Pol­i­tics of chau­vin­ism

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Im­tiaz Alam

THE Mut­tahida Qaumi Move­ment ( MQM) is once again un­der siege - this time per­haps due to the poor health of its dom­i­neer­ing cult-leader, Altaf Bhai. In his ab­sence, will the MQM sur­vive the on­go­ing on­slaught from both within and with­out? Based on the mem­o­ries of its 'ashraaf' an­ces­tors from among the mi­nor­ity-Mus­lim provinces in In­dia, who re­jected democ­racy for a cul­ture of en­ti­tle­ment and ben­e­fited from en­hanced political rep­re­sen­ta­tion, the MQM recre­ated priv­i­leges of en­ti­tle­ment to woo fel­low Urdu-speak­ing mi­grants in Sindh where they were just 22 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion (1981). Turn­ing ter­ri­to­ri­al­i­sa­tion and eth­ni­ci­sa­tion of the Mus­lim iden- tity, pro­pounded as 'mil­lat' by their an­ces­tors in the pre-Par­ti­tion pe­riod, the MQM re­designed Mo­ha­jirs or only the Ur­duS­peak­ing mi­grants from In­dia as a self­as­sumed 'na­tion'. As Ernest Gell­ner says: "na­tion­al­ism is not the awak­en­ing of na­tions to self-con­scious­ness: it in­vents na­tions where they do not ex­ist - but it does need some pre-ex­ist­ing dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing marks to work on".

For the Urdu-speak­ers the dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing marks to work on were their lin­guis­tic, ide­o­log­i­cal and aca­demic su­pe­ri­or­ity over oth­ers with the dis­tinc­tion of also car­ry­ing the tag of sac­ri­fi­cial-mi­gra­tion to the Land of the Pure. Led by the first prime min­is­ter of Pak­istan with Karachi as the coun­try's cap­i­tal and mas­sive op­por­tu­ni­ties of jobs and evac­u­ated prop­erty, the Mo­ha­jirs had it good. They not only filled the civil and mil­i­tary ser­vices much be­yond their thin pro­por­tion, but also set the political, eco­nomic and lin­gual-ide­o­log­i­cal gen­e­sis of the newly­born state.

They be­came the ide­o­log­i­cal van­guard of a Mus­lim ma­jor­ity state that adopted Urdu as the na­tional lan­guage while sup­press­ing other lan­guages and cul­tures, and coined the 'ide­ol­ogy of Pak­istan' as an in­stru­ment to sup­press in­dige­nous na­tion­al­i­ties. A kind of Mo­ha­jir-Pun­jabi axis was cre­ated; it dom­i­nated the early decades of na­tion-build­ing at the cost of democ­racy.

This hon­ey­moon of en­ti­tle­ment started to de­cline with the shift­ing of the cap­i­tal to Is­lam­abad; Karachi, how­ever, re­mained a fed­eral ter­ri­tory for some time. Grad­u­ally, Pun­jabis started to take over the higher po­si­tions - with the mil­i­tary in power. Al­though the mi­grant busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties in Karachi ben­e­fited most from Ayub Khan's' decade of progress', Karachi's middle strata and the 'salariat' class started to feel let down which re­sulted in the first and the last pop­u­lar up­surge against any mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor. Still most of the Urdu-speak­ing Mo­ha­jirs re­mained aligned with Is­lamist par­ties - mainly the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pak­isan (JUP) led by Shah Ah­mad Noorani.

Af­ter the break-up of Pak­istan, pas­sage of the 1973 con­sti­tu­tion and with a Sindhi prime min­is­ter Z A Bhutto, and a strong na­tion­al­ist pro­vin­cial govern­ment of Mum­taz Bhutto, the ethno-de­mo­graphic scene started to change - al­low­ing other marginalised eth­nic groups to en­ter pub­lic ser­vice and seek some marginal space in me­trop­o­lis of Karachi.

The re­ac­tion of the Mo­ha­jir com­mu­nity against the pas­sage of Sindhi lan­guage bill in Sindh showed how ag­gres­sively it felt about the mo­nop­oly of Urdu - along with English - over state affairs. This, while not ac­com­mo­dat­ing due place to other na­tional lan­guages.

The in­tro­duc­tion of the quota sys­tem and en­try of other na­tion­al­i­ties in the labour mar­ket, state sec­tors in par­tic­u­lar, was the be­gin­ning of the end of the Ur­dus­peak­ing middle strata's dom­i­nance of up­per and middle grades jobs and the education sec­tor. As peo­ple from other na­tion­al­i­ties started to find some space in Karachi there was a con­se­quent, rel­a­tive de­cline in the mo­nop­oly of Urdu-speak­ers in ur­ban Sindh.

That gave birth to a unique na­tion­al­ism that rep­re­sented the ag­gres­sive as­pi­ra­tions and de­mands of Urdu-speak­ers coun­ter­poised to Sind­his, in par­tic­u­lar, and oth­ers in gen­eral. Ac­cord­ing to Paul Brass's 'in­stru­men­tal­ist ap­proach': "na­tion­al­ism of­fers a con­ve­nient reper­toire to elite groups whose dom­i­na­tion over so­ci­ety is threat­ened by up­wardly mo­bile oth­ers and which there­fore try to mo­bi­lize be­hind them 'their' com­mu­nity by ma­nip­u­lat­ing iden­tity sym­bols, in­clud­ing religious and lin­guis­tic ones".

Mo­ha­jir na­tion­al­ism first saw its or­gan­ised ex­pres­sion in the for­ma­tion of the All Pak­istan Mo­ha­jir Stu­dents Or­ga­ni­za­tion (APMSO) in 1978. Later, ousted by an armed Is­lami Jamiat-eTal­aba from the cam­puses, it took refuge in the Mo­ha­jir com­mu­nity and got tremen­dous sup­port on the is­sues of re­jec­tion of quota sys­tem in education and ser­vices. The 1978 char­ter and the for­ma­tion of the Mo­ha­jir Qaumi Move­ment in 1985 at Nishtar Park against the back­drop of de­mands for a 'Mo­ha­jir Sooba' or 'Urdu Desh' brought the MQM at the cen­tre of the ethno-lin­guis­tic caul­dron of Sindh's pol­i­tics.

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