The year 2006 begins on the sad note of the demise of a renowned politician and connoisseur of art and literature, Muhammad Hanif Ramay (1930-2006). He was a man of multi-faceted talents. His presence illuminated our minds and spirits, as his formal and informal conversations impressed and influenced people from every sphere of life.
Hanif Ramay was an accomplished calligraphic artist and painter. He was the first to employ the techniques of modern art in Islamic calligraphy to promote the ideology of Islamic socialism on this soil. His artwork fusing Eastern and Western aesthetics gave calligraphy a new dimension. He was an exception in the field of calligraphy, amalgamating abstract with Muslim art; he created a diction of his own that was subtle and legible even to an ordinary person. Ramay was inspired by the works of Abdul Rahman Chughtai and Master Allah Bux and created some masterpieces. He brought colour to calligraphy. However, he was involved in so many other activities that he was never able to market himself as a writer and artist. His painting, “Adam and Eve” was appreciated by everyone who knows something of what art is all about. Ramay’s work indeed was of high calibre and of admirable quality.
In his last years, Hanif suffered from back problems and kept away from active politics. However he went back to his real passion of writing and painting. He calligraphed Allah’s and Muhammad’s (PBUH) 99 names in his own unique style. Along with this came one of the best pieces of prose I’ve read in my lifetime so far: Islam ki Ruhani Kadrain -- Zindagi nahi Maut (The Spiritual Values of Islam — Life, not Death), in which he pointed out how today’s Muslim is in a state of dilemma over maintaining a balance between the first and second part of his life. His contributions in the domain of politics as a former Chief Minister of Punjab are worth mentioning too. He authored a book, Punjab Ka Muqaddama, which propagated the cause of the province and thus produced massive controversy among the people at that time. His emotional dedication to the interests of Punjab many years later culminated in this book in the mid-1980s in the aftermath of a violent political movement in Sindh. Punjab Ka Muqaddama argued the thesis that the bureaucracy at the Centre, and not Punjab, was responsible for depriving the smaller provinces of their due rights.
As Chief Minister of Punjab, he also founded Arts Councils in all the major cities of the province, which exist to date to promote and preserve the arts and culture of the country. He removed innumerable bureaucratic hurdles in building the Alhamra Arts Complex. It was his final wish to be buried in the premises of the same complex, but this was tragically turned down by the Punjab government.
Ramay’s independent and unprecedented theories on how to progress as a nation still impress everyone. However, he could not balance his conflicting interests and was forced out of office by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. He then joined Mustafa Khar and tried to form a new political party, but eventually joined the faction of Pakistan Muslim League led by Pir Pagara. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto threw Ramay into one of the cells of the Lahore Fort and a tribunal sentenced him to four and half years imprisonment.
When General Zia came to power, the Lahore High Court released Mr. Ramay, who then went away to the US and stayed there to teach at the University of California, Berkeley for more than six years. On his return to Pakistan, he again tried to jump into his old field of politics. This time he managed to form a new political party named Musawaat, with the slogan of ‘Rub, Roti aur Lok Raj’. But this did not take off and so he merged it with a new party led by Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi, called National People’s Party, but left it soon after. In the 1990s, when Benazir Bhutto came into politics, Ramay returned to the Pakistan People’s Party. Benazir Bhutto welcomed this and elevated him to the coveted position of Speaker of the Punjab Assembly in 1993.
Muhammad Hanif Ramay was amongst the few intellectuals who led the movement of enlightened Islam into the 1960s and was the first gentleman from the lower/middle class to become an elected Chief Minister Punjab. He was a prominent proponent of modernist Islam and his work influenced a whole generation in a decade spanning the 1950s and 1960s. The journal Nusrat was a harbinger of his thoughts and feelings. The literary community was then broadly divided into two wings, progressive (Leftist) and Islamists (Rightist). Ramay joined Muhammad Hassan Askari, Intezar Hussain, Salim Ahmad and Nasir Kazmi’s school of thought to express his ideas on the promotion of Pakistan’s identity and ideology. He, without an iota of doubt, was a man who played a pivotal role as a journalist in spreading the message of Islamic Socialism taken up by Z.A Bhutto.
A selfless politician, a pragmatic intellectual, a committed journalist, an artist par excellence, and a broadminded scholar, this is the life-story of Muhammad Hanif Ramay. He tried to combine modernity and traditional values in all the roles he played. There is no exaggeration in saying that personalities like him are very rarely found and the vacuum his death created, can never be filled.