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LITERARY NOTES: Progressive Writers’ Association in Pakistan: a research-based analysis

LITERARY NOTES: Progressive Writers’ Association in Pakistan: a research-based analysis

PROF Fateh Muhammad Malik’s latest book Anjuman Taraqqi Pasand Nusannifeen Pakistan Mein: Islami Raushan Khayali Ya Ishtiraki Mullaiyyet (Progressive Writers’ Association in Pakistan: Islamic enlightenment or communist mullah-ism) discloses quite a few secrets about some progressive bigwigs and their strategies in Pakistan.

The book is a kind of invitation to Pakistani intellectuals, especially those with leftist leanings and a scorn for Pakistan, to see things in the light of some secret documents that have recently been declassified. One feels that in retrospect, progressives need some soul-searching sessions.

The book has two chapters and quite a few appendices. The first chapter analyses the activities and the political role of the progressive writers during Pakistan Movement and the second evaluates it in post-independence era. The first chapter highlights the role Syed Sajjad Zaheer played and the second discusses Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi’s views and his activities viz-a-viz the Progressive Writers’ Movement.

In the preface Prof Malik says that “much has been written on progressive literary movement in British India and post-independence India and I have benefitted from it but I have always felt that much of whatever has been written is restricted to London, Lucknow and other Indian centres of progressive movement. Progressive literature in Pakistan is not the central theme of those works and this feeling gave impetus to this book.”

The first chapter of the book has raised many questions about the personality and motives of Syed Sajjad Zaheer, one of the pioneers of the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA) in the subcontinent. Sajjad Zaheer had founded the All India Progressive Writers’ Association (AIPWA) in London and later when returned to India and launched the movement in the subcontinent.

Malik says that in the beginning the PWA was a united front accommodating writers and political workers who came from different backgrounds but slowly and surely it became a victim of the personal friendship between Jawaharlal Nehru and a few writers who had made the PWA the literary wing of the Indian National Congress. Malik has much appreciated Rakhshanda Jalil for finding rare and classified papers and proving with documentary evidence that Nehru and some of the bigwigs of the PWA, such as Mahmood-uz-Zafar and Sajjad Zaheer, had very cordial relations and Zafar and his wife Rasheed Jahan had stayed at Nehru’s residence as personal guests.

She has also revealed that Sajjad Zaheer was in close contact with the communist parties of the Soviet Union and Britain (Rakhshanda Jalil’s book A Literary History of the Progressive Writers’ Movement in Urdu has been published by Oxford). The report written in January and April 1936 by the director of intelligence bureau confirms that Sajjad Zaheer organised AIPWA in London with Soviet communist party’s support and he received monetary support too.

After Independence, writes Malik, the Indian communist party’s second congress was held in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1948 and out of 632 delegates only three were Pakistanis. And the person appointed as the general secretary of the Communist party of Pakistan and sent secretly to Pakistan was an Indian national: Syed Sajjad Zaheer. Sajjad Zaheer remained underground throughout his stay in Pakistan until his arrest in March 1951. Interestingly, it was decided that that East Pakistan’s communist party would retain links with the Communist Party of India (CPI) but Pakistan needed a new communist party, headed by an Indian who regularly sent secret reports to the CPI.

The book claims that Sajjad Zaheer was involved in the 1951 Rawalpindi Conspiracy and that Pakistani Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan’s visit to Soviet Union was delayed because those who mattered in Moscow were waiting for the military coup planned to topple his government.

An interesting incident quoted in the book from Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s writings shows how the progressives disliked Allama Iqbal and what their official policy was in this regards. According to Faiz, in 1949 it was “ordered” that we should “demolish Iqbal”. Faiz was much aggrieved and, according to his own account, did not attend such meetings anymore.

The second chapter portrays Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi as an enlightened and liberal Muslim who was against, what Malik has described as “communist Mullah-ism”. By that he means a staunch and nonsensically rigid thinking of some of the progressives who thought adhering strictly to the communist manifesto was the only way one could be a true progressive. Sajjad Zaheer wanted to promote Marxism at the cost of spreading hatred against Pakistan, adds Malik, but Qasmi, on the contrary, thought that progressives should accept Pakistan because the well-being of millions depended on it. Qasmi had a much more accommodating views and despite being a progressive was not against religion, concludes Malik.

One of the appendices reproduces a declaration which was signed by only one progressive writer — Faiz Ahmed Faiz — and the rest of them declined to sign it since it demanded support for Azad Kashmir.

Prof Fateh Muhammad Malik is a veteran Pakistani intellectual and academic. He has taught at prestigious universities in Pakistan and abroad. Despite being associated with progressive school of thought for quite long now, Malik Sahib is known for his balanced views and a deep love for Pakistan, something quite evident from the large number of books and critical and research articles that he has penned.

Though many would not take the book without a pinch of salt, it is based on research and quotes some recently declassified documents. This thought-provoking book is a must read for anyone interested in the subcontinent’s literary history and progressive philosophy.

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Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2016

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