Honouring of our heroes

This is a Pakpotpourri Exclusive


Shamshad Ahmad


As if already we didn’t have enough governance worries at home, here comes the Punjab Government’s ill-conceived decision on renaming of Lahore’s Shadman Chowk as Bhagat Singh Chowk to spark a new controversy involving distortions of history. There are many reasons for this decision to be rescinded with no second thought.


Firstly, there are more important things for a city administration than renaming streets and squares and complicating things for the people by giving names to places of their residence, business or daily usage that they can’t even pronounce and that too at a time when we as a nation are aflame with myriad crises and challenges of far greater magnitude. Secondly, any name once given to a place becomes its permanent identity and a public property. For example Lahore’s Qaddafi Stadium will remain Qaddafi Stadium no matter how disgraced Gaddafi later became to meet a tragic death last year.


Even Lahore’s Mall Road has had an official name ‘Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam’ for nearly half a century but no one calls it by this name. Lahore’s Shadman Chowk was built as Shadman Chowk. For residents of the area, this name is seared in their memories and cannot be erased from their minds only because a group of “peace activists” from both sides of the border so desire.


Thirdly, the renowned Indian peace ‘activist’ Kuldip Nayer, whom I greatly respect, in a recent article took the credit for this decision and claimed that “India and Pakistan were now beginning to honour their icons of yesteryears” and people in the two countries also felt that “remembering such persons will evoke common emotions, renew bonds of understanding and bridge the distance between them.” If that is really so, Kuldip Nayer would have done well if he had begun his mission with honouring of Pakistan’s Father of the Nation in India rather than picking up an individual about whom as he himself admits little is known in this country.


I am sure he is familiar with the history of the longstanding issue of Jinnah House in Mumbai. Built in 1936, Jinnah House, originally called South Court, was the personal residence of Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-AzamMohammad Ali Jinnah. After partition, it was taken over by the Indian government and declared evacuee property in 1949. Later it was leased to the British Consulate which moved out in 1981. Since1979, Pakistan has been seeking to buy the Jinnah House or at least lease it on long-term basis to be converted into Pakistan’s Consulate in Mumbai as a lasting tribute to its founding father.


Nothing could honour our Quaid more symbolically in Mumbai than his house becoming a lasting symbol of peace between the two perennially-estranged neighbours. India, true to its tradition, having initially agreed to this arrangement then backed out. Our first Consul General Sajjad Ali spent several months in a hotel waiting for possession of Jinnah House but had to return to Pakistan without opening our Consulate in Mumbai. Incidentally, this historic building which was also the venue of watershed talks between Jinnah, Gandhi and Nehru in September 1944 and August 1946 that shaped the future course of Indian history doesn’t even carry a ‘Jinnah House’ plaque.


We have never questioned Bhagat Singh’s place in India’s history and in fact as a mark of our respect for his role in India’s freedom struggle, Pakistan voluntarily ceded to India in 1961 the spot at Hussainiwala on the banks of Sutlej River where he was cremated after being hanged in Lahore. Thanks to Pakistan’s gesture, a Bhagat Singh memorial now stands at this spot just one kilometer from India-Pakistan border. Can we expect similar gesture in respect of Jinnah House in Mumbai?


Kuldip Nayer also tells us how a group of Indian peace activists recently crossed the border to join their Pakistani counterparts for a vigil at Lahore’s Shadman Chowk commemorating the sacrifice of Bhagat Singh, Raj Guru and Sukh Dev, the three leftist revolutionaries who were hanged by the British on March 23, 1931. This vigil, according to Nayer, marked “a poignant moment” moving many hearts in the two countries while Indian and Pakistani voices mingled together shouting “Bhagat Singh zindabad”, “Inquilab zindabad”.

“Bhagat Singh zindabad” is understandable but “Inquilab zindabad” slogans at Shadman Chowk sound alarming. Coming from the “hearts” of a group of ideologically-motivated individuals from both sides of the border, these slogans raise serious questions on the motives of the so-called “peace activists.” Bhagat Singh’s “creedless” Inquilab was centred solely on a socialist republic in India. What kind of Inquilab our “peace activists” now want and where? Wouldn’t Bhagat Singh have revolted today against his fellow-Sikh prime minster’s capitalism-led high-growth policies in India?

Had Bhagat Singh been practicing his revolutionary zeal today, wouldn’t he have faced the same fate as he met on March 23, 1931? What would have been his stance on Kashmiri freedom struggle or even on Sikhs’ separatist movements? Wasn’t Maqbool Butt, a Kashmiri freedom fighter fuelled by the same fire that once ignited Bhagat Singh’s heart to openly revolt against the British Raj? Today, isn’t there zero tolerance for militancy or violence of any sorts? Aren’t we gullibly paving the way for glorification of terrorist killers who in their minds also have a ‘cause’ of their own no matter how misguided?

Those of us familiar with the history of the sub-continent and the circumstances that eventually led to India’s division know the answers to these questions. They understand why having lived together for centuries, we stand poles apart in our attitudes to life and history with a different worldview altogether. Are we also obliged to have the same view of history as that from across the border? Wouldn’t that be a trespass attempt into our history? Kuldip Nayer shouldn’t be surprised if the people in Pakistan do not know much about Bhagat Singh and as an independent nation have their own sense of history.

And no one has the right to distort Pakistan’s history, not even editorially, as a local English daily has  recently sought to do by suggesting that “without people like Bhagat Singh, Jinnah would never have had the opportunity” to pressure the British.” This is an insult to the Quaid. We respect Bhagat Singh but it is absolutely nobody’s business to cast down our Quaid’s historic role and stature. Yes, our history did not begin and end with the formation of the Muslim League or even with the invasion by Muhammad Bin Qasim. But it also didn’t begin or end with Bhagat Singh whose only connection to Lahore was his “vengeance” killing of ASP Saunders and Constable Chanan Singh at local police headquarters for which after due trial he was hanged in this very city.

And here we do no talk of a bomb factory that Bhagat Singh and his militant comrades had established in Lahore for their bombing attacks in Delhi’s Central Legislature and many other places in Punjab. Nobody, not even the Quaid, Gandhi or Nehru approved of his “bomb philosophy.” But let us not rake up history. We still respect Bhagat Singh. If we truly want to honour our iconic heroes, cosmetic renaming of streets or squares and symbolic vigils in their memory will not do. We can honour them only by holding on to what they really stood for.

Peace and communal harmony, not outdated ‘revolutionary’ philosophies would have been their clarion call today. They would have wanted people-centred growth and a society free of corruption and exploitation by the feudal- political elites. They would have expected us to address the root causes of India-Pakistan conflicts. And we in Pakistan can truly honour our national heroes by preserving the sovereign freedom, dignity and values that they bequeathed to us as an independent nation.



The writer is a former foreign secretary

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  • Omar Khan  On November 17, 2012 at 1:13 pm


    Many thanks for the article.

    My wife and I had been agonizing on the issue of re-naming places in Lahore.
    Shamshad sahib’s article has given us some degree of solace.


  • Khalid Rahim  On November 17, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    Very well put forward if only we learn to be rational in our thinking.

  • Mansoor Mubeen  On November 17, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    should not the honorable writer be putting his writing skill for a better cause ?


  • Archie Haase  On November 17, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Brilliant thoughts shared with us by this writer; India/Pakistan. The logic and safety of peace sadly is lost to the intellects of those who live within the boundaries of history, and into the wits of those many fools choosing to live in the chaos and divisions of war.

  • Naveed Tajammal  On November 17, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    Aman ki asha party at work,Bhagat singh indeed,who will be next, tarra singh ?
    These pacifist need to be thrown in the pacific ocean,on a lonely island.

  • Archie Haase  On November 17, 2012 at 3:51 pm

    Yes these pacifists need to suffer long bouts of blissful peace. Who are these pacifist thinking war and the chaos of war hate is terrible to behold? They should all be put on a Pacific island away from people who hate them eating only fish and coconuts?

  • Parvez Amin  On November 18, 2012 at 3:33 am

    I will support anything that promotes peace and understanding – but there are limits – this is going too far accross the limits. Mr Shamshad has argued his case well. The responsible public servants need to be severely reprimanded and forced to withdraw their decision failing which severe punishment should be awarded.

  • Jamil Mukhtar  On November 18, 2012 at 11:09 am

    I only hope that we can learn from it.I never had any doubt that Indian overtures are fake,as always.

  • a m malik  On November 18, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    Let us see Indians honouring any of our people, the foremost being our Quaid’s Jinnah House in Bombay. When NAB Chairman Adm Bokhari mentioned of our corruption and loot he should have added Samelessness also as a part of our culture depicted not only by the people avowing for Aman Ke Asha but also by the TV channels who have no qualms of showing Indian dances bordering on vulgarity and their films and dramas – even though our production is superior and of taste.
    No doubt Mr Shamshad has presented his case well – but when he speaks of integerity then where was this lost when he as foriegn Secy: dealt with the Americans???

  • ArchieHhaase  On November 18, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    Forgive me. India is not a nation I respect a lot. How can I respect a nation with a caste system not allowing it people to rise in society because of an accident of birth? On the other hand Pakistan was formed from the British intellect, not from a broad indigenous deliberation; thus creating chaos in the wider Islamic world with broken tribal linguistic lines…
    It seems to me Pakistan needs to do at least two things in regard to India. First develop economically, and rationally Pakistan’s own core economic problems with public transparently. If it is the US drones, brain storm on how to rid you of this problem. Use China’s guidance sensitively. Use Chinese money.
    Educate the world with the help of other Islamic nations on what needs to be done in order for Islam to live in peace with the world. It seems to me Islam and its Muslims are always reacting negatively to the west’s generating mostly perverse events never really developing positive events themselves. Forgive me for thinking I know anything.

  • KUNWAR IDRIS  On November 19, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Renaming of public places shows more of passing emotion, or political tactic, which fall flat or gain hold without an explanation. I have always wondered that while the Mall in Lahore and Bunder road in Karachi refused to accept the name of Jinnah, Karachi’s Kutchery Road is forgotten and is now known only as cumbersome Chaudhry Khaliq-uz-Zaman road named after a politician who in stature was no where near Jinnah.


  • Owais Saadat  On November 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    Renaming places is a post colonial practice…it happened in most countries of Asia and Africa that wanted to supplant their heroes of national struggle with those of the colonial masters. This has sound rationale but naming streets at a whim and in accordance with ” flavor=of=the moment” can land countries in not only in an embarrassing situation but a ludicrous bind. For instance, naming the Lahore Home Economics after Farah Diba, and the more egregious ” Ghadafi Stadium” and the Shah-re- Pahlavai in Islamabad. Better if we dedicate our streets and monuments to our cultural heroes…a prominent boulevard to Nusrat Fatheh Ali, and others to Faiz Sahib, Iqbal Bano, Sadequin etc etc. THis will promote a ” softer image” and more importantly it might lead our younger generation to ask” who is this Sadequin fella ?” and that can be a segue to satisfying their curiosity with more information.

  • Yasmeen Ali  On November 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    There are many unsung heroes in Pakistan.
    Should we use names from foreign shores- to supersede the names we should honor first? I find Indian culture being imposed upon our younger generation by our media. Should we add to this by re naming our streets on Indian names too?

  • Owais Saadat  On November 19, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    no one can deny that we have a long shared history with India. I believe the biggest mistake we made was to distance ourselves from heroes in Indian history. All we are left to show case is Ghandara , i.e if the Taliban don’t blow up the rest . The sad fact is that India has inherited…by default and more by design…the cultural mantle of the sub-continent and we are left twisting in the wind. They have no qualms naming the poshest street in Delhi as Aurangzeb Road…every flat on that road is a million $ plus. In our constricted view Aurangzeb was “ours” because he was this ” very pious ” Muslim king who persecuted the Hindus and especially Sikhs and taught them a lesson or two. Yet, Indians have chosen to name a street after this Mughal king and there are scores of other examples while we are quibbling about Bhagat Singh and playing tit-for-tat!

  • Naveed Tajammal  On November 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    It would be better if you made up your mind
    as,to, with whom you stand.
    The aman ki asha party or those of actual country.
    Free-thinkers abound,hence the intellectual quagmire
    the clueless lot.Indians are clear,they know how to distort
    the minds of the weak.The result is in your views,and mails.
    Naveed Tajammal,

  • Omar Khan  On November 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    Dear All,

    I wanted to express my views But Naveed Tajammal showed
    me the inescapable truth that threw me under the bus.

    One thought though

    India has overshadowed us in every manner and in all aspect of progression
    (except perhaps the magnitude of ‘rishwat’ per transaction.) I paid an Indian
    immigration officer I RS:100 for a mistake in my papers during one of my visit to
    Mumbai and which was accepted with grace. I would have been jailed offering
    this amount to our own immigration officer)

    We are screening their movies with pride; going on strike when as cable operators
    we are disallowed to show Indian films on TV; with what relish do we salivate at the
    sight of ‘kajoo ki barfee” from Haldi Ram sweet shop Mumbai/Dehli.. I have
    witnessed the sense of pride the Indians have for their country; I don’t know what we
    have for ours.Our leaders and led are a pack of pusillanimous beings strapped woefully
    to their personal agenda as the national agenda lies languishing as the 2nd fiddle. It pains
    me, as I wrote earlier, to see the way Indian culture and influence (renaming of
    streets/roundabout etc is a part of it all) has permeated our psyche’.

    Renaming is not a step towards reconciliation. It is an inevitability towards



  • Owais Saadat  On November 20, 2012 at 1:06 am

    I must take umbrage with Naveed and you dear friend Omar. Is it that us… the “Midnight’s Children”… have a special antipathy towards India because of our parental orientation or is it some kind of sour grapes that we keep beating up on India relentlessly? More disturbing that we keep comparing ourselves with India notwithstanding that country’s sheer size, resources and international stature first earned through the Non-aligned movement and later by flirting with the USA. I know for sure that a country which exists on hatred cannot progress. Its time we focused inwards and see how we can improve ourselves rather than push others down to make us look better.

    Makes one also wonder if we Pakistani’s are scared of competition. We build high tariff walls, impose quantitative restrictions including outright bans to keep Indian goods at bay……why cant we pull ourselves by the bootstraps and give the Indians a hard knock by being even more efficient and market oriented? Our protectionist policies only punish the disempowered consumers in Pakistan and consign them to see third rate movies, buy second rate goods, and pay exorbitant prices for smuggled goods. It does not make sense, my friends…this is not patriotism, its exploitation of the masses. The world has substantively changed since 1947 and if we don’t the new realities we shall fall further behind economically.

    I am sorry that these words may sound harsh but honestly its time for some ” tough love”. I am enjoying this exchange so lets not put a damper by pronouncing like like George Bush ” You are either with us or against us”!!!!

    Regards, Owaise

  • Naveed Tajammal  On November 20, 2012 at 11:23 am

    There would Not,be a need for an ‘Umbrage’-if you take
    the critique as an ‘Admonishment’.If the midnight children had
    not been brainwashed,with conceptual terms like,one sub-continent
    oneness of India,division through partition,one language,written in two scripts
    etc the list goes on.
    The Hindu intellectual has focused on distorting our past,and what was ours
    is now,a fact,that it was theirs,the fault can be attributed to our elders,who
    never studied our past records,Pakistan is a new name awarded to a entity
    which is etched in time,the cradle of knowledge,and the only civilization in the region.
    The vedic story is new,as is the myth of Ashoka much hyped by Indians,
    our writers to get kudos from all,base their books on what,has been wrongly
    been established as the truth.Hence the confusion.
    But as we go through our re-birth and its evolutionary phases,it is
    high time,we took our identity.And so heroes as well.

  • Omar Khan  On November 20, 2012 at 11:25 am


    On reading your homily the only sentence that came to mind is what Ronald Reagan
    use to say to rattle his opponent during the Presidential debate “There you go again”.

    My intention is not to rattle you but certainly your thought process. The blame and
    censure for a fault that you bathed the “midnight children” with, is exactly and more
    what Indian leaders have been indulging in.The words written by Naveed are nearer
    to the ground reality than the false cheer and approbation you are armed with. If you
    read my mail again you will see that I have genuinely appreciated India’s progress. I
    have also agonized over the manner in which we propogate Indian culture where India
    goes out of its way to loath everything Pakistani. And Owaise I have experienced it
    during my many visits that took place over the lasttwo years.

    It is not hatred that we have stymied our progress. If that were so India who hates us
    would not have progressed as it has. In terms of our progress it is not all the summary
    you have given in your mail that has frustrated our progress. Our leadership and the
    rampant corruption has let us down. The decimation of our institutions by the political
    parties in power has let us down. The recent phenomenon of ever increasing erstwhile
    loudspeaker thumping muslim evangelists have let us down. The unstoppable short cut
    to heaven has let us down.

    You talk of India as if it has always been there with open arms to embrace us as a mother
    would to a wayward child eternally ready to forget and forgive and it is Pakistan (because
    of the “midnight children”) who slap away the hand of friendship that India continues to offer.
    I would hate to use the word ‘naive’ but my dear Owaise such a thought harboured by an
    evolved mind as yours is a misconception of the nth degree.

    “Aik nehayat kush samajh bacha jo keh apnay aap ko Owaise pukarta hai, chand arsay
    say rasta bhool gaya hai. Agar aap ko milay to usay Gulberg Lahore par chor dain. Baitay
    Owaise agar tum yeh parho to ghar wapis aa jaao. Tumhain kuch naheen kaha ja ay ga.”




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