Politics of chauvinism
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.