Heroes of the Left
Jam Saqi’s passing away on March 5, 2018 marks the closure of another chapter in the long and largely forgotten saga of the Left’s struggle in Pakistan’s history. Born in the village of Jhajj in Tharparkar, Sindh, Jam Saqi’s father was a primary school teacher and social activist. Jam Saqi even during his youth was attracted to the ideas of social, economic and political justice. His early consciousness of the issue of mother tongue and languages could not but propel him towards resisting the idea of a monolithic culture, language and identity in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic country. These early formative influences propelled Jam Saqi towards student activism, in which he has to his credit the formation of the Hyderabad Students Federation in 1964 and later the Sindh National Students Federation. Both student groups were affiliated to the underground Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP), which Jam Saqi joined in 1963, rising to its general secretary while being incarcerated along the way for 15 years by civilian and military regimes alike. Many of those years in prison were spent in solitary confinement, with bouts of torture punctuating his agony. In fact it was the rumour of his death by torture that drove his first wife to commit suicide in 1978. Jam Saqi was a hero of the resistance to One Unit before 1970, the Yahya military regime’s crackdown in East Pakistan in 1971and the military operations in Balochistan by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s. For all these efforts, the state ‘rewarded’ him with terrible incarcerations and torture. He was in the forefront of the struggle against the military dictatorships of Ayub and Zia and paid the price. In 1978, despite his opposition to the elder Bhutto’s military crackdown in Balochistan, Benazir Bhutto among other luminaries testified at his trial by a military court and declared him a patriotic Pakistani who should be released. By the time the communist ‘mother’ state the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, the Left in Pakistan had already splintered, fractured and become largely irrelevant a good decade earlier. Although he accepted the secretary generalship of the CPP in 1990, a year later he resigned and moved on to mainstream politics by joining the PPP.
While it is necessary to remember and pay fitting tribute to Jam Saqi and others like him who sacrificed their lives for the ideals of a just and equitable state and society, it is lamentable how our failure to record and archive memory and history has led to an amnesia about these historic personages and events, particularly where the younger generations are concerned. It would be instructive for them and for society generally to revisit the history of the Left, particularly that of the CPP. Severe repression attended the efforts of the CPP to organise a workers and peasants movement to change the existing order in the new state since 1951 (through initially the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in which Faiz Ahmed Faiz amongst other communist stalwarts were imprisoned for long years). By 1954 the CPP was banned, driven underground and forced to seek the umbrella of the National Awami Party (NAP) to continue its efforts. Jam Saqi was amongst many leading communists who played an important role in NAP’s history. Despite all that the state visited on him in prison and through torture, Jam Saqi could still be considered lucky to have survived the ordeal, unlike Hasan Nasir, another leading CPP member who died of torture in Lahore’s notorious torture centre of the past, the Fort, in 1960. Agree or disagree with them, no one can deny the courage, commitment, dedication and consistent struggle of the communists against the odds in our history. The veterans of that struggle may or may not have succeeded in leaving behind a legacy that could inspire today’s generations, but that cannot take anything away from their principled struggle. Jam Saqi and others of his kind deserve a better epitaph than our present materialistic society is able to offer.