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Smoker’s Corner: The Books Of Our Leaders

As discussed in a previous column on these pages, a book containing quotations of revolutionary icon Mao Tse-tung became all the rage in China. First published in 1964, it became known as the Red Book and by the late 1960s, millions of copies were sold as well as distributed.

It became a central prop during the tumultuous ‘Cultural Revolution’ in China launched by the country’s senior-most communist leader Mao Tse-tung, The revolution came to an end in 1976 with Mao’s demise but by then the book had already been translated into over 20 languages in 117 countries. Hundreds of Chinese perished in the commotion. Acts of ‘revolutionary violence’ perpetrated by fanatical communist youth against the supposed ‘bourgeois decadence’ and ‘counter-revolutionaries’ were rationalised by Mao’s many pearls of wisdom enshrined in the Red Book.

For ‘Maoists’ around the world, the book became an agitprop and even inspired other leaders to come up with their own tomes despite the fact that none of them had anything whatsoever to do with communism.

Interestingly, one of the first such leaders was Pakistan’s Ayub Khan, who had come into power in 1958 through a military coup. He had instituted a highly centralised regime driven by rapid industrialisation, economic growth and a quasi-secular political and social milieu based on ‘Muslim Modernism’. His regime was largely popular in its first six years, even though it was often condemned on the right by religious groups, who accused it of being irreligious, and on the left by socialists who decried Ayub’s authoritarianism and stark capitalist maneouvers.

How books were used by political leaders to win over or vanquish their people

By 1967, the regime was in trouble. Political tensions began to spill over into the streets as the economy began to decline after the 1965 war against India. Inspired by the power which Mao’s Red Book was wielding in China at the time, the information ministry decided to publish a tome packed with quotations from Ayub’s many speeches. It was called the Green Book. The April 2, 1967 edition of Dawn published a report on the book launch. The book was to be distributed in schools and colleges.

Ayub resigned two years later, forced out by a violent protest movement. The book vanished and was never seen again.

However, in 1992, I managed to find an old copy in the library of a forgotten, reclusive intellectual, late Dr Makri. I wasn’t allowed to borrow it, so I quickly skimmed through it. Mao’s book had a red cover with the words ‘Quotations of Chairman Mao’ inscribed over it in yellow. Ayub’s book had a light green cover with the words ‘Sayings of Ayub Khan: President of the Republic of Pakistan’ emblazoned on it in white. Just like the Red Book, the Green Book was pocket-sized too. Ayub’s sayings were on subjects such as modernity, economic progress, the arts and Islamic modernism.

In 1975, Pakistan saw another book of quotations, this time published by the regime of Z.A. Bhutto (1971-77). Called Quotations of Chairman Bhutto, it was compiled in 1974 and distributed a year later. Even though this book too vanished after Bhutto’s fall in July 1977, I have a copy of it in my library. I had bought it in 1988 from a makeshift bookstall outside the shrine of Sufi saint Shah Abdul Latif in Sindh’s Matiari District.
“By 1967, the regime was in trouble. Political tensions began to spill over into the streets as the economy began to decline after the 1965 war against India. Inspired by the power which Mao’s Red Book was wielding in China at the time, the information ministry decided to publish a tome packed with quotations from Ayub’s many speeches. It was called the Green Book. The April 2, 1967 edition of Dawn published a report on the book launch. The book was to be distributed in schools and colleges. Ayub resigned two years later, forced out by a violent protest movement. The book vanished and was never seen again.

The book has the tri-coloured flag of Bhutto’s populist Pakistan Peoples Party and a watercolour painting of him on the cover.

The quotes used in the book are mostly taken from Bhutto’s speeches between 1965 and 1973. The bulk of the quotes are on socialism/’Islamic Socialism’, Western imperialism/colonialism, Pakistan’s security and of ‘India’s adventurous designs in the region.’ The book was immediately removed from circulation by Gen Zia who toppled the Bhutto regime in a coup.

Muammar Qaddafi who had come to power in Libya in 1969, published a ‘Green Book’ as well in 1975. It didn’t have his quotes in it because he authored the book himself. Just as the Red Book had become compulsory reading in China (till 1976), Qaddafi’s book became compulsory reading in Libya. In fact it remained so till the fall of his regime in 2011.

I have a copy of this book as well. And, indeed, as Muhammad Bazi in his belated 2011 review of the book in The New York Times correctly suggests, it is ‘a mixture of utopian socialism, Arab nationalism and the Third World revolutionary ideology that was in vogue at the time it was written.’ Many copies of this book were burned after Qaddafi’s fall.

Pakistan’s reactionary military dictator Gen Zia (1977-89) too wished for a book. One that would express his ‘Islamic vision.’ Khalid Ahmad in his 2001 book Pakistan beyond the Ideological Mask wrote that the dictatorship’s information ministry came up with an even better idea. It decided to use Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah (d.1948), to mouth Zia’s idea of an ‘Islamic state.’ In 1983 Zia announced that a lost diary of the founder had been found.

Zia explained that in the diary Jinnah had spoken about having a ‘powerful Head of State’ and of ‘the dangers of parliamentary democracy.’ Zia then conveniently concluded that Jinnah’s views were ‘very close to having an Islamic system of government.’

The Urdu press and state-owned media gave lavish coverage to the event, even publishing a page from the supposed diary. It was all an ill-conceived fraud. Two of Jinnah’s close associates Mumtaz Daultana and K. H. Khurshid rubbished Zia’s claims by saying there never was such a diary.

A group of senior intellectuals from the Quaid-i-Azam Academy also denied that such a diary ever existed in the Academy’s archives (from where Zia had claimed it had been discovered). The regime quickly but quietly dropped all talk about its ‘incredible discovery.’

Courtesy : Dawn News

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