The origin and politics of the Seraiki movement – by Shafqat Tanvir Mirza

BEFORE one comments on Riaz Missen’s piece ‘Seraiki nationalism in focus’ (Encounter, May 2) it is inevitable to quote Abdul Majeed Pirzada’s remarks at an Awami Tehreek Conference on provincial autonomy held at Hyderabad on May 10. He says: “Pakhtoons should not be alienated because they were ‘natural allies’ of the Sindhis against the Urdu-speaking people.” This is what can be termed a principle of necessity, if not the law of necessity — a principle that sustains the campaign against Punjab by the other three provinces in the federation.

Once, the Bengalis were in a majority in Pakistan. Their majority was snatched by the feudal West Pakistan and all the four provinces combined to impose parity on them. And when the Bengalis won a majority in the assembly, they were thrown out by the triangle of the feudals, generals and the bureaucrats under the command of a feudal leader from Sindh and an army general from the Frontier.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was given the task to confront the majority, and he did it. The feudal lords from all the four provinces in West Pakistan, in and out of his Pakistan People’s Party, were on his back. The feudals were thus saved from the radical agrarian reforms all the political parties which contested the 1970 election had committed themselves to. The Bengalis had a 36-acre ceiling while we still enjoy almost unlimited acreage.

Z.A. Bhutto was committed to radical agrarian reforms and other labour-capital socialistic relationship. On that basis he swept the polls in the Punjab districts of Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Lahore, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Sheikhupura, Faisalabad, Sahiwal and the present-day Sargodha. He was clean bowled in the feudal-dominated districts where the Seraiki speaking people were in a majority and they were: Attock, Mianwali, Khushab, Jhang, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur. The PPP won overwhelmingly in Gujrat, Bahawalnagar, Multan and Muzaffargarh.

After the separation of East Pakistan most of the Seraiki MNAs and MPAs including Khosas, Legharis, Qureshis, Mazaris, Wattoos and Nawabs of Bahawalpur joined the PPP and saved their fiefs and the fear of the radical agrarian reforms subsided. However, the radical political verdict from the central Punjab loomed large. After the feudals of the Seraiki belt joined the PPP there was a conscious effort to bifurcate Punjab into two provinces and after the failure of the campaign for a separate Bahawalpur province, the language, or the dialect, was made the basis for this bifurcation move.

The first all-Pakistan Seraiki Conference was convened in Multan which was allegedly supported by the PPP Sindh chief minister and many of the Sindhi intellectuals including Rasul Bukhsh Palejo participated in it. But it ended in fiasco when some people in Multan published and distributed a map of the Seraiki province which included some of the Seraiki speaking areas of Sindh. The Sindhi participants raised the slogan of Hosho Sheedi: ‘Sir daisoon Sindh nah daisoon’ (I will give life but will never let go of Sindh) . With that the Seraiki movement of Punjab abandoned the idea of merging the Seraiki areas of Sindh in its proposed province, the most common factor between the two being the feudal power.

To alienate central Punjab the slogan of local (Multani) and non-local (Punjabi) was raised in 1962 elections by Sajjad Qureshi, the sajjada nasheen of Bahauddin Zakria, who took on Farooq Sheikh, an industrialist from Chiniot (part of Seraiki-speaking Jhang). Qureshi also raised the point of Multani as a separate language in the National Assembly. The word Seraiki was not in vogue in those days but anyhow bureaucrats close to Ayub Khan, such as Qudrat Ullah Shahab, allegedly supported Multani as a separate language.

Dr Tariq Rehman in his book Language and Politics in Pakistan, writes: “According to the antagonists of Seraiki, a powerful bureaucrat in General Ayub’s government, Qudrat Ullah Shahab, patronised the writers of Seraiki, asking twenty of them to claim that their language was different from Punjabi.” (P. 180).

Whether this is correct or not the fact is that the Writers Guild was used by Shahab and Jamiluddin Aali, the two architects of the Guild, to suppress the Lahore-based Punjabi Wing before the wing was dissolved unconstitutionally.

The Guild was not the only forum where politics of this kind flourished. Politicians also had their interests to watch. The Awami National Party of the Frontier and the Pakistan National Party of Balochistan formed their Seraiki units. Both these parties were against the hegemony of Punjab. The nature of this alliance was identical to what Mujeeb Pirzada has suggested in the context of the Sindhi-Pukhtoon alliance.

The two major national parties — the Muslim League, of all colours and hues, and the Pakistan People’s Party — have been reluctant to give support to the Seraiki movement which emerged after the merger of Bahawalpur state in Punjab following dismemberment of the One-Unit. The ‘Bahawalpur Suba’ movement was not based on the language issue but when it fizzled out after the 1970 election, Multan became the centre of Seraiki activities.

One of the early protagonists of the Seraiki language, area and perhaps a separate Seraiki province, was a senior irrigation engineer Syed Noor Ali Zamin Haidri. His book, Mua’arif-i-Seriaki (1972) forcefully argued that from time immemorial the area of Pakistan had been ruled by the people from Sindh Sagar Doab and from those who came from the western bank of the Indus. These areas, he said, had produced much more superior rulers including Z.A. Bhutto, who was the president of Pakistan at the time the book was published, and Gen Ayub Khan.

Haidri’s list of able rulers was quite long, but exclusive. It included names of Nawab of Kalabagh, Sir Sikander Hyat, Sir Khizr Hyat, Sir Feroz Khan Noon, Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani, Ghulam Mustafa Khar, Gen Tikka Khan, Ayub Khuro, G.M. Syed, Pirzada Abdus Sattar and Allah Buksh Soomro, etc. On the other hand he declared Ghulam Muhammad, Chaudhry Muhammad Ali from Ravi and Jullunder Doaba and Iftikhar Mamdot and Mumtaz Daultana (from the bank of river Sutlej) as unfit by birth to be rulers.

Haidri quoted a Hadith attributed to the Prophet (PBUH) that only Quresh were entitled to be the khalifas of the Muslims. He also quoted the second Khalifa Hazrat Umar who was said to have governed according to the Hadith. (It may be mentioned that Hazrat Umar was the first to give representation to the Ansars or the locals of Madina in the council). The line of argument led to a total rejection of the Punjabi language and one of the stalwarts of Multani-Seraiki, the late Dr. Mehr Abdul Haq, declared that Punjabi was not the language of any part of Pakistan. This was linguistic extremism based on the presumption that Punjabi was the language of the Sikhs who had dethroned the Muslim ruler of Multan, Nawab Muzaffar Khan in 1818. Thus, the issue was given a religious and political complexion: Sikhs represented Punjabi while the Muslims of the south Punjab or the province of Multan represented Seraiki.

Purely on linguistic basis, some of the British writers and civil servants described Seraiki or Multani as Western Punjabi or Lehnda, which was refuted by some other British scholars and students of Punjabi language. C.F. Usborne, in 1905, wrote an article on Bulleh Shah referring to the Gazetter of Multan and said: “It is hardly true to say, as the writer of Multan Gazetter does, that the ballads (kafis) are written in Multani dialect of the Punjabi language. Undoubtedly they contain some forms of verbs which are peculiar to that dialect, but they could probably be understood by any peasant from Pindi to Delhi and from Delhi to Multan.”

Another modern protagonist of Seraiki, Dr Shackle says that ‘many shared morphological details, as well as overall agreement in much of the vocabulary and syntax, link it (Seraiki) quiet closely to Punjabi with which it has a higher degree of mutual intelligibility.” And Tariq Rehman is of the opinion: “The linguistic fact seems to be that Seraiki and Punjabi are mutually intelligible.”

Economic and political reasons must also be taken into account. Just recall General Ziaul Haq’s period when the political aim of the martial law regime was to divide the support of Mr Bhutto’s party in its strongholds. The Mohajir Qaumi Movement was supposed to divide Sindh on Urdu-speaking and Sindhi-speaking basis and on the same basis Punjab was to be divided on the basis of dialect.

His regime, without consulting linguistic experts, recognised Seraiki as an independent language in the 1980s which according to Husain Ahmad Khan (Rethinking Punjab) was a triumph for Seraiki political advocates and the intelligentsia. This was the period when the Seraiki Qaumi Movement (SQM) emerged. According to Tariq Rahman this was based on the successful model of MQM. The SQM had three centres Karachi, Khanpur, Katora and Ahmadpur Sharqia.

Here, one may mention that many of the feudals of south Punjab who had embraced the PPP after its coming to power had by now crossed the floor and most of them participated in the 1985 non-party election boycotted by the PPP. Unfortunately Mr Bhutto, in the 1977 election, had given the control of Punjab to the so-called Seraiki lords like Nawab Muhammad Ahmad and Sadiq Qureshi plus Muhammad Hayat Taman of Attock. It was against the original aims of the party and jeopardised the original vote bank of the PPP in the province.

The feudal realities have not changed and Dr Ayesha Siddiqa who hails from Bahawalpur, writes in her column, ‘Deadly social change’ (Dawn, May 1, 09): “This part of Punjab is prominent in terms of large landownership and feudal lifestyle. This is also an area where feudal institutions in terms of economic power merged with political and spiritual power. So many political families are not just significant due to their wealth and political power but because they are connected to the shrines as well. The gradual institutionalising of the power of the shrine has strengthened them rather than giving same breathing space to ordinary people some of whom are moving in the direction of rabid religious ideologies….The growing radicalisation in southern Punjab shown up in the inability of the state to carry out land reforms and shift the socioeconomic and political power structure from a pre-capitalist society to a capitalist one will have its consequences in the year to come.”

The utmost attempt of the feudals of the southern Punjab and Sindh plus the Sardars of Balochistan and Khans of the Frontier would be to avoid the move towards the radical economic and democratic changes and in that the Seraiki province can play a big role to keep intact the hegemony of the traditional politics of inheritance which is threatened by the changes in other parts of Punjab and Sindh.

As far as the economic and social grievances of the Seraiki area are concerned, the major responsibility for these lies with the big landlords of the area for it is they who for most of the time were in power in the province and the centre and failed to address them. The clash between the two dialects of Punjabi (Punjabi and Seraiki or Mohajir or local dialect) has also a political and economic background to it. The main aim of the Seraiki province is to give strength to the feudal Sindh, Sardari Balochistan and Khan-ruled Frontier and their politics of inheritance. One of the serious grievances is that the lands of the Seraiki areas are being given to non-Seraiki people. If the land reforms are carried out in true sense, the land will go to the person who is cultivating it and not to the absentees.

One may remind Riaz Missen that when Daultana tried to touch a subject as sensitive as the rights of the tenants the MLAs from the Seraiki belt, under the leadership of Naubahar Shah, Budhan Shah and Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, raised an organisation to defend the big landlords which, if memory serves one right, was named Zamindar Bachao Morcha. And in their support Maulana Maudoodi and Ahmadi khalifa Bashiruddin Mahmud authored books in support of the unlimited rights of the landlords who were given propriety rights over land by the British government (in the Mughal and Sikh period the land was the property of the state).

Source: Dawn, 24 May, 2009 seraikistan map


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