May Day brings the message of worker’s power, dignity, courage and international solidarity. It has been celebrated with fervor and excitement by left wing intellectuals, political parties, trade unions and student organizations in Pakistan. International Labour Song became closely associated with this day. In 1970s this song was translated both in Urdu and Punjabi and used to be sung on occasions related to May Day celebrations. As a mark of international solidarity some of Pablo Neruda’s poems translated in Urdu after overthrow of Salvador Allende’s democratically elected socialist government by General Pinochet, were also recited in public rallies. In 1970 May Day was celebrated in a unique way in Punjab University. Big processions were taken out on the streets and trade unions used to organize big rallies and marches on this day. It is interesting that this day is celebrated in the memory of success achieved by Chicago workers for getting their demand for 8 hours work day accepted after spilling their blood on the streets but one does not hear any thing about this day in USA on May 1.
At midnight on April 30, 1970, Comrade Nazir Ahmad Chaudhry, an NSO member, along with two other activists Yusuf Hamdani (aka Yusuf Bhara) and Ehsan ullah Khan (PPP) hoisted a red flag on top of university auditorium. When the life at campus started the next day, red flag was fluttering on the rooftop of Punjab University New Campuses’ auditorium. It could be seen in distant residential neighbourhoods of Wahdat Colony and Rahmanpura. No one knew who had hoisted the flag. But it seemed to be a statement that Punjab University is Red (read communist). For University administration it appeared like a blatant attacked on the ‘piety’ and ‘sanctity’ of the institutions. Culprits have to be found and punished. Same was the view of right wing Islami Jamia’at e Tulaba (IJT) and its leaders.
NSO contingent had left for the Labour Hall at Nisbat Road in the morning to attend May Day ceremony organized by WAPDA leader Bashir Bakhtiar and other trade unions. Popular slogans of those days were “Talib Ilm Inqilab ka haraval dast hain”- i.e. students are vanguard of revolution and “Taqat ka sarchashma kaun, Talib Ilm, Mazdoor, Kissan”- meaning students, workers and peasants are source of all power. The banners hanging on the walls of labour hall had these slogans inscribed on them. The first slogan was ideologically contested by Marxist fringe but gained popularity due to leading role of students against Ayub Khan’s government. To show and strengthen this solidarity, most active NSO members were gathered at the Labour Hall at Gawal Mandi Chowk, far away from New Campus. For IJT this was a psychological offensive and could not go unnoticed.
Right wing student activists and members of administration got infuriated at the sight of red flag. These were General Yahya Khan’s days in Power and General Atiq ur Rehman was Governor of Punjab.Raising red flag on top of a university building under military rule was like showing a red rag to a charged bull. The red flag was removed and burnt among cheers, claps and slogans of right wing crowd.. However, this retaliation was not considered enough. Student Leader Hafeez Khan used the influence of his close friend Shaheen Atique ur Rehman- daughter of the then Governor of Punjab General Atique ur Rehman- to register a case on charges of subversion against 13 members of NSO in the Summary Military Court Lahore. He thought this way they will display their power and win more supporters to their side. The accused included Manzoor Ejaz, Shuja ul Haq, Arif Raja, Fayyaz Baqir and many others except the people who had installed the flag without the knowledge of anyone else. Student hostels were raided and some of the students were rounded up. I used to live at Garden Town hostel of Punjab University and had gone back home for a couple of days when police came searching for me. On my return hostel warden Ikram Ali asked me to report to the court.
Summary military court proceedings started and all the students were presented for trial. Manzur Ejaz was perhaps accused as the ring leader, for cooking up the conspiracy and implementing and supervising the operation to install the flag. Despite the biases of military court against ‘subversive’ left wing students, it was hard for the court administrator to accept the allegation. The key ‘culprit’ in the case Manzoor Ejaz walked in the court on crutches. Although perceived as a dangerous communist student leader, he was physically handicapped and court was not convinced that he could climb up the rickety wooden ladder in the middle of night and go to the auditorium’s slanting roof top to accomplish his mission. This proved beyond doubt that the plea was baseless. It was loss of face for IJT and a big embarrassment for Hafeez Khan. Manzur saved the skin of all other ‘culprits’. All the accused were released and this event further raised NSO’s profile and polarized campus politics to its advantage. As they say, nothing succeeds like success. This event projected NSOs’ image as a formidable force at Punjab University and raised curiosity of students about its mission, programme and activities.
Nazir was internally reprimanded for violating party discipline ( which meant installing the flag with a formal decision in NSO meeting) and committing adventurism. Externally we owned this act because it built our image.
Comment: My remembrance of the event is somewhat different: Me (Manzur Ejaz), Shuja ul Haq and a student from IER were arrested by Wahdat Colony police and presented to the military court. Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan was also there to represent us. I was accused as the main conspirator but the court was not convinced because of my being handicapped.