Faiz and Jasmine, Once Again
It was perhaps in 1951 that the Pakistani police arrested some key communist party leaders, including famous writer Sajjad Ali Zaheer and legendary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, for conspiring to overthrow the government of Liaqat Ali Khan. Known as the 'Rawalpindi conspiracy case' the allegation then was that the party had sent them to organise a revolution in Pakistan. And pray, how did they expect the likes of Sajjad Zaheer and Faiz to accomplish such a big task?
Faiz was a revolutionary poet who exercised sway over his admirers through his work. Sajjad Zaheer was a writer who, too, like Faiz, abhorred the unjust status quo and wanted people to take control over their own destinies. While there is confusion about how seriously the two litterateurs tried to overthrow the feudal-controlled Pakistani regime, but, surely, they were living in an age where words travelled ever so slowly. And yet, their inspiring lyrics have survived and spread many years after they have gone.
During the days of Faiz, revolutions were more in the nature of armed insurrections whereby the Left infiltrated the army or organised their own militias and mass uprisings to boot out corrupt and tyrannical dictatorships or monarchies. Soviet Union, China, Cuba provided the template of such a revolutionary change. Often, one kind of dictatorship gave way to another in many 'socialist' countries from the 1950s to 1980s.
Both Faiz and Zaheer were lovers of peace and justice. The Pakistan government put the 'Rawalpindi conspirators' behind bars for many years, but it did not dampen their enthusiasm for change. Zaheer was repatriated to Lucknow, his hometown, but Faiz continued to be a thorn in the side of Pakistan's military dictators.
Indeed, once again, Faiz is going through a surprising revival - not only because this is his birth centenary year, but also for his immortal lyrics that some people believe prophesied the jasmine revolution that first swept Tunisia and subsequently Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. A blogger, Siyaah, commenting on his poem, Hum dekhenge - "Yeh laazim hai ki hum bhi dekhenge" (Indeed, we too shall witness...) - says: "It is at once inspiring, hopeful, suggests a state of current oppression, and most importantly, predictive. He almost seems to be predicting this will happen, and indeed, we too will witness... The predictions at first glance are quite extreme, almost incredible."
Faiz has gone viral in these times of real-time messaging. His words, "Sab taaj uchaale jayenge, sab takht girae jaenge" (...when all crowns will be tossed, when all thrones will be brought down), are on Twitter and Facebook. The social networking sites are credited with coalescing the anger of the masses and making them step out in protest against brutish, eternal dictators. In Tunisia and Egypt, Facebook posted the date on which people were asked to step out in a massive revolutionary wave. Many sceptics did not believe that anyone would respond till they saw thousands of the young, educated and unemployed, converge at the appointed date and time. Before that, the rebellious youth and intelligentsia of Iran had responded to tweets and taken to the streets. The Islamic regime in Iran brutally eliminated, jailed and tortured many of them, and snuffed out this revolt.
In Tunisia - with 20 per cent internet penetration - and in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya, there were objective reasons for people to respond to the call to take on the tyrants. For many, the tyranny, injustice and wanton loot by the rulers was becoming unbearable. As friends, relatives and cronies of the ruling elite got richer, ordinary people were without jobs and getting pauperised. It's like Faiz saying, "Jab zulm e sitam ke koh-e-garan, ruyi ki tarah ur jaenge" (...when enormous mountains of tyranny will blow away like cotton).
Faiz's revival and growing relevance is also a reflection of what is happening in South Asia. Despite India being a democracy, there is seething rage among the poor who have been left out by neoliberal economic policies. In Pakistan, besides compelling economic reasons, the educated and urban youth hate the way their country's unequal relationship with the US has turned it into a cauldron of violence and atavism.
Among all the countries of the region, Pakistan seems ripe for a jasmine revolution, but directed more against the US than its own lame duck leaders. A Faiz or Sajjad Zaheer in 2011 would have tweeted their verses and got their followers out in big numbers - and brought the change that they waited for all their lives.