The grandeur of Bahawalpur’s Noor Mahal stands in contrast to the political career of the descendant of the royals who built it.
Though Nawab Salahuddin Abbasi, a descendent of the last and most powerful nawab of the Bahawalpur princely state Nawab Sadeq Muhammad Khan, continues to command respect within the Bahawalpur area, his electoral prospects have been damaged by the presence of other political parties in the constituency. The royal estates themselves are now a popular tourist resort, largely under the military’s control.
Nawab Abbasi has occupied a National Assembly seat four times: in 1988 as an independent candidate, in 1990 on the Islamic Jamhoori Ittehad’s ticket and in 1993 and 1997 through the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz. On April 14, 2011, Abbasi formed his own political party, named the Bahawalpur National Awami Party (BNAP) which advocated the restoration of the Bahawalpur province.
His popularity stretches to all three districts of the Bahawalpur division – Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar and Rahim Yar Khan, which encompass 15 National Assembly and 31 Punjab Assembly constituencies. Yet, his attempts at striking deals with the main political forces have not been very successful.
Nawab Abbasi did not get the royal treatment from the PML-N after parting ways from it: when BNAP approached the PML-N in 2011, the Sharif brothers offered him only one seat out of the 14 National Assembly seats in the Bahawalpur division, while also not backing him for a Senate seat.
He then approached President Asif Ali Zardari, who promised him the office of Governor Punjab. However, Nawab Abbasi faced yet another disappointment when Makhdoom Ahmed Mehmood was later nominated for the same office by the PPP. The last nail in the coffin came when the ruling party removed Nawab Abbasi’s name from its list of suggested caretaker governors of Punjab. However, despite all of this, PPP officials reveal that President Zardari had increased many perks and privileges for Nawab Abbasi and his son.
Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid’s leaders Chaudhry Pervez Elahi and Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain also approached Nawab Abbasi, but did not end up striking a deal with him.
This time round, the nawab has made an alliance with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf , and will field two candidates -- Nawab Abbasi himself and BNAP’s President Malik Farooq Azam. However, it is predicted that Nawab Abbasi, who did not participate in the 2002 and 2008 elections, will face a tough time battling rivals from the PPP and PML-N.
Abbasi’s former close companion Muhammad Ali Durrani, who recently quit him and joined Pakistan Muslim League Functional (PML-F) doesn’t have high hopes for his former ally. While talking to The Express Tribune, he said Nawab Abbasi’s strength could be judged from the fact that no one applied for his party ticket.
On the other hand, the Principal Secretary to Nawab Abbasi, Rifat-ul-Rehman Rehmani said that Nawab Abbasi in the 2008 elections supported 9 candidates out of the 15 National Assembly seats of the Bahawalpur district, and all of them emerged victorious. Optimistic about the Nawab’s chances this time round, Rehmani said the BNAP’s collaboration with the PTI will prove to be a success.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2013.