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Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi: Sindh's first people's politician

August 21, 2015

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Fatima Jinnah and Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi in 1960. —Photo courtesy of Talpur.com
Fatima Jinnah and Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi in 1960. —Photo courtesy of Talpur.com

I was very recently admonished by an old friend, Wali Mohammad for ignoring the prominent figures of the right-wing in my writings, which, he says, otherwise are reasonably good.

This reminded me of how before Partition, although politicians had formed a right and a left wing by then, they were judged for their political actions and leanings, and not for their religious characters; someone espousing secularism would not automatically become a left-wing politician or vice versa.

Shaikh Adbul Majeed Sindhi too, is among those politicians who are remembered for their political position rather than religious manifestations.

Pir Ali Mohammed Rashidi writes on page 69 of Rodaad-i-Chaman, a collection of his columns:

“Shaikh Sahib was never given an opportunity to serve Pakistan. As soon as Ayub Khan, having collaborated with the officialdom, usurped the power, this 85 year old man was thrown into a jail only because he had drafted a ‘Petition of Rights’.”

The petition, a piece of stinging satire, is indirectly-quoted by Rashidi on the same page. It reads:

“O Sultan bin Sultan, currently the Emperor of Pakistan, General Ayub Khan, Field Marshall (without fighting a single war) Time and Earth, and the Inventor of the sham Basic Democracies, may God bless both your victory over Pakistan and your tyrannical rule, because it was you who had originally carved out this country by defeating both the British and Hindus on the battlefield with your sharpest scimitar (when the politicians and the Muslim voters of India had only been talking nonsense).

“For the moment, we, the wretched, the lesser beings of the earth, and the guns of the Paigah aristocracy, only want to petition to you that the voiceless anthropoid insects living in Pakistan (whom we sometimes call the citizens of the country) should not be further deprived of their basic human and democratic rights. Instead of being duped with false promises and political trickeries, they should be tossed at a morsel of human rights, which would save them from an unending humiliation before the nations of the world.”

This 85-year-old man faced persecution until circumstances forced Ayub Khan to quit as president, though the people of the country still didn't get their rights. It was only a change of face: Yahya Khan replaced Ayub.

Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi's ancestors had left Sehwan Sharif to settle down in Thatta. His family belonged to the Noyani clan of the Amil Hindus, who were known for their bookkeeping skills.

Sain G. M. Syed writes in his book Janab Guzaryam Jinseen (The People in My Life):

“Shaikh sahib was born as Jethanand on Sunday 7th July 1889, [according to the Hijri calender it was] 8th Dhu al-Qi'dah 1306 AH. On 10th February 1908, he converted to Islam and was given an Islamic name, Abdul Majeed. When Hindus protested [against his conversion] he was sent to Ludhiana, from where he soon returned to Karachi. He took up residence in Hyderabad when Karachi, too, proved hostile.”

Shaikh sahib had a good grasp of the politics of Sindh and India; he was also a keen observer of international political issues. More often than not, his political analyses would turn out to be accurate. Sindhi’s in-depth knowledge of politics earned him a prominent status amongst his contemporary politicians, who held him in high esteem as their guru.

He understood the inner-workings of electoral politics, and his electoral strategies always guaranteed success.

Once, he decided to run in the provincial assembly elections against Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto from Larkana – a stronghold of the Bhutto family and won. Sindhi had a close association with, and a public appeal among, the working class. His supporters campaigned by traveling on ox-carts, while those backing Sir Shah Nawaz drove around in jeeps, the popular off-road vehicles.

Pir Ali Mohammad Rashidi writes on page 162 of his book Ohaydeenhan, Ohayseehan (Those Days, Those People):

“He was elected to the Sindh Assembly after defeating Sir Shah Nawaz Bhutto in the latter’s home constituency. Sir Shah Nawaz was ousted from the politics of Sindh for good; later, he got a situation with the government in Bombay (Now Mumbai).”

However, Sir Shah Nawaz’s great-granddaughter Fatima Bhutto narrates the same event differently in her memoir Songs of Blood and Sword. On page 43 of the book, she eulogises her great-grandfather Sir Shah Nawaz Butto, and uses some unsavoury epithets for Adul Majeed Sindhi, such as a “complete-unknown” and an “outsider”.

This is what she says:

In 1935 the India Act created councils within the various provinces in the Raj and elections were held in October 1937. In those days there were no political parties in Sindh, so it was an election that was open to very few – the powerful — and no one else. Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, son of poisoned Ghulam Murtaza and controversially knighted by the British occupiers, stood for election from Larkana, his home town. He was a large landowner, a respected man and a local of great influence. But he lost. A complete unknown, Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi, defeated Sir Shahnawaz at the polls. Sindhi was not a resident of the district; he was an outsider with no reputation to fall back on. It was rumoured at the time that Sindhi was brought in and backed by a section of Bhuttos themselves who were desperate to relieve Sir Shahnawaz of his local power.

Fatima Bhutto adds that “Sir Shahnawaz was an old-fashioned man. He felt betrayed by the loss of what should have been an automatic win, but did not push the issue further. He simply packed up his family and left Sindh” in 1938.

Mohammad Ayub Khuhro, Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi and G. M. Syed.
Mohammad Ayub Khuhro, Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi and G. M. Syed.

It is unclear which criterion Miss Bhutto has applied to declare Shaikh Abdul Majid Sindhi a “complete-unknown”; on the contrary , he was well known among his contemporaries for his acumen, and as one of the leading politicians of the time, he had presided over an All Parties Conference.

Sindhi was active in the provincial politics and subsequently, became a member of the Bombay Council.

Moreover, working as a journalist, he edited the Al-Waheed, Sindh’s sole daily newspaper at the time, and played a key role in the movement to separate Sindh from the Bombay Presidency.

Shaikh sahib was a simple person, with an emotional attachment to the Muslim League, which he truly wanted to see well organised. He decided to establish the Sindh branch of the All India Muslim League and invited some political leaders to his home to discuss his initiative.

The details of this meeting are narrated by G. Allana in his foreword to Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi: Life and Achievements (edited by Khan Mohammad Panhwar). Allana says:

I was one of the persons invited. In all, above 12 persons attended this meeting. Shaikh sahib did not have 12 chairs in his house and we all sat on the floor. Shaikh sahib explained to us the importance of organising a branch of the All India Muslim League in Sind. He made a very forceful and convincing case for it. We all agreed with his proposal. We unanimously elected Shaikh sahib to be the President of the newly created Sind Muslim League. The question arose as to who was to be the Secretary General of the Party. It was agreed among us that the choice should be left to Shaikh sahib himself.”

Pir Ali Mohammad Rashidi writes in his book Ohaydeenhan, Ohayseehan that at the 1938 Karachi Muslim League Conference, Shaikh sahib presented a historic resolution that paved the way for the Pakistan Movement in the region.

Nonetheless, once Pakistan had come into being, he was subjected to political victimisation.

The man who had converted to Islam, added his voice to that of his Muslim brethren, and joined in their efforts for a separate homeland, instead of being rewarded for his services was declared a political outcast.

Shaikh Abdul Majeed Sindhi’s multifaceted personality cannot be fully captured in a book let alone a blog; my attempt to highlight just one of its aspects is but a barely adequate one.


Translated by Arif Anjum from the original in Urdu here.