Sajjad Zaheer Centenary Celeberations at Allahabad

SAJJAD Zaheer, founder General Secretary of Progressive Writer’s Asssociation was born on November 5,1905. His birth centenary has been celebrated this year at various places like Delhi, Bhopal, Lucknow, Allahabad and many parts of Pakistan. Almost all shades of left and progressive intelligentsia formed a joint platform to commemorate the occasion at Allahabad with Prof Ali Ahmad Fatmi of PWA as Convenor and Pranay Krishna of Jan Sanskriti Manch as Co-convenor.

While studying at Oxford and London universities, young Sajjad Zaheer organised a group of left-minded Indian students to work for the national freedom struggle in 1927 and developed contacts with the British communist Party. He convened the founding conference of Progressive Writers’ Association in London (1935) and prepared its manifesto. Coming back to India in November 1935,he started practising law at Allahabad High Court and was appointed secretary of the Allahabad Congress Committee and worked in close cooperation with Nehru, K.M. Ashraf and Z.A. Ahmed. He came into contact with the leaders of then underground Communist Party of India. Later he became the Secretary of the U.P. State Committee and a Central Committee Member of the undivided Communist Party of India. He was the chief architect of the historic first conference of PWA in Lucknow in1936 inaugrated by Premchand.

He migrated to Pakistan in 1948 at the instance of the Communist Party to establish a Communist Party in Pakistan, of which he was elected first general secretary. Many prominent members of the CPI were instructed to work in the Communist Party of Pakistan and were sent there for that purpose.

But continuous witch-hunting by a pro-imperialist government in Pakistan adversely affected the fragile Communist movement in Pakistan, forcing it to go underground. The so-called Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case in 1951 in which the top leadership of the CPP, including Sajjad Zaheer, Sibte Hasan and Mohammad Hussain Ata, besides Lenin-prize winning poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz, were implicated, dealt a heavy blow to the Communist movement in Pakistan. After his release in 1954, Sajjad Zaheer came back to India and continued leading the left cultural movement through PWA, Indian Peoples’ Theatrical association (IPTA) and Afro-Asian Writer’s Association.

Noted Marxist scholar Prof. Aijaz Ahmad inaugurated the centenary celeberations at Allahabad on November 11, and veteran freedom fighter Comrade Zia-Ul Haq welcomed the guests. In his inaugural speech, Professor Aijaz Ahmad said that one should understand the first freedom struggle of 1857 in order to comprehend the making of the Progressive cultural movement. The impulse of freedom from colonial rule was combined with the urge for other ‘freedoms’ after 1857. People’s aspirations for enlightenment, democracy and social equality were no less important. The 19 th century social reform movements were the expression of such urges. Later in the 20 th century, the worldwide socialist movement inspired by the Russian revolution of 1917 had a tremendous impact on the national freedom struggles and inspired the intelligentsia to fight against imperialism and fascism. The Progressive cultural movement in India was a product of its time as it assimilated and restructured all these impulses into a creative movement. Its impact should not be judged only in terms of literature, cinema and theatre; rather, it schooled and trained the sensibilities and consciousness of many generations of intelligentsia and much of social science and history writing in India owes its debt to this movement.

The inaugural session was also addressed by PWA veteran, 86 year-old Hamid Akhtar, who led the 20-member Pakistani delegation consisting of journalists, litterateurs and members of the Communist Mazdoor Kisan Party of Pakistan who had come to participate in the programme. Noted theatre personality and daughter of late Sajjad and Razia Zaheer, Nadira Babbar recited poignant poems in memory of her parents. Prof. Namvar Singh presided over the inaugural function. Noor Zaheer’s book of reminisciences of her father’s political and cultural life titled ‘Mere Hisse ki Roshnai’ was also released on the occasion.

The programmes for the next two days were divided into four sessions. Prof Rajendra Kumar, President of U.P. Jan Sanskriti Manch, delivered the keynote address of the first session titled ‘Sajjad Zaheer’s legacy and contemporary challenges’, emphasizing the need for a broad anti imperialist-anti fascist cultural front that would do justice to Sajjad Zaheer’s legacy. The next session was focused on the literary contributions of Sajjad Zaheer addressed by Prof. Ludmila Vasileva from Russia, Prof Sharib Rudaulvi and noted post-colonial Urdu critic Shams-ur-rahman Farooqi among others.

On November 13, Pranay Krishna of JSM delivered the keynote address of the third session which focused on new trends in Hindi-Urdu literature in the context of cultural challenges of the Hindi Urdu belt. Speaking on the occasion he said that the prime tribute to Sajjad Zaheer today consists in rebuilding the communist movement in the Hindi-Urdu belt, on the basis of an independent peasant struggle, not on the crutches of a Mulayam or a Laloo or as an appendage of any Congress-led secular front. The chief task of a left cultural movement in the region is to and facilitate the poor peasantry’s transformation into a class for itself, by breaking the bonds of cultural backwardness due to which the vast majority of the poor peasantry follows and identifies with the rich peasantry and caste power lobbies on the question of social dignity. Mr. AliJaved, and Mr.Shameem Faizi, Chief Editor of CPI party organ presided over the session.

In the final session PWA General Secretary Prof Kamala Prasad outlined a framework for a joint declaration of Sajjad Zaheer centenary celebrations in India and Pakistan to be ratified at functions at Karachi due in December this year. This was followed by resolutions condoling death of more than one lakh victims of the earthquake which rocked the northern regions of India and Pakistan recently, reaffirming Indo-Pak peace, friendship and solidarity and condemning arrest of Noted Telugu litterateur Varavara Rao and Kalyan Rao, demanding their immediate release and lifting of the ban on Virasam.