Minoo Bhandara Remembered

Out of my 10 favourite contemporary Pakistanis, four happen to be Parsis: Justice Dorab Patel, Ambassador Jamsheed Marker, Ardeshir Cowasjee and Minoo Bhandara.

Article by Khaled Ahmed / Express Tribune

Minoo Peshotan Bhandara (1938–2008) was a parliamentarian who died in an accident in China. Like his novelist sister, Bapsi Sidhwa, he wrote extremely well. A collection of his articles, “Calling a Spade a Spade, Selected Writings” (Vanguard Books 2010), gives us a glimpse into the mind of this great Pakistani.

Minoo graduated from the Punjab University and went on to Oxford to do a PPE at Brasenose but was there only for a year. In 1958 he joined his family business, the Murree Brewery, in Rawalpindi. According to Cowasjee, founded in 1861 the original brewery in Murree was torched by a charged mob in 1947. It was then rebuilt “amidst the green trees of what is now the Jinnah National Park, on National Park Road, diagonally opposite the gates of Army House”.

Minoo inherited the brewery in 1961. In 1981 he was a member of Ziaul Haq’s Majlis-e-Shoora, serving as his adviser on minority affairs. He was an elected MNA in 1985 and in 2002. Under Musharraf, from 2002 to 2007, he urged him to infuse some of his “enlightened moderation” in his own party. While most politicians simply looked at how the power could be shared with the dictators, Minoo looked at the contradictions in the “mission statement” of the state. He was bothered by what everybody called the ideology of Pakistan. Not only was ideology revealed by the end of the century to be a device to end freedom of thought, it was clearly a tool in the hands of the dictators. Minoo actually moved a resolution in the National Assembly asking, “Tell us what exactly is the ideology of our country…”. The bill was rejected because there was no unanimity in the house over what the ideology of Pakistan was. Today, we are scared enough of the madrassahs to concede that it is something akin to what the Taliban want.

Minoo also tried to get the parliament to insert the August 11 1947 speech of Jinnah – which is the most lucid description of secularism in our times – into the constitution. The opposite of this speech – The Objectives Resolution – had already been inserted; and Minoo’s brave attempt came to nothing. Minoo quotes Isaiah Berlin, the most futuristic of European intellectuals on nationalism, telling us how nationalism aspires to conflict and disguises itself in a coercive interpretive gloss called ideology (p62).

In 1992, he regretted that Section 123 (A) of the Pakistan Penal Code prescribed up to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment for any act likely to prejudice the ideology of Pakistan (p65). He was opposed to the National Security Council which he thought “was devised by the President’s advisors namely Mr Sharifuddin Pirzada, Mr Aziz Munshi and Mr AK Brohi” (p76). He was clear in his mind about what Mullah Umar was all about when Islamabad thought he was a strategic asset: “The ambitions of Mullah Omar are not confined to his own country. He has the pretensions of being the ideological leader of Islamic renaissance. A target on his radar may well be the takeover of Pakistan itself”. (p139)

Minoo Bhandara became our conscience but we ignored him. His best articles are those defending the rights of the Muslims of Kashmir and Palestine. He compared his own plight to that of Jinnah whose favourite phrase, “calling a spade a spade”, was frequently used by him in his writings. If Pakistan is to survive it will have to accept the vision of the pluralist state Minoo shared with the founder of Pakistan. Bapsi Sidhwa, who teaches in the US, says her brother’s death has severed her last link to Pakistan. Many of us feel like her.

Published in the Express Tribune

  • dr arnavaz m havewala

    that was a well-written article about a man who was really secular, very efficient, a thinker and very lucid in his thoughts and ideology.
    i had the good fortune to meet him in karachi at the karachi club.
    we doctors had gone there, i think it was 1980, to perform a play…a parsi comedy, written by jehangir wadia, called “madhouse-no-mehman”.
    we were raising money for the parsee hospital in karachi.
    by the way, if i remember correctly, we raised rs. three lakhs, which was a princely sum in 1980.

    minoo was introduced to me as a “member of parliament from lahore”.
    we spoke for sometime, just him and i, bcoz i was fascinated that there could be a parsee m.p.in a muslim state.
    he said he represented the minorities, and we had quite an interesting discussion on pakistan.
    i remember him as v clever, and am really sorry to hear about his passing away.
    may he rest in peace.