THE much-quoted, one-word ‘Peccavi’ (‘I have sinned’ in Latin) message that Charles Napier is supposed to have sent to London, after capturing Sindh in 1843, and which appeared in Punch magazine the following year, has been attributed to the genius of a British humorist.
Once described by the New York Times as the perfect pun that summarised what Gen Napier had done in violating explicit orders not to move ahead and annex Sindh, the Punch joke underlined both facts brilliantly in that one word.
Fast forward to 2019 and one finds others aspiring to conquer Sindh and dethroning the party in power, committing sins and yet not being able to emulate Sir Charles Napier’s successes on the province’s political chessboard.
Let me be more direct. Since Gen Ziaul Haq overthrew Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, there have been repeated attempts to send the latter’s PPP on a one-way trip to oblivion.
Since Zia deposed Bhutto, there have been repeated attempts to send the latter’s PPP on a one-way trip to oblivion.
The murky politics of PPP leader Asif Ali Zardari, wherein he has faced a barrage of corruption allegations whether or not proven in a court of law, has tarnished the leader in the public perception and contributed hugely to the party becoming irrelevant across the bulk of the country.
Sindh defies that trend. One must wonder why. It is a widely held view, based on a number of facts, that the PPP has let down its supporters in its bastion. In fact, some of PPP’s detractors have even gone to the extent of mocking its voters as being no better than helpless serfs.
For the past three and a half decades, whether it was Ghous Ali Shah and Akhtar Ali G. Kazi in the 1980s or Jam Sadiq Ali in the following decade or Arbab Ghulam Rahim after the 2002 election, all non-PPP-led chief ministers and their governments were no more than mere aberrations.
If the birth of the MQM was meant to create a division in Sindh and take away from the support base of the PPP in the province, as many analysts have suggested at different times over the life of the urban-based party, it may well have achieved exactly the opposite.
Even nationalist parties that claim to represent the interests of Sindh’s rural heartland have fared poorly in electoral politics and PPP has been voted in repeatedly in large numbers here. Without doubt, PPP has relied on a network of candidates belonging to large, land-owning families.
Even then, it continues to catch the fancy of the rural populace as a lesser ‘feudal or a pir’ on a PPP ticket has often been successful against much bigger figures in the province’s feudal and ‘spiritual’ elite who contest on one platform or the other arrayed against the party.
One of Sindh’s finest intellectuals and writers, Sohail Sangi, who I count among my most trusted guides and mentors when it comes to the province’s politics, analysed in Dawn the last election results thus:
“There are two major political reasons behind voting for the PPP.”
“The PPP wins the nationalistic aspirations of people as it has historically tried to raise issues such as finance and water that otherwise would be taken up by nationalist parties; a concomitant factor is fear and the ethnic divide — Sindhis fear that if they don’t vote for the PPP, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) will end up dominating them and divide their province.”
This was evident in both the Jam Sadiq Ali and Arbab Ghulam Rahim administrations.
Let’s turn back the clock to the last elections in Sindh where the PPP managed to maintain its stranglehold over its rural vote bank, clawed back a modicum of success in Karachi and yet had to not only concede most of Karachi to MQM but on this occasion equally to the PTI.
This may have been the most dismal MQM performance since its inception. But look at the circumstances in which the party contested the polls — fragmented and having lost its major magnet, the controversial leader, with its cadres decimated in a paramilitary operation — and you may say it did not do so badly.
Despite a multitude of factors allowing the PTI to ride the crest of the wave, the National Assembly elections saw the Imran Khan-led party coming in short to form a government in Islamabad. This revived the MQM or MQM ‘P’ as it is known in its post-Altaf form.
Despite its much smaller contingent of MNAs this time round, the party demanded its pound of flesh as it was able to provide the direly needed numbers to the PTI. The MQM got a couple of key ministries, though some insiders fear the loyalties of its nominee for the law minister may lie elsewhere.
The bonhomie the PTI sees with the MQM, which has remained its bitterest political rival in Karachi in the past, has now been so cemented that the prime minister has paid glowing tributes to its ministers for being sophisticated and polite. He also said they could be electoral allies in the future.
For its part, even considerably weakened compared to the past, the MQM has demonstrated it has not lost its desire to eat its cake and have it too. Perhaps mindful of the growing challenge from its current ally — the PTI in Karachi — it has tried to consolidate its support. It has demanded that Sindh be split into two provinces.
This may deliver it a dividend in Karachi. But as PPP’s Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari continues to drive home issues such as Sindh’s share in the resources via the NFC and the 18th Amendment, the MQM’s stance has seriously undermined its own potential allies in rural Sindh.
As some PTI members rose in their seats in the Sindh Assembly to support PPP chief minister Murad Ali Shah’s rejection of the demand to truncate the province, they underlined the dilemma facing the prime minister and other aspirants for that elusive prize — Sindh.