The period of One Unit will be marked as a dark age for Sindh. It was the most unfortunate era Sindh witnessed during the post-Independence period, for this province had already suffered the effects of a similar system during its 89-year annexation (1847-1936) by the Bombay Presidency. After Independence, a group of politicians backed by vested interests were determined to exploit the resources of Sindh on one pretext or the other. The scheme of One Unit was not a new one. Right from the inception of Pakistan, vested interests had their eyes set on Sindh’s natural resources but they could not put their plans in action as long as Quaid-i-Azam was alive. Right after his death, plans were set afoot.
The plan for the formation of One Unit/province in West Pakistan was first spelt out on March 2, 1949. Malik Firoz Khan Noon spoke about it on the floor of the first Constituent Assembly. The next day Begum Jehan Ara Shahnaz supported it, followed by a flurry of statements for and against it. Chaudhry Mohammed Ali, Mushtaq Ahmad Gurmani, Mumtaz Mohammed Khan and some other leaders were at the forefront to see the scheme implemented. Sindhi politicians opposed it but their opposition was not forceful enough to carry weight.
Khawaja Nazimuddin was dismissed and Mohammad Ali Bogra was appointed prime minister in April 1953. The unpopular decision of forming One Unit was to be implemented through his pen. In one of the cabinet meetings, Gen Ayub Khan, the then commander-in-chief and defence minister, expressed his opinion on the One Unit plan by saying that it was his plan to make West Pakistan one province, no matter what opposition came in the way. Gen Iskander Mirza, too, said that One Unit was a road roller and any small stone coming in the way would be crushed. Smaller provinces had their apprehensions and opposed the scheme, but to no avail.
In the absence of a Constituent Assembly, provincial assemblies were the only forums to pave way for the One Unit scheme. The task was personally undertaken by Governor-General Ghulam Mohammed. Everybody knew that it would invite stern opposition only from Sindh. Agitation against the scheme was begun by lawyers, students, writers and peasants, while the politicians confined themselves to their drawing rooms. This was in October 1954.
Pirzada Abdus Sattar who headed the then Sindh government, resented the scheme. Ghulam Mohammed tried to persuade Pirzada, but in vain. This led Ghulam Mohammed to other options. One was to manipulate the Public Representatives Disqualification Order (PRODA), which had axed Mohammed Ayub Khuhro from politics for four years. He had been the chief minister of Sindh. A shrewd and sturdy politician from Larkana, he was known for his stubbornness and skilful politicking.
Ghulam Mohammed’s move worked. He got an assurance from Khuhro that if he got the One Unit bill passed by the Sindh Assembly, Khuhro would be pardoned and reappointed as chief minister of Sindh. On November 18, 1954, Pir Ali Mohammed Rashdi, the right hand man of Khuhro, announced the scheme of One Unit and pledged that any opposition to it would be met with force. Four days later, Prime Minister Bogra convened a meeting of Sindh politicians to seek their opinion on the scheme but no debate was allowed. In the evening the prime minister made a formal announcement on Radio Pakistan that the scheme would be implemented.
The Khairpur state was the first to bow before the Centre’s will and announced joining the One Unit. The state of Bahawalpur too did not bother to wait any longer. On November 25, Sardar Abdur Rasheed got the bill passed through the NWFP Assembly with nominal opposition. Five days later, Punjab Assembly passed a resolution without any opposition.
The day Bogra announced the scheme, on November 22, 1954, agitation began in Sindh because the people knew what it meant for this province. Its resources, Karachi being Pakistan’s only seaport, its unexplored resources, its manpower and the industrial potential, all qualified it for ‘colonisation’. Even though the youth and political workers of Sindh were aware of the issues, the tragedy was the absence of active Sindhi politicians in this campaign. Except for G. M. Syed and a few others, all politicians kept quiet, fearing a backlash from the government.
This was the height of disassociation of the politicians. While some political groups and nationalist elements opposed the scheme, the politicians of Sindh confined themselves to the official circles to ensure their berths in a future setup. Pir Ali Mohammed Rashdi, as a spokesman of Khuhro and the federal government, tried in vain to pacify the agitating people; Khuhro decided to silence every dissenting voice.
The first axe fell upon Al Wahid, the popular daily newspaper which in the past had raised the its voice for the separation of Sindh from the Bombay Presidency. The newspaper was closed without a warning. The daily Karwan was the next victim, for it belonged to Haji Najmuddin Sarewal, a minister of the dissolved ministry of Pirzada. Besides these, a large number of small newspapers and periodicals were also closed down.
People who took to the streets, comprising students, intellectuals, writers and political workers, were the most affected. Active leaders like G. M. Syed, Sobho Gianchandani, Haider Bakhsh Jatoi, Ghulam Mohammed Leghari and a number of workers were arrested.
The frequency of protests grew by the day and the police used force to stop them. Baton-charging and imprisoning the opponents had become routine, which continued from November 8, 1954 till after the passage of the One Unit bill on December 11, 1954. Khuhro did not want the Sindh Assembly to take up the bill in the assembly building in Karachi, and decided that the session be held in Darbar Hall, Hyderabad. This was the first time the assembly met outside its building. Khuhro thought that ‘unwanted’ people could be stopped there.
Before summoning the session, Khuhro talked to every parliamentary group in the Sindh Assembly and used all kinds of tactics to ensure the passage of the bill without any opposition. Some were offered positions in the government; others were coerced. Thus, December 11, 1954, was the darkest day in the history of Sindh and Pakistan. This was the day on which the elected representatives of Sindh surrendered their will and provincial autonomy and submitted their resources to those who would rule them from a distance of 1,000kms.
Police were stationed outside the Darbar Hall to prevent entry of any undesirable people. When Mir Ghulam Ali Talpur reached the session he was picked up and thrown into a pick-up and transported to Umerkot from where he was taken to Mithi on camelback where a case of sodomy had been registered against him. Khuhro did not find time to register a case against Ghulam Mustafa Bhurgri, and was unsure of Abdul Hamid Jatoi’s approach towards the bill. He had doubts about Mir Ali Ahmed Khan Talpur, too, but those were unfounded as he voted for the bill. G. M. Syed was already imprisoned.
In all there were 110 members out of which eight abstained or were jailed, four voted against and 98 voted for the bill. The four members who voted against the bill were: Abdul Hamid Khan Jatoi, Ghulam Mustafa Khan Bhurgri, Pir Illahi Bakhsh and Shaikh Khursheed Ahmed. In other states and provinces, similar scenes were repeated. In Bahawalpur, the cabinet of Mian Hassan Mehmood was dismissed to get the bill through. In NWFP, Sardar Abdur Rasheed did not face any difficulty. In Balochistan there was no assembly and the assent of the Khan of Kalat sufficed. And, of course, there was no issue in Punjab.
Thus, retroactively, on October 14, 1955, One unit came into being. Khuhro surrendered Rs320 million to the West Pakistan government while Qizalbash of Khairpur state presented five annas eight paisa — one-third of a rupee — from his treasury. The money Sindh surrendered, if calculated in the present money bazaar, would come to Rs37,600 million. What followed the formation of One Unit is no secret. It gave birth to a number of miseries for the people of smaller provinces until Gen Yahya Khan finally dismembered it in 1970.