Source: The News International (Pakistan), December 23, 2003

In memory of Hamza Alavi

by Dr Tariq Rahman

On December 01, 2003 one of Pakistanís leading social scientists passed away. Had someone who had reached thetop of the powerful proffesion

politics, military, bureaucracy, judiciary, industry ñ died the state would have lowered the flag or, at least, made headlines in the official media. But Hamza Alavi was a scholar so he was not showered with awards and plots of land while alive nor was he given theattention of the state when he died. And yet, he was a man who has influenced generations of social scientists, especially those working in the progressive tradition, in Pakistan. He was born in Karachi on 10 April 1921 and he gave up banking to join the academic profession. He taught at some of the worldís best universities ñ-British, American and Asian ñ retiring as professor from the University of Manchester. His articles appeared in many books and in scholarly journals and Dr. Mubarak Ali, the well-known historian, got some translated into Urdu. The books comprising his articles are called Jagirdari aur Samraj and Pakistan: Riasat ka Bohran. They bring the thoughts of this great scholar to those who cannot read English very well. I believe this is an excellent service which Mubarak Ali, another intellectual whom the state does not appreciate despite his being well known to the progressive, Urdu-reading youth, has performed for us.

I wrote an article on Hamza Alavi (the New October07, 1998) when he was alive. It was meant to honour a scholar who did not believe in the kind of PR, which makes people famous. He was not a TV icon. He did not have a manager to publicize his work. He did not go to the parties of the powerful. He was a dignified scholar who gave lectures when requested to do so by people he appreciated and valued. He hardly ever refused Dr. Jaffar Ahmad of the University of Karachi who told me how kind and gentlemanly professor Alavi had been to him when he was a student in England. But apart form these lectures; Hamza Alavi did not travel much. His health was frail and he could not exert himself too much. In 2002 S. M Naseem and Khalid Nadvi published a book entitled The Post-Colonial State and Social Transformation in India and Pakistan as a festschrift to Professor Alavi. And, indeed, he deserves this honour because it comes from people who sincerely feel that they are intellectually indebted it to him. For this recognition Hamza Alavi did not have to sneak into the corridors of power. That is why it is so valuable. For me the pleasure of the event of itís launching, at which I was a speaker, was that I got to talk to Professor Hamza Alavi ñ not the first of my many conversations with him.

But let me remember the first time I met him. That was in London and I remember that glorious summer morning. The clock ticked away and we waited. Outside the windows I could see the greenery of a British summer but inside there was the greyness of the carpet. This was the library of the School of Oriental and African Studies in the University of London in July 1993.The librarian looked at the clock intently. Then it was exactly nine oíclock and we entered. The distinguished looking man in a grey suit started talking to the clerk. The clerk asked his name: "I am Hamza Alavi," he replied. I turned around. At last I had seen him in personñ-the man whose articles I had read with such appreciation. I introduced myself and we chatted briefly. Hamza Alaviís greatest contribution to political theory is the concept of the salariat. The idea is that the colonial state, which is a modern state, creates a large ubiquitous bureaucracy. Such a bureaucracy is necessary to control people more effectively and tax them more systematically. The state, therefore, becomes the greatest single employer. Most educated people, or at least those who are educated in the educational institutions created by the state, want jobs. These people, who are employed and draw a salary, or who aspire for employment, or their dependents, are the salariat.

Such a salariat, says Hamza Alavi, was the product of the British colonial rule in India. This salariat is not one homogenous whole. Its highest members, in the civil bureaucracy and the military, are extremely powerful. Indeed, they are the rulers, in lieu of elected leaders, in a conquered country. The lowest members can hardly make ends meet. But all live off the salary, which comes from that which the farmers produce from the land, the workers produce in factories, and taxation. This concept helps us understand both the Pakistan movement and the rise of ethnic movements in Pakistan. The Hindu and Muslim salariats competed for jobs and power in pre-partition India. Thus, in Hamza Alaviís view, Pakistan was not obtained for Islam but for Muslims. The difference is crucial and relevant today. If Hamza Alavi is right, and all the evidence supports his point of view, the creation of a theocracy is not what the Quaid-i-Azam would have approved of. He was a liberal democrat who wanted the Muslim salariat to live without fear of Hindu domination but did not want a theocracy. The rise of Bengali, Sindhi, Pashtun, Balochi ethnicity is because the salariats of these groups aspire for their share in power and goods and services the state provides. They resent Punjabi domination while state functionaries justify it. Hamza Alavi, in common with others in Pakistan and abroad, have developed this line of thinking in several papers.

During the course of this analysis he has referred to major developments in Pakistanís history. He has given an account of how the politicians, because of their weakness and infighting, could not prevent the bureaucracy from consolidating its power. The military also joined a little later and, since then, the military-bureaucratic complex has been the most powerful entity ñ called the ëestablishmentí ñ- in Pakistan. He also tells us that the bureaucracy dominated in the first two interludes of military rule but, during General Ziaul Haqís days, the military was dominant. Among other things he tells us about the lives of the peasants of the Punjab and, in general, about women in Pakistanís male-dominant society. Although papers about politics and society would appeal to more people, the papers on how the transition from feudalism to colonial capitalism took place in South Asia would repay reading. The latest papers on history, arguing that the communal stridency in Indian Muslims was the result of the Khilafat Movement, are most intriguing. If this is true then Gandhi contributed, however indirectly, towards creating Muslim aggressiveness and assertiveness in India! These are questions, which need to be debated at length. Hamza Alavi has something for everybody. His work should be read and discussed and not ignored as it generally is in our universities. Hamza Alavi is no more with us but his writings are. Pakistani universities hardly make their students read these writings presumably because they question the false myths laboriously constructed by official spin-doctors. The best way to honour this great mind would be to reprint his works, make them known to students and understand our society in the light of the insights they give us.

[The author is a Professor of Linguistics and South Asian Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad

Return to the Hamza Alavi WebMemorial | Go to the South Asia Citizens Web