‘Kerala should be proud of me. I have kept the Malayali flag flying in Pakistan,’ Pakistan Peace Coalition Secretary General B M Kutty tells Aditi Phadnis, describing himself as a ‘simple man’. Edited excerpts:
You are many things – a Communist, a Malayali and a Pakistani. That must be confusing…
Not at all. I am a Malayali at heart, but also a Pakistani. And yes, if being a Communist means giving voice to those who have nothing and raising issues on their behalf, I am a Communist too.
I am in India to release my book, with the help of the Policy and Planning Group (PPG). It is called Sixty Years in Self-Exile: No Regrets.
My formal credentials as a political workers are: I started my political life in the 1940s as an active member of the Kerala Students Federation. Between 1950 and 1957, I was associated with the Azad Pakistan Party in Lahore and later with Pakistan Awami League in Karachi. From 1957 to 1975, I was actively involved in the politics of the National Awami Party (NAP). After NAP was banned in 1975, I worked with the National Democratic Party till 1979 and with the Pakistan National Party from 1979 to 1997. Since 1998, I have been associated with the National Workers Party as its central information secretary. I also served as the joint secretary-general of the Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) for three years. I was also the political secretary to the Governor of Baluchistan and currently am the secretary general of the Pakistan Peace Coalition.
From Kerala, how did you land up in Karachi?
I was influenced by the Left movement in Kerala and, when I finished college, I thought I would go to Bombay, rather than returning to Malabar. There was a sizeable number of Malayalis in Karachi in a variety of businesses – mostly pan shops, beedi-making units and running restaurants. Karachi stirred my imagination, so from Bombay I took the train to Jodhpur and, after an overnight stop in Munabao, we walked to Khokhrapar. Passports had not been introduced yet. We could see scores of men, women and children – muhajirs – heading for the border. We, too, were welcomed as muhajirs. But, were we really muhajirs fleeing from communal violence? No we were voluntary fugitives.
We exchanged some currency at Khokhrapar. The notes were the same Government of India notes, only ‘Government of Pakistan’ had been superimposed on top.
Pakistan used to have a strong Communist movement. Where did it go?
In India, the Indian National Congress had already emerged as the political party of the country’s upwardly-mobile educated middle class and the upcoming capitalist class.
In Pakistan, it was different. From the very outset, it suffered from the lack of a clearly defined ruling class. The Pakistan Muslim league failed to become a ruling party in the absence of such a ruling class.
When the partition took place, a lot of people left Pakistan. The Hindus from Punjab migrated to India and the Muslims came to Pakistan. They came from Bombay, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh. They were Muslims, some were Communists, but they were Urdu speakers. They were also more educated and therefore got plum jobs. The locals began to feel colonised all over again.
In Sind, for instance, Sindhi was the court language, it was rich and well-developed. But, Punjabi rapidly became the language of communication of the elite. I hold no brief for language politics, but the atmosphere of the day was such that if you comunicated in Urdu and Punjabi, that was the ticket to success and fame. The local, Sindhi-speaking ruling classes were left behind. This happened in all walks of life – and in the leadership of the Communist Party as well. So slowly the hold of the Communist party withered, because under the leadership of Urdu-speaking Communists from India, communication and organisation became harder. In the eyes of the working class, Communists now looked no different from the Muslim League.
Those who went to Punjab were assimilated. But Karachi was totally different. Punjabis needed allies. Muhajirs (those non-Sindhis who went from India) quickly became their allies. Punjabi feudals and bureaucrats used them.
Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was Sindhi at the time Baloch, Pushtun and Sindhi nationalisms were tearing Pakistan apart…
I had a tumultuous relationship with Bhutto saab. The first time I met him in 1973, he asked me questions that I could not fathom. He said, “Why did you come to Pakistan? Unlike the Biharis and the UP wallahs and the Delhi wallahs, you had no compulsion to leave that paradise called Kerala. It also has the politics of your liking. Then why did you give all that up and come here?” He was very friendly and seemed to have got updates from the intelligence department about all the times I had been arrested for political work – and that was several times – and reminded me jovially about the Intelligence Bureau chief’s note about my ‘secret contact’ with the Soviet Consulate.
And yet, throughout the time, he was assessing how I could be used. The plan became clear when he sent a word for me saying he wanted to meet me ahead of a conference of world Muslim leaders in Lahore in 1974. Baloch and Pushtun leaders were in jail (put there by him) and he did not want to face embarrassing questions. Could I speak to the political leadership? He would have them taken out of jail and escorted to the reception in honour of Islamic Summit members with full respect?
I was dumbfounded. They were my colleagues, in jail for a cause, and he was asking me to negotiate with them? He might have seen that in my face. So he laughed the suggestion away and asked me to forget it.
I met him several times after that. Our relationship was political, but also personal. After our last meeting, I had to leave for Kerala to see my ailing father. When I was boarding a bus from Calicut to Tirur, my home town, I saw a hawker selling a special supplement of a local Malayalam newspaper with the screaming headline: “Pakistanil veendum pattala bharanam; Bhutto thadavil (Military coup in Pakistan again; Bhutto arrested) I rushed home to hear Zia ul Haq’s broadcast that was to follow.
What is happening in Pakistan today?
What is happening in Pakistan is not limited to that country. Many other South Asian countries face religious fanaticism and terrorism. Blaming each other is really no solution. Since the problems are common, we need to take a collective view to solve them. We need to look and work in a regional framework rather than being solely governed by national interests.