Shaheryar Ali

Some Theoretical Considerations: Death of Pluralism

“The article is intended to be the theoretical first part of a series of article on the suppressed cultural identities[A Pakistan you never knew] in Islamic Republic of Pakistan, One on the fate of Pakistani Jews has already been published and can be reached here

A couple of years back I was reading a research report by a very intelligent Pakistani academic who works for the International Crisis Group, Dr Samina Ahmed on the rise of sectarianism in Pakistan. Being trained in the progressive tradition myself I was familiar with the theoretical framework in which Dr Ahmed operates, state and its origin, adaptation of an ideological character by the state, cold war and Jihad etc. What strike me and infact fascinated me was a passing remark by her on working ideology of all sectarian groups of Pakistan, she wrote they all operated on the “principle of exclusion

This was a remarkable observation if one wants to understand the ideology of sectarianism and a sectarian state. States are not just material institutions of economy and violence, state has an ideological aspect as well. Structures of the state create a significant influence on super structures of the society on which it is maintaining control. That means through different ideological institutions, states create culture and patterns of thoughts which help the state to keep control [Gramsci and Althusser]. It has been explained as a mental condition in which a slave thinks and takes his slavery to be a state of “freedom”. This intervention into ideology or the “ways of thinking” became the obsession of western Marxists who were trying to understand failure of revolutions in the Western Europe. A series of whole new disciplines emerged like critical theory and cultural studies which focused on the ideological and cultural aspects of state and/or capitalism

As postmodernism became more influential in universities of Europe and North America, the critique was extended to a similar analysis of “reality” [Baudrillard] and alterations in human perceptions by Capitalism and state/super state. The ideological foundations of Pakistan state [not to be confused with official “Pakistan ideology”] lie in the communal/nationalist strife [Saigol,Rubina] which presumed an “absolute difference” between Hindus and Muslims. Jinnah put forward an argument which utilized “cultural difference” as base of civilization, which differentiated Indian Muslim from Indian Hindus with whom he shared same ethnicity and language [Bengali speaking muslim became part of a different civilization and nation than Bengali speaking Hindu from whom he originated in the first place through conversion]. Hindu and Muslim emerged as grand identities which were rhetorical in entity as demonstrated by the work of great Indian historian Romila Thaper, that before British Colonialism term Hindu or Muslim were rather meaningless in the sense that they didn’t constructed a unified socio-political identity. With the professed anti-clericalism and modernism of founding fathers of Pakistan, ideological intervention became all the more important and a unified cultural umbrella needed to be constructed to legitimize the claim of “distinct civilization”. This logically meant to suppress the ethnic, national and indigenous identities to construct the “Muslim identity” only through which survival of Pakistan was envisioned.

JinnahA study of discourse emerging from ruling elite of Pakistan, the PML and colonial administration which they inherited from Colonial administration suggest an obsession with monism themes as opposed to pluralism. Jinnah’s slogan of “Unity, Faith and Discipline” itself speaks of need to “unify and control”. The slogan relates more to ideologies of totalitarian regimes of Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany than to the Liberal tradition of Western Europe to which Jinnah is said to be trained in. Ethnic identities became the “others” of Muslim identity and as a result an existential threat the new state. The question of national rights was diverted by Jinnah’s stern warning against the “evil of provincialism”, the need to construct a “unified culture” so strong that a man as modern as Jinnah who took up the case of muslim socio-cultural rights in India, stood in Dacca and thundered “Urdu Urdu and only Urdu!” a language which was not the language of even 0.2% of Pakistanis at the time Those who demanded an equal status of Bengali along side Urdu were to called traitors and communists. After Jinnah’s death things became worse and PML which lacked any popular base in East and West Pakistan joined hands with Clerics and Islamic Fundamentalists whom Jinnah thoroughly despised. Jinnah’s handpicked Prime Minister Nawabzada Khan Liaqat Ali Khan, a member of feudal aristocracy passed the Objectives Resolution and state acquired an ideological character.

The ideological apparatuses of the state in form of media, mosques,


Nawab Bahadur Yar Jung

universities and colleges started molding the minds of people. Considering one to be a Bengali or Punjabi was something like treason, same was the case with being Muslim. In British India Muslim was a broader and loose cultural identity which related more to practice of circumcision and burial of dead as opposed to cremation. Different sects of muslims existed and considered their sect to be true version of Islam but due to neutrality of the state didn’t operated on the “principle of exclusion”. The party which took up the issues of muslim socio-political and cultural rights in British India, the All India Muslim League comprised of “muslims” which were distinguishable by their heterodoxy not their orthodoxy. Sir Aga Khan was the president of All India Muslim League who was the Imam of Ismilies which were engaged in a bloody struggle against Sunni and Twelver Shias for more than 1000 years and who were considered “apostates” by clerics of both mainstream sects. Muhammed Ali Jinnah also belong to the Ismaili faith but later converted to more mainstream Twelver Shia faith but was a non practicing muslim by all standards. Many important leaders like Raja Sahib of Mehmoodabad were twelver Shias. Sir Zaferullah Khan was Ahmedi or Qadiani. Dr Allama Muhammed Iqbal was a revivalist who was opposed by Sunni orthodoxy and was rumored to be a Ahmedi as well the controversy ended when he denied these claims by writing an article in Statesmen condemning Ahmedi faith. [Controversy still exist weather he was Ahemdi for some part of his life and even after condemning Qadiani faith he considered Lahori group of this faith as part of muslim community]

Nawab Bahaduryar Jang another prominent leader of All India Muslim League belonged to “Mehdivia” sect. a sect similar to Ahmedies which considered pious saint Syed Muhammed Jonpuri as the Mehdi. Due to this heterodoxy and professed modernism of All India Muslim League the muslim clerics were bitterly against it. But this was to be changed when this movement was to end in formation of the “Muslim Homeland” [Not an intention of Jinnah according to some historians, most notably Dr Ayesha Jalal]. With the formation of Muslim homeland the question “Who is Muslim?” acquired a phenomenal character. Before partition as we have said earlier this question was not very relevant because of its oppositional character to the rival identity “The Hindu”. After partition of India on 15th August 1947 all this changed. Muslim identity lost its contrasting “other”, a “moth eaten Pakistan” meant that its founding fathers were already paranoid about its chances of survival; the land which they got was hub of forces which opposed partition of India. Punjab was firmly in grip of feudal, with which Jinnah forged an alliance to make Pakistan, the Unionist Party held power in Punjab. All India Muslim League lacked support and organization in Punjab, the “salariat” class which was motivating the struggle for Pakistan was weakest in Punjab [Alavi,Hamza]. NWFP the province of overwhelming muslim majority despite best efforts of Jinnah stood with Bacha Khan and Indian National Congress. The 1946 elections which were held to decide the issue of muslim representation saw defeat of Muslim League despite support from the British in the NWFP. In Bengal muslim league held popular base but it was due to independent minded progressive leaders whom the central leadership didn’t trusted, Hussein Shaheed Soherwardi, AK Fazel-e-Haq, Molana Bhashani all were to be purged along with all mass base! Jinnah had to lean heavily on “socialism”[He went as far as declaring Islamic Socialism to be guiding ideology of Pakistan in Chittagong] to gain currency in Benagal but his negotiations with the Americans in 1946 had already decided Pakistan’s future alignment with “Anti-socialist block”. Bengali was suppressed, NWFP government dismissed, the party banned and its news paper “Pakhtoon” suppressed [start of press censorship in Pakistan, all this happened in first year of Pakistan]. The party headquarter was bulldozed and police opened fired on unarmed party workers at Barbra killing hundreds of Pushtoons, this despite Bacha Khan’s oath of loyalty to Pakistan. In Sindh , GM Syed had already left Muslim League depriving it of much popularity, the loyal faction of  Sindh League was  also disenfranchised when Jinnah dismissed Sindh government as well when CM opposed  partition of Sindh [separating Karachi from Sindh] This would be the start of never ending Sindhi-Mohajir conflict. Balochistan had to be annexed by force when upper and lower houses of Parliament of State of Qalat explicitly rejected proposals to join Pakistan. Khan of Qalat signed the document of accession but wrote himself that he didn’t have the authority to do so.

All these events which took place in first years or couple of years after birth of Pakistan unfortunately counterpoised “Muslim identity” against the local identities which also represented political opposition to Pakistan’s ruling elite. It became a rule to suppress any expression of cultural identity other than the official “Muslim” one. This was to be what I call “death of Pluralism” in Pakistan. After deciding the fate of national identities, the project of defining “muslim” came on agenda. Death of Jinnah accelerated the process and state’s alliance with fascist theorist Abul ala Maudaudi emerged. He gave a series of lectures on Radio Pakistan on Muslim Nationalism. Objectives resolution was passed, later Anti Ahmedi agitation started, the anti clerical vanguard in state tried to give a final resistance to the clerics. Justice Munir’s report tried to put clerics at their place but it was too late. A unified and oppressive muslim identity emerged which put all heretical muslim sects in a continuous state of fear of being declared “apostates”. The irony of history is that with this most of the founding fathers of this country also joined the ranks of “apostates” All alternative cultural expression vanished from the country, the Hindus, the Jews, Homosexuals, Heretics, Nationalists all had to face “cultural Holocaust” After Ahmedies Shias were targeted and now Bravelies are trying to protect their “islam” from muslims


Sir Zafrullah Khan

Eve oh Eve                                                                                    
Why wouldn’t Eve have eaten of the fruit?
Didn’t she have a hand to reach out with,
Fingers with which to make a fist?
Didn’t Eve have a stomach for feeling hunger,
A tongue for feeling thirst,
A heart with which to love?
Well, then, why wouldn’t Eve have eaten of the fruit?
Why would she merely have suppressed her wishes,
Regulated her steps,
Subdued her thirst?
Why would she have been so compelled
To keep Adam moving around in the Garden of Eden all their lives?
Because Eve did eat of the fruit,
There is sky and earth.
Because she has eaten, 

                    There are moon, sun, rivers, seas,

Because she has eaten, trees, plans and vines.

because Eve has eaten of the fruit

            there is joy, because she has eaten there is joy. 

joy, joy–

Eating  of the fruit, Eve made a heaven of the earth. 

Eve, if you get hold of the fruit 

       don’t ever refrain from eating


Let the pavilions of religion
    be ground to bits,
let the bricks of temples, mosques, guruduaras, churches
     be burned in blind fire,
and upon those heaps of destruction
let lovely flower gardens grow, spreading their fragrance.
let children’s schools and study halls grow.
For the welfare of humanity, now let prayer halls
be turned into hospitals, orphanages, universities,
Now let prayer halls become academies of art, fine art centers,
          scientific research institutes.
Now let prayer halls be turned to golden rice fields
          in the radiant dawn,
Open fields, rivers, restless seas.
From now on, let religion’s other name be humanity. 


  They have made Noorjahan stand in a hole in the courtyard.
  There she stands submerged to her waist, her head hanging.
  They’re throwing stones at Noorjahan,
  stones that are striking my body.
   I feel them on my head, forehead, chest, back,
  and I hear laughing, shouts of abuse.

  Noorjahan’s fractured  forehead pours out blood, mine also.
  Noorjahan’s eyes have burst, mine also.
  Noorjahan’s nose has been smashed, mine also.
  Noorjahan’s torn breast and heart have been pierced, mine also. 
        Are these stones not striking you? 
  They’re laughing aloud, laughing and stroking their beards.
 Even their caps, stuck to their heads, are shaking with laughter.
 They’re laughing and swinging their walking sticks.
 From the quiver of their cruel eyes,
 Arrows speed to pierce her body,
 My body also.

         Are these arrows not piercing your body?


The other day in Ramna park I saw a boy buying a girl.

I‘d really like to buy a boy for five or ten taka,
a clean-shaven boy, with a fresh shirt, combed and parted hair,
a boy on the park bench, or standing on the main road
          In a curvaceous pose.

I’d  like to grab the boy by his collar
          and pull him up into a rickshaw –
tickling his neck and belly, I ‘d make him giggle;
bringing him home, I’d give him a sound thrashing
with high-heeled shoes, then throw him out –
           ‘”Get lost, bastard!”

Sticking bandages on his forehead,
he would doze on the sidewalks at dawn,
scratching scabies.
Mangy dogs would lick at the yellow pus
             oozing out of the ulcers in his groin.
Seeing them, the girls would laugh with their tingling sound
             of glass bangles breaking.

I really want to buy me a boy,
a fresh, nubile boy with a hairy chest –
I’ll buy a boy and rough him up all over.
Kicking him hard on his shriveled balls,
              I’ll shout, “Get lost, bastard!”

Was a poet ever kept in house arrest?

Taslima Nasreen

Was a poet ever kept in house arrest?
May be she has been a subject of politicking
True she caused clashes once in a while
May be an arson, too.
But no, a poet was never taken to safe custody.
This India, this civilization, this 21st century
They all had welcomed the poet
Ignoring its childish religionism, its merciless politics.
But today, the poet languishes in house arrest.
She has done no offense.

Having been deprived of the view of the sky
No longer she can tell how does the sky look like;
Deprived of the sight of men, no longer can she say how are folks today.
They have left leaving a world of darkness before the poet
They won’t return ever, they informed.

Today for the one hundred and fiftieth day, the poet languishes in safe custody
For one hundred and fifty days the poet is unaware
If this earth yet hosts any creature with a human soul
For one hundred and fifty days the poet is unsure
If she is alive or dead.

Whom she will approach to ask back these days for?
Facing darkness the poet ponders
Who will restore sunrays into her life?
Who is there to bring her back the song of life?

O man, tell me, all who suffered in house arrest
Most of them were poets, a big consolation will that be,
It will relieve the burden of my aloneness.
(Translated by Faizul Latif Chowdhury)

“India has been unique in the sense that Left has been predominant in its “establishment”. For a long time, the ruling bourgeoisie kept raising red banner exciting many “third way” leftist throughout the globe. Nehru emerged as a leading figure of post war world history. Communists of India plagued by their theoretical incapacity kept swining between Nehru and Anarchism. India was partitioned , the communists supporting it, a decision that resulted in destruction of the progressive moslem cadre not only in Pakistan but also in India. The communist parties of India can be accused of every thing apart of being “communist” , but in recent times, what they did in Nandigram is unique in history of left. Weather its “liberal capitalist phase” of Stalinism or overt Fascism, i am not sure. Rajesh Tyagi gives an interesting perspective on the “International Marxist Website”Nandigram

India: Nandigram – the Waterloo of the revisionists

By Rajesh Tyagi in Delhi
Friday, 07 December 2007
The coalition government ruling the province of West Bengal in India, deceptively coloured in Red, under the banner of the ‘Left Front’ ‑ a block of four parties, dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been the vehicle for carrying out so-called “liberal” bourgeois policies. Under the regime of this Left Front, West Bengal has more than ever before become a convenient playground for the adventures of domestic and foreign capitalists. Time and again the Ministers in this government have assured the capitalists that the province of West Bengal is the safest haven on earth for capitalist investments. All the four parties in this “Left” coalition consider the national (“liberal”) bourgeoisie as an ally in their “revolution”, the so-called National Democratic Revolution. But just as this Indian bourgeoisie has itself been under the tutelage of world capitalism so have its allies in the Left Front. Rattan Tata, one of the top Indian capitalists, once said that West Bengal under the Left Front is the best place for investment. This was not a casual remark, but one based on an assessment of the role of this government. In the name of National Democratic Revolution, these parties have long since severed their ties with working class struggles. Instead, they have become proponents of “tripartite settlements” between labour and capital with the mediation of the government, i.e. open class collaborationist policies pursued by this Left Front.Protest
Since 1991, after the proclamation of the introduction of a “liberal” regime of capitalism in India, the direct domination of foreign finance in the economic life of the country has become even more of a reality than in the past and all petty bourgeois opposition to it has been transformed into a farce. Efforts of the West Bengal government have since then been focused on facilitating direct and indirect foreign investment in the province. This “Left Front” has therefore to show, more than others, its zeal in the service of capitalism in general, to assure the masters of world capitalism that the red banner it holds is nothing but a smokescreen, behind which stand the cousins of Gorbachev.

While the other local bourgeois governments, including the national government, were still proceeding at a snail’s pace to concretise the projects of the Special Economic Zones (SEZ), the capitalist hubs for the intense exploitation of labour and thereby the generation of super-profits, this “Left Front” has been taking the lead to prove itself the most deserving promoter of capitalism.

Recently, the West Bengal government burnt its fingers in Singur, where it had unsuccessfully attempted the forced acquisition of peasant land to hand it over to the Tata group of companies for the construction of an auto plant, but had to withdraw ‑ a volte face ‑ in the face of mass resistance. Now, following on the heels of Singur, it has provoked another tragedy in Nandigram, where it entered into an agreement with the Salim Group of Indonesia, permitting it to set up its SEZ for a chemical plant in East Medinipur in West Bengal on about 14,000 acres of land, which would become 35,000 acres in the future, as was planned by the Salim Group. Most of this land is under cultivation of small peasants and it is fertile multi-crop land. The place was deliberately chosen by the company for its proximity to the Haldia refinery to save on costs of transportation of petroleum and chemicals. The West Bengal government “won” this project competing with nine other state governments, after the multinational company selected West Bengal as the best place for such a huge investment.

It would not be out of place to mention that the Salim Group of companies is not an ordinary corporate firm but is the business cartel of one Sudono Salim, the right-hand man of Suharto, ex-president of Indonesia. This is not the first venture of this group in West Bengal; it has a track record of other contracts with the West Bengal government which already had led to controversy. Apart from the Special Economic Zone (which is a 50-50 joint venture with the West Bengal Industrial Development Corporation) it has also been assigned the construction of the 100km long 100m wide Eastern Link Expressway and the construction of a four-lane road bridge over the Haldi River, from Haldia to Nandigram. The proposed bridge would provide a link between Haldia and the proposed chemical SEZ in Nandigram. The BarasatRaichak expressway and the Raichak-Kukrahati bridge, will connect Haldia to National Highway 34. This decision to award the contract for the expressway to the Salim Group also led to controversy, since the preliminary work for the same, including a feasibility study, was contracted out earlier to the renowned JICA. The Agency was kept in the dark about the change in plan until it was announced publicly by the Chief Minister.

For this SEZ project, the West Bengal government was to acquire the land of peasants, under compulsory acquisition laws, in about 29 villages affecting about 40,000 tillers. Out of these 29 villages 27 comprised part of the Nandigram region. The prospect of losing land and livelihood thereby, aroused the peasantry into resistance against this plan of the government. As they saw that the lands were being acquired at nominal compensation, the peasants decided to resist. A joint struggle committee, Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Samiti (Committee for resistance against eviction from land) was formed by various groups for resistance against the forced acquisition of land in the affected villages. The villagers in Nandigram took over the administration and blocked the roads leading to the area under acquisition. The irony of the episode is that until that moment the peasants in this region had overwhelmingly supported the CPI(M), the leading partner in the Left Front, and many of them were its active cadres.

The Left Front government was determined to demonstrate its loyalty to capitalism and to show that it would deal with the mass resistance against it more ruthlessly and better than any other bourgeois government. It thus amassed its own cadres who wore police uniforms, alongside the 3000-strong police force, on March 14, 2007, with a pre-plan to drown the peasant resistance in blood. Getting wind of the crackdown, beforehand around 2,000 village people, women and children included, gathered on the spot.

The police accompanied by CPM cadres and local goons, attacked the crowd without provocation and in the resulting mayhem 14 people perished on the spot. Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, commented that “the oppositional forces have been paid in their own coin”. Instead of retreating, the people challenged the violence and showed their resolve not to succumb to repression and to fight the issue to the end. The supporters of the Left Front parties were driven out of the area by the people. On April 29 fresh violence erupted as the armed police tried to enter Nandigram. A team of intellectuals was assaulted on its way back from Nandigram after disbursal of relief aid.

There was political uproar, putting all the partners of Left Front in the dock. While even the bourgeois newspaper like the Times of India wrote that the party machine of the CPI(M) has become the “sword arm” of the industrialisation policy to settle the issues of property rights. Nandigram resulted in the biggest ever exposure of the revisionist parties and their politics in India. The long-standing supporters of these revisionist parties, among whom were also many honest people, saw with their own eyes the true colours of these parties. Not only opposition parties, but also the some allies of the Left Front came out against the policy of the government. Parliament remained in suspense on this issue for two days and finally on November 21, the CPI(M) was isolated in Parliament with nobody coming to its aid, in view of the widespread mass sentiments against the massacre carried out by the West Bengal government.

But nothing could water down the determination of the masses to resist the move of the government. The West Bengal government ultimately had to shelve its plans ‑ at least for the near future ‑ taking shelter in the assurance that the land would not be taken without the consent of the peasants, suggesting that the chemical city could be built on the sparsely populated Nayachar Island.

Left in the lurch, the Left Front government in West Bengal sought and found the aid and support of the central government led by Congress, immediately returning the favour so given by withdrawing its opposition to the infamous Nuclear deal of the Central Government with the US.

Notwithstanding the blame-game, from Singur to Nandigram, the truth is that the days of revisionist politics can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The advance of so-called neo-liberalism in the country is removing the ground from under the feet of false revolutionists. The polarisation of political forces is the crude reality of this era, whether one likes it or not.

There are going to be thousands of Singurs and Nandigrams. The petty bourgeois mass of small proprietors, which comprises the overwhelming majority of the population and which had been the strong bulwark for capitalism since 1947, is being abandoned by the “liberal” bourgeoisie, as it integrates itself with global capital, and desperately tries to save its positions. The “liberal” bourgeois cannot offer anything to these masses, except ruin. The march of global capitalism, first and foremost, is going to trample on the mass of peasants and the urban petty proprietors. To counter this onslaught, this mass needs to turn to the working class. And this would happen if the working class shows itself capable of overthrowing the “liberal” bourgeois.

We have to remember that the job of Marxists is not to explain to the small petty proprietors that their salvation lies in the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production, of capitalism itself. This stance of genuine Marxist revolutionaries separates them from the petty-bourgeois political currents like the “Maoists” who limit their perspectives to that of operating within the confines of capitalism, of seeking some kind of “progressive” development under capitalism. In this, the future of the land is not to parcel it out in smallholdings, but to develop it along socialist lines. We must defend the small peasants, but explain to them that their future can only be assured within the context of a general overthrow of capitalism. Our efforts must be directed to genuinely “ploughing the land” and not towards “growing in flower-pots”. We must unMarxderstand that the future under capitalist society brings with it the proletarianisation of the masses and not the spread of small-scale proprietorship