32 Nicholson Road, Lahore was no ordinary place. Long before it fell victim to the Orange Line Metro Train project recently, this was where one of the country’s most prominent political leaders — the late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan — spent a greater part of his life. More importantly, this was where the different movements for the restoration of democracy were launched.
It was the famous meeting place for the political elite such as Abdul Wali Khan, Syed Shah Mardan Shah-II aka Pir Pagara, Benazir Bhutto, Asif Ali Zardari, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, Mian Mahmood Ali Kasuri and also the Sharif brothers during the years they were out of power. Revolutionaries like Maulana Bhashani were also prominent callers.
Jamshed Ahmed Malik, who served Nawabzada as his private secretary, recalls how in the year 1968, when the people across the country were up in arms against the then President, Field Martial Muhammad Ayub Khan, Nawabzada’s Lahore house was buzzing with activity. Eventually, it led to the formation of the Democratic Action Committee, meant to counter Ayub’s dictatorial regime.
“Khawaja Shahabuddin, a minister in Ayub’s cabinet, visited Nawabzada’s house around the same time,” Malik recounts. “He made some very tempting offers to the fragile-looking Nasrullah Khan who was sporting a Khaki cap, and asked him to call off the movement in return.
“Nawabzada looked at the minister and, following a brief silence, told him to leave.”
From 1968 up till Nawabzada’s death in 2003, the house was used as a platform against dictators, whether Ayub, Ziaul Haq or Musharraf. No wonder Nawabzada was popularly awarded the title of ‘Baba-e-Jamhooriat.’
Ironically, where the house has recently been demolished by the LDA, there have been assorted (albeit half-hearted) efforts on the part of the government to rename Nicholson Road after Nawabzada Nasrullah. In January 2011, the City District Government of Lahore (CDGL) went as far as printing an announcement in the leading national dailies. That the renaming never happened is history.
Nawabazada Iftikhar Ahmed Khan, son of the late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, tells TNS that the Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif assured him that the said road would be renamed in acknowledgement of the leader’s services. “How can an elected government do this to a place which was the hub of democratic activities?” he asks, lamentingly.
Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan didn’t own the place. He was living there on rent. Nawabazada Iftikhar reveals, “We used to pay rent to Jamshed Dar, the owner of the house, through courts, every month. We tried to get the possession of the place but we failed.
“If the government can acquire this [place] under the Land Acquisition Act for Orange Line, why could it never consider making it a heritage site?”Throwing light on some of the historical events that took place at 32 Nicholson Road, he says that Nawabzada forged alliances against dictators as well as democrats. “In 1977, he created the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s rigged polls. Unfortunately, [General] Zia imposed Martial Law.
“But my father wasn’t deterred; he made his own party, the Pakistan Jamhoori Party. 1983’s Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) was also reflective of his democratic spirit. He was put in house arrest for five years by Zia. In 1993, he was made the chairman of Kashmir Committee. Many ambassadors would visit him at this house.”
Nawabzada’s last great achievement, says Iftikhar Khan, was to bring together the two rival political parties — Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — under the umbrella of the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD) against General Pervaiz Musharraf’s dictatorship. Nawabzada was appointed as the chairman of ARD and he continued to operate from his house in Lahore.
An LDA official says on condition of anonymity, “The house was vacated by the heirs of Nawabzada in 2003 after his death. They also merged his party in Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). We acquired this piece of land for Orange Line in order to facilitate the general public. This is the best possible use of a historic place!”
Sheikh Rasheed, head of Awami Muslim League (AML), Pakistan, is of the view that the demolition of Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan’s house on Nicholson Road for the sake of creating space for the Metro Train “shows that the CM is without a vision.”
Remembering good old days, Rasheed says he would often visit the house in Zia’s era. “Nawabzada was the only person who stood up against Zia. Even the so-called leaders had left the country and those who stayed back could dare not raise their voice against a military dictator.”