The year 1970 was the most important year in Pakistan’s history. The events which occurred then continue to shape Pakistani politics, culture and society to this day. I have attempted to write about some of them in these pages throughout 2020. Right from the announcement by then-Pakistani military ruler General Yahya Khan in early 1970 calling for democratic elections in December of that year following the Martial Law, and announcing political freedoms in the country allowing for election campaigning by political parties as per the Legal Framework Order, 1970 (LFO) – which was a decree that laid down the political principles and laws governing the 1970 general election. These were the first direct elections in the history of Pakistan. The LFO also dissolved the One Unit scheme of West Pakistan, re-establishing the four provinces of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and the then-Northwest Frontier Province. Yahya instituted the Legal Framework Order (LFO) on March 30, 1970, with the aim of securing the future constitution. Then in October of that year, Pakistan lost one of its most promising civil servants and poets Mustafa Zaidi, who had already been a victim of Yahya’s infamous ‘303 purge’ of bureaucrats on charges of corruption.
November of that year began with the Polish delegation arriving at Karachi’s airport being attacked by an Islamic fundamentalist; and a week after that the Bhola cyclone struck then-East Pakistan – wreaking colossal and unprecedented death and destruction. And within four weeks of that, there were the unprecedented general elections held on December 7. Their unsavoury aftermath would seal the fate of united Pakistan, as it was then.
However exactly a week before the issuance of the LFO by the military regime, a seminal event was held on March 23 – Pakistan Day – in Toba Tek Singh, a city in Punjab. This event, though unrelated to the larger scheme of events which occurred in that eventful year of 1970, occupies a distinct and important place if one were writing an alternative history of Pakistan. And in the context of the ongoing Farmers Protests in neighbouring India – which has now entered its fifth month as I write this – its memory and legacy is not unimportant.
The 1970 Toba Tek Singh Kisan Conference is also historic because its memory and legacy is associated with one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, the iconic Faiz Ahmad Faiz. But before one narrates the circumstances of the historic conference in Toba Tek Singh where Faiz not only participated but also recited his verses – whereupon he became the target of self-styled religious custodians – it will be proper to recapitulate the background of the peasant movement for the information of the wider South Asian reading community.
Class-based organizations began emerging in the Indian Subcontinent after the First World War (1914-1915) and the socialist revolution in Russia under the leadership of Lenin (November 1917). Influenced by the advent of industries and the Bolshevik Revolution, the groups and associations of industrial workers had started becoming established even at the end of the second decade of the last century; but organizations of the peasants, farm workers, tillers, etc. were established around 1930. In the same period, a consistent All India Kisan Sabha was founded. In the initial period of this Sabha, Swami Sahajanand, Bankim Mukherjee, Dr Z.A. Ahmed, Namboodiripad, Sohan Singh Josh and Ferozuddin Mansoor were among the important leaders of this Kisan Sabha.
Organizing in rural areas is never easy. Urban workers tend to unite in some industrial institution and work together, so it is easy to bring them to one platform. But peasants are busy in ploughing the extensive fields and farming – so it is quite difficult to contact them and be aware of their problems
Afterwards, following the creation of Pakistan, the Kisan Sabha organized in then-West Pakistan under various names: in Punjab as the Punjab Kisan Committee, in Sindh as the Hari Committee, in then-North West Frontier Province as Kisan Jirga and in Balochistan as the Bazgar Committee.
Among the leaders of the peasant movement were Sufi Allah Dad, Ghulam Mohammad Hashmi, Amir Qalam Khan from Mianwali; Qaswar Gardezi, Rab Nawaz Chawan, Malik Ataullah, etc. from Multan; Abdul Aziz Qasir, Dr Abdullah, Chaudhary Fateh Muhammad and many others like Ali Muhammad Bum and Saeen Umar Zain from Lyallpur; Wali Mohammad, Wahid Bux and Iqbal Shahid from Dera Ghazi Khan; Nazeer Hussain Jatoi and Abdul Qadir from Sindh; and Mansoor Bakshi, Qazi Dad Mohammad and Babu Abdul Karim Shorish from Balochistan.
Likewise in other provinces, among the important leaders of the peasant movement were great personalities like Hyder Bux Jatoi, Ghulam Mohammad Leghari, Abdul Khaliq Azad, Khushal Khan, Kaka Sanober Hussain, Ziarat Gul, etc. who organized the peasant movement all their lives with great determination and steadfastness.
Organizing in rural areas is never easy. Urban workers tend to unite in some industrial institution and work together, so it is easy to bring them to one platform. But peasants are busy in ploughing the extensive fields and farming – so it is quite difficult to contact them and be aware of their problems. But praise be to those determined people who, in extremely difficult conditions, went about contacting the peasants working in faraway areas. These activists not only themselves became aware of their problems but encouraged them to strive for a solution to their problems through unity.
Pakistan is primarily an agricultural country and its prosperity and economic strength is indeed hidden within the solution to its agricultural problems. In this respect, the extensive writings of Hyder Bux Jatoi on the problems of haris and the booklets of Chaudhry Fateh Mohammed on agricultural problems thoroughly guide us.
(to be continue)
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader, currently based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Raza Naeem is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and award-winning translator and dramatic reader based in Lahore, where he is also the president of the Progressive Writers Association. He is currently working on a book, Sahir Ludhianvi’s Lahore, Lahore’s Sahir Ludhianvi, forthcoming in 2022. He can be reached via email at email@example.com and on Twitter: @raza_naeem1979