5th September 2016, 02:51 PM
Violence as an instrument of politics
Altaf Hussainís vitriolic speech that stirred the MQMís rank and file into vandalism is baffling on several counts. His diatribe was directed at the country instead of its establishment or the government of the time. This was unusual because saying what he said amounted to political suicide, to say the least. By making that speech, he not only squandered away his position of impregnability as MQM superemo, his anti-Pakistan rant heaped a truckload of embarrassment on his party colleagues, bringing his very own party at the crossroads.
But a much larger question forming the central theme of todayís column is: why do the political parties, whose cadres as well as leadership are drawn from the urban bourgeoisie, have a tendency to resort to violence on a small pretext? This holds true for the entire South Asia. A comparable case with MQM is Bal Thackerayís the Shiv Sena, a right-wing Marathi ethnocentric party, which emerged in a different socio-political context but not only has its political support among the urbanites classes, it solely relies on the muscle power to make its presence felt particularly in the Indian state of Maharashtra.
The Hindi/Marathi word Sena means army and the members of Mumbai-based party are called seniks or soldiers. Mercifully, the MQM has not been so audacious to select such a signification for itself. Rather it tried to spawn a softer image of itself by substituting a nomenclature from Muhajir Qaumi Movement to Muttahida Qaumi Movement; by doing so it tried to shun its ethnic characterisation. Having said that, it has not shied away from employing violent means to make the Pakistani state realise its power and relevance.
Real issue irking both the parties on the either side of the divide is their xenophobia that invariably runs amuck with disastrous consequences. Any peaceful means or negotiation for both MQM and Shiv Sena is not a worthwhile option to resolve thorny issues.
The reason why the parties representing the urban bourgeoisie typify violence as a mode of their politics is that they were conceived and, subsequently, founded as a reaction to a certain situation. MQM was conjured into existence as a reaction to the perceived socio-political hegemony of the Sindhis, which had become quite disconcerting for the Muhajirs during Zulfikar Ali Bhuttoís regime. Later on, in Karachi, ethnic swords were crossed between Muhajirs and Pathans.
Thus, violence became an order of the day in the biggest city of Pakistan.
Muhajir communityís ghettoised mode of habitation in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur immensely helped MQM in its advent as a political force to be reckoned with. In any event of violence, law enforcement agencies found those areas virtually impermeable. Ever since the 1988 parliamentary elections, after ensuring unequivocal electoral support from the Muhajir community, the violent streak in MQM has consistently been on the rise.
Quite like MQM, Shiv Sena came up as a mouthpiece of Marathi speaking people, the natives of Maharashtra against Gujarati migrants. Many Gujaratis had settled in Mumbai (then it was Bombay) and its adjoining areas because of economic reasons. That ethnic friction had its basis in economics than anything else. But from 1980s onward, the focus of Shiv Senaís antagonism shifted to the Muslim residents of Maharashtra. Thus the economic grievances were articulated through the idiom of religious exclusion, by pitting Marathi Hindus against Muslims, later being stereotyped as essentially anti-Hindu. Historical figures like Shivaji, an anti-Mughal Maratha icon, are accorded prominence in the public discourse.
All said and done, Shiv Sena too was reacting to a certain situation which, to its reckoning, had pushed the Maratha community, it claimed to represent, over the precipice.
Historically speaking, the South Asian urban bourgeoisie, irrespective of the cultural or religious differences, seems to have followed a similar pattern in its political orientation and trajectory. It has been influenced from the reform movements which had surfaced in the late 19th or early 20th century. Arya Samaj, Hindu Mahasabha or Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, abbreviated as RSS had a tremendous clout among the Hindu middle classes. People like Keshav Baliram Hedgewar, M.S. Golwalkar, Madan Mohan Malviya, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar and Lala Lajpat Rai too cast a considerable influence on the Hindu bourgeoisie.
Gandhi, Nehru and Azad were relevant only to the high politics at the all India level. Lower/lower middle echelons of Hindus from North India in particular, sought inspiration as well as guidance from the people mentioned above. Socialists like M.N. Roy, P.C. Joshi and Kunwar Muhammad Ashraf tried to carve out a niche for their ideology but, in retrospect, we can say it did not work as much as their counter ideologies.
Eventually, success came to the vision/ideology embedded in the reforming of the Hindus through religious injunctions. Liberal values were looked at with suspicion, as a colonial ploy to sabotage the indigenous traditions and culture. However, these people did not reject everything with the western tag. They accepted modern tools and more importantly the method of classification. Thus factional and sectarian exclusion crept into their ranks in a tangible manner.
Consequently, accepting anything that is different proved impossible. Acceptability of what is different comes only through liberalism. Moral values steeped in religious reformation galvanise people to unilateralism.
The pattern with Muslims is uncannily the same. As and when they felt Western tools and methods suited them, they were readily adopted. Socially too, they tried to re-invent themselves through religious reforms. Liberal traditions that Quaid-i-Azam stood by were shunned quite conveniently. Even the great leader had to make a huge compromise by accepting the likes of Shabbir Ahmed Usmani and Zafar Ahmed Usmani etc. The reason for that compromise was the enormity of influence that the reformists had over the Muslim middle classes.
Majlis-i-Ahrar, Khaksar Tahreek and later on the ascendancy of Jamaat-i-Islami brought Muslim Leaguers to the position of vulnerability. Fundamentally, the Muslim middle class (salariate) was conservative rather reactionary; therefore, it succumbed to the ideology identified with socio-political exclusion.
The people who lent support to MQM from 1980s onward were the progeny of the old Muslim Leaguers. Although their political sentiment is ventilated through the idiom punctuated with ethno-linguistic particularity, the pattern of exclusivity harks back to olden days. Like a typical representative of urban bourgeoisie, MQM is highly conservative, overtaken by xenophobia and they take to violence in order to actualise its political self.
Casting even a furtive eye on the antecedents of the present-day violence, a phenomenon that has become ubiquitous as the principal determinant of South Asian politics, the impact of World War II and Indian partition can hardly be overlooked.
The six-year long WWII bred jingoistic tendencies among the North Indian youth. Oxford historian Yasmin Khan notes, ďThe war sharpened dichotomies between the wealthy elites and the vast number of the very poor, heightened social tensions and exacerbated differences of cl**** caste and religion.Ē In the 1940s, Gandhiís pacifism virtually became redundant in the face of the aggressive mode that the seekers of freedom from the British Raj came to embrace. Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel (1875-1950) and for some, Subhash Chandra Bose (1897-1945), became far more relevant than the primordial figure of Gandhi. Similarly Muhammad Ali Jinnah did not shun his constitutional course of action but he also resorted to Direct Action, an understudied subject by Pakistani historians for obvious reasons.
Direct action snowballed into a large scale catastrophe, leading to a loss of thousands of lives. It turned from catastrophe to a disaster when its reverberation reached Punjab. All said and done, cumulative effect of the World War II and the direct action turned partition into one of the deadliest events in the entire human history. Three major communities, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, suffered immensely during the partition but one may argue that the pangs of that event have been indelibly etched on the collective psyche of Pakistanis. In Pakistanís national narrative, partition is projected as an event, signifying the villainy of the Hindus and Sikhs; thus the claim of securing a separate homeland for the Muslims stands validated.
Most of those espousing jihad against India have, in one way or the other, experienced torments and tribulations of the partition.
Having looked at the influence of these two events on the violent behaviour in the subcontinent, it will be pertinent to underscore the religio-political parties/groupsí fascination with such figures like Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. They were conceptually-inspired and, to a considerable extent, modelled after Nazi and Fascist parties. The very organisation of such groups or parties (anti-British in their outlook and orientation) like Majlis-i-Ahrar and Khaksar Tehreek or even Jamaat-i-Islami was structured on the pattern of Nazis, Fascists and Communists as these were the only potential dispensations, which could offer the religio-political parties with any alternative to the British colonial structure.
Unfortunately, that aspect of these organisations is starkly under-researched area of scholarship.
One must bear in mind, however, that these parties stemmed out of Khilafat Movement (1919-1924) and drew inspiration from the reactive political mode manifested in the 19th century (post War of Independence) reform movements. It is important to note that the politics of agitation among Indian Muslims, in an institutionalised sense, had its roots in the Khilafat Movement.
In the subsequent period of history, Majlis-i-Ahrar and Jamaat-i-Islami made such form of politics into a lasting tradition. However, they retained their tightly-knit organisational structure, which their founding leadership emulated from the Nazis and Fascists. They rescinded popular politics.
In the post-partition days these organisations, along with Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam and its multiple offshoots, symbolised the ultra-rightist brand of politics in Pakistan.
Interestingly, the same holds for the Hindu fundamentalist parties like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS), which later on procreated the militant Hindu organisations like Vishwa Hindu Prashad (established in 1964), Shiv Sena (established in 1966) and Bajrang Dal (established in 1984) etc. RSS volunteers are still being disciplined, drilled and trained on the pattern of Nazis and Fascists. The commonality in all these parties/groups is their stress on exclusion which goads them on to the anti-liberal path.
To all of them, violence is the legitimate source to notch up their political ends but, unlike Franz Fanonís emphasis on the violent means in order to weed out exploitative (colonial/new-colonial) structure(s), they employ violence to promote their reactionary and regressive agenda. The Ram Janumbhoomi event in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, India (in 1984), provided RSS and its subsidiary organisations a shot in the arm.
Now we turn our gaze to the Islamic parties in the post-colonial situation with Jamaat-i-Islami as our prime focus.
During the initial years, Jamaat-i-Islami had a hard time in securing a foothold in the newly-founded state of Pakistan. The Jamaatís founder Maulana Maududi only escaped by a whisker from execution in 1954 when he had joined hands with other religious leaders against Ahmadhis. Some of his well-wishers in the government (like Abdur Rab Nishtar and Fazlur Rahman) came to Maulanaís rescue.
The Jamaat made its headquarters in Zaildar Park, Ichra, Lahore but it had sizable support in Karachi among the Mohajirs. Most probably, the afflictions caused by the partition had turned them politically conservative; because along with Jamaat, Jamiat-i-Ulema Pakistan (Barelwi group) also had its political base in Karachi. That support remained quite consistent until the Mohajjir Qaumi Movement (MQM) emerged on the political scene in the mid-1980s.
The Muslim League was confined to the Punjab only, where it was divided into two factions. Its rejuvenation became possible only under Ziaul Haq and his campaign of demonising politics and politicians (particularly those having liberal-left leanings). Ironically, both of these parties representing religious right suffered erosion in their political support in Karachi. The MQM completely shorn of any ideological underpinning resorted to violence as the only way for its sustenance. Perpetuating violence as a source of political survival eventually proves self-defeating which has become evident in the case of MQM.
The JI withdrew to Punjab and cobbled an alliance with Muslim League, which had been re-inventing itself with the help of establishment. It lost its own political vitality but its cadre in fact became an ideological core of the Nawaz Sharif-led Muslim League. Similarly, RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal etc. helped Bharatya Janta Party by providing it an ideology. PML-N is the political incarnation of Jamaatís ideology which has worked very effectively against Pakistan Peopleís Party, reducing it as a rump of its former self. Islamist ideology and conservative character of PML-N has made it acceptable to militant groups of different hues.
Secularist parties, on the other hand, were bombed to a sheer marginality in the realm of Pakistani politics. Same is true of the BJP in India. With religious right firmly entrenched in both the countries, the only possibility for the politics of the liberal-left is the implosion of the rightist brand of politics itself.
But it does not seem happening in the foreseeable future. The politics of exclusion is here to stay.