Political party launched for restoration of Bahawalpur province
By Riaz Missen
Not many weeks have passed after Mr. Yusuf Raza Gilani announded to Jabalpur Pirwala on March 13, on the right bank of the Sutlej River, where he told a gathering that his party had made the mind about dividing Punjab and creating a new province comprising Seraiki regions, the regional forces have come together and formed Bahawalpur National Awami Party (BNAP) to remind him that the route to this end only passes through the restoration of the Bahawalpur province, which General Yahya Khan merged into Punjab when he announced the demise of One Unit in 1969. While the regionalists of the South Punjab think the formation of the BAP is the culmination point of their struggle against Takht-e-Lahore, the Seraiki nationalists have yet to know what boundaries the PPP has in mind for their proposed province.
The pro-province forces had become active right after the 2008 elections and the formation of coalition government in the Centre. The regional leadership reminded the PPP many times that its historic victory in Bahawalpur division was due to an understanding reached between the Nawab of Bahawalpur and Benazir Bhutto in London and not due to any change of hearts, but no clear assurance was made by the PPP leadership. The 18th amendment hurt the Bahawalpur leadership the most as Punjab, like many other provinces, got more resources and power without any assurance that the benefits would also reach to Bahawalpur as well.
Muhammad Ali Durani, who happens to be the only Senator from Bahawalpur, owes a lot credit to revive the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province. Though his activism brought him envy and contempt by the old lot who questioned his credentials and past conduct, but he remained determined and resolved in his mission. His ties with media, which he cultivated as information minister during Musharraf era, helped him to bring forth vital statistics regarding the plundering of the Bahawalpur resources as well as its marginalization in terms of funds. His arguments and presentations made the political temperature rise as the provinces moved for autonomy through NFC Award and 18th amendment. PML-F also threw its weight on the side of the movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province.
Nawab of Bahawalpur, Salahuddin Abbasi, initially stuck to his family tradition and was not carried away by the passionate appeals of Durrani to lead the movement for long. He only issued cautiously drafted statements and a promise to come forward if 100,000 youth get registered with the movement. Meanwhile Muhammad Ali Durani brought ahead selling of some land and the railway track at throwaway prices. The statements of some PPP ministers for the creation of Seraiki province and their criticism vis-à-vis the Bahawalpur movement also pushed the Nawab to come into the public.
PPP not only failed on the promise of supporting the restoration of Bahawalpur but also it could not implement some projects which the PPP’s ex-chairperson had promised at the time he launched election campaign into Punjab. While addressing a public gathering at Rahimyarkhan, a few days after she had ended her self-imposed exile and landed in Karachi, she promised slashing interest on agricultural loans, construction of Nishtar Ghat bridge over Indus and provision of canal water at tail end.
Many questions have propped up vis-à-vis the launching of the Bahawalpur Awami Party. There is no question of its success in the upcoming elections both for the reason that the political leadership of the region is united and also that a strong sense of deprivation prevails among the people and they believe that the restoration of the provincial status is the only way out to get rid of extreme poverty and underdevelopment.
It is worth mentioning that there is clear understanding among the political leadership that the movement for the creation of Seraiki province is a ploy of the Peoples Party and that the issue has been just raised to make the Bahawalpur’s cause unachievable. The PML-N too can’t maintain its influence in Bahawalpur further as Nawab has said it very clearly that he would ensure that those who do politics for the cause other than the restoration of province got the political life ended.
The name of the political party suggests that Nawab has no political ambitions beyond Bahawalpur division. But the party influence may reach across three rivers (Sutlej, Panjnad and Sindh) which touch the Bahawalpur division. The districts like Mailsi, Lodhran and Rajanpur are closer to Bahawalpur rather than to Multan. There is history of these regions being attached to the ex-princely state before the occupation of Multan by Sikhs and later by the British.
Last but not the least: Nawab will have to look for political allies at national level. The Bahawalpur Awami Party will part of the Third Force that will simply uphold regional agendas and try their best to get politics take a consensual course. The Bahawalpur Awami Party can assume centre stage in the dialogue for raising alliance of regional parties.