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Published in Sep-Oct 2014

A media owner of strong opinions

Tribute to Majid Nizami (1928-2014)

With the passing away of Majid Nizami, the chief editor of Nawa-i-Waqt Group of Newspapers, an era in Pakistani journalism has come to a close. Most politicians feared him, as they increasingly do the growing power of the media. Many disagreed with his political positions.

Yet, irrespective of how one viewed him, few really knew this reclusive media owner well. For three years, as the first commerce editor of The Nation, never once did I meet him. That was his style. Those who knew him intimately think his being a recluse was because he never grew out of the shadow of his elder brother, Hameed Nizami, the founder of Nawa-i-Waqt. Hameed Nizami was a liberal in the mould of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Before 1947 the elder Nizami set up the Punjab Students Federation, the student wing of Jinnah’s Muslim League, and after completing his Master’s he initially joined the Punjab Press Information department, but left to join Orient Press and in 1940 established Nawa-i-Waqt.

The leading Muslim-owned newspapers of Lahore supported the Quaid. On the liberal-left was Mian Iftikharuddin and his Pakistan Times and on the other side was Hameed Nizami’s liberal-right Nawa-i-Waqt. In those days Majid Nizami was very young and was sent to England for his education. However, in 1962 when Hameed Nizami died at the age of 47, he returned to take control as Hameed Nizami’s children were very young.

This was to prove the beginning of an extraordinary career as a media owner, one that was to see him become the most influential person in the Zia era. Majid Nizami consolidated his media empire and fashioned himself as the person who dictated what Pakistan’s ideology stood for. In that sense he led the ultra-rightist ideologues which most scholars agree was the opposite of what his elder brother represented.

There are three aspects of Majid Nizami’s life that need brief discussion; his beliefs, his business and his personal life. In the end it was his beliefs that mattered most to Pakistan. When Majid Nizami inherited his brother’s newspaper, he was not known for his journalistic skills. What he certainly was known for were his views on what Pakistan stood for, and in this he was supported by an array of intellectuals from the right, including Z.A. Suleri, Meem Sheem, Altaf Qureshi, Punjab University Vice-Chancellor,

Dr Rafique Ahmed and Munawar Mirza. It was they who provided his newspaper with the columns that churned out his beliefs. Their views were seen as those of Majid Nizami.

His next move was to set up the Nazaria-e-Pakistan Trust where he set about defining the ‘ideology of Pakistan’ and in a silent manner sought to dictate what the young were to make of their country’s ideology. The school syllabus of every subject was changed to reflect India as the enemy of Pakistan.

With time, as Pakistan began to move out of the Partition mindset, his work on the ideology of Pakistan was increasingly seen as an obstacle to change. By the end he had fashioned mass thinking about India firmly as a ‘do or die’ situation. However, in time such confrontation was seen as irrelevant, and by the time he passed away, his legacy was seen as having slowly faded.

The relevance of his fight for what he believed to be the ideology of Pakistan, can also be seen in the way his business affairs panned out. When he returned to take over his brother’s business in 1962, he moved deftly and expanded aggressively. His circulation was never a match for the market leader, the daily Jang of the Mir family. That is, probably, one reason why he pitched his policy as one which represented the ‘Pakistan of Jinnah’.

With the wars with India polarising the population, he never stopped fanning his ‘anti-India’ rhetoric. This was to prove the basis of his ‘Nazaria-e-Pakistan’ movement. When the anti-Ahmedi movement started, his newspaper was at the vanguard of the thinking that ‘Islam was being threatened’. Later this manifested itself by his support for the anti-Bhutto PNA movement.

All these developments cemented his views as firmly anti-India but based on the premise that Islam was under threat from within. This was very much in line with the Zia legacy as we know it today – although he often clashed with Zia when the military dictator interfered in the affairs of the press. Has this damaged Pakistan is a moot question. History will be a better judge, and that takes its own time to gel.

His views were also reflected in his personal life. When he felt his grip on business was threatened, he set up a parallel company called the Nadai-e-Millat. This company began to publish Nawa-i-Waqt. He handed over the buildings that were in the name of his brother to his nephews, and built a new one behind them to house the newspaper.

In the end it will be the way he depicted the history of Pakistan, its raison d’etre, and its projected future course that Majid Nizami will be most remembered.

Majid Sheikh is a contributing journalist to DAWN.