Monday, 31 October 2011

Vai Ell & His Master

The story of Yusuf Lodhi (1938-1996), forgotten cartoonist and political commentator & his book “Bhutto: My Master”

Nairangeay siyasat-i-dauran to dekhiyay
Manzil unheeh mili jo shareek-i-safar na thay
Look at the irony of contemporary politics
Those who shunned the Caravan, have reached the Destination

I must begin by saying I never met Yusuf Lodhi and I was in my teens when he passed away. As such I cannot claim to be an expert in him or his life, but life does lead one down some interesting rabbit holes.
I had heard of Vai Ell from uncles and family members, they told me about this witty satirist and writer, but in online in chats with friends, nobody seemed to have heard about him. Puzzled I used trusty Google and expected to find countless references to the man. Instead I found a handful, none of which profiled the man in any depth and so began my quest.

Something of a bon vivant, he was an accidental cartoonist, at the time of this book he was serving as editor of the Frontier Guardian, where he kept a temperamental cartoonist who had the habit of disappearing without warning. One day the man failed to turn up and Yusuf Lodhi was in great need of a cartoon so he drew his first cartoon. That was the day editor Yusuf Lodhi began to be assisted by a cartoonist called Vai Ell (a play on his name Y-L).

This pseudonym for many years was thought to be a very pretty French woman. Vai Ell went along to promote that belief, the consummate anti-establishment liberal, his cartoons were harshly critical of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s (ZAB) authoritarian streak and sympathetic to Abdul Wali Khan (AWK). Post 1977 he gradually became a supporter of Benazir Bhutto, she wrote the foreword to his 1990 book “The Bull” and he dedicated one of his last books in 1992 to her, “Benazir : A Daisy on Dust”.His  first book “Bhutto My Master” was banned in 1974. It is out of print and not available in Pakistan, but thanks to the wonders of twitter & Shahid’s hard work, a copy was found in a US university archive. The book’s ban is not surprising considering Bhutto’s legendary intolerance of criticism.

The book is a collection of cartoons dealing with the early 1970′s period of Pakistan history, it goes without saying this was a turbulent part of Pakistan’s history (when isn’t it? Imagine some saying!), but we had a new Prime Minister, a truncated Pakistan, opposition in NWFP & Balochistan, no constitution, a humiliated Army, Simla talks, Bangladesh recognition and a country that many were writing off as about to fragment at any moment (yes, yes  I can hear the when isn’t it .. again!).

Wali Khan was the leader of the leftist National Awami Party and Parliamentary leader of the opposition in the National Assembly. Ideologically there was little separating them, but they came from very different backgrounds. Wali Khan was the son of the politician, pacifist Bacha Khan, a reviled figure by the establishment and as such Wali Khan was guilty by proxy of being anti-state.
His party was banned in 1971 for its opposition to the military crackdown in East Pakistan. Yet despite this his NAP did well in the 1970 election and was the largest party in both NWFP & Balochistan. The PPP’s 1970 wave had failed to make much of an inroad into the Frontier and in particular Balochistan. .

This was not to last, Wali Khan was seeking a more national role for his party, trying to pose himself and his party as an alternative to Bhutto. There power sharing agreement fell apart over extension of martial law and forming a coalition federally and in the provinces.
Bhutto in turn became increasingly intolerant of opposition and his exchanges with Wali Khan became increasingly bitter. Bhutto often used the anti-state card against the NAP, charging them with being pro-India, pro-Afghanistan, former Congress-ites and used the state controlled media against them very effectively. This “patriot card” has been used since 1947 to discredit anyone who challenged the state.[i]
This was not to last, Wali Khan was seeking a more national role for his party, trying to pose himself as an alternative to ZAB. Bhutto in turn became increasingly intolerant of opposition and his exchanges with Wali Khan became increasingly bitter. Bhutto often using the anti-state card against the NAP, charged them with being pro-India, pro-Afghanistan, former Congressites and used the state controlled media against them very effectively.[ii]

This rivalry led to memorable exchanges between the two leaders, when after another round of accusations and counter accusations between the two men, Wali Khan got up on the floor of the assembly and said:[iii]

The battle lines drawn, both sides started to seek allies and as always there were two Muslim Leagues in existence, one in opposition one pro government. They all had problems with Bhutto’s and Wali Khan’s socialist leanings, many of their key leaders were businessmen and “feudal” so they faced a brief quandary, but that was easily resolved.
That ideological divide resolved the struggle for which league would support whom could begin in earnest and that too in the age old Pakistani democratic fashion.

The key League factions was the PML-Qayyum led by former Chief Minister of NWFP Abdul Qayyum Khan, Yahya Khans Kings party in the 1970 election, the party did well in the Frontier & Qayyum had a long standing rivalry with Wali Khan’s family. There was Mumtaz Daultana, former Chief Minister of Punjab. A true politician, who was well past his prime, he had been sympathetic towards Sheikh Mujib at one time and Shaukat Hayat Khan, son of former Chief Minister of United Punjab.

Wali Khan’s NAP had few carrots to offer the league at the Federal level being in opposition and was easily wrong footed by Bhutto, Daultana was offered the ambassadorship to London, which he happily took, Qayyum was given the Federal interior Ministry and a free hand to take on the NAP, while Shaukat Hayat was largely left in the wilderness.

This PPP-PML-Q coalition also played into the hands of the deep state, further polarising politics and played no small part in his demise.

This coalition also played into the hands of the deep state, further polarising politics and played no small part in his demise.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto made his name as Foreign Minister under Ayub Khan, one the key architects of the Sino-Pakistan alliance, his opposition to the Tashkent declaration (despite the futility of further fighting), launched his political career. In many ways in 1972 he was left with an impossible task, India had 98,000 POWs and Bangladesh wanted to punish Pakistani military officers for war crimes.
Anyone else would have been daunted, having to deal with Indira Gandhi at the height of her power, holding all the cards and Pakistan had nothing to offer.

Despite that, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s calculations were incredibly astute, calculatingly he knew that India could not hold on to the POWs indefinitely, international opinion would not allow it nor would the USA allow another Indian offensive that would lead to the collapse of Pakistan and the loss of an ally.
So the Simla agreement was signed, Pakistan got back all the POWs, took the opposition along with him, recovered almost all the territory lost in exchange, India had the Kashmir border turned into a line of control and little else.
Despite this triumph, the right wing was infuriated. Bhutto the former India hawk who had heroically torn up the ceasefire resolution (sic) had made a deal with the enemy.

Bhutto’s next major foreign policy initiative was one that was to have a lasting impact on Pakistan. Frustrated with US policy, he espoused Pan-Islamic socialism and began to seek allies in the Middle East. He offered Pakistani pilots and support to the Arabs against Israel in the 1973 war, addressed the gulf states labour shortage by initiating the export of Pakistani manpower and arranged the OIC summit in Lahore[iv].
There was however a catch to the OIC 1974 summit; various Arab countries wanted Bhutto to invite Sheikh Mujib and wanted Pakistan to formally recognize Bangladesh. As news spread of the possible recognition, the right wing led by the JI launched a campaign against it, the Bangladesh Na-Manzoor movement took Bhutto by surprise and divided opinion nationally.

Bhutto swiftly made a public turnaround against the recognition, carefully waiting till the summit was a major public relations and popular success before recognizing Bangladesh.

By 1974 Bhutto was at the height of his power, Simla and OIC aside, in August 1973, the National Assembly passed Pakistan’s unanimous first constitution. He split the opposition by granting concessions to the religo-political parties by declaring Islam the state religion and to the NAP, granting hydel and gas royalty to NWFP & Balochistan, to the left promising freedom of expression, labour rights while at the same time concentrating power in his hands by making the removal of the Prime Minister virtually impossible for ten years.  His opponents started to feel under increasing pressure and prominent opposition leaders from the NAP to the JUI and JI were assassinated.

He had also dismissed the Balochistan provincial government and started rounding up NAP leaders. Leftists in his own party like Mairaj Muhammad Khan and J. A Rahim were either in jail on trumped up charges or in exile.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was becoming increasingly isolated, having imprisoned Wali Khan and banned the NAP, he had turned on his own party leaders. The victimization that this cross section of people suffered was to rightly or wrongly cloud their judgment later on when Bhutto was up for execution.[v]




The greatest tragedy of the 1970’s for Pakistan was that it marked the end of the politics of mass movement, the beginning of a culture where politics was a dirty business and politicians to be reviled for their broken promises. This was something Vai Ell started to reflect.

Bhutto’s co-opting of the Muslim League effectively ended the careers of all three Leaguers (Qayyum, Daultana, Shaukat), the right wing vote went to the religo-political party’s (particularly the JI) and the remaining leaguers were to join Zias cabinet in 1977, the party itself went into hibernation till 1985.
Bhutto’s rivalry with Wali Khan led to the outlawing of the party, the military operation in Balochistan and the Hyderabad tribunal. The same Zia on assuming power in 1977 opened up talks with the NAP leadership, declaring them patriots, released them and disbanded the tribunal. Bhutto was to regret his decision to imprison the NAP leadership and in 1976 considered dropping the charges as a means of defusing the Baloch insurgency. He was blocked by his Chief of Army Staff  Zia ul-Haq.
Despite the Bhutto and Wali Khan rivalry, Benazir and Wali Khan were to bury the hatchet following Bhutto’s execution in 1979, allying in the movement for restoration of democracy against Zia-ul Haq.
Wali Khan passed away in 2006, Benazir after her return from exile and on her last visit to Peshawar before her assassination, visited Walibagh to condole with Wali Khans family.
Finally, a little side story a recurring theme in Vai Ells books is a slim, long-haired girl. This was former colleague journalist and environmentalist Saneeya Hussain, former editor of The Star, she passed away in 2005.
Still a cartoonists work is never done, Vai Ell may have disliked Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s authoritarianism, I get the feeling he detested Zia. I’ll admit though that could just be me misreading things.[vi]

All cartoons are from Yusuf Lodhi (1974) Bhutto my master. Frontier Guardian Publications. They are solely being reused for historical/educational use and not for profit. The complete book can be viewed here.
- This article would not be possible without thanks to several people, firstly in particular Shahid Saaed who traced the book and twittered till I decided to write this article. Also hat tips to Umair Javed, Ahsan Butt and Rabia Shakoor for pestering me in the nicest way possible into writing.
Also special thanks to writers Dr. M Taqi and Salman Rashid for providing me with some background on Vai Ell.

[i] Khan, Hamid (March 4th 2004) Constitutional and Political History of Pakistan. Oxford University press
[ii] Bhutto, Zulfikar Ali.(1979) My Pakistan. Biswin Sadi Publications Ltd. New Delhi, India.
[iii] Dr. Malik, Farid (1 April 2006). “The story of a man of conviction”. The Nation. Nawa-e-Waqt group.


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