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January 17, 2021

Remembering G M Syed

Opinion

January 17, 2021

Syed Ghulam Murtaza Shah Kazmi, commonly known as G M Syed, was a renowned Sindhi politician, born in British-occupied Sindh in 1905.

For many reasons, G M Syed is considered the father of the Sindh rights movement in Pakistan. And even after his death he continues to remain a towering figure, rallying his supporters, admirers and even opponents on his birthday every year. This year, his 117th birthday is being observed today in Sindh and other parts of the world to remember him, and understand why he remains relevant to political currents in Sindh.

One of the reasons G M Syed remains part of political discourse and movement in Sindh is because he belonged to a political generation which was not just into the business of politics. Like Jawahar Lal Nehru, Azad, Gandhi, Bacha Khan etc, Syed researched history, literature, and authored books on culture and history. Above all, he was seen as someone who inspired the working class and middle-class people. He led an enlightened movement in Sindh representing a modern worldview, and progressive and secular outlook.

G M Syed was a prolific political writer, intellectual and indeed an outstanding scholar whose writings continue to educate and inspire people. All his life he represented a dissenting voice in Pakistani politics, and had the courage and clarity to stand for what he believed in – a true non-conformist who would not compromise his position on the critical questions relating to an equal federation in the country. His stubborn political stand though mostly landed him in prison in cases for which he was never convicted. Syed is perhaps Pakistan’s only politician who did not face any corruption charges, and still ended up spending his life’s precious 28 years in prison.

Despite spending three decades behind bars, G M Syed’s political influence and following never waned. His books continued to change the minds of students in universities, his student movement the Jeay Sindh Student Federation (JSSF), which interestingly came way before the birth of his political party Jeay Sindh Tehreek, was so widely powerful that his political rivals had to form their own party students wings. For example, the PPP formed the Sindh Peoples Students Federation (SPSF) to counter his popularity among students.

Throughout the 1950s and 60s, Syed was the only rallying point among Sindh-based political parties. Even Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, with his political ambitions, had to launch himself by attending meetings held at Syed’s historic residence in Karachi during the anti-One Unit scheme of Iskandar Mirza and Gen Ayub Khan. Ayub’s One-Unit was a negation of Pakistan’s founding document – the Lahore Resolution, passed in 1940 – of which G M Syed was one of the signatories from Muslim League Sindh chapter.

The Pakistan Movement’s records provide us evidence that G M Syed was one of the founding fathers of the country – joining the Muslim League, organizing and leading it at time when the League hardly existed in territories like Sindh, Punjab, NWFP (now Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), British Balochistan (comprising Quetta and adjoining districts) and Kalat State (now Balochistan). With the passing away of Sir Abdullah Haroon in the early 1940s, it is hard to imagine the League being organized in Sindh without Syed’s leadership and influence among the political elite in Sindh.

Had there been democracy, civilian supremacy, and social contract among the federating units based on the Pakistan resolution of 1940, there is little doubt there would have been no G M Syed. He would not have spent 28 years of his life behind bars, and he would have greatly enriched our society, governments and political culture, because one should not forget that for a brief time he was part of the Sindh provincial government in the 1940s as minister of education.

Syed laid the foundation of several long-lasting institutions such as the Sindhi Adabi Board. It is ironic that those who played a key part in this country’s creation were eventually imprisoned and turned into enemies. Syed was not an enemy of anyone; he was a passionate change-seeker for justice, for his land and his people, and that by no means should be considered a curse. The problem was with the state apparatus – not with him or his legacy.

On his political and literary life, unfortunately, there has not been much research work. One great work was done by noted Sindhi diplomat and author M S Korejo. His book, ‘G M Syed: An Analysis of his political perspective’, is a valued contribution in understanding both aspects of Syed’s life, his works, contribution and legacy. Among Syed’s followers one good reflection on his politics has come up from Abdul Khaliq Junejo’s autobiography, published in 2016. The book offers insights into the author's political journey with G M Syed covering the period between the 1970s and 1995.

One does not have to agree with the political destination that G M Syed suggest for the people of Sindh – but overlooking his rich contribution to Sindhi language, literature, history, and critique of Pakistan’s unequal federation would be unjust not only with him but our society too, which badly needs honest and people of character in building a healthy and informed political society. That is why G M Syed continues to live in hearts, minds, books, archives, in the past – and in the present.

Email: [email protected]

Website: www.mushtaqrajpar.com Twitter: @mushrajpar