The Green Revolution?

Published: September 7, 2010

The writer is author of Military Inc. ayesha.siddiqa@tribune.com.pk

Altaf Hussain has come out openly, with guns blazing, against feudalism. In his recent interview with journalist Sohail Warraich, he bemoaned the continuation in power of a class that can only offer authoritarian-feudal-dynastic politics. Is he trying to add yet another layer to a move to destabilise the present government? Is he fighting back the PPP government’s policies and small-mindedness of its leaders like Zulfiqar Mirza in Sindh? Or is it, as some would like to believe, a genuine faith in bringing change in a feudal society?

Without wasting this space to discuss petty politics, I will base my analysis on the assumption that the MQM chief is following a considered policy. After all, besides the ANP, the MQM is the only party which included land reforms (with the intent of putting an end to feudalism) in its election manifesto.  Early this year, a prominent MQM member, Syed Mustafa Kamal, briefed an American audience in Washington, DC about how his party’s struggle was against feudalism and that it represented middle-class values. Despite Mr Hussain’s personal style, which many find amusing, there are few people who would not notice his call for a green revolution — an orderly, or perhaps disorderly, rebellion of the middle class supposedly leading poor Pakistanis against the traditional feudal elite.

However, such a revolution should be based on a clear understanding of the term ‘feudalism’. The concept, as defined by Karl Marx, refers to a particular mode of production in which capital and labour are concentrated in a single hand. Over the past 63 years, concentration of land in the hands of the few has reduced substantially. Akbar Zaidi’s research, which shows substantial reduction of large land holdings, is an essential reading before Altaf Hussain’s party comes to Punjab. The largest province, in any case, does not have huge tracts of land.

Having said that, it is true that land in Pakistan symbolises traditional power. Many people not only acquire land but also the behaviour and mindset representative of feudalism. Marx never explained the politico-cultural dimension of feudalism which signifies contempt for ordinary people and the tendency to impose one will on the rest by use of force. This mindset is found among the urban elite and the middle class as well. Private jails in Karachi, target killing of opponents and psychological coercion of the educated into submission to a central leadership is a behaviour not confined to just one part of Pakistan.

The country, in fact, has a pre-capitalist culture which is a marriage between post-colonial capital and feudalism. So, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard a foreign- educated popular television anchor talking contemptuously of ordinary Pakistanis and castigating them for supporting dynastic politics. In his view, ordinary people were stupid. It didn’t occur to him that perhaps their behaviour is as stupid as the folly of those who become clients of institutions despite their education.

Or is it not feudal to suggest that someone presenting a divergent point of view should leave the country and acquire another passport? Such behaviour is not strictly feudal but a mix of feudalism and fascism. After all, it was an educated segment of Pakistan that killed thousands of Bengalis in 1970, the Baloch in 1973 and later and the Sindhis during the 1980s.

One could not agree more with Altaf Hussain’s call for the change of mindset. One only hopes that he does not confuse eradication of feudalism with destruction of agriculture. Despite growing urbanisation, our economy is still agri-based. In fact, the increase in urbanisation is an unplanned result of growing rural poverty. For the poor landless peasant, the ‘lord of the manor’ may be a more familiar evil than an alien civil or military bureaucrat who is equally brutal in dispossessing him from the state land where he has kept his family for many years. This is not a defence of feudalism or the landowning elite but an attempt to say that in their arrogance to impose their choices on ordinary folk and a bulk of this country, representatives of middle class could destroy more than they might build. It will help develop respect for people before we advocate change.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 7th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (41)

  • faizy
    Sep 7, 2010 - 2:51AM

    i can not agree more with ayesha siddiqa, that any attempt to uproot the feudal mindset by despoiling the landowners would not bring any good to our agriculture sector nor curb the unbridled brandishing of power.

    what this country has so dearly missed since its inception is the umbrella of "rule of law'
    under its shade no peasant can be exploited nor can any feudal hold sway.
    Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 3:06AM

    If your assumption is correct, then we may interpret Altaf Hussain’s statement as call to change feudalistic mindset. However, was he targeting the mindset that subjugates people, or taking a thinly veiled pot shot at his political opponents? Recommend

  • M Usama Kabbir
    Sep 7, 2010 - 4:06AM

    Feudalism is more of a mindset. Earlier, when the SWAT Operation forced millions to migrate, Karachi was particularly hostile towards the homeless IDP’s streaming in. At many instances it was shamelessly given an ethnic dimension by the ‘Feudal Mindset’ that controls the Metropolis. A similar phenomenon is being witnessed yet again when the homeless flood victims are heading to Karachi from interior Sindh and Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa. In exile for an eternity, Altaf Hussain has completely failed to understand the dynamics of Karachi and that of it’s politics which has evolved over the last decade. Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 4:20AM

    I guess that Dr. Siddiqa has not yet contemplated the possibility of massive misappropriation of land by those who can from those who can’t. Villages upon villages have been wiped out along with written records about parcels of land and their owners. Tracks, roads and landmarks are gone.

    The flood has created the possibility of land grab of monumental proportions since the creation of the country. It is not going to be the thousandaires who is going to grab others’ land illegally. It is going to be the millionaires and billionaires who would commit this crime along with the usual suspects.

    Altaf Hussain’s call to the Army is well-timed to make sure that the Army see to it that massive land grab does not take place.Recommend

  • S. Ali Raza
    Sep 7, 2010 - 4:48AM

    For certain its not to destroy agriculture, when Altaf Hussain says to take land from Feudals and give it to the poor haari’s and mazaraaz. You have to understand it as a genuine request for change in Pakistan, by the liberal, moderate, and enlightened forces vs. the imminent change of mindset being imposed by the Taliban, which is no different that that of a Feudal, and a product of the same oppression and injustices. Men of Honor are the only solution in bring this country out of the hands of the corrupt and non-patriots, who for their selfish motives will not think twice before selling off this land. Recommend

  • Noor Nabi
    Sep 7, 2010 - 4:57AM

    The Pakistani establishment, it is so obvious, is shivering with fear as Altaf Bhai calls for a public execution of those who have swindled money through debt write offs. Let us not get into naming names but it is well known that these include individuals and families associated with members of parliament, the armed forces, the judiciary, the bureaucracy and, last but not least, business. Agriculture, of course, has been a mask for the feudals to evade taxes; for the past sixty-three years agriculture income remains tax-free. Wake up everybody, wake up. The day of reckoning is around the corner. These academic debates will not abate or reverse the storm in the making. Over 98% of the Pakistani population, that has been taken for a ride by the exploiters, seeks and awaits divine justice; and deservedly so. An alternative to stop immediate bloodshed is for the owners of properties in London, the suburbs of Paris and elsewhere to bring back the multi-billion dollars that have been siphoned off. Recommend

  • ahmed
    Sep 7, 2010 - 5:09AM

    brilliant article.

    I would actually go a step further in out rightly supporting feudalism. Traditional systems are robust and natural. Any tinkering with feudalism has only left people with more misery, Mao’s China or Stalin’s Russia are an example of how the agricultural base of the country was ruined and millions had to die of starvation.

    India after Independence, eradicated feudalism to quite an extent. The result was that the feudal landowners were replaced with corrupt civilian bureaucrats which were much worse than their feudal counter parts. These educated civilian bureaucrats have no knowledge of agriculture which is why indian agriculture is a complete mess. Farmers are committing suicide by the hundreds daily where as the indian agricultural growth has only dwindled around 0 and 1%. Millions of rural poor have been pushed into urban cities in India which is why Indian cities are now known as slum capitals of the world. Poverty in India is 43% (UNDP 2009) even when its economy is growing by 10% thanks mainly to the few educated IT elites which has led to gross income inequalities in the country meanwhile the rest of the country is stuck in rural poverty.

    Compared with India, Pakistan has fared better with only 17% poverty (UNDP 2008) and lesser income distribution and higher growth in the Agricultural sector (around 3-4%). The feudal base provides the traditional support system which props up and fights for the rural population. Any replacement of this system would only serve to prop up the urbanized elites and tilt the power balance away from the rural population.

    There are cases of harsh landowners, but most landowners are far more benevolent and the share of the tenants is much more than what is generally highlighted in the press. Its about time that the urbanized elites who probably have never experienced a feudal system should start learning something from this system. Most feudals do not only lease their lands but also take responsibility for their people. They have to take care of people if anyone goes hungry on their lands. Bad press has made feudals synonymous with tyrants which definitely isn’t the case.Recommend

  • S
    Sep 7, 2010 - 5:59AM

    This is a really insightful analysis. Mr. Altaf Hussain’s call for the military to impose martial law also stands at odds with his considered views against feudalism. As detailed in the author’s book, Military Inc., the Pakistani military as an institution is one of the largest landowners in Pakistan. Not only does the military satisfy the criteria of feudalism through the connection of landownership with political power, it’s persistent land-grabs, from Okara to fishing villages in Sindh betray its feudal mindset. Thank you for this piece, Ms. Siddiqa. Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 6:24AM

    Dear Ayesha:

    I really read any your article for the first time ever and was very impressed by your thoughts as I started, however as soon as I read

    Over the past 63 years, concentration of land in the hands of the few has reduced substantially.

    Please study the revenue land system and enhance your BASIC knowledge as I doubt your credibility from this line. Once you read it i’m sure you will have a different paradigm. By what you are saying feudalism and land holding has reduced substantially. It would be beneficial for us all to know whats your barometer which makes this point? or what is the statistical data by which the reference is taken. By the book Karl Marx defined a feudal, it has its many forms and has been alive since day 1 of Pakistan. I don;t wish to conclude that youre brushing aside Altaf Hussain by now supporting the feudals or have you made up your mind to support anything in negation of Altaf Hussain. A Wadera & Jageerdaar have their own definitions which Im sure Karl Marx could’nt envision in his time, and feudalism is the general Umbrella under which they live. We really dont need concepts , we need a solution without thinking growth or reduction in their class.

    Having said that, it is true that land in Pakistan symbolises traditional power.

    In the above line you should try to rephrase and say tribalized power or actually define traditional power?

    One only hopes that he does not confuse eradication of feudalism with destruction of agriculture.

    Reading the above line from your article , you’re trying to convince your doctrine of pro-feudal journalism again.

    This is not a defence of feudalism or the landowning elite but an attempt to say that in their arrogance to impose their choices on ordinary folk and a bulk of this country, representatives of middle class could destroy more than they might build. It will help develop respect for people before we advocate change.

    Many democracies have gone through it 63 years ago,well demonstrated and implemented, do we need more time to understand who’s put to the stake for who’s folly in the system with the kind of Internal Inflation at hand.

    Please choose your side, the people or the feudals or are you convinced that they cannot be sanitized and we should keep feeding with whatever comes?

    Should we respect what we direly need or shun it due to a Politician saying it?Recommend

  • Aziz Akhmad
    Sep 7, 2010 - 6:56AM

    What is confusing about Mr. Altaf Husain’s statements is that he repeatedly mentions the French Revolution. And we all know, the French Revolution was to free the state from, among other things, the control of the church. In other words, to make the state secular, which it did. Does Mr. Altaf Husain believe that the “patriotic generals”, whose support he is soliciting, would be willing to bring in a secular revolution? Recommend

  • Farhan
    Sep 7, 2010 - 7:52AM

    Pointless piece and the author obviously needs to go back and read the basics. the columnist might be a published author but that doesn’t mean she knows about political science and sociology (which is what she trying to dabble in). Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 9:23AM

    I would ask the author three questions:
    Q1: What was the understanding of the ruling landlords of Punjab with Mohammad Ali Jinnah pertaining to what would happen in the area of land reforms after independence?
    Q 2: When did a revolution visit this part of the world last time?
    Q 3: Why are you so quick to name the speech of Altaf Hussain as a call for a Green Revolution?Recommend

  • Malik Rashid
    Sep 7, 2010 - 9:26AM

    Altaf’s flip-flop and then repeat call to army generals has not much to do with reallocation of agricultural lands. The unrest that is brewing and the mass-starvation that looms in near future invokes public reaction from politician who reflects the temper of the strongest i.e. the army generals. Besides placing the scourge of feudalism in proper perspective the news that Pakistan’s navy recently occupied some land in Baluchistan without following proper procedures serves as a timely reminder of the feudal who lords over Pakistan. Peace. Recommend

  • Danish
    Sep 7, 2010 - 9:41AM

    Pakistan is an agri-based economy, but our agricultural output / productivity ratios are much lower compared to others due to lack of technical know-how and use of science and technology in increasing output. There is a need for private sector corporate players to invest in agriculture to make it more competitive. Implementation of agriculture tax will also be easier in such an environment.Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 9:42AM

    Great piece as always, the feudal and fascist mindset is evident from the ones who suggest others to get another passport, and those who are showing reservations on the flood victims arrival to the urban centres as they fear demographic changes, If they are working for the poor its better to serve them in these hard times who have come to the constituencies of these Ghamkhwaran…Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 9:50AM

    ayesha:

    for whatever reason, you seem to have focussed on feudalism in altaf’s speech and interview while ignoring the other evil twin ….eradication of corruption and corrupt politicians of all stripes from the prevailing systemRecommend

  • Haris
    Sep 7, 2010 - 11:32AM

    Since when you started Day Dreaming????Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 12:00PM

    It will help develop respect for people before we advocate change.Recommend

  • Umar
    Sep 7, 2010 - 12:36PM

    Excellent article!
    Feudalism is an evil but arguments against it are more populist than rational.
    If only the TV cameras could record the amount of complaints (and in some cases, abuses) that certain “feudals” have to take from their voters come election time and compare it to the terrified passivity of the rows upon rows of MQM “voters” everytime there is a telephonic address from London.Recommend

  • ASMAT JAMAL
    Sep 7, 2010 - 1:02PM

    Altaf Hussain neither has the appeal nor the charisma to lead a revolution. His party is not considered above ethnicity. With such a narrow base of vote, limited to a certain section of population, he has over guaged his popularity. I for once cannot think to vote for a party which has been alledgedly involved in voilence against other ethnicities in Karachi. The problem over here is that fact are not published and it is very difficult to write every thing in between lines. The true reason for his stand against fuedalism is also based on ethnicity. Further elaboration will result in non publishing of my comments. Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 1:27PM

    We now want a revolution! Just like that – enough is enough – a revolution we must have!

    The urbanites want a revolution. They are worried about the rurals – who live in bondage to the Landowners!

    This is beginning to look like an Amir Khan, socially responsible, movie! Sans Amir Khan, offcourse.

    Please read the rest on my blog post: http://www.yusufjan.com/?p=207Recommend

  • parvez
    Sep 7, 2010 - 1:29PM

    I felt the thrust of Altaf’s message was against the corrupt present system, in which all have a stake. He rightly says that change is needed, this cannot go on as it is, 63 years of only 2% of Pakistan “living the good life” is not on.
    Bringing about this change will not be easy. The 2% understand that the other 98% are the long suffering type, so they throw them a morsel every now and life goes on.
    How does one change this mindset ? Why should the 2% change theirs ?Recommend

  • Isfand
    Sep 7, 2010 - 1:59PM

    Its a shame tht ANP doesnt support land reform!Recommend

  • Sep 7, 2010 - 2:09PM

    Reading the article and the comments one must agree that Altaf Hussain has allowed the nation to carry out verbal and written debates instead of people to settle their differences on the streets. Agree with him or disagree with him, he cannot be ignored.Recommend

  • rahim
    Sep 7, 2010 - 2:31PM

    likeRecommend

  • Raza
    Sep 7, 2010 - 3:20PM

    I agree up to the extent of land reforms but citing reference of Talat hussain shows that the author is a liberal fundamentalist who cant tolerate a view of someone else and who at once jumped to issue edicit against other persons. Recommend

  • Ben
    Sep 7, 2010 - 3:20PM

    If you look at the bloodshed, the revolution has already taken place. After all it is what a revolution starts with. Taliban are spilling blood in cities and big land owners do that by diverting flow of floods to the hapless people. Taliban have easily found partners in the business of death and destruction. Read more at: link textRecommend

  • ali hamdani
    Sep 7, 2010 - 3:45PM

    The masses demand a close to the fascist mindset and a defeat to militants in the country which will finally let the green grow as a united nation.Recommend

  • Sultan Ahmed.
    Sep 7, 2010 - 3:50PM

    Revolution is not an easy task,
    it is an uphill task,
    he is too little to do,
    leave it,
    don’t wast time.Recommend

  • Sultan Ahmed.
    Sep 7, 2010 - 3:52PM

    But his statement has been proved
    a surge tide in the sea of politics.Recommend

  • ArifQ
    Sep 7, 2010 - 5:08PM

    Dear Ayesha

    Bulk of Pakistani middle class can be found in Central Punjab, if change is to come it must rise from Punjab, but that does not seem to be the case as much of this area is heavily influenced by bradari systems, divided by Islamic sects and strong presence of retired military personnel. Add to this the influence of money and political divisions, the only green revolution we can realitically expect is the one with Benjamin Franklin. Nice article, intent is good but not realistic.Recommend

  • Atika.rehman
    Sep 7, 2010 - 5:25PM

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  • Syed
    Sep 7, 2010 - 7:29PM

    The main problem is that revolution can never be a peacefull one. Because those in power always act with full force to stop the revolution.

    Be it French Revolution. (I disagree with a gentleman above who said that it was against Church, the main purpose of the revolution was to get rid of feudalism.
    American Revolution. (Revolt against British Colonialism)
    Multiple Indian(pre 1947) Revolutions.
    Iranian Revolution.
    Begali Revolution 1971.
    whether you agree or not, 1990s Karachi Revolution, ( by MQM). Whether you agree with MQM on politics or not, but that was a mini-revolution because it caused a major dent in the Pakistani Political system. Against which Govt reacted extremely voilantly 1992-1996.

    or any other revolution you see in history, 99% of them have been bloody, not because of the persons revolting, but because of the people revolted against, react voilantly.

    A/c to me theres no such thing as peacefull revolution. Its only possible, if the people Revolted against are clearly out numbered and out powered. (Like for Example Makkah Revolution,/ Fatah Makkah).

    And there is going to be revolution in Pakistan and it will be bloody, whether brought on by MQM or any other party or leadership.Recommend

  • Ammar
    Sep 8, 2010 - 10:21AM

    Thought provoking!

    The thing is have we built the grounds for a broader change in the system? I request all the commentators to concentrate on following lines from Dr. Aysha:

    ” Many people not only acquire land but also the behaviour and mindset representative of feudalism”

    “This mindset is found among the urban elite and the middle class as well. Private jails in Karachi, target killing of opponents and psychological coercion of the educated into submission to a central leadership is a behaviour not confined to just one part of Pakistan”

    “I shouldn’t have been surprised when I heard a foreign- educated popular television anchor talking contemptuously of ordinary Pakistanis and castigating them for supporting dynastic politics. In his view, ordinary people were stupid. It didn’t occur to him that perhaps their behaviour is as stupid as the folly of those who become clients of institutions despite their education”

    “is it not feudal to suggest that someone presenting a divergent point of view should leave the country and acquire another passport? Such behaviour is not strictly feudal but a mix of feudalism and fascism”

    “This is not a defence of feudalism or the landowning elite but an attempt to say that in their arrogance to impose their choices on ordinary folk and a bulk of this country”

    Brilliant!!Recommend

  • Sep 8, 2010 - 5:16PM

    To: Mr. Jahanzaib Haque (Web Editor)/ Ms. Atika Rehman

    Mr. Haque,

    I wonder why you have chosen to not to post my comment, even though it did not contain any of the ‘transgressions’, listed by you above, that disqualify a comment from being published.

    Regards,

    asif Recommend

  • Jahanzaib Haque
    Sep 8, 2010 - 5:30PM

    @Asif it was deleted due to its length. Best regards (Web Editor)Recommend

  • Sep 8, 2010 - 6:20PM

    Noted, Jahanzaib. What is the maximum length (characters/words) so that I keep that in mind in furutre.

    Best regards,

    asifRecommend

  • Jahanzaib Haque
    Sep 8, 2010 - 7:03PM

    @Asif 400 words is the absolute cut-off limit – beyond that we make almost no exceptions (unless it is the author of the article him/herself) Best regardsRecommend

  • Mohsin
    Sep 8, 2010 - 8:14PM

    In my view Mr. Altaf Hussein is just using a populist sentiment prevailing at the moment. MQM’s vote bank in Karachi is decreasing and ANP’s on the rise. In the wake of recent floods, more and more people from interior Sind would be moving to Urban dwellings and Khi would ofcourse be an obvious choice. Hence along with a call for French like revolution he is also inviting ‘good generals’ of armed forces that count him in whenever they think of coming back to the driving seat.Recommend

  • Sep 11, 2010 - 3:39AM

    Altaf Hussain is a political genius. It is what it is.

    Those criticizing him are either ignorant or carry agendas of their own.

    Time and again his opponents eat crow. Yet time and again they pretend that Altaf Hussain was not correct the last time around.Recommend

  • Syed
    Oct 31, 2010 - 4:30PM

    @ Mhosin !!
    Lolz at your comment. Your comments could not be more far from the truth ! MQMs vote bank is intact in Karachi, ANPs votebank is decreasing not only in Karachi but in Khyber also, because of their proxy style violent politics.Recommend

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