Dr Ahmad Arslan
Some people have to be called saints despite their expressed iconoclasm. When Jean Paul Sartre wrote on Jean Genet, he called him Saint Genet. Helene Cixous’s commentary on Jacques Derrida is called “Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Jewish Saint”. The words Noam Chomsky chooses to describe his dear friend and comrade, Eqbal Ahmad were “Secular Sufi”. There is something about such creed of men which though may be Anarchists, Marxists or morally non-conformist writers with police records makes them saintly. Saints are strangers in the world of men, people who live in the material world but who shun all its relations. One such stranger in Pakistani politics is Haider Abbas Gardezi.. Kishwar Naheed in her column in Jang mentions him as the only intellectual who has applied for Senate. She has expressed her wish that the leadership of Pakistan Peoples Party makes the wise choice of putting the intelligent heir of Syed Qaswar Gardezi in Pakistan’s upper house of Parliament
Whilst Kishwar Naheed is a master of words and a witness of the progressive movement and history in Pakistan, the names she mentions sound unfamiliar to young Pakistanis who have been taught a monolithic version of history, culture and politics of Pakistan. Mr Gardezi is son of Syed Hasan Raza Gardezi, the phenomenal Saraiki poet. A true bohemian, he was the founder of modern Saraiki poetry. A satirist par excellence and a social anarchist he was the soul of literary and cultural life of Multan. A whole generation of Multani intellectuals grew up under his wings with his memories still fresh in their minds. Famous progressive writer and academic Dr Anwar Ahmad has sketched him in his latest book which covers the personalities who left their imprint on culture of Multan. Hasan Raza Gardezi was a master poet of Urdu and Persian as well but he published only his Saraiki poetry. His book “Dhabay Dohray” is considered one of the most important modern saraiki text. With it he introduced not only modern poetic craft to Saraiki but also a modern consciousness which re-invents meaning of traditional saraiki mystic themes. This book has been translated into English as “Tenements on Sand”
Whilst Mr Haider Abbas Gardezi got love of literature, culture and liberty from his father. His political mentor and teacher was Syed Qaswar Gardezi. He later became his father in law. Mr Qaswar Gardezi holds a very important position in history of democratic and progressive movement in Pakistan. A member of feudal aristocracy which held religious and spiritual leadership due to its association with shrine of Shah Yousaf Gardez one of the patron saints of Multan who is one of the earlier mystics who arrived in Indian subcontinent, Qaswar Gardezi against his class interest joined the Communist movement of Pakistan. He had in front of him an easy way of rising to power by joining the establishment like his contemporaries from similar family backgrounds but he choose a very difficult path of progressive politics, A fast friend of Mian Iftikharuddin , he joined Azad Pakistan Party which later merged with other left wing forces of Pakistan to make “National Awami Party” Pakistan’s first popular social-democratic party. He worked closely with Mian Iftikaruddin and Molana Bhashani and worked as “vice-president” of the party under Molana Bhashani. Mr Qaswar Gardezi also served as secretary general of NAP. He accompanied Mian Iftikharuddin on his tour of USSR and Eastern Europe. On his return he was imprisoned by dictatorship. He was imprisoned many times during different martial laws as well as “democratic regimes”. After disintegration of NAP he worked with Wali Khan and Mir Bizenjo and remained active during the MRD. It was this ideological and principled politics which Haider Abbas Gardezi learned from people like Mian Iftikharuddin, Qaswar Gardezi, Molana Bhashani,Wali Khan and Mir Bizenjo. As a young boy he remembers attending meetings and protests with these great men. He worked in Socialist Party of Pakistan, NAP and PNP of Mir Bizenjo: Always standing with the working class, oppressed nationalities and democratic forces. During the reign of terror of General Zia ul Haq when people were being hanged, lashed and tortured, most of the feudal joined Zia ul haq but Mr Haider Abbas Gardezi stood firm in his opposition to fascist dictator. During the MRD he defied the Martial law and presented himself for arrest at Town Hall Multan in front of hundreds of of people boldly declaring General Zia as a traitor. When he was tried in the Martial Law tribunal, he refused to stand up in honour of the military officer who was trying him. In his statement to the court Mr Gardezi stated that he and others like him are not traitor but those who have abrogated the constitution and hanged the elected prime minister have committed high treason. People of Pakistan, the workers, students, minorities, artists writers all of them support progressive movement against Islamist dictatorship of Zia. He was charged with high treason sent to jail with orders of confiscation of his estate and property and public lashing. It was one of the harshest punishments awarded to any member of feudal classes. Due to public and intellectual uproar he was not lashed but was kept in jail for long time.
During the exile days of London Mr Haider Abbas Gardezi came in contact with Benazir Bhutto. A dialogue continued between them on political problems of Pakistan, national question, left wing insurgency and restoration of democracy, it continued in informal meetings, letters and drafts. After restoration of democracy when Bhutto’s government was dismissed Mr Gardezi sent her a dossier on reasons of this disaster. Benazir Bhutto who had a deep understanding of progressive politics greatly admired his thesis and asked him to Join PPP. Mr Gardezi who was long resisting these requests for the reason that he didn’t want to join a party which was in power joined PPP when it was in opposition. He was soon taken in Punjab Council and he enjoyed confidence of Benazir Bhutto who was a guest at his home when ever she visited Southern Punjab. A man of mild manners and ideological principles Mr Gardezi never engaged in the usual electoral politics. His deep insight into problems of Pakistan and his pro-people stance was acknowledged by Bhutto who elevated him to “Federal Council of PPP”. He was also put in the “Policy Planning Cell” where he closely worked with Benazir Bhutto, Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Munno Bhai and others on important issues. Benazir Bhutto also entrusted him with drafting of her important speeches and policy papers in which Mr Gardezi contributed a lot. The exile and martyrdom of Benzir Bhutto affected him greatly, a misfit in power politics and politics of corruption he fondly talks about Benazir Bhutto as the “Nihati Larki” who all her life tried to light candles in hostile rainstorms.
He passionately wrote on her assassination and often speaks about her vision for Pakistan. He firmly believes that the result of recent elections should have been used to build a “New Republic” which should replace this oppressive post-colonial system. The democratic forces instead of limiting their agenda on small issues like “restoration of certain judges” and “independence of election commission” should have joined hands to bring about “Constitutional Reforms” which transforms Pakistan into a democratic republic: Solving the nationalist question, giving genuine provincial autonomy, ending discriminatory laws against minorities and women. Instead of a Ideological religious state Pakistan should be a voluntary democratic federation of nationalities: A new republic which should address the “economic-redistribution”, land reforms and Industrialization. He states that judiciary needs “reformation” not “restoration” because a restoration without reform will result in the judiciary which is historically a pro-establishment partisan which is inherently anti people. Same is the issue of “restoration of constitution”, restoration of a constitution which discriminates against women, minorities and nationalities. What purpose will it serve? The democratic forces should join hands for “Reforms” and not for “restoration” of old orders. A firm believer in “non capitalist mode of development” which is sustainable and environment friendly he is critical of capitalist globalization which threatened natives, their languages, cultures and heritage. An internationalist who admires Eqbal Ahmad and Arundhati Roy
This man could be an asset for PPP and Pakistan must be utilized, to quote veteran progressive writer Mr Haneed Akhtar who has also requested Mr Asif Ali Zardari to consider Mr Gardezi for Senate. We can only wish his appeal be heard.
[Dr Ahmad Arslan is doctor by profession and a political activist who associates himself with working class tradition of PPP. He is also a volunteer from PPP Punjab in NDI’s Youth Politics development programme]