The violence that ensued after the break-up of former Yugoslavia indicates how a leadership can successfully produce frustration and violence amongst a set of people. In fact, a wilful leader could take his people in any direction. Leadership, when preoccupied by personal gains, can become dangerous. The new movement for the restoration of Bahawalpur province seems to be experiencing a similar problem with its leadership single-mindedly taking people in a direction where they will be unable to think of coexisting with any other people, including with those with whom they share the common language of Seraiki, common culture and ethos.
Senator Mohammad Ali Durrani, who fears losing his senate seat after next year, is determined to create a position for himself by highlighting the need for a Bahawalpur province. He has been arguing that a Bahawalpur province is necessary to stave off the growing threat of religious extremism and militancy in the three divisions of Bahawalpur district. This is despite him and his family having associations with the Taliban and al Qaeda. Moreover, he knows full well, that militancy in Bahawalpur is a gift of the state rather than something truly organic.
Interestingly, the primary leadership of this movement will be politicians who lost their seats in the 2008 elections. They, in turn, will be led by the Nawab of Bahawalpur who, according to the members of the senate committee for SAFRON, is mainly interested in petty issues of protocol and motorcade at his disposal.
Upon the senate committee’s visit to Bahawalpur, senator Durrani and the nawab took them on an excursion of the historic Darawar fort. One wonders what right the nawab has to claim leadership when he does not even have the vision to save the above mentioned fort which is a great heritage of the area. The Darawar fort grounds have become unsafe to walk over mainly due to negligence for which the nawab’s family is solely to be blamed.
It is a fact that Senator Durrani has managed to excite the sentiments of a lot of people. However, start asking ordinary people about the reasons for having a province and the responses will vary from an absolute lack of knowledge on the subject to high expectations of development and prosperity. I recently conducted a sample survey in Bahawalpur and found that 60 per cent of my sample supported the creation of a province because they want schools, colleges, better development, industries, jobs and even water resources. About 40 per cent thought that a new province will not change their life and that they will not benefit at all. Amongst the 60 per cent, who supported the idea of a province, approximately 40 per cent did not even have trust in the leadership of the movement.
The point I am trying to make here is that a movement which is based on misguiding people can prove dangerous and create conflicts in society. Senator Durrani argues that creating a Bahawalpur province is just about restoring its older status of a financially viable entity. Sadly, no one has really calculated the present financial worth of the three districts — Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar and RahimYar Khan — that constitute what was once the state of Bahawalpur. The fact is that this area is deficient of industries that, in any case, are limited to a few sugar mills, a couple of textile mills and numerous ginning factories. The total expenditure of the three districts, which reflects their income generation capacity, is around Rs15 billion. The capitalists of this area are the same people who are part of the movement for the restoration of the province and have not exhibited any tendency for having a vision.
Under the circumstances, it may work out better if the Bahawalpur movement would dovetail into a financially more viable Seraiki province movement. Even if Bahawalpur must be made into a province, the leadership should conduct a cost-benefit analysis. There is nothing more dangerous than frustrating ordinary people.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2011.
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