The battle for Punjab

The PPP has recently brought out its Seraiki card which it had been holding close to its chest since its birth. The premier recently said in Jalalpur Pirwala, a town on the right bank of Sutlej, that he is in favor of dividing Punjab on linguistic lines and that the new election manifesto of the party will include Seraiki province — to the very much anxiety of the regional leadership which expects from the party to support the revival of the defunct Bahawalpur province.

By Riaz Missen

Both the PPP and MQM are going to redraw their manifestos. The PPP Co-Chairman Asif Ali Zardari has constituted a 10-member committee and Farooq Sattar, the central leader of the Karachi-based MQM, has announced the constitution of Central Council to achieve their respective ends. Both the political parties are partners in the government at provincial (Sindh) and federal level though the MQM has declined to accept any portfolio.

The PPP is the largest political party of the country. The problem with the MQM is that it is identified as the party of Urdu-speaking migrants confined to the urban areas of Sindh. Its hold on Karachi gives it edge over the mainstream political parties of the country given the mega city’s position as the provincial capital as well as the business hub of the country.

Though the minutiae of the changes in the manifestos of the PPP and the MQM will come out as the committees set up for the purpose will brood, deliberate and discuss the matter, the interests and orientations of the two parties are already in the limelight. While the PPP wants to hold on to its position as the largest political party of the country, the MQM cherishes the dream of its expansion beyond the urban areas of Sindh. The Punjab is the most treasured political destiny its leadership wants to reach out. The party leadership also wants to shed the ethnic image of the country and, therefore, the new manifesto will certainly be drafted keeping it in mind.

The MQM is in a sense one of its kind given the nature of its interests and the agenda it wants to carry on. If one sets aside its ethnic orientations, as its opponents blame, the fact remains that it’s the support-base which constitutes urban areas. The language and thoughts of its leadership clearly indicate that it is not yet thinking about bridging the communication gap between the cities and the countryside. The image of the rural areas which they carry with them is the one dominated by feudal, tribal and spiritual chieftains who, they believe, are answerable for prevalent ignorance and poverty.

The MQM is likely to project itself as a knight in shining armor and deliverer through the new manifesto. Ending feudalism is its long-cherished goal now as has been the case in the past. It is very well-understood by the party leadership that its further expansion will be resisted by the powerful agriculturalist lobby heavily present in the mainstream political parties like the PPP, the PML-N, the ANP and their religious and ethnic associates. Overall, the MQM is pitted against all who matter in the politics of Pakistan.

The PPP, of course, represents the landed interests. It has a genuine interest in the urban areas of Sindh and the Punjab and for that matter it lures the laborers and working classes in the cities. Sindhi and Seraiki nationalists are its natural allies since the times of its inception. In the countryside it wants status quo and has a genuine interest in pushing the landless and the marginalized to the nearby towns and cities as a matter of externalizing the conflict in the rural side.

The PPP is almost out in the big cities of Sindh and only Multan has become it bastion in the Punjab. How to gain control of the urban/industrial region in the two above-mentioned provinces remains its cherished goal and this desire is likely to figure in the revised manifesto of the party. It is the point where the two parties’ interest is going to clash with one other. The MQM is not going to hand over Karachi and Hyderabad to any political party and is up to competing them in the Punjab as well.

The PPP has recently brought out its Seraiki card which it had been holding close to its chest since its birth. The premier recently said in Jalalpur Pirwala, a town on the right bank of Sutlej, that he is in favor of dividing Punjab on linguistic lines and that the new election manifesto of the party will include Seraiki province — to the very much anxiety of the regional leadership which expects from the party to support the revival of the defunct Bahawalpur province. The PPP has found an unexpected ally in the form of the ex-ruling party, PML-Q, which has floated the idea of dividing the Punjab to create a province for its southern parts though it is against doing so on ethnic or linguistic lines.

As for the MQM, it is all in favor of new provinces. It is one step ahead of the PPP in the sense that it pleads the re-demarcation of the boundaries of the existing provinces. The PPP prefers status-quo in this regard and it is only lately that it has supported dividing the Punjab. Though the premier in his aforementioned address in Bahawalpur had also announced support for the ‘small provinces’, it is not yet clear whether he meant by it strengthening the position of the existing smaller provinces or the creation of new ones like Hazara.

The MQM aspires for carving out a province out of Sindh and its desire found some expression in the form of the district government system which it welcomed and gained a virtual hold over Karachi, but abolition of this system by the PPP in Sindh and elsewhere has frustrated it. It is quite natural that this party wants a space outside of Sindh to make its voice effective in the decision-making process of the country. Given its bitter experience in the past, the MQM will avoid reviving any demand for creation of a province essentially comprising Karachi till it finds its support-base out of Sindh. So the Punjab has become vital for it after the abolition of the local government system and indefinite postponing of the polls.

The PPP seems ultimately convinced it can’t take over Takht-e-Lahore given the presence of PML-N and the wide support of the media and establishment available to it. All of its reconciliation policy has ended up its alliance with the PML-N in the Punjab. The South Punjab, a mainstay of the party, feels now frustrated and is all up to getting rid of Takht-e-Lahore. The move to divide the Punjab, however, may backfire.

The PML-N may overcome its foot-dragging and re-condition its motivation to this end as a measure to avoid commotion and mayhem due to concentration of desperate interest in Punjab and to revive its claim as a national-level party, it may negotiate a constitutional amendment with the government and its ethnic allies for some formula to create new provinces. Language can be one factor but not the sole criteria for dividing a province. The 7th NFC Award can serve as the best guide. If it decides so, the PML-N may be next party to announce its next manifesto right now.

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About Sutlej News

News stories, features and columns on state and society in Pakistan with special reference to Bahawalpur, a princely state struggling to regain its provincial status it lost in in 1954

Posted on April 1, 2011, in Politics. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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