A Memoir of the 1950s – Part-II
Author shares memoirs of his life as a student, a journalist and an active member of the communist party from the late 1930s to the 1950s
The membership of the Karachi unit was drawn almost entirely from members of the muhajir community.
Hasan Nasir, who in 1948 was only twenty years old, had been a member of the communist party in Bombay, and migrated to Karachi on his own initiative.
(Excerpts from an article which shares brief glimpses of the political landscape of the subcontinent, with emphasis on Pakistan, from the viewpoint of the author – as a student, a journalist and an active member of the communist party from the late 1930s to the 1950s)
During the period 1950-1953, the Korean War was big news. Reports from the news agencies poured all day, hour by hour. During the weeks I was on night duty I was assigned the job of constructing a coherent story from all these reports from different agencies for publication the next morning. The chief sub-editor gave me this responsibility over the heads of more senior sub-editors.
One night the editor, Mr. Altaf Hussain, walked into the newsroom and informed us that the American ambassador had protested that our presentation of the news on the Korean War had a distinctly anti-American bias. He said nothing more and walked out. He knew that I was the culprit.
The other incident occurred during the same period. The context was revolutionary developments in Iran. This is a fascinating story. In 1949-50, Iran experienced a democratic and nationalist revolution under the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh. He had two main policies, to curtail the powers of the Shah and make Iran a constitutional monarchy, and nationalize the British-owned Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In 1951 Iran’s national assembly unanimously passed a bill to nationalize the AIOC.
Following this there was a US-British sponsored coup against Mossadegh, which failed. The Shah fled the country and made Rome his home. By this time Tudeh (communist) Party had emerged from underground and helped mobilize demonstrations supporting Mossadegh. The western press was now presenting Mossadegh as a dictator and a communist collaborator.
In August 1953 there was a second coup, by the Iranian army led by General Zahedi and the CIA. This time the coup was successful, the Shah returned to Teheran, accompanied by Allen Douglas, the CIA director. Mossadegh was arrested, humiliated, sent to prison. After three years, he was confined to house arrest. He died in the late 1960s, completely forgotten. The Shah became more authoritarian. The British monopoly of Iranian oil was broken, the American interests joining in.
According to the author Ayesha Jalal (The State of Martial Rule), under the influence of General Gracy, the British commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army (1948-51), facilities were created in Balochistan for an attack on Iran in case there were attempts to nationalize British oil interests.
(In August 2013, on the 60th anniversary of the successful coup, the US state department released the documents clearly showing the CIA’s role.)
Now, to come to the point. The Pakistan government had been cultivating the Shah. The Shah had visited Pakistan and was received with all the possible pageantry and ceremonial spectacle. (There were even rumours that there were attempts to find a Pakistani wife for him.) According to the author Ayesha Jalal (The State of Martial Rule), under the influence of General Gracy, the British commander-in-chief of the Pakistan Army (1948-51), facilities were created in Balochistan for an attack on Iran in case there were attempts to nationalize British oil interests.
As in the case of the Korean War, the chief sub-editor had assigned me the task of dealing with the reports from Teheran. One day I was summoned to the editor’s office and I noticed a number of agency reports on the Iranian developments and my write-up that had appeared in the morning edition lying on his desk. He told me that I was ‘mutilating’ reports from the agencies. I stood my ground. I said the agency reports were biased and I was only restoring some balance in the presentation of the news. He was not persuaded, and dismissed me with a warning.
I knew at this point that my position in the newspaper was becoming uncomfortable. This was the push factor in my decision to leave Dawn.
A young man in shalwar/kameez with a bicycle, introduced himself having been designated by the central committee of the Communist Party to organize the Karachi unit. This was Hasan Nasir, working underground, with the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) after him.
Now to the pull factor. I had come to know Mian Iftikharuddin (through party work) quite well. Mian Iftikharuddin was a progressive member of the first constituent assembly. He owned the Progressive Newspapers Ltd. which published the English language daily The Pakistan Times and the daily Urdu Imroze from Lahore. The Imroze had a daily edition published in Karachi. Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the great Urdu language poets, (Faiz was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962.) was the editor-in-chief of all the three newspapers. The three newspapers supported liberation movements around the world, supported the non-aligned movement, were generally sympathetic towards the Soviet Union, favored a genuinely federal constitution (and confederation between East and West Pakistan) for Pakistan, and advocated land reforms. Mian iftikharuddin wanted me to join The Pakistan Times as their Karachi correspondent. The Pakistan Times at that time had the same kind of monopoly of the English newspaper readership in Punjab as Dawn had in Karachi and Sindh. I was happy to join The Pakistan Times, and so resigned from Dawn.
Sometime during 1949, while I was on day shift in Dawn, a member of the staff informed me that someone outside wished to see me. I went out and saw a young man in shalwar/kameez with a bicycle. He introduced himself and said that he had been designated by the central committee of the Communist Party to organize the Karachi unit, and that he wanted me to join the party. This was Hasan Nasir, working underground, with the CID (Criminal Investigation Department) after him, who was inviting someone, apparently a complete stranger, to join him in organizing the Karachi unit of the Party.
With the exodus of the Hindu comrades from West Pakistan, and with the number of Muslim communists very small, the Party in West Pakistan was in a very weak and disorganized situation. There was no such problem in East Pakistan.
To begin at the beginning. The Indian Communist Party held its second congress in Calcutta in February-March 1948. There were three delegates from West Pakistan: Eric Cyprian from Punjab, Jamaluddin Bokhari from Sindh, and Mohammed Husain Ata from the NWFP. There was a much larger delegation from East Pakistan. It was decided at the congress that Pakistan should have its own communist party. With the exodus of the Hindu comrades from West Pakistan, and with the number of Muslim communists very small, the Party in West Pakistan was in a very weak and disorganized situation. There was no such problem in East Pakistan. It was therefore agreed that some experienced Muslim comrades should, on a voluntary basis, migrate to West Pakistan.
Sajjad Zaheer, a distinguished literary figure, leader of the all-India Progressive Writers Association and member of the Central committee of the Indian party, accompanied by Sibte Hasan, an experienced journalist who had worked on the party’s journals and Mirza Ashfaq Beg, arrived in West Pakistan soon after the Calcutta congress. Sajjad Zaheer became the general secretary of the Pakistan Communist (effectively, of the West Pakistan) Party and set about organizing the various groups around the country into a coherent organization.
Hasan Nasir, who in 1948 was only twenty years old, had been a member of the party in Bombay and was known to Sajjad Zaheer. But he migrated to Karachi on his own initiative. This was around the same time when Sajjad Zaheer arrived in Lahore – where the office of the central committee was located.
In Sindh (including Karachi) only two Hindu party members stayed on in Pakistan – Sobho Gianchandani and Pohu Mal. With the separation of Karachi from the Sindh province, Sobho confined his attention exclusively to Sindh. After a short period, Pohu Mal retired from political activity. As there was hardly any Sindhi Muslim party member in Karachi the unit had to be created from scratch. It became Hasan Nasir’s responsibility to create this unit.
I have already mentioned that I arrived in Karachi in December 1947 or January 1948. Sometime in 1948, as I was walking along Bunder Road I saw the party’s red flag hanging out of the window of a first floor flat. I went up to the party’s office and introduced myself to a comrade by the name of Hangal who seemed to be in charge of the office. I asked if I could do some work for the party. He gave me the task of taking clippings from various English language newspapers and pasting them on various folders according to the subject matter of the reports. I performed that task for a couple of months.
Now, Hangal (a Hindu comrade) migrated to India. And Sobho Gianchandani, a member of the Sindh provincial committee, who used to visit the office now and then, disappeared. He was either in the ‘interior’ of Sindh or in jail. In the same way, Sharaf Ali, who had recently migrated from India and who used to visit the office, disappeared. He was probably in jail. The office was now deserted except for a ‘Malabari’ comrade, a ‘bidi’ (a hand-made cigarette made from the leaf of a plant) worker who acted as a kind of caretaker. I visited him frequently.
That was the extent of my contact with the party when Hasan Nasir visited me. He must have thought that I was completely safe. Within a couple of months I was member of the Karachi district committee.
The membership of the Karachi unit was drawn almost entirely from members of the muhajir community who had been exposed to the independence movement and, more importantly, to Left politics before Partition. This is what distinguished the Karachi unit from all the other communist party units in West Pakistan. (I am drawing here on an essay I wrote on the occasion of the celebration of the life of Mohammed Sarwar, a prominent student leader in the early 1950s in Karachi during 2009. The essay was entitled ‘Karachi communists in the 1950s – a contribution to the Sarwar Reference’. (It is available on https://www. scribd.com/document/366152662/Was-Marx-a-100-Materialist-and-Other-Essays-From-a-Marxian-Perspective-By-Eric-Rahim. It is also available on my website ericrahim.co.uk).
The Karachi party’s main work was focused on the student front. This was primarily the case because the bulk of the party membership came from the student community. As member of the Karachi district committee I was ‘in charge’ of this front, and was the communication channel between the student cells and the district committee.
The student movement was initiated in the Dow Medical College. There was a ‘mature’ political group of students there, including Mohammed Sarwar, Mir Ali Ahmed Hashemi, Mohammed Ghalib Lodhi, Ayub Mirza and Yusaf Ali. The Democratic Student Federation was formed there, and it was then extended to other educational institutions such as SM College and Urdu College. The names of SM Naseem and Jamal Naqvi immediately come to mind. A student journal, the Students Herald, was launched, edited by SM Naseem. A school student’s wing of DSF was launched. The school students who played a leading part in the formation of this wing included Mohammed Shafi, Saghir Ahmed and Barkat Alam. (Continues)
Eric Rahim, Glasgow, 14 October 2018. (Published on March 31, 2019)
Click here for Part-I
Courtesy: Criterion Quarterly