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G. M. Syed’s India Visit

G. M. Syed’s India Visit

Anand Hingorani said to him in good humor: “I have come to protest. You had moved the resolution in favor of Partition in the Sindh Assembly. You are responsible for our leaving Sind.” Syed said: “I plead guilty. But even a murderer gets only 20 years; I have already suffered 22 years.”

By K. R. Malkani

Thanks to Shri Jhamatmal Wadhwani’s call from Bombay on Saturday morning, July 4, 1987, about a dozen of us, including some ladies, were able to greet G.M. Syed, the Grand Old Man of Sindh, at Palam. He was accompanied by his son Imdad, PA and his Secretary, Allar Soomar Thebo. We even managed a quick bouquet. Syed looked pleased to be received by Sindhis. There was nobody from the government side to receive him.

We drove him to Kanishka Hotel and introduced ourselves to him. Here he was received as a state guest and a car was put at his disposal. He wanted to see Badshah Khan as soon as possible. We rang, up Yunus’ residence and were told to come straight away, Syed was helped into his special shoes, and then another call came, suggesting, the meeting at 6 PM, “when AIR and TV men will also be there.” When I went to see him in the evening, I was told by Allar that Badshah Khan had suffered a stroke and that the Prime Minster had rushed him to All India Medical Institute. Syed had already gone to AIIMS and now Allar and I also went there. Later that evening I took them to a nice Sindhi cultural show at Kamani Hall. He was welcomed and garlanded and he made appropriate remarks.

The following day I contacted several editors; most of them took special interviews and published them. I also arranged Kuldip’s and BBC interviews for him. Sindh received more coverage in the Indian Press in July 1987 than ever before or after. AIR approached Syed Sahib for an interview to be beamed to Sindh. I was asked to do the interviewing. I drafted 15 questions for him and he prepared the answers, which he later read out in the studio. I suggested to the AIR Director that he should also be interviewed in Hindi and English for the Indian public. The Director asked me to repeat the first five questions in English-to be broadcast by our External Services. That AIR should broadcast his views on freedom of Sindh and confederation of Sindh with India was a pleasant surprise for me.

Saeen G.M. Syed at All India Radio New Delhi. Then Producer Veena Shringi is seen with Syed while he was writing autograph for her.

On his second day in Delhi, Nari Thadhani held a reception for him at his Mayfair residence. It was a top class catering, of about sixty, attended, among others, by Ram Nao-rani, Anand Hingorani, Sevakram, Asrani (Joint Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs). Shanti Hiranand gave beautiful Sindhi music. Everybody introduced himself/herself at some length. Syed spoke briefly and answered questions. It was a very y pleasant evening.

Lal Advani came and saw Syed, who was delighted. Two days later, on July 10, Lal brought Dandawate, Upendra, Unnikrishnan and Dipen Goswami, leading MPs, to see him. They suggested another meeting- with more MPs.

The following day Balkavi Vairagi, Congress MP, came to see him. They suggested a larger MPs’ audience for him. Later Balkavi told me that Moopanar had suggested MPs seeing him in small groups. He said he would speak to Jakhar, for a bigger meet of MPs. However, the Presidential poll was on and I left for Nagpur, and so this bigger MPs’ meet did not materialize. Syed was sorry that there was no photographer around when Advani came; he was also sorry, not to be able to pay a return visit to Lal because of the latter’s preoccupation.

I took Prof. Rajendra Singh of RSS, to see him. Syed chatted with him and presented him a copy of his ‘Religion, a Reality’.

The Freedom Fighters Organization held a special reception for him at Vithalbhai Patel House on July 10. It was a nice big function. Here I saw Nirmala Deshpande (who used to be Vinoba’s intermediary with Indira). She was keen to meet Syed. The following day I arranged a special interview for her. Bahuguna came and saw him-with a photographer!

Syed was honored by Sindhu Samaj at Sindhu Bhavan, Rajendranagar, on July 8. There was music by Kan Motihar, speech by Syed, questions and answers, more music. Some people started dancing. Many offered “Ghor”. It was a delightful function, attended by about one hundred. He was presented a silk dupatta.

I asked some Seths of Subzi Mandi to see him on July 7. It was a small but warm group. Some of them asked him if a certain ‘Marhi’ in Rohri had been burnt. He said people had gone mad; one of them went and burnt the Koran in the local masjid in his ancestral Sann. When asked what he was doing, the man said he was lighting one more Lamp! Syed added that when refugees attacked some Hindu shops and houses in reaction to Meerut, Sindhi youths came out and shooed the rioters away. Since then, those properties had been repaired. The meet ended with a prayerful “palao paayo”.

The PM met Syed. I asked him how the meeting went. He said he had spoken for one hour but Rajiv did not utter one word. It is not clear whether Rajiv does not know anything about the Sindh problem or he didn’t want to commit himself to anything. He said Rajiv was late from his meeting with Opposition leaders. He was very tired. Syed suggested meeting him some other time, but Rajiv said he’d be alright after he had washed his eyes. And so the meeting, continued.

The Bar Association of the Supreme Court invited him. About one hundred lawyers attended. They presented him a nice sandal-wood garland, which I persuaded Syed to take home.

When I returned from Nagpur and called on him on 16th morning, I found Narendra Kumar of Vikas publications with him. He had come to invite him to do a book on Sindh – following 2 Vikas books by Wali Khan, then in the press. Syed suggested that his latest book in Sindhi, “Pakistan Should Now Break Up” should be translated in English and published. Narendra said it was only a pamphlet. I suggested that somebody should read all his books (52 written; only 35 of these published – some of them proscribed) and then collate, edit and produce an old- new book. Syed said I should do this. His secretary said they’ll consult Kirat Babani and let me know. There that matter rested.

The following day he was leaving. I invited him to dinner. We were about fifteen. Nana Deshmukh also attended. Here we presented him a shawl. The following day we saw him off. We were three-Acharya Bhagvandev, Chaturvedi, MP, convener of AICC’s Foreign Cell, asked by the PM to see him off, and myself.

On July 16, he asked for Mira and Kabir songs in Arabic script. I was not able to get them. I hope he got them in Bombay. He also wanted Nimano Faqir’s compilation of Sachal (Baroda). I could not arrange that either.

I asked him if he would like to have Ramayana and Mahabharat, and he said he already had them.

One day I must have said ‘Hari Om’ etc. He asked me what ‘Hari’ meant. I told him it was a name of ‘Krishna’, since ‘haran’ meant ‘to steal’, and child Krishna had stolen butter. He asked for other names of Krishna and I told him some. On another occasion he asked Nanaji how many names Krishna had and he was told he had one thousand names.

More than once I heard him say he believed in life after death. I asked him how he reconciled that with the concept of ‘Qiamat’ and he said there were many cycles of life and death before Qiamat.

He had brought 3 tapes of Sindhi patriotic songs. Nari got several copies of these made, which Syed gave to AIR, Shanti Hiranand, myself and some others.

Anand Hingorani said to him in good humor : “I have come to protest. You had moved the resolution in favor of Partition in the Sindh Assembly. You are responsible for our leaving Sind.” Syed said: “I plead guilty. But even a murderer gets only 20 years; I have already suffered 22 years.”

I met him morning and evening and put him many questions.

In the beginning, Syed used to say he was against democracy. He said this because, democratically, Punjabis out-numbered all others in Pakistan. I told him his opposition to “democracy” will be misunderstood. I suggested to him that he should say that Freedom (of Sindh) must come first; only then there can be true democracy. He did not oppose ‘democracy’, as such, after that.

Here are some of the other questions I put him – and his answers:

Why did you leave the Congress and join the Muslim League?

We expected the Congress to help us enact laws to protect the peasantry. When Congress did not help us, we felt frustrated and joined the League. (The expectation was unrealistic because most of the MLAs, both Hindu and Muslim, were Zamindars.)

Why did you leave the League?

Even when I was in the League, I had maintained relations with Congress leaders. When Congress adopted the Quit India resolution, Jinnah called a meeting of the League Working, Committee. Here Jinnah moved a resolution, saying that the ‘Quit India resolution was directed against Muslims, and not against the British. I spoke against this resolution, and so did some others but Jinnah said he had given word to the British, never to come to terms with the Congress. Therefore, this resolution must be adopted. While other critics fell silent, I insisted on my vote of dissent being recorded. It is still there. I began to feel more and more that Jinnah was serving British interests and not Muslim interests. I, therefore, left the League in 1945.

Was Khuhro responsible for the murder of Allah Bux? In Gandhiji’s ‘Complete Works’, there are references to Khuhro being defended by Bhulabhai Desai.

Is that so? Can you give me those references? (The same were given to Syed). Actually Allah Bux and Bhagat Kanwar Ram and Pamnani were all murdered by Janu Jalbani, a fanatical follower of the Pir of Bhirchundi. The Pir had converted some Hindu boys. At the instance of some people, these converts were taken out in procession in Sukkur. The Hindus of Sukkur resented this, and beat up the son of Bhirchundi. The Pir’s followers took this as an insult to the Pir and these murders followed.

Why are you more opposed to Bhutto than to Zia?

When a Bhutto is in power, people get a false sense of power and democracy. Actually it is Punjabis who move the strings of Bhutto or his daughter. When, on the other hand, a Zia is in power, people see it as a Punjabi, and an Army-man, in power. I consider veiled Punjabi rule more dangerous than an open one, because it hides facts and deceives the people. I am interested in change of system-from a centralized Pakistan to a confederal one-and not just a change of rulers-from Zia to Benazir.

Saeen G. M. Syed and Gen. Zia at the funeral of Mir Ali Ahmed Talpur on 8 April 1987 – Photo Courtesy: Social Media

Why, you think, Zia let you come?

I do not know – When I was ailing last year, Badshah. Khan had come to see me in Sann. When, therefore, he fell ill, I wanted to come and see him. I wrote to the Government of Pakistan. They took 20 days to reply to my application. I had not expected an okay, and I was pleasantly surprised. One reason could be that they expect me to speak out here-and they plan to punish me for that when I return to Sindh. Fact, however, is that I speak more in Sindh than I do here. Another reason could be that they have nothing against me. What t say, I say publicly, and I have been saying it for years. I am a man of non-violence. Sindhi youths are impatient. They think I am weak. But I know that if there is a physical confrontation, we will be crushed. Gen. Tikka Khan is saying that they want Sindh, and not Sindhis. Nasrullah is another Punjabi fanatic. Ex-Air Marshal Asghar speaks the same language.

Gen. Zia visits Saeen G. M. Syed

Zia called on you when you broke your leg.

Yes, he did-in Karachi. And he said he will call on me in my native Sann also. But he has not. And you know why? Half a dozen Punjabi women demonstrated outside his residence,-urging him not to see an “enemy of Pakistan like O.M. Syed.” Such is the power of public opinion. That is why I want Sindhis in Delhi etc. to demonstrate against Pakistan embassy, when they harass us. That will create world opinion against Pakistan-and encourage Sindhi nationalists in their struggle.

Syed Saheb also recollected an interesting experience with Gandhi. It was sometime in 1945. Gandhiji was staying in Bhangi Colony. Syed, Maula Bux and Bhurgri Jr. went to see him early in the morning. Gandhiji had already had his prayer etc. Maula Bux said they wanted to speak to him all alone. Gandhiji said, “There will be nobody else here, except God.”

After the talk, Bhurgri went to see Jinnah, who had been a dear friend of his father-who had been Congress General Secretary, when Dr. Annie. Besant was Congress President-and whom he addressed as ‘Uncle’. He found the outer gate locked. From inside, he was greeted by a barking dog. When he told the durban that Jinnah was his ‘Chacha’, he was told that Chacha or no Chacha, he could not see him, as he had no appointment. Syed said Bhurgri came back and said: “‘Kafir’ Gandhi had taken his bath and said his ‘namaz’ (prayer), but ‘Momin’ Uncle Jinnah was still asleep, with only his dog to greet you.”

Syed was a Sufi; but he was also very much of a Theosophist. Many of his friends were members of Theosophical Lodge, Karachi. They included Jethmal Parsram, Jamshed, Tahilramani, PM Advani (of Karachi’s School for the Blind). One of his frequent callers in Delhi was Ann (full name, Anandamai Advani) daughter of PM Advani, working with Tourism Department. He told her jocularly that her father and he were both fond of Ruki, who eventually married PM. When asked why he failed, he said it was too bad, he was already married.

Syed had particularly fond memories of Jethi Sipahimalani. He had prepared a book on her life and collected her letters to him. It is yet to be published. He told me a few anecdotes of Jethi.

  1. “One day Jethi, Jethrnal, Abdul Majid and I were sitting together. In the arcument that followed, I was cornered. Jethi turned to me and said ‘you are surrounded by three Jethas’, (Jeshtha, big one). Sheikh Abdul Majid’s original name was Jethanand!
  2. “On another occasion I happened to shed tears over something. And Jethi said: “Syeds are a weepy lot”. I said “How?” And quick came the retort: “Don’t you beat your breasts every year, crying Ya Ali! Ya Hussain!”
  3. “On a third occasion, many of us were sitting with Khuhro, then CM. We were all taking tea, but Jethi did not touch anything. When Khuhro asked her why, she said she could not forget that he had been accused of murdering Allah Bux. Khuhro told her that even Allah Bux’s son and brother met him and dined with him. Jethi told her, min could be hard-hearted; they could be ‘Dodo Chanesars’ (who had betrayed Sindh to Allauddin Khilji); but not she! “He said Jethi had written to him, not to leave Sindh out of disgust, and come over to India.”Sentimentality”, she wrote, “won’t do. We have no ‘izzat’ here.”

Syed said that when Partition was announced, Kripalani had come to Sindh. “We were all sitting in Bhai Pratap’s house. Abdul Majid wondered what had gone wrong. And Kripalani said we had unleashed forces that we could not control.”


An excerpt from K. R. Malkani’s book The Sindh Story (Book was first published in 1984.This write up was added to the book in its second edition printed in 1997)