‘Mohajir politics has not come to an end.’

Dr. Farooq Sattar, a senior politician, talks to SouthAsia in this exclusive interview with Faizan Usmani and Syeda Areeba Rasheed.

January 2022

Since you are the initiator of Mohajir politics in Pakistan, could you please shed some light on the lessons learnt and reflections from your bittersweet experience?
When the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO) was formed in 1978, there was a prevailing sense of deprivation among the Urdu-speaking people of Sindh, commonly referred to as Mohajirs, the majority of them living in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. The induced feelings of relative deprivation were prevalent in the Mohajir youth, in particular because of the imposition of the quota system, which has been in place only in the Sindh province. For the Mohajir youth, the quota system, based on urban and rural divide, has been the main barrier to government jobs as well as admissions in medical and engineering colleges despite securing high grades and being on merit. In fact, there lies decades-long history behind the ultimate rise of Mohajir nationalism or the making of the Mohajir identity, embodying and venting pent-up sensitivities of a particular community.

For instance, the shifting of the national capital from Karachi to Islamabad hit the Mohajirs hard, not to exclude the ordinance which was introduced by the General Ayub Khan to oust a significant number of bureaucrats right away, the majority of whom were Urdu-speaking Mohajirs. Then, there came a crucial situation when Pakistan’s first presidential elections were held in 1965 and were mainly contested between Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah and Gen. Ayub Khan. The Mohajir community together with a Sindhi-speaking majority gave full support to the Fatima Jinnah’s Combined Opposition Parties (COP) in place of the Pakistan Muslim League (Conventional), which was led by General Ayub Khan and backed by local populations, especially Pakhtuns. Marking a clear-cut divide between the Mohajirs and local populations, the 1965 presidential elections brought to the surface the ethnic polarisation the country has had since its beginning, but this time in a more stark manner.

To cap it all, the ethnic riots erupted in Karachi in the same era determined the future course of politics in urban Sindh. Consequently, the sense of alienation and racial discrimination among the Mohajirs, which was once confined to their subconscious had finally started emerging at their conscious level. Thus, the Mohajir community, despite their political affiliations, was driven to think upon the lines of their ethnicity, which has had its distinct identity and cultural makeup, a discrete lingual choice coupled with a different historical background as well as an all predominating sense of not belonging to the country’s soil.

Then the watershed moment arrived in the late 1960s when the people of Karachi were seen in the front-line in the widespread protest movement against the military rule of Ayub Khan. This was followed by the tragic separation of East Pakistan in 1971, in which the role played by the Urdu-speaking communities that had moved to East Pakistan from different parts of India after Partition and who were seen as pro-West Pakistan, was poles apart from the role played by the local Bengali people of East Pakistan. Having been classified as the ‘others’ the Mohajirs of East Pakistan were later reduced in stranded Pakistanis, commonly referred to as Biharis, and they continue to do so, unfortunately. To make matters worse, no sensitivity was ever shown here in Pakistan to bring those people who supported the Pakistan Armed Forces and openly opposed the disintegration of the united Pakistan. In short, such thoughts were gradually factoring in the making of the Mohajir mindset.

Before the formation of the MQM, were any serious efforts made for the rights of the Urdu-speaking Mohajir community at the political level?

Some efforts to give a political voice to the plight of the Urdu-speaking people were made by the likes of Nawab Muzaffar, M.M. Bashir and Raees Amrohvi. However, it was Altaf Hussain sahib who finally took a firm political stand against the quota system by forming the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO) in 1978. Within a year of its formation, the APMSO emerged as the second largest students organisation after the Islami Jamiat-e-Talba (IJT) at Karachi University.

The emergence of Mohajir politics was the desperate necessity of time, which is still continuing and alive today.

Most importantly, the APMSO was able to win more votes from the university’s Pharmacy Department since it mostly comprised those dejected students who were unable to get admissions in medical colleges, because of quota system restrictions. In a word, the rise of Mohajir politics had become inevitable. Though it was primarily launched by a group of students, Mohajir politics was destined to make inroads on the national scene owing to a number of issues confronting them since ages, for instance the quota restrictions of jobs, unavailability of development funds for Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur, an unfair allocation of trade and industrial quotas and such like.

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