Whither MQM?

MQM’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture is at stake though it rep­re­sents an im­por­tant pop­u­la­tion seg­ment.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Javed An­sari

Pak­istan is an un­for­tu­nate coun­try in the sense that a very im­por­tant part of its pop­u­la­tion still fol­lows an es­tranged ex­is­tence and is not a part of the main­stream in the true sense of the word. Pak­istan came into be­ing be­cause the Mus­lims of the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent wanted their own home­land. They may have been a mi­nor­ity in the greater sense since the Hin­dus were much more in num­bers and this was the prime rea­son why the In­dian Mus­lims were not be­ing treated even-hand­edly. Quaid e Azam Muham­mad Ali Jin­nah may have been a pro­po­nent of Hindu-Mus­lim unity in the be­gin­ning but when he re­al­ized that the Mus­lims were not re­ceiv­ing fair treat­ment, he changed his views and fought tooth and nail for an in­de­pen­dent Pak­istan and man­aged to win a sep­a­rate home­land.

The news that Pak­istan was to come into ex­is­tence was a time of great re­joic­ing for the Mus­lims of In­dia be­cause they would now live in a land which they could call their very own and pur­sue their ideals in an un­fet­tered and free man­ner. That is how the great mi­gra­tion took place and most Mus­lims aban­doned good jobs, thriv­ing busi­nesses and pro­duc­tive lands to mi­grate to Pak­istan in droves. They used all kinds of trans­port – rail, road, sea and air – and some even walked to their new home­land. Even the tragic mas­sacres they were sub­jected to on the way, es­pe­cially on the road and train routes, did not lessen their re­solve to reach Pak­istan.

The im­mi­grants from In­dia spread to all parts of Pak­istan but it was the city of Karachi which bore the great­est brunt of the mi­gra­tion. The im­mi­grants set­tled in the me­trop­o­lis, tak­ing up jobs of all kinds and run­ning the in­dus­tries and mer­chant seg­ments. The city gal­loped in size from a pop­u­la­tion of some three lakhs to mil­lions in a mat­ter of a few years.

The Urdu word for im­mi­grant is ‘Muha­jir’ and this is how those peo­ple were known who had come from In­dia. It is a pity though that the word stuck on a per­ma­nent ba­sis and de­spite some 68 years of in­de­pen­dence, the im­mi­grants and their sub­se­quent gen­er­a­tions are still known as Muha­jirs. What has per­haps fur­ther hard­ened the Muha­jir iden­tity are the po­lit­i­cal trends that had been fes­ter­ing in in­de­pen­dent Pak­istan over decades and which ex­ploded into an or­ga­ni­za­tional form some­where in the 80s in the form of a po­lit­i­cal party de­voted to win­ning the rights of the Muha­jirs.

The trends had its roots in how the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity, largely res­i­dent in Karachi and re­spon­si­ble for the city’s com­mer­cial and in­dus­trial vi­brancy as well of the coun­try, was meted un­fair treat­ment com­pared to the priv­i­leges en­joyed by the ‘sons of the soil’. The mi­grants were sub­jected to quo­tas in ed­u­ca­tion and in gov­ern­ment jobs. Some po­lit­i­cal lead­ers even made a dis­tinct ef­fort to draw a line be­tween those who be­longed to the land and had be­come Pak­istani by birth and those who had mi­grated from across the bor­der af­ter 1947.

This is where a schism oc­curred be­tween the lo­cals and the set­tlers and was duly ex­ploited on the ba­sis of ‘Muha­jir rights.’ Since the im­mi­grants were gen­er­ally a bet­ter ed­u­cated and more en­light­ened lot, their claim to jobs and ed­u­ca­tional op­por­tu­ni­ties was also greater but they were de­nied what they right­fully de­served. It was this de­nial of rights that hard­ened the Muha­jirs into be­com­ing a dis­tinctly sep­a­rate com­mu­nity and into their claim­ing the city of Karachi, as well as other ur­ban ar­eas in Sindh, such as Hy­der­abad, Sukkur, etc., where the ma­jor­ity of them lived, as their own strongholds.

The APMSO (All Pak­istan Mus­lim Stu­dents Or­ga­ni­za­tion) first ap­peared on the scene and claimed to fight for ed­u­ca­tional rights of the Muha­jirs. The cen­tral fig­ure in the APMSO, namely Altaf Hus­sain, then con­verted the stu­dent party into a po­lit­i­cal party and called it the MQM – Muha­jir Qaumi Move­ment.

The MQM pur­ported to fight for the rights of the Muha­jirs – or the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity that was said to have been side­lined by the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. It made the mid­dle class its cen­tral plat­form and claimed that it rep­re­sented their rights in get­ting them even-handed ed­u­ca­tional priv­i­leges, bet­ter em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties and an iden­tity that would es­tab­lish them on an equal foot­ing with other Pak­ista­nis.

Their ideals and ob­jec­tives may have been per­fect and best suited to the Muha­jir mi­lieu. There was a lit­tle prob­lem though in the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity con­tin­u­ing to rep­re­sent the Muha­jirs and thus ex­clud­ing other mid­dle class com­mu­ni­ties from its folds. It was for this rea­son that at one point the name of the party was changed from Muha­jir Qaumi Move­ment to Mu­ta­heda Qaumi Move­ment to make it a more in­clu­sive party for all Pak­ista­nis. The prob­lem re­mained, how­ever, that the man­ner in which the MQM op­er­ated was not allinclu­sive and its over­all method­ol­ogy as well as im­age con­tin­ued to be ur­ban Sindh-cen­tric. Other ills also crept in and were largely at­trib­uted to the MQM, such as bhatta (ex­tor­tion money), kid­nap­ping for ran­som, etc. It is true that other crim­i­nal el­e­ments may also have jumped on to the band­wagon and taken to such crim­i­nal acts but it is ini­tially the MQM that was iden­ti­fied with these evils.

Another de­vel­op­ment that did not work well for the im­age of the party was the fact that its leader, Altaf Hus­sain, went over to the UK and took res­i­dence in Lon­don while his party was left rud­der­less in Pak­istan and was run by com­mit­tee rather than be­ing pro­pelled for­ward by the man who had founded it. He re­sorted to ‘dic­tat­ing’ things from afar by re­mote con­trol rather than in­sti­tut­ing a more demo­cratic lead­er­ship style with his pres­ence in Pak­istan

If the MQM was or is a party of Pak­istan’s mid­dle class, it has failed to live up to its claim. The res­i­dent of ur­ban Sindh is as lost to­day as he was three decades back. He is as de­prived of the fair right to ex­ist as a re­spectable citizen of Pak­istan. This is of course not to say that other Pak­ista­nis are im­mersed in rivers of milk and honey be­cause the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship in gen­eral has not done much for the masses. But the MQM had all the op­por­tu­nity to bet­ter the lot of its diehard fol­low­ers and it has not de­liv­ered. It may not be a part of the Sindh or city gov­ern­ment at present but it has had very good op­por­tu­ni­ties in the past to do good for the peo­ple. It would per­haps claim that it built quite a bit of Karachi’s in­fra­struc­ture in terms of roads and fly­overs when its own Mustafa Ka­mal was the Nazim (mayor) of Karachi. It for­gets to men­tion that this was in the days when Gen. Pervez Mushar­raf was the Pres­i­dent of Pak­istan and it was on his be­hest that the Nazim re­ceived an un­bro­ken stream of funds for the de­vel­op­ments un­der­taken in Mustafa Ka­mal's years.

The party is also sub­ject to a lot of wear and tear from within and out­side. It does not seem to have at­tended with any se­ri­ous­ness to the is­sue of suc­ces­sion within the party. Altaf Hus­sain, though he is a Bri­tish na­tional now, con­tin­ues to lead the MQM from the safety of Lon­don but what af­ter him? There is no suc­ces­sor of the great leader in view. The MQM is per­haps en­gaged in a lot of soul-search­ing these days and in weed­ing out those evils that it has been iden­ti­fied with from time to time. This is just what is re­quired of it be­cause what­ever its cur­rent prob­lems, it con­tin­ues to be a party that rep­re­sents an im­por­tant seg­ment of Pak­istan’s pop­u­la­tion and it must con­tinue to rep­re­sent them in a more vi­brant man­ner.

The res­i­dent of ur­ban Sindh is as lost to­day as he was three decades back.

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