Rasool Bux Palijo Remains A Beacon Of Light For Sindh And Beyond - I

He knew Sindh, its problems, concerns and potentials like the palm of his hand. On the occasion of the 6th death anniversary of Rasool Bux Palijo, marked on the 7th of June 2024, Ambassador Muhammad Alam Brohi invites us to think about his life's work

Rasool Bux Palijo Remains A Beacon Of Light For Sindh And Beyond - I

“This heroic sage who appeared on the horizon of Sindh from the small village of Mongur close to Jungshahi of Thatta district in January 1930 regained the embrace of his mother soil in June 2018 leaving behind a blazing trail of brilliant scholarly pursuits, rich political literature, ever inspiring books, a treasure trove of knowledge and research, a multi-faceted tale of political struggle, and above all, a strong corps of trained, disciplined, intellectually curious, ideologically motivated, politically conscious, well-read and well-endowed leaders and activists who could be found in both genders and in every field of life who could fight as soldiers for the defence of their land and people on political and intellectual fronts in the footprints of their leader and mentor. They need to be collected on one platform, bound in a dynamic chain of an ideological struggle unleashing their energy and spirit, to carry forward the message of Late Rasool Bukhsh Palijo”.

I just witnessed his political struggle from far off shores and boundaries being busy in my career in the Foreign Service of Pakistan that takes us from shore to shore, country to country and people to people, and makes us internationalist in our view and approach away from narrow nationalism and parochialism. However, I had never slackened in keeping myself abreast of the conditions in the land we look up to as our motherland, and particularly of the uniquely unorthodox, untraditional and, indeed, the legendary political and ideological struggle of Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo in Sindh. I had many of his disciples in the circle of my friends who kept conveying to me the tales of his inspiring struggle. 

Though I did not consider myself qualified to write about this giant of a person of Himalayan stature – a scholar and intellectual of the highest calibre, a relentless pen pusher, an unwavering ideological warrior, a unique political leader, organiser and reformer with his inexhaustible knowledge of regional and international ideological, political and literary trends of historic importance - past and present - I mustered the courage, again on the persistent demand of Mir Mazhar Talpur, and contributed a modest essay for the book. The essay was appreciated by friends and the admirers of Late Rasool Bux Palijo particularly his able and knowledgeable son, Ayaz Latif Palijo.

I took a week to think over the vast canvas of his life-long struggle trying to discern the many bright and varied hues of his legacy. I must admit that new dimensions of his historic struggle surfaced to broaden my understanding of the persona of Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo and stimulating my spirit to undertake this daunting task in a bid to unfold some additional aspects of his struggle. This is a duty to my pen, and even the responsibility of every conscious son and daughter of Sindh to come out to pay tributes to the late Rasool Bux Palijo for his enormous contribution to the political and social awareness of the people of Sindh. He fought or took part in serious battles over many issues of imminent concern to his land and people from the infamous One Unit to the banishment of Sindhi language; the execution of Bhutto; the stealth of the waters of Indus River; the Kalabagh dam; the onslaught on the progressive Sindhi literature by the regressive and obscurant forces.

“Guns have fallen silent; the noise of soldiers has drowned in the depth of the night; but the war is far from over; many serious battles are yet to be fought. The lull is illusory. Do not let the numbing winds of despair overwhelm you. Look at the young moon as it merrily peeps out from a rebellious piece of cloud hovering over Mongur; watch the restless soul rustling the waves of Sindhu and beckoning to us to see the beauty of this motherland; feel her miseries, learn from her patience, aim at mountains, keep above pebbles; control our ego and subdue our pride for her sake. This is what this great man did from his conscious age to his final embrace of the mother earth of his small village.”

I had purposefully ended my earlier essay with this positive and motivational paragraph. It was relevant at that time because I had a lurking fear that, given our historic propensity for political factionalism, the Awami Tehrik, after losing the welding, binding and inspirational leadership of Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo, might break into political factions on the pattern of other political parties of Sindh. It is more relevant today for some serious reasons to be dilated on in the following paragraphs.

I am glad six years after the passing away of their leader; the Awami Tehrik activists and leaders have preserved the political heritage of the late Palijo and kept following his footprints relevant in every battle for the preservation of the core national interests of Sindh, albeit in a comparatively low profile. I know it is not easy for them to match the courage, stamina, strategy, eloquence, intellect, motivating presence and the able and wise leadership of their mentor and leader. Saeen Palijo was a concept, an idea, a vision and a phenomenon. It is difficult to fill in the vacuum created by his passing away.

Like all political activists, revolutionaries and reformers, Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo made his land the centre of his political struggle as soon as he reached the age of consciousness

Notwithstanding their constraints and limitations, they have been listening to his clarion call, his lament over the miseries of the motherland; the tales of the atrocious loot and plunder perpetrated on her by the aliens and her own unscrupulous sons and daughters as much; the audacious capture of her lands and resources in cahoots with her shameless elite and rulers; the systematic destruction of her educational institutions to keep her sons and daughters at a disadvantageous position in the current human march to modernity, technological revolution and prosperity; the unending night raids on the waters of Sindhu; the slow death of the Delta of Sindh; the ferocious encroachment of the Sea on the arable lands of the coastal districts reducing the populace inhabiting the area to an alarming poverty; the growing and unchallenged tyranny of the feudal lords pushing our hard working peasants to hunger, disease and ignorance.

Many battles are yet to be fought. We will not have Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo physically present among us but his legacy, his undying spirit, his ever inspiring lessons, his institutional guidance and overall his ideals are very much here to provide the necessary stimuli for such battles. Ideas are more powerful than swords. Conviction is the core source of strength. Without faith in the truthfulness of their purpose, great warriors fall flat on their faces. The lack of clarity about one’s purpose is the ruin of a movement and a struggle –political or ideological. 

Say farewell to the trumpet!

You will hear them no more,

But their sweet and silvery echoes

Call to you still

Through the half-closed door

Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo must have been watching us and his beloved land from the heaven and feeling sad over the horrible change that has gripped his dear land and pulverised her society remodelling her people’s ethos and values and altering their preferences, needs and worries. This change is refashioning this land of Shah Latif, Shah Inayat, Sachal Sarmast, Shaikh Ayaz into ugly shapes and colours bearing little or no relevance with the Sindh he had idealised. He must have realised that his Sindh has edged on wearing a withered face that mirrors the loathsome callousness of its own sons and daughters who remain indulged in making hay while the sun shines to the peril of their motherland. 

Emerging before him must be some dark images overwhelmingly repulsive in their appearance. Leaving aside a small number of the ideological warriors clinging onto the political and cultural traditions and human values – this great man had cherished, the growing barrenness of Sindh must have caused him pain and anguish. He must have seen our skies overcast with the dark shadows of greed and blemished by the repulsive images of predators gnawing hungrily the flesh and bones of his groaning land. To his disgust, he must have seen these demons of effrontery and shamelessness jubilantly celebrating the silent death of humanity, dignity, honesty and fairness that were part of his faith throughout his life. 

He must have realised his disconnect in every way with this suffocating world disfigured by a new crop of leadership whose basic humanity is buried under layers and layers of toxic arrogance and who are suffering from a blinding sickness that has crippled their conscience and polluted their souls. They cannot see the enormity of social and economic injustice; the unforgiveable Dickensian squalor; the pathetic deaths of our innocent children for want of nutrition and healthcare; the burgeoning industry of kidnapping for ransom; the forcible conversion and marriages of Hindu girls; the collapse of education; the dying souls of our cities and towns. 

Saeen Rasool Bux used to say that the time is short and the task gigantic. The warriors should keep on fighting one battle after the other with their banner fluttering high. He acted like a warrior on his death bed. He would tell the visiting friends, “my body is weak but my spirit to fight is high; a lot of work remains to be completed”. He embraced the inevitability of mortality but left his resilient and redoubtable spirit with us to fight, to rise above shallow thoughts, to keep the beacon alight, to keep his banner fluttering high, to wipe the tear-soaked cheeks of this land, to protect the Sindhu from the looters and plunderers

Long may that brave banner flutter high,

Over mountains, over deserts, over Sea,

Beacon to friends, but a terror to foes,

The most glorious banner there be

Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo, even in his death, confidently beckons to his comrades to keep up his legacy of crusading against the anti-people and regressive ideologies and inhuman rulers. As borne by the evolutionary history of nations, this is a long drawn-out battle, a long haul in human struggle and an unending march against oligarchs, autocrats and anti-democratic forces engaged in curtailing human freedoms and perpetuating social and economic inequity, injustice trampling upon the human rights and values shamelessly.

While imagining Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo being restless in the heaven over the plunder of his land, I went in a reverie and noticed a crowd of noble souls assembling together and trying to shame the predators into stopping this brazen plunder of their motherland. I recognised many familiar images standing in this noble crowd with spurs in their hands readying themselves for a fair fight with the hungry hyenas to save their helpless land from further pain. These images gradually crystallised to be of the illustrious sons and daughters of this land with the conspicuous presence of Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo among them - who had lived their whole life as valiant soldiers fighting fierce battles for its emancipation from the fetters of subjugation.

It seemed, they have parted with the comforts of the heaven to show their dread and disgust over the blatant pillage of their land by its own blind sons and daughters and the shocking apathy and indifference their people have sunk in. A few words I gathered from the murmur of this noble crowd are ‘wither a nation that accepts the wanton plunder of its assets without a voice of protest let alone throwing a challenge to the plunderers’. I saw them moaning in utter helplessness and praying that may the humming waters of the mighty Indus overwhelm these plunderers, destroy their ill-gotten treasures and palaces and sweep their stinking corpses into the marshy lands of the Arabian Sea where wild animals should have a feast on their stale flesh. I heard Saeen Palijo reassuring this noble crowd of the valour and resilience of the people of Sindh who would stand up as a formidable phalanx against the anti-Sindh forces and lead their people in battles on multiple fronts to save their land.

Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo was a multi-dimensional person – a political idealist and indefatigable mentor and leader, an able organiser, a strategist and agitator, a visionary reformer and a wise guide, a prolific reader and writer, a scholar of greater calibre. Before going further in my venture, I asked myself the following three questions which will give a fillip to my thought process, and may, probably, give a different facet to my essay.

I) How did he perceive Sindh in the changing regional and global trends?

II) How did he perceive Sindhu for the agrarian Sindh?

III) How did he look at Sindhi-ness? 

Like all political activists, revolutionaries and reformers, Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo made his land the centre of his political struggle as soon as he reached the age of consciousness. He was not alone in the field. Sindh was already bristling with towering political leaders and reformers of the stature and calibre of Hyder Bux Jatoi, GM Syed, ZA Bhutto, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, Talpur brothers, Shaikh Ayaz, Fazal Rahu, Mir Ali Bux Talpur. These leaders were working for the welfare of their land and her people in their own way. 

The political space available to Late Rasool Bux Palijo was limited. To devise a separate political path in the ubiquitous presence of these leaders was a daunting task. The most interesting aspect of Saeen Rasool Bux’s political life is that he was never impressed by these leaders in the field except for Hyder Bukhsh Jatoi and GM Syed and Fazal Rahu. No doubt Hyder Bux Jatoi’s Hari Committee had become the singular champion of the rights of the peasants of Sindh, and he was fighting the case of Sindh on many fronts ably and effectively. 

This was what attracted Saeen Palijo to have a brief romance with the Hari Committee and its leader. Similarly, he worked with GM Syed for a few months in Bazam-e-Sofia Sindh and never saw eye to eye on his Sindh nationalism veneered by militancy and parochialism. He really developed a good political and ideological equation with the leftist peasant leader, Fazal Rahu and co-founded Awami Tehrik with him. He was inspired by the poetry of Shah Latif, Shah Inayat and Shaikh Ayaz that are immersed in the passionate love of Sindh and her people.

Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo was unique and different from his contemporary political leaders. His love for Sindh was as deep as that of GM Syed. The expression and demonstration of this love by both leaders was poles apart. Palijo’s love for his land was all-embracive and wholesome. Whatever he did, whatever he said, whatever he wrote, whatever he argued and demanded for, whatever he strategised and organised all stemmed from - and streamed into - the infinite Sea of the love of Sindh. This love was ensconced in every pore of his body and gushing through his veins. He was inseparable from the soil of this land. He daydreamed for its advancement and prosperity. While talking of Sindh, he used to fall in a reverie laying bare, in ecstasy, his aspirations, dreams and ideals for his land. 

The fragrance of the land and her people magnetically pulled him refreshing his love for the regions and towns he wandered in; the paths he treaded on; the canals he dipped in; the trees he climbed on; the streets he loitered in; the people he passed his youthful days with. He always and all the time felt parts of his heart, of his blood, of his soul intermingling with these places that recurred to him like a stimulating spirit. This love was neither besmirched by any greed; any desire for wealth and power nor it was dishonoured by any deal or compromise on his principles and ideals. This love was irreproachable and uncompromising beyond any fear or favour.

He knew Sindh, its problems, concerns and potentials like the palm of his hand. He had studied, examined and analysed issues of his land and formulated his strategies and arguments to present them in a befitting manner to a friend or foe of Sindh. He moved from front to front like a brave and confident General leading from the front armed with his razor sharp intellect and the might of his scholarship to fight the battles of Sindh. He always came out victorious from these battles.

His contribution to the agitation against One-Unit was not less than any towering leader. The printing of the electoral rolls in Sindh, the rebuttal of the attack of retrogressive and anti-democratic and anti-Sindh forces on the budding liberal Sindhi literature of all genre penning two small but comprehensive books, the successful protests against Kalabagh Dam tracing back the history of the stealth of the irrigation waters of River Indus by Punjab, the forceful exposure of the MQM as a terrorist and fascist political group when the Pakistan People’s Party was embracing it in a coalition government in 1988 were solely the achievements of this servant of Sindh. 

The MRD would not have impacted the dictatorial rule of Zia had Awami Tehrik not lent its helping hand to it. These were Awami Tehrik’s workers – men and women – coming out of blue in droves with the national hymns from Shaikh Ayaz’s poetry on their lips and courting arrest which drew the attention of the international media to the small towns of Mehar and Khairpur Nathan Shah. They kept the Intelligence silhouettes on their tenterhooks for many months to guess as to who these activists were and where they had been coming from and what was motivating them to do so. When they fully grasped the situation, they immediately decided to lay hands on the leader, their source of inspiration, their planner and strategist. They arrested Saeen Rasool Bux and incarcerated him in Kot Lakhpat Jail.

While penning my recollections about Saeen Rasool Bux Palijo, an important episode pops out from the layers of my memory. I was doing the senior management course in the National Defence University in 2002-2003. We did some academically interesting and educative exercises during the course. One of them is worth mentioning. It was a panel discussion on the problems of the federating units with the Federation. The panel was chaired by General Moeen Hyder, the former Governor of Sindh. Punjab was represented by the former Speaker of the National Assembly, Fakhar Imam; Sindh by the former Speaker of National Assembly, Illahi Bux Soomro; KP by Barrister Iftikhar Gilani and Balochistan by the former Minister of Education, Ms Zubaida Jalal. 

Mr Fakhar Imam, a foreign graduate and an experienced parliamentarian was the first to take the podium. His presentation was candid and balanced taking into consideration the power and influence of Punjab in the federal bureaucracy and the armed forces of Pakistan since the independence of the country and the dissatisfaction of the smaller provinces with the amount of autonomy practically allowed to them in various constitutional schemes. He also referred to the grievances of the Bengalis against the policy of parity and the bigger share of the former West Pakistan in the political institutions of the country and the divisible pool of resources. He suggested that maximum provincial autonomy should be given to the federating units to strengthen Pakistan.

Similarly, Iftikhar Gilani being one of the most prominent lawyers of the country lived up to the expectations of our colleagues from KP. He presented the KP grievances against the Federation in a convincingly rational and cogent manner picking up relevant political events from the early history of Pakistan.

Ms Zubaida Jalal, hailing from a traditionally conservative Baloch tribe of Rinds, represented Balochistan well concentrating on the federal control on the funds allocated to the province for social and economic development. She cited multiple examples in which the funds were released by the Federal authority in piece-meal manner and could not be utilised by the province before the end of a financial year. She painted a pathetic picture of the exploitation of the natural resources of the province and the criminal neglect of Baloch land throughout the long years of the independent Pakistan as reflected by the depressing condition of communications, education and healthcare facilities and the non-existence of economic and employment opportunities in the province resulting in a heightened sense of deprivation in the Baloch land. 

I was hopeful that Mr Illahi Bux Soomro, given his political and educational background, would highlight the grievances of Sindh in a highly convincing manner. He began his speech without marshalling his thoughts dwelling incoherently on the perceived social and cultural behaviour of Sindhis and their deficiency in initiative, drive and mobility. This cruelly razed my hopes driving me to a disgusting disillusion. The Chairman, General Moeen Hyder reminded him more than once that he was supposed to enlighten the audience about the grievances of his province against the Federation instead of dwelling on the characteristics of Sindhis. Unfortunately, he could not regain the right track to talk about the substantial issues of Sindh with the Federation.

We have a breed of politicians in our land whose career in politics has progressed under the numbing awe and supremacy of the overweening military and civil establishments and who are well adapted to echo the latter’s views when they have an opportunity to do so.. Our honourable guest had failed to realise that this was an academic discussion and there was no need to wear the traditional veil of expediency or to shudder away from highlighting the genuine problems of his province with the Federation. At least, he could have avoided echoing the often-repeated slanderous remarks of the establishment about Sindhis and Baloch that unfailingly stereotypes them as incompetent and unqualified for senior positions in the Federation. By the way, we have an army of such power seeker these days sauntering in Islamabad and the provincial capitals of Sindh, Balochistan and Punjab.

Many years after this episode, I met General Moeen Hyder in a private dinner at the residence of Ambassador Najamuddin Shaikh, and engaged him in a conversation. While talking about many things, we came to recall the above episode. He remembered it very well. He said, notwithstanding his admonitions, Mr Soomro was shy of talking on the chosen subject. I told him, that the management, instead, should have invited Rasool Bux Palijo for the exercise. He laughed heartily, and then answered in light mood, ‘In that case, it would not have been necessary to invite representatives of all the other provinces. Mr Palijo would have comprehensively presented their single-handedly’. 

This is what Saeen Rasool Bux was: friends and foes equally admired him as a scholar and intellectual of high calibre. The establishment knew his calibre; his uncompromising principles; his irreproachable character; his utter disgust for any deal and compromise with the anti-people forces; his hatred for the nexus formed between the civil and military bureaucracy, feudal and dynastic political families, peers and sajadah-nashins to capture the state resources and power to the peril of the teeming poor population of the country. He had this hatred for the anti-democratic forces and exploitation of the poor countries by the greedy capitalist world all over the globe. He had a grip over the ebb and flow of the leftist and socialist movements in any corner of the world and used to unravel the cobweb weaved by the exploiting capitalist powers to capture the resources of the third world countries. 

(to be continued)