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History in a nutshell (II)

Events that paved the way to the demise of first constituent assembly of Pakistan

History in a nutshell (II)
— Photo by Asif Hassan / AFP

(II)

The murder of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951 benefited Ghulam Muhammad, Iskandar Mirza, and General Ayub Khan the most and all of them got a chance to become heads of state one after the other. Liaqyat Ali Khan did make political mistakes but he should have been allowed to complete his term as the first prime minister of the country. But it appears the civil and military bureaucracy was spreading its sinister wings and the first PM was an obstacle in its way; he had to be removed and since then no PM in the history of this country has completed a five-year term and handed over power to the next elected PM.

Khawaja Nazimuddin who was the governor general became the PM and Finance Minister Ghulam Muhammad got the coveted slot to be the third head of state after the murder of Liaquat Ali  Khan. Ghulam Mohammad was not a politician but a finance officer who had served in the Hyderabad state as head of finance. Jinnah had appointed him the first finance minister of Pakistan and now he was the governor general. His ascendency as the head of state paved way for bureaucratic supremacy in Pakistan.

Khawaja Nazimmudin was a seasoned politician belonging to the Urdu speaking elite of East Bengal but he lacked the skills to tackle Ghulam Mohammad’s maneuverings. The last important event of 1951 was the dissolution of Sindh Assembly and imposition of governor’s rule in the province; it was a kind of rehearsal before Ghulam mohammad’s final attack on the central government.

In 1952, riots erupted in both the wings of the country and Nazimmudin could not control the situation. First in Dacca (now Dhaka), Bengali students started demonstration to have Bengali as a national language. The government reacted with force and dozens of Bengali students were killed and hundreds sustained injuries. Then in 1953, students in Karachi took out processions in favour of their demands; here too the police fired at peaceful demonstrators and eight students were killed on the streets of Karachi.

The leadership of this movement was mostly in the hands of progressive students such as Dr M Sarwar (whose daughter, Beena Sarwar, is a renowned journalist and activist), Dr Adeeb Rizvi (who founded the Sindh Institute of Urology and Transplant), Dr Rahman Hashmi, Iqbal Alvi, Ali Amjad, Dr Aizaz Nazeer and Jamal Naqvi who supported the protesting students (Jamal Naqvi has recently repudiated his links with the left movement and regrets that his life has been a waste).

Another important event of 1953 was the anti-Qadiani movement that got unprecedented momentum during Nazimmudin’s premiership, especially in Punjab. Anti-Qadiani resolutions were tabled in the Punjab Muslim League Council demanding that Mirzaees (as they were commonly called) be declared non-Muslims and removed from official positions. They were referring to Sir Zafarullah who was the first foreign minister of Pakistan.

Also read: History in a nutshell (I)

At the forefront of this campaign was the Punjab chief minister, Mian Mumtaz Muhammad Khan Daultana, who was also the president of Punjab Muslim League. When the cases were withdrawn against the miscreants who were responsible for damaging public property, the campaigners were emboldened and hundreds of gatherings were organised, including over 150 by Majlis-e-Ahrar alone. In these gatherings all sorts of accusations were hurled against Ahmadis and extremely derogatory language was being used and there was a plethora of advertisements, booklets, and propaganda material against Chaudhary Sir Mohammad Zafarullah and Mirza Bashir Uddin Ahmed whose mock funeral processions were also taken out.

When Nazimuddin visited Lahore, a general strike was announced by the campaigners and newspapers such as Zamindar and Azad wrote editorials against this minority group with full support from the Government of Punjab.

In January 1953, the campaigners gathered in the mosque of Maulana Ehtishamul Haq Thanvi and passed a resolution for social boycott of ‘Mirzaees’ and demanded resignation from the PM, Nazimuddin. All this resulted in the imposition of martial law in Lahore and Major General Azam Khan was appointed as martial law administrator. The army crushed this movement and all major leaders of this campaign were arrested. This was the first martial law that served as a rehearsal for the countrywide martial law to come within five years.

Ghulam Mohammad was not a politician and had never contested any election and yet he wanted to make all major decisions for the country. He even accused the prime minister of incompetence. Gradually, Nazimmudin lost control of the game and on April 17, 1953, Governor General Ghulam Mohammad dismissed PM Nazimuddin. With the first PM was murdered and the second ousted undemocratically; that was the beginning of Pakistan.

Ghulam Mohammad appointed Muhammad Ali Bogra as the new PM who was so unknown in the country that for several days people thought it was Chaudhary Mohammad Ali who was appointed the PM. The appointment of Bogra was a clear violation of parliamentary democracy because he was neither an assembly member nor did he have any recognition at the national level.

This episode was almost the same as the appointment of Shaukat Aziz half a century later. Both Aziz and Bogra had no political standing but personal umbrella of the head of state was enough to garner the required parliamentary support for a vote of confidence. Soon afterwards, the government of Pakistan extended the tenure of General Ayub Khan as commander in chief for another term. Come to think of it, the seasoned politicians were driven out of their elected offices violently and unconstitutionally and a general was given extension even after completing his term.

The new PM, Bogra, had been Pakistan’s ambassador to the US and he wasted no time in signing various agreements with the US government that pushed the country to the American fold. American aid did ameliorate problems such as food shortages but placards displaying ‘Thank you America’ are stilled etched in public memory.

While this political game was being played out in the capital, Karachi, a Bengali leader in East Bengal was laying the foundations of a new political party that would ultimately rout the Muslim League from East Bengal. Maulvi AK Fazlul Haq had formed the Krishik Paraja Party in 1927 that was quite popular in the 1930s but when Fazlul Haq joined the Muslim League, it lost its base. In 1941, Fazlul Haq was expelled from the Muslim League then readmitted and by the time Pakistan came into being, he was trying to organise opposition parties. Nazimuddin appointed him the advocate general of East Bengal. In February 1953, when the first anniversary of ethnic riots was being observed, Fazlul Haq once again became popular and formed the Krishik Sramic Party (KSP).

The dismissal of Nazimuddin had caused a furore in East Bengal. Then even the Muslim League — instead of  supporting Nazimuddin — severely criticised him and accepted the newly-imported Bogra not only as the PM but also elected him as the new head of Muslim League. This antagonised many leaders of Muslim League in East Bengal who formed a Jugto Front in December 1953.

In 1954, the First Constituent Assembly decided to separate the judiciary from the executive branch of the government. In March, Pakistan joined South East Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO) and became even closer to the US. Now the real reasons behind the appointment of Bogra as the PM were being revealed. Nazimuddin was much closer to the Great Britain than he was with the US, and now the trend was reversing.

In East Bengal, the election date was fixed for February 16, 1954. Against Muslim League were almost all opposition parties including Awami League and KSP that had united under Jugto Front or United Front whose leaders were Moulana Abdul Hamid Bhashani, HS Suharwardy, Maulana Athar, and AK Fazlul Haq. This was a motley group which had joined hands to declare Bangla as a national language, to release all political prisoners, to appropriately compensate jute growers, and to remove visa restriction between East and West Bengal.

The last point was of immense importance as the Pakistani establishment could never tolerate any such move. Still, Haq, Suharwardy, and Bhashani were popular leaders and were much closer to the masses, in comparison with Muslim League. Bogra was a Bengali but under pressure from Ghulam Mohammad, he postponed the elections till March 10, 1954.

Muslim League suffered a humiliating defeat in these elections gaining only nine seats as opposed to 223 seats won by Jugto Front; even the chief minister, Nurul Amin, lost against a student leader. The communists won 22 seats. In April 1954, AK Fazlul Haq formed the first non-Muslim League government in East Bengal after partition.

Since non-Bengalis in East Bengal had traditionally supported the West Pakistani establishment and Muslim League against the wishes of Bengalis, riots erupted between Bengalis and non-Bengalis. Bogra blamed Shaikh Mujeebur Rahman while Maulana Bhashani termed these riots a conspiracy. Within a month after the formation of the new provincial government, Fazlul Haq and the central government ended up on the negotiating table where Bogra accused Fazlul Haq of conspiring with India to create a separate homeland for Bengalis. The talks failed and on May 29, 1954, the popularly elected government of Jugto Front was dismissed by the central government.

In July 1954, the government of Pakistan imposed a ban on the political activities of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) in all the provinces. The communists had performed well in the provincial elections of East Bengal and the pro-American path that the new PM had opted for, did not allow any room for left politics. So it was deemed imperative to curb the communists lest they gain grounds in other provinces too.

The communist leaders such as Sajjad Zaheer and Muhammad Hussain Atta were already in prison and now by declaring the CPP an illegal outfit the message was clear that Pakistani establishment was sitting in the American lap and would go to any extent to crush progressive, liberal, secular, and democratic forces to curry favour with the US.

After this ban, almost all the left wing activists were rounded up including teachers, intellectuals, labour leaders, journalists, and even doctors and students. In the coming years, the progressive elements in Pakistan were to suffer immensely at the hands of the intelligence apparatus in Pakistan while sectarian bigots were nurtured and protected.

This is the history that is not to be found in Pakistan Studies textbooks. There is a long list of activists — from Hasan Nasir, Nazeer Abbasi, Mirza Ibrahim, and Major Ishaque to Dr Aizaz Nazeer, Jam Saqi, Rasool Bukhsh Palejo, Professor Jamal Naqvi, Shaukat Ali, Saeen Azizullah, Naazish Amrohvi, and Prof Jameel Omar — just to name a few — who endured the state oppression with aplomb and valour.

In September 1954, the First Constituent Assembly decided to curtail the powers of the governor general; it declared that the parliament was supreme and the head of state was bound to follow parliament’s acts. Obviously, this did not amuse Governor General Ghulam Mohammad and he struck with vengeance on Oct 24 1954; he dissolved the Constituent Assembly, declared a state of emergency but retained Bogra as the PM. Interestingly, when he dismissed Nazimuddin in 1953, he had not dissolved the assembly. Then, Speaker Maulvi Tamizuddin challenged the validity of the dissolution of the assembly and the Sindh High Court declared the dissolution as illegal but Chief Justice Justice Muhammad Munir overruled the decision of the High Court and upheld the dissolution using the notorious ‘doctrine of necessity’.

Thus ended the First Constituent Assembly that met only for 57 days in six years and failed in formulating a constitution. After the defeat of Muslim League in the East Pakistan elections, the First Constituent Assembly had become unrepresentative but these years were formative years for Pakistan that were wasted in intrigues and leg-pulling.

The shaky foundation for an inept political system was laid and a map was charted that would lead Pakistan into a cold-war abyss that still seems bottomless.

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.

2 comments

  • Pakistan studies a pack of lies,after a century or so these lies shall become truth, this was begun by General Zia ul Haq with a single stroke of pen, why cant these be thrown in dustbin with a single stroke of pen. The human brain is like computer memory, it might be of trillion of Tera byte , it can be occupied. What to talk of student they are burden by unnecessary subjects which hamper their learning process by diversion from main subjects.I don’t know when we will learn?

    • Well commented Hasan, I totally agree.

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