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Formation of One Unit

From 1947 to 1955, 22 provincial cabinets were dismissed or forced to resign sparking off the centre-province antagonism that shattered the dream of a decent democracy

Formation of One Unit
Ayub Khan with HS Suhrawardy.

Even before the civil-military equation became unbalanced in the nascent Pakistan, the centre-province antagonism had started shattering the dream of a decent democracy. Interestingly, the All India Muslim League leadership that was so concerned about the possibility of a strong centre dominating over the provinces in India, suddenly became a champion of a strong central government after partition.

Probably it is wrong to suggest that the entire Muslim League was in favour of a strong centre; initially it was the Jinnah-Liaquat duo that kept poking the Central finger into provincial pelvises — disregarding their own Muslim League leaders who could oppose the central command. Then the fulcrum soon shifted to the so-called Gang of Four comprising Ghulam Mohammad, Major General Iskander Mirza, General Ayub Khan, and Chaudhary Mohammad Ali. These gentlemen belonged to civil and military bureaucracy and, incidentally, three of them hailed from West Pakistan.

Sadly, the Muslim League — after the duo’s departure — consisted of mostly invertebrate imbeciles who were venal and could hardly resist the temptation of currying favour with the Four. Those who tried to stand firm for the protection of provincial rights were shown the door and declared as traitors working against the ‘national interest’; and as soon as the same traitors fell into line, they were embraced and showered with official positions temporarily, irrespective of their position in the central or provincial assemblies.

Initially, the idea of dissolving all provinces in the western wing and merging them into a one unit was floated by Feroz Khan Noon and Jahanara Shahnawaz — both from Punjab — in the Constituent Assembly in March 1949. Jinnah and Liaquat are also reported to have considered the idea but no progress was made in this direction when they were alive; probably because they were not from Punjab and, arguably, might have had less intuitive understanding of Bengal-Punjab undercurrents. Even at that stage, some Muslim League leaders, such as Ch. Khaliquzzaman, expressed their reservations on the scheme.

When Governor-General Ghulam Mohammad had dislodged Prime Minister Nazimmudin and had his tentacles firmly wrapped around politicians, he got rid of the first Constituent Assembly and hastily launched his One-Unit project. The main reason was the landslide victory of the United Front consisting of Bengali leaders who had segued from a religious narrative of the pre-partition days into a nationalist discourse of the post-Nazimuddin period.

The victory of Bengali nationalists in East Bengal had upped the ante in favour of the smaller provinces in the western wing too, casting a pall of gloom over Punjab. There emerged a possibility that the desire of the civil and military bureaucracy to keep a strong centre within their fold might be thwarted should the smaller provinces side with Bengal. The formation of a One Unit would give the centre a greater chance of arm twisting to get favourable decisions from one provincial assembly rather than dealing with three provinces (Punjab, Sindh, and NWFP), one chief commissioner’s provinces (Balochistan) and numerous princely states.

Related article: The challenges the nation faced since 1955

Interestingly, the leaders from Punjab, especially Chaudhary M. Ali, Nawab Gurmani, and Daultana; and the prime spokesmen of the army i.e. General Ayub Khan and Maj General Iskander Mirza, all became staunch supporters of the One-Unit scheme as a counterbalance with Bengal. Mirza was himself from Bengal but he was a bureaucrat and hated popular politicians especially from his own province, such a Bhashani, Fazlul Haq, and Suhrawardy. A lack of popular support makes such officers bitter and angry not only at politicians but also against the populace itself. A holier-than-thou attitude oozes from their nostrils and they can’t wait to beat the nation into a desired shape; in this effort plenty of politicians also play ball.

So this hammering to get a One Unit, started in full swing under the tutelage of Ghulam Mohammad and led by PM Bogra. Bengali politicians such as Nazimuddin, Fazlur Rehman, Tamizuddin Khan and Nural Amin, and even Muslim League leadership in West Pakistan including Abdus Sattar Pirzada and Mohammad Hashim Gazdar opposed the scheme. Less than two weeks after the Constituent Assembly was dissolved, Pirzada’s Sindh ministry was dismissed by Governor Iftikhar Mumdot on November 8, 1954. Ayub Khuhro, whom the Centre had previously dismissed twice on corruption charges, was again appointed the Sindh chief minister, obviously as a quid pro quo for his support to the One-Unit scheme.

On November 22, 1954, Bogra announced the Centre’s intentions, in principle, to merge the provinces of West Pakistan into a One Unit after seeking the approval of the provinces. This set in motion the whole central machinery to secure the provincial approvals. The same day a group of provincial politicians were summoned to Karachi and informed that no further debate on the One Unit would be tolerated by the Centre. The Centre simply wanted the provincial assemblies to rubber stamp the One-Unit resolution drafted in the federal capital, and the removal of Sindh Chief Minister Pirzada was a warning to other provincial assemblies. In fact, the Centre had already demonstrated its arbitrary powers by dismissing the Constituent Assembly and, prior to that, by removing the United-Front majority government in East Bengal.

The victory of Bengali nationalists in East Bengal had upped the ante in favour of the smaller provinces in the western wing too, casting a pall of gloom over Punjab.

Pirzada had taken a firm stand against the unification scheme by securing statements from 74 Sindh assembly members against the One-Unit proposal. He was supported by GM Syed, Sh Abdul Majeed Sindhi, GM Bhurghari and Ghulam Ali Talpur. Just three days after Bogra’s announcement, the NWFP Assembly became the first to endorse the scheme on November 25 1954, under the leadership of Chief Minister Sardar Abdur Rashid. Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Bacha Khan) was the leading opponent who urged the federal government not to take hasty decisions.

In November, Balochistan Shahi Jirga and the Khairpur legislature also announced their support for the One Unit. Punjab was the only province where the plan sailed smoothly without any resistance. Almost the entire assembly supported the resolution on November 30, 1954. On December 6, Chitral Council also announced its support for the proposal.

In Sindh, the situation took an interesting turn where Ayub Khuhro used his clout to get the scheme approved by 100 out of 104 assembly member. This was the same assembly where just a couple of weeks earlier the CM, Pirzada, had the support of 74 members against the One Unit. The turnaround was the simple result of the Central threat to dissolve the assembly in case its members refused the approval. If somebody has any doubt about why the provincial governments do not stand firm against the intrusion of the federal organs into the matters purely provincial, they should once again read some history and get the answer.

At the behest of the Centre, Ayub Khuhro detained Pirzada, GM Syed, and Pir Ilahi Bukhsh on different charges. Even the Sindh Assembly Speaker was arrested for “conspiring to murder the Sindh cabinet members.” Thousands of protesters were imprisoned and Hyderabad was converted into a military camp thanks to General Ayub Khan who was the Commander in Chief as well as the defence minister in the new ‘Cabinet of Talents’ formed by Ghulam Muhammad, who had the full support from the armed forces.

On December 14, 1954, a high-level meeting — the One-Unit Conference inaugurated by Ghulam Mohammad — attended by almost all Central ministers from West Pakistan, provincial governors, rulers of states, and provincial and states chief ministers, announced its support for the One-Unit scheme; and two days later, the Muslim League executive committee also accepted it. Following these hasty approvals, the governor general created a council consisting of all governors and chief ministers in West Pakistan, Balochistan’s chief commissioner and governor general’s provincial agent, adviser to the ruler of Bahawalpur, and the prime minister of Balochistan States Union.

That’s how within six weeks after the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly, the Centre, led by Ghulam, Ayub, and Iskander, tried to shove the One Unit in the throat of all provinces and states in West Pakistan. When 1955 started, the Khan-e-Azam of Kalat, reportedly under duress, signed the instrument of merger into the West Pakistan Unit, on behalf of the Balochistan Sates Union which included the states of Kalat, Kharan, Lasbela and Makran.

All this hullabaloo received a sudden shock when on February 9, 1955 the full bench of the Sindh Chief Court unanimously allowed the petition of Tamizuddin Khan and restored him as the president of the constituent assembly and restrained the Centre from interfering in his functions. The Centre went to the Federal Court where in March 1955, Justice Munir overturned the Sindh Chief Court’s verdict, boosting Ghulam Mohammad to once again swing into action to impose the state of emergency.

In June 1955, the second constituent assembly came into being after indirect elections throughout the country. In July, the first session of the new constituent assembly began at Murree and elected Mushtaq Gurmani as its interim chairman. Thus began an interesting chapter of some ‘secret documents’ of the One Unit.

A few newly-elected members of the second constituent assembly later revealed that, during the plenary session at Murree, some documents were circulated containing an implementation scheme about the One Unit scheme. These documents were especially given to those members who had a soft corner for the scheme. Though there was no name on the documents, the recipients attributed their authorship to Mumtaz Daultana, and he never denied it.

Sardar Abdur Rashid claimed that a copy of these documents was given to him by Chaudhry Mohammad Ali. When the second constituent assembly met on July 7, 1955, three of the Gang of Four — Ayub, Iskander, and Ch M Ali — met with Nawab Gurmani and Dr Khan Saheb, henceforth these five would lead the One-Unit campaign and Ghulam Mohammad was gradually sidelined because of his worsening health. On July 13, a five-point agreement was signed by the leaders of various parties; two of the points related to the formation of One Unit and the principle of parity between the two wings, despite the fact that East Bengal had 56 per cent of the total population of Pakistan.

Now the question arises, if all the provincial assemblies and states in West Pakistan had approved the One-Unit scheme and both the PM and the GG had announced the formation of the One-Unit, why this was being one? Actually, the Federal Court, while upholding the dissolution of the first constituent assembly had barred the GG from issuing executive orders, and had ruled that all constitutional and legislative acts could only be passed by the next CAP (constituent assembly of Pakistan). This verdict had put paid to the steamroller approach and the Centre had to go through the parliamentary approval.

SA Rashid who had initially supported the One Unit, got enraged at being excluded from these discussions by the Five (Ayub, Iskander, Gurmani, Khan Saheb, and Ch. M Ali). Rashid had expected to be the governor or CM of the new province but now he realised that Gurmani and Khan would get the top positions, so he decided to reveal the contents of the ‘secret documents’ and read excerpts from them. According to him the One-Unit scheme was a cover for Punjabi domination. There were others who countered this argument by saying that to prevent East Bengal from playing a ‘big-brother’ role the One-Unit scheme was necessary.

As a result of this outburst against the One-Unit, SA Rashid — the NWFP CM — was dismissed and General Ayub Khan’s brother Sardar Bahadur Khan was asked to form the government. He and his cabinet took oath on July 18 1955. That shows, now instead of fours and fives, now the Ayub-Iskander duo was getting hold of things and they had become the real power brokers. This was further confirmed when On August 6 1955, a press note was issued announcing the appointment of Major-General Iskander Mirza as acting governor-general replacing Ghulam Mohammad, who went on medical leave for two months. Another evidence was the resignation of M ABogra — a Ghulam Mohammad appointee — and the elevation of Ch M Ali as both the PM and the president of the Muslim League in August 1955.

During all these changes the One-Unit Bill was debated in the new constituent assembly from July to September 1955 and was enacted into a law that was enforced on October 14, 1955; Nawab Gurmani became the governor and Dr Khan Saheb took oath as the chief minister of the new province. Those who were in the forefront of the battle for the One Unit were rewarded with ministries; they included Qurban Ali Khan, Mumtaz Daultana, Ayub Khuhro, Abid Hussain (Syeda Abida Hussain’s father), Sardar Bahadur Khan (General Ayub Khan’s brother) and Sardar A Hameed Dasti. This was a setup overwhelmingly dominated by feudal lords and supervised by Maj General Iskander Mirza and General Ayub Khan.

This is not to suggest that all along there were no politicians who opposed this. There were stalwarts such as Bacha Khan, Hyder Bukhsh Jatoi, Abdul Samad Achakzai, and GM Syed who doggedly resisted, but their struggle deserves another detailed article.

To conclude, here it seems pertinent to remind that from 1947 to 1955, in all 22 provincial cabinets were dismissed or forced to resign — five in East Bengal, four in Punjab, four in NWFP, and eight in Sindh. No government was changed through a no-confidence vote in the provincial legislatures. There were chief ministers chosen from outside the legislature; there were favourites declared traitors, with the corrupt baptised clean, and vice versa. Most governments were removed while they commanded the majority support in the house and were forced out at the behest of the central powers that be.

And you ask me why democracy has not matured in this country? That probably is innocence — or ignorance — of the highest order.

Dr Naazir Mahmood

Naazir Mahmood
The writer has been associated with the education sector since 1990 as teacher, teacher educator, project manager, monitor and evaluator.

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