NSF brings ‘national’ back into national reconciliation

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“Punjabi imperialism” is an accusation often made by smaller provinces and smaller parties in reference to the oppressive terms of arrangement of the current Pakistani federation. There are few forces in Punjab who understand the implications of this argument, but the big message coming out from the National Students Federation (NSF)-Punjab convention in Faisalabad on Saturday was that a new social contract based on a different arrangement of the federation has to be negotiated, and will be negotiated by students working in all provinces.
The NSF-Punjab had wrapped up its closed organisational session on Friday, which was attended by 140 delegates and about 60 observers. The president and secretary-general, Arfan Chaudhry and Alia Amirali, were re-elected to their posts. The rest of the cabinet are all new members. A collegiate body was also formed; the mandate of the body is across intermediate and degree colleges in Punjab, with their focus specifically on everyday student issues (tuition fees, dispensaries, libraries etc). A theatre group was also formed and named ‘Kuknus’; the name is derived from Major Ishaq Mohammad’s famous working class drama, and in a sense, binds the NSF with the larger Left parties in Punjab.
As per the NSF’s constitution, the students group reaffirmed their stance of remaining a students’ group rather than a student’s wing of any particular political party. The difference is critical: the dissociation of the NSF from parties means that the deficiencies of the Left parties in terms of political culture are not translated to the students. Those who choose to enter parties can then impact a larger cultural change in these parties. Despite the NSF’s decision, stalwarts of the Left were keen to press their association with the current NSF, arguing that the students group could not be revived had it not had the support of their respective parties.
NSF-Punjab organisers were also critical of the role played by the district administration of Faisalabad: on one hand, they claimed, were the public gatherings organised by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and even the banned Sipah Sahaba Pakistan, which were facilitated by the district administration. On the other, the local administration snubbed all efforts made by the NSF to organise an event at the Dhobi Ghat Ground, in addition to tearing down their banners and posters across the city.
Despite the hindrances, the NSF-Punjab managed to pull off an impressive show on Saturday. The day had started with a march from the Dhobi Ghat Ground to the Faisalabad District Bar Association, which served as the venue for the open session of the convention. The NSF-Punjab convention exceeded expectations because, as a senior journalist pointed out, they didn’t speak much themselves but let their guests speak more and set the agenda for any sort of social change.
On the podium were representatives from Baloch Students Organisation (BSO), Pakhtunkhwa Students Organisation, Jammu and Kashmir National Students Federation, Jammu and Kashmir People’s National Students Organisation (JKPNSO), and of course, the NSF-Karachi. The speakers, while critical of attitudes of the Punjabi ruling class towards smaller provinces and oppressed nations, were mindful of distinguishing the struggle of the Punjabi working people and classes from Punjabi imperialism.
These organisations are of course more mature, both ideologically and organisationally. But they were gracious enough to offer help in substantive ways: the BSO, for instance, extended an offer to the NSF to help them build their presence in Balochistan. The JKPNSO, while arguing that they have a struggle against Indian and Pakistani influence on one hand and the local elite on the other, claimed they were willing to sacrifice their revolution if it meant that a socialist Pakistan could be born. “We will be the first member of such a socialist federation,” argued JKPNSO representative Waleed Babar. Following this heavy and substantive talk, was a concert by Arieb Azhar – which enthralled those present.
In the overall analysis, after a long time, progressive politics was no longer anathema. The air of overall depoliticisation as well as the insecurity and persecution complex in the Left had been replaced with wall chalking across Faisalabad and rickshaws carrying flags and banners of the NSF. Quite unlike the ‘change agents’ currently preoccupying the popular media, there is a definite plan among the NSF and their allies for national reconciliation based on an unemotional and logical acceptance of all this is wrong in Pakistan. A strong force in Punjab is necessary for any sort of revolution; it may not be a tsunami but the winds of change are blowing on Punjab.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Significant: NSF chooses to remain a students’ group rather than a student’s wing of any particular political party. Good decision, carries on tradition set by the DSF when it was established in 1949 as an independent student group rather than the student wing of a political party.

  2. Uh Ahmed; the sobre tone used in the fourth & third last sentence nearly bought a tear to my eye.

    Progressive kids, young ones, being realistic. In Pakistan. Can it be real?

    Jeetay raho.

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