Mairaj Mohammad Khan was appointed minister of labour and manpower in the cabinet of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto soon after the latter assumed power in a truncated country in December 1971. Looking back, it seems ironic that a politician who fought for the cause of democracy, workers, peasants, students, the poor and oppressed all his life, was engulfed in extreme turmoil and state action when he reached the zenith of his career.

Industrial workers had become aware of their rights for the first time after the formation of Pakistan, but unfortunately ignored their obligations towards optimising the factories’ productivity. This scenario led to unlawful strikes, lockouts, and law and order unrest in industrial estates all over Pakistan. The ruthless suppression of a strike by factory workers in Karachi, in which some workers also lost their lives, left Khan with no choice but to resign in August 1973.

The gallant fighter passed away in Karachi on July 21, 2016. Rasheed Jamal, author of Mairaj Mohammad Khan — Baen Bazu ki Akhri Shama Bhi Gul Hui collected the views of 24 writers, poets, politicians, intellectuals and others, who were either friends or close associates of Khan at some stage of his struggle to bring dignity to the lives of poverty-stricken people.

The life and times of a worthy politician from the perspective of his contemporaries

The photo on the book’s cover, of Khan being manhandled by the police, depicts many virtues of his personality. The photograph speaks for itself and confirms the views of almost every writer that Khan was a man of principle, incorruptible and a gentleman, who would not speak even against his adversaries and staunch enemies. Views expressed by all the writers in their respective obituaries, although penned from their own perspective, are almost similar.

The inclusion of two interviews of Khan by the author — one in February 1993 and the other in March 2000 — enlighten readers with his candid comments on the political leadership and the burning issues being confronted at the national level at the time. Those issues continue to prevail in the same form and intensity even today, without any hope of resolution in sight.

Khan played a prominent role in the formation of the National Students Federation (NSF), which continued to be a strong, left-oriented student organisation for a long time. He remained president of the NSF from July 1963 to November 1967. Being an outstanding debater, he would take part in inter-collegiate debates and bring laurels to his institution. Later as a political leader, he was also popular as an effective and impressive orator,
who would mesmerise the audience with his speeches.

The NSF first took up the battle by challenging the dictatorship of Gen Ayub Khan. Concurrently, workers of the federation were busy building public opinion against what was, in their view, the imperialistic power of the United States. Then in 1961, Patrice Lumumba, the first democratically elected prime minister of the Congo, was assassinated. He had played an important role in campaigning for independence from Belgium. As the Central Intelligence Agency came under suspicion for the killing, the NSF initiated a movement in protest. This failed to arouse much public support and was brutally put down by the state.

Khan also led demonstrations against the killing of Muslims in the Indian town of Jabalpur. This agitation eliminated the fear of dictatorship amongst people and developed in them the courage to come out on the roads. He vigorously struggled for the restoration of democracy and organised movements for the rights of students. These included the movements against the three years’ degree course, the universities ordinance and for revival of the student unions. As a student leader Khan also played dominant roles in different movements of industrial workers.

He was jailed by Bhutto and was released by Gen Ziaul Haq when the latter assumed power in 1977. Gen Zia wanted to use him against Bhutto, who was in jail, but Khan being a man of principle refused to extend his cooperation in return for favours. During his political career, Khan spent a total of 13 years in jail.

Khan was one of the the founding members of the Pakistan Peoples Party formed by Bhutto on Nov 30, 1967, and remained its vice president till he left the party on Oct 22, 1974. Bhutto rated Khan at the top amongst his advisors and nominated him as his successor along with Ghulam Mustafa Khar. Soon the PPP was penetrated and dominated by opportunists and people within the party became jealous of Khan’s position and tried to damage his image in Bhutto’s mind.

After leaving the PPP and the cabinet in utter disgust, Khan formed his own party and named it the Qaumi Mahaz-i-Azadi. It was not a large party, but was considered representative of the leftists. Large numbers of liberal and progressive political workers from all over Pakistan joined it. Khan was jailed by Bhutto and was released by Gen Ziaul Haq when the latter assumed power in 1977. Gen Zia wanted to use him against Bhutto, who was in jail, but Khan being a man of principle, refused to extend his cooperation in return for favours. During his political career, Khan spent a total of 13 years in jail at different times, but never surrendered his principles and continued his fight for democracy and the cause of the oppressed masses.

His Mahaz played an active role in the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD), which started on Aug 14, 1983, during Gen Zia’s martial law regime. Despite being a small party, it had the highest number of workers arrested.

Khan joined Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) in 1998 and merged his Qaumi Mahaz-i-Azadi with it as he thought that the former could be developed into a party nearest to leftist ideology. He became general secretary of the PTI, but left in 2003 because of differences on principles with
Imran. Khan was disappointed with Imran as he felt that other than the dream of becoming prime minister, he did not have any other programme.

The author must be complimented for compiling this book so soon after the passing away of a politician whose honesty, sincerity and commitment to the cause and maintenance of ethics in the dirty game of Pakistan’s politics may not be found in anyone else. The new generation has much to learn from all that has been narrated about Mairaj Mohammad Khan.