asked about Pakistan’s national anthem, he sang the nonsensical ‘laralapa laralapa’.

If these journalists were unaware that Pakistan had a national anthem — commissioned and approved in 1947 by by no less a person than the country’s founder and first Governor General, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, long before Hafeez Jullandri’s Persianised lyrics were adopted as the anthem in 1954 — ordinary citizens may be forgiven for their ignorance. Continue reading

‘Jinnah’s Secularism: A Hindu wrote Pak’s first national anthem’

Photo of Jagannath Azad in PIA's 'Hamsafar', Aug 2009

Photo of Jagannath Azad in PIA’s ‘Hamsafar’, Aug 2009

I first learnt about Pakistan’s original national anthem, especially commissioned by Mr Jinnah from the poet Jaganath Azad of Lahore, in ‘Hamsafar‘, Pakistan International Airlines’ monthly magazine in its August issue when flying back to Karachi from Lahore on Aug 9. This national anthem lasted only until a few months after Mr Jinnah’s death – after which his successors commissioned a more Persianised one that Hafeez Jullandari wrote. Please note, you would never have read this in any official literature a couple of years ago, ‘enlightened moderation’ notwithstanding. Continue reading

Jinnah revisited, thank you Jaswant Singh

Scan from PIA's 'Hamsafar', Aug 2009 issue with postage stamp featuring Azad

Scan from PIA's 'Hamsafar', Aug 2009 issue, with Azad's lyrics and a picture of the postage stamp featuring Hafeez Jullandari whose lyrics later became Pakistan's national anthem.

I first learnt about Pakistan’s original national anthem, especially commissioned by Mr Jinnah from the poet  Jaganath Azad of Lahore, in ‘Hamsafar‘, Pakistan International Airlines’ monthly magazine in its  August issue when flying back from Lahore on Aug 9. (Please note, no official literature would have carried this information a couple of years ago, enlightened moderation notwithstanding)

This national anthem lasted only until Mr Jinnah’s death – after which his successors commissioned a more Persianised one that Hafeez Jullandari wrote. A subsequent article in The Kashmir Times, confirmed this startling (for me) information, Jinnah’s Secularism: A Hindu wrote Pak’s first national anthem.

Note: Just learnt that Zaheer A. Kidvai talked about this in his blogpost of May 03, 2009,Windmills of my mind – ‘A Tale of Two Anthems’, thanks Zak)

Here’s my article on the Jaswant Singh-Jinnah controversy, published in Hardnews, New Delhi (Sept issue), and The News on Sunday,Pakistan.

Jinnah revisited, thank you Jaswant Singh

How did Mohammad Ali Jinnah — the ‘architect of Hindu-Muslim unity’ — end up founding a ‘Muslim country’?

By Beena Sarwar

Generations have grown up in India and in Pakistan fed on distorted versions of history. Attempts to counter these versions don’t go down too well at home, as Jaswant Singh found when he challenged the Indian version that lays the entire blame for the Partition on the shoulders of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, ignoring the parts played by Nehru, the Congress and the British.

Ironically, while eulogising the country’s founder as the Quaid-e-Azam or Great Leader, Pakistan has also censored him, sweeping aside his guiding principles, secularism and insistence on justice and constitutionalism. Similarly, in I

ndia Mahatma Gandhi is eulogised while his guiding principles and insistence on non-violence are made increasingly irrelevant.

Each side conveniently forgets the extremisms of its dominant faith. Hindu extremism existed well before 1947 (remember who killed Gandhi) as did Muslim extremism, particularly since 1857, when the British drove a wedge between the two religious communities. Both continue to feed off each other.

Official textbooks, policies or public discourse ignore the findings of scholars like Mubarik Ali, Ayesha Jalal and K.K. Aziz in Pakistan, and Romila Thapar, K.N. Panikkar and Sumit Sarkar in India whose work is based on solid research and facts rather than emotive myths. There is no official support for a joint history project.

Jaswant Singh’s latest work on Jinnah had not hit the Pakistani bookstalls at the time of writing. But from reported and televised statements and published extracts his thesis appears to be similar to Ayesha Jalal’s seminal work The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan (Cambridge University Press, 1985).

The controversy arises not from what Singh has written but from who he is: a founding member of the BJP, a party that has long attempted to communalise or saffronise India’s history. Given this agenda, what is surprising that not that the BJP sacked him or that the Gujarat government banned his book, but that Singh did not expect this. After all, he is not the first BJP leader to acknowledge Jinnah as secular — L.K. Advani did that during his groundbreaking June 2005 visit to his birthplace Karachi. The BJP didn’t go as far as expelling him, but he did have to resign as party head.

In Pakistan, this pettiness triggers off a puerile satisfaction that ‘their’ communal-mindedness has been exposed, for all ‘their’ posturing on democracy. But then, as some Pakistani newspaper columnists and editorials have commented, no one here (let alone from among ‘our’ right-wing nationalists, the BJP’s counterparts), is likely to embark on similar research on an Indian leader.

We know that Jinnah was an unlikely contender for a ‘Muslim leader’. But in Pakistan, there will be no public mention of his non-fasting during Ramzan or ignorance about the Muslim prayer. Jinnah’s marriage to the Zoroastrian Rati Petit is similarly glossed over. Jinnah joined Congress in 1906, remained a member after joining the All India Muslim League (AIML) in 1913, and brokered the Congress-League Lucknow Pact of 1916. Ever the constitutionalist, he played a key role in the formation of the All India Home Rule League pushing for India’s recognition as a British dominion, like Ireland or New Zealand. How did this ‘architect of Hindu-Muslim unity’, as Sarojini Naidu termed him, end up founding a ‘Muslim country’?

Jinnah’s differences with the Congress developed after the arrival on the scene of the populist M.K. Gandhi, coincidentally also a Guajarati lawyer. Jinnah, believing that independence could be achieved through constitutional means alone, opposed Congress adopting Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience movement to gain swaraj (self-rule) and the use of religious symbols to achieve this end — the Hindu symbols used by Gandhi or the Muslim slogans raised by Muhammad Ali and Shaukat Ali Jauhar. He was aghast when Congress, prompted by Gandhi, decided to join the Indian Khilafat Movement as a means to boost the anti-imperial, nationalist movement in India. Many saw this as a defining point of Hindu-Muslim unity. Jinnah disagreed. He termed the Khilafat as communal and religiously divisive, resigned from the Congress and turned his attention to the Muslim League and the political enfranchisement of Indian Muslims whom he increasingly saw as his constituency.

In The Sole Spokesman, Ayesha Jalal explains that Jinnah was not thinking of a ‘separate Muslim state’ when he argued for ‘weightage’ — giving Muslims representation on the basis of political significance rather than population. He demanded a disproportionate 33 percent representation for Muslims in each state or province where they formed a minority (averaging 15 per cent of the population) except where they formed over half and up to two thirds of the population — Kashmir, Hyderabad (Deccan), Bengal, NWFP, Balochistan, Sindh and the Punjab.

When the Nehru Report of 1928 (authored by Motilal Nehru) rejected this and other demands, Jinnah responded with his Fourteen Points of 1929, enunciating his conviction that Hindus and Muslims would eventually have to part ways politically if Indian Muslims were to obtain political representation. He turned to the idea of a separate state or states for Indian Muslims “within the Indian federation” — his vision right up to the months leading to Partition, according to Jalal. His demand for ‘Pakistan’ was basically a “bargaining counter” to gain leverage: he wanted to keep his options “open for a constitutional arrangement which would cover the whole of India” and steer a path between majority and minority while giving himself a role at the centre. The Muslim League’s famous resolution of Lahore, March 23, 1940, calling for the formation of Hindu and Muslim states in India as a condition of independence, makes no mention of ‘partition’ or ‘Pakistan’.

This is because Jinnah’s vision for ‘Pakistan’ did not entail the partition of India, writes Jalal, but “its regeneration into an union where Pakistan and Hindustan would join to stand together proudly against the hostile world without. This was no clarion call of pan-Islam; this was not pitting Muslim India against Hindustan; rather it was a secular vision of a polity where there was real political choice and safeguards, the India of Jinnah’s dreams.”

This strategy backfired firstly because the British, eager to cut their losses and leave, rushed ahead with Partition. Secondly, rather than agree to Jinnah proposal (an undivided Indian federation with a weak centre), the Congress saw the advantages of an India divided but with a strong centre and separation of the provinces outside its ken (keep those wild western tribes at bay) — even at the cost of dividing Punjab and Bengal. Jinnah found this division abhorrent, resulting in what he called a ‘truncated and moth-eaten’ nation.

Jinnah’s attempts to give Pakistan direction are reflected in the decision to commission a Hindu poet, Jaganath Azad of Lahore, to write Pakistan’s national anthem, in the provisional Assembly’s first constitution-making act — the appointment on August 10 of a Committee on Fundamental Rights and Matters relating to Minorities, headed by Jinnah himself — and in his first speech to the Constituent Assembly on August 11, 1947, outlining his vision for the new nation.

This speech, meant to be his political will and testament according to his official biographer Hector Bolitho (Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, John Murray, London, 1954), talks first about the inherited problems of the new country — the maintenance of law and order, with the State fully protecting “the life, property and religious beliefs of its subjects”, the “curse” of bribery and corruption, the “monster” of black-marketing, and the “great evil” of nepotism. He then discusses the issue of Partition (“the only solution of India’s constitutional problem”) — history would judge its merits or demerits but since it had happened, “we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor.”

He urges the assembly members to “work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet…If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make.

“I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence…

“Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State…. Now I think we should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

The issues he outlined still haunt India and Pakistan today. His successors were quick to reject his vision. After Jinnah’s death on September 11, 1948, the assembly commissioned a new national anthem, consigning Jaganath Azad’s lyrics to history. Jinnah’s speech of Aug 11 was literally censored “by hidden hands”, as Zamir Niazi, the late chronicler of media freedoms details in his book ‘Press in Chains’ (Karachi Press Club, 1986). And a month after his death, his successors passed the Safety Act Ordinance of 1948, providing for detention without trial — that Jinnah had in March angrily dismissed as a “black law”. It is inconceivable that Jinnah would have agreed to the ‘Objectives Resolution’ that the Constituent Assembly passed in March 1949, laying the basis for formally recognising Pakistan as a state based on an ideology.

We are still paying the price for these follies. Thank you Jaswant Singh, for reminding us.

Also see: ‘Censoring the Quaid’ by Dr M. Sarwar, Aug 7, 1991 The Frontier Post)

‘This wonderful Doc…’

NOTE: A slightly longer version of this article was published in ‘The News on Sunday’, July 5 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/tns-doc – also uploaded at This wonderful doc (2) at the Dr Sarwar website . The title is borrowed from Ali Jafari’s tribute posted at the Dr Sarwar site which also contains contributions by I.A. Rehman, Dr Badar Siddiqi, S.M. Naseem, Eric Rahim, Salima Hashmi, Drs Anwar and Abdullah Mangi and Dr Asif Ali Hameedi and others.

PERSONAL POLITICAL

Beena Sarwar

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

Newly weds circa 1962: Zakia and Sarwar at Karachi beach

She is not the grave-visiting sort. A white-haired dynamo with luminous eyes she pioneered teacher training and teaching English as a second language in large classrooms with limited resources. The activism she brought with her from Pratapgarh in UP, India, to Pakistan in the late 1950s has remained, nurtured and encouraged by the life partner she found.

Zakia met Sarwar after moving to Karachi from Lahore in 1961. The unconventional, dashing, long-limbed Allahabad-born doctor was known as the ‘hero of the January movement’. He came to Karachi after Partition and joined Dow Medical College. There, he started Pakistan’s first student union, catalysing the first nation-wide inter-collegiate students’ body. When the government ignored their demands related to fees, lab and hostel facilities, the students held a ‘Demands Day’ procession on January 8, 1953. Confronted by armed police, Sarwar tried to stop the students from surging ahead. Police opened fire. Seven students died on that ‘Black Day’. Several, including Sarwar, were injured.

Sarwar and his even taller older brother Akhtar were jailed (Sarwar received his final MBBS results in 1954 while in prison for a year) during the crackdown on progressive forces, after Pakistan and America signed a military pact.

Akhtar’s sudden death (pneumonia) in 1958 at the peak of his career devastated his circle of progressive writers, poets, activists and journalists. Sarwar, who had been particularly close to Akhtar, insisted that everyone get on with their work and not sit around mourning.

Zakia’s older brother Zawwar Hasan was also close to Akhtar. They had played field hockey for rival college teams in Allahabad, re-connecting as sports journalists in Karachi. Some years later, when Zawwar’s young children were ill, Zakia would take them to Sarwar’s clinic nearby.

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Defying the dictatorship: 1983 mushaira at PMA House – Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Their romance included outings like seeing off the poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz to receive the Lenin Peace Prize. “As a comrade, his relationship with Abba was an unspoken clear bond based on a shared understanding of the universal struggle for a just human order,” says Salima Hashmi, Faiz’s daughter.

Sarwar and Zakia married in September 1962, overcoming parental apprehensions about religious differences (Shi’a, Sunni). Neither was religious. Akhtar would have approved, as Zawwar did.

As their eldest child, one of my earliest memories is Zakia and other college teachers on hunger strike, demanding an end to the exploitation of teachers. Sarwar supported her against the muttered disapproval (‘women from good families out on the streets’), as always, giving her the space to develop her potential.

He practiced as a general physician for nearly fifty years from a modest clinic in a low-income area, treating struggling workers, journalists, artists and writers free. He was contemptuous of doctors who charged high fees, prescribing costly tests and medicines where less expensive ones would do. He helped launch the Pakistan Medical Association and its affiliated Medical Gazette – platforms that have played a significant role in Pakistan’s progressive politics.

Diagnosed with cancer in August 2007 (‘stage four’, pancreas, metastasis to the lungs), he remained characteristically calm and good humoured. “Look,” he reasoned, “everyone has to die. If this is how I have to go, so be it.”

He refused to give up drinking or smoking, reminding us of friends who died early despite giving up such habits. When a cousin’s mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer, he asked wryly, “And does she also smoke?”

He defied doctors’ predictions of ‘maybe six months…’. “To look into the eyes of  a killer disease, and yet not roll over is something that the bravest could envy,” wrote Zawwar in October last year.

Friends flocked to ‘Doc’, hosting parties at his home when he was too weak to go out. Emerging from anaesthesia after getting a blocked bile duct cleared this April, one of his first questions was about the Indian elections. At home, when his breathing became dangerously obstructed, doctors suggested suctioning out excess fluid in intensive care, with the risk of lung collapse and life support if the procedure failed. He waved his hand and pronounced, ‘No point, no point’.

He died peacefully in his sleep that night, half an hour after I kissed him goodnight. “Sleep well Babba,” I said.

“Goodnight,” he replied, clasping my hand back. “Go to sleep.”

Zakia now takes time out from her work to sit by his last resting place. It gives her peace.

This article was first published in HardNews, New Delhi – http://www.hardnewsmedia.com/2009/07/3060

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

1983 mushaira at PMA House: Dr Badar Siddiqi, Faiz, Dr Tipu Sultan & Dr M. Sarwar (then General Secretary PMA)

Remembering Victor Kiernan

kiernanWhen Victor Gordon Kiernan passed away in February this year aged 95, the Pakistani media took surprisingly little notice (or perhaps not so surprising, given what we’re grappling with) of the death of the Scottish Marxist professor famous for his translations of Faiz and Iqbal, and whose “immense contributions to the post-war flowering of British Marxist historiography …transformed the understanding of social history,” as John Trumpbour (Jack) put it in his obituary for India’s Frontline magazine.

kiernan-new-imperialism-cover

I remain grateful to Jack – one of the few relics of the ‘left’ left at Harvard – for his kindness to me while I was in Cambridge, MA (and to the documentary filmmaker B.J. Bullert in Seattle who introduced us – see http://www.fishermensterminal.net/). I was particularly thrilled when Jack gave me a copy of ‘America: The New Imperialism: From White Settlement to World Hegemony’ (Verso, 2005) when it was just hot off the press.

Jack mentioned at the time that Kiernan had got him to write the epilogue (which I read later and really liked). That, in fact, is how I learnt that V.G. Kiernan was in fact at that point very much alive and kicking in Edinburgh.

On hearing of his death, I wrote a note of condolence to Jack. He replied that Frontline magazine in India had given him 3000 words to discuss Victor Kiernan’s life and work. “So India came through. Both Tariq Ali and Eric Hobsbawm have done articles in the UK. Sadly that outpost of liberal humanitarian imperialism The New York Times seems determined to refuse to do an obituary.”

His article, ‘Ideological warrior against Empire’, is up at http://tinyurl.com/ddcvph

I responded commenting on the strange silence in Pakistan, thinking I’d take it up with someone. Never got around to it. So I was happy to see Hassan Gardezi’s belated but much needed profile of the great man in last week’s Books & Letters section of Dawn – “PROFILE: Remembering Victor Kiernan”, 03 May, 2009 – http://tinyurl.com/cen66z.

Prof Gardezi is co-editor, with Prof. Jamil Rashid of the seminal publication, ‘Pakistan, the roots of dictatorship : the political economy of a praetorian state’ (Zed Press, 1983). Both are based in Canada.

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