|Syed : The great man of Sindh
By : Yusuf Haroon
Dawn, 26th April 1995
Ghulam Murtaza shah, the Syed of Sunn, the great political doyen lives no more amid us. The man, the humanist and the last of a generation that shaped our history, now sleeps in the eternal world where peace reigns. It may be easy to paint him as a man with a fixation and as one possessed of chronic stubbornness, yet, the fact remains that he was a man of deep convictions, an honest politician devoted to high objectives and a humanist, who spent his life in the struggle for realizing his vision- the vision of an exploitation-free and autonomous Sindh as envisaged in the Pakistan resolution.
What the late Syed was and what role he played visa vis Sindh and Pakistan, has been debated throughout his life and would continue to be a subject of intensive research but to humble observers like me, he was a great man, who remained true to his convictions and did not mind the price he had to pay for them. All his energies and re sources were pressed into the service of his commitment to his people and the land. His every move and every political affiliation proceeded from that commitment. No consideration on earth could make the Syed abandon his chosen path.
Although he came from a conservative orthodox Syed family owing a barren stretch of land on the bank river Indus and had a feudal background, Syed bore a quite different nature, and his ways were incompatible with the norms of the system he was born into. His instinct led him to struggle throughout his life for improving the lot of the people.
In my early days, (he was fourteen years older than me) I clearly recall seeing Syed as a dynamic man possessing a great enthusiasm to work for the general uplift of the people and in this regard he proved true to his profession.
The Muslim League had little or no following in Sindh in I 920s and sonic minor political parties and groups with a local standing represented the people. They were mostly landlords and moneyed businessmen, a very small fraction of the educated elite were engaged. The Khilafat Tehrik had appeared on the scene in post World War I era. This led to the holding of three Khilafat conferences in 1920. Syed considered it as the movement swayed a platform achieving freedom, and despite his tender age he participated in it and became a driving force for it in Sindh.
His association with the Congress in the 1930s was not an accidental one. He had a clear vision backed by reasoning. He thought that Sindh could achieve freedom along with the Indian Sub-continent, something that would finally lead to Sindhis emancipation. For many reasons he had a firm belief that his dreams would come true, But when he saw that the congress was not sincere in treating Sindh at par with the other provinces the' decided to part ways with it.
Syed's dissociation from the congress was due to the differences over the bills, which he has presented before the Sindh Assembly in I 938 after separation from Bombay presidency.
These bills were transfers of lands, tenancy act, writing off the agricultural loans, condoning interests and abolition of the nomination system in local bodies. Infect these issues had been a constant source of exploitation of Sindhi Muslims who formed the majority of the population.
Syed did not only author these hills but had generated enough support from among the members. Allah Bux Soomro, the then Chief Minister, who ruled with the support of Hindu and independent members, did not want to annoy the Hindu population, tried hard that Syed should oppose the bills but he remained unmoved.
This created a step in the high command of the congress of which the Syed was a member. To persuade him two top leaders Sardar Valabh Bhai Patel and Moulana Abul Kalam Azad visited Karachi on August, 3, l938. Syed stood by his commitments without bothering about the consequences. Me quit the congress a month later.
Sensing what Syed felt about the miseries of the Sindhi Muslims, the Quaid-e-Azam called upon the Syed to join the Muslim League and it was at the residence of my father, Abdullah Haroon, that Syed joined the Muslim league.
Syed's joining Muslim league may not have appeared a very significant step to many at that time, but it proved to be turning point for the party, as he was assigned the task of popularizing the party in Sindh.
I remember everything in this regard was discussed the funds, the main power, the logistics. I knew Syed had the potential. The job was time consuming and laborious and required sources but the manner Syed undertook was a remarkable feat.
Then came the incident of Masjid Manzil Gah, which occurred due to the indecisiveness of the Soomro Govt., and could have been avoided with a little statesmanship. Due to this the Politician from Sunn was jailed for two months for taking possession of the mosque site, only because the Hindus due to their influence in the bureaucracy and the business community had lent support for the Govt. But despite being in the Govt., Syed registered his opposition and bore the punishment for a righteous cause.
His association with the Muslim league and by virtue of it with the Quaid-e-Azam, is a part of history. I know how worried Syed was about the miseries that hounded the people of Sindh. To know them, he would go to every place meet the people and try to understand their problems illiteracy, poverty, disease and exploitation would make the Syed very sad and when back home, he would make every effort to bring some kind of relief. And that would place him in confrontation with the ruling party or with those who represented the interests of the exploiters". The conflict with Allah Bux Soomro on the issues of Agricultural loans interest and tenancy act, was the main cause that led to his resignation from the congress and the Soomro Govt.
His joining the Muslim league was also aimed at advancing his cause. He hoped that after the Muslim league took power it would mitigate the sufferings of the people of Sindh specially the Muslims who suffered at the hands of landlords-both Hindus and Muslims. The Hindus attitude was calculated one. Through the mechanism of money lending they would buy up the small land holdings of Muslims and finally grow into bigger landlords. His struggle from the newly joined platform, the Muslim league, continued but sooner it was overtaken by the other political issues for most among them for independence movement that drawing to a close. The Lahore resolution of t940 was a positive statement of the constitutional aim of the Muslims. The resolution talked of autonomous and independent states.
This was the perception Syed had about Sindh's future. He had thought that it would lead Sindh to a sovereign status along with the other Muslim states in the undivided India. After due consultations with his colleagues and meeting some stiff resistance from the congress and extremist Hindu members he tabled the Pakistan resolution in the Sindh Assembly on March, 3, 1943, the first ever demand made by any province made the undivided India solve spare headed by Syed.
The resolution read: "This house recommends to Government to convey to his majesty's Govt. through his excellency the Viceroy the sentiments and the wishes of this province who have religion, philosophy, social customs, literature, traditions, political and economic theories of their own, quite different from those of the Hindus.
They are justly entitled to the right, as a single separate nation, to have national states of their own carved Out in the zones where they are in the majority in the Sub continent of India.
"There fore, they emphatically declared that no constitution shall be acceptable to them that will place the Muslims under central Govt. dominated by an other nation as in order to play their part freely on their own distinct lines in the order of the things to come, it is necessary to have independent national status of their own and hence any attempt to subject the Muslims of India under one central Govt. is bound to result in civil war with grave and unhappy consequences".
With such glorious services for the Muslims of Sindh and for the cause of freedom one wonders, why Syed parted ways with the Muslim league in the crucial stage of the 1946 elections to me this has a very simple explanation. The Quid’s personality bore an immense influence over his colleagues and the working committee. Occasionally his wishes and desires were taken as party decisions. The award of party tickets during the 1946 elections that was to become a verdict on creation of Pakistan, became the main issue. Mr. Syed was not awarded party candidacy and instead, those were awarded tickets that had made little contribution in providing a firm footing to the Muslim league in Sindh. Against this, Syed revolted, made representation and tried changing the decision by presenting his credentials but the Quid did not alter his decision. A defiant Syed quit the party informally, and defying the party decision, contested the election against the Muslim league candidate and lost _a decision still disputed for the allegations of ballot rigging.
The formation of Pakistan was not less joyous for all along with Syed, but he resisted the resolution of the Muslim league working committee of New Delhi, which had changed the contents of the demand made in Lahore resolution where in the demand of creating "independent national states" were replaced by "an independent Muslim state". Syed thought that this was a deviation from a major decisions by a selected few.
And thus, began his long struggle for an independent Sindh that continued till his last.
From the federalization of Karachi in 1948 to the refusal to grant evacuee property to the Sindhi Muslims from "colonization" of Sindh's lands and resources to the elimination of poverty and exploitation, Syed fought for almost every moment of his life. He resisted the unilateral decision of Ayub Khuhro, suffered tyrannical rule of Ayub Khan and his more stubborn Governor Nawab Kala Bagh and the ruthlessness of an equally unkind Yehya Khan. He withstood the harsh treatment meted out to him by Z.A. Bhutto and finally at the hands of the present Govt. perhaps, he is first leader of Sindh to have died in captivity and without even being heard by a Court in which he was prosecuted for sedition.
I had long spells of discussions of short exchanges with him at various occasions during almost every period. I remember him meeting people from all parts of the Sindh and from all walks of life. I still recall the kindness and sympathy with which lie would deal with them and help them resolve the issues. No one who visited his place would be without having enjoyed his hospitality. He was generous, helpful, kind humane, yet being a man of deep convictions.
Sindh was his life. He lived for it, preached for it and died for it.