KARACHI: Sindh’s information setup went through yet another shake-up on Tuesday when Sharmila Farooqi, adviser to the chief minister without a portfolio, was given charge of the department. She is the third person to be given the responsibility of media management by Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah in his two-and-a-half year tenure.
Sharmila is a known face on TV and in the newspapers. Not at all publicity-shy, she has been on the offensive from day one of her appointment as an adviser. The niece of Salman Farooqui, top mandarin with President Zardari, Sharmila has been at the forefront of defending the rights and wrongs of the government with such conviction that her appointment does not come as a surprise.
But there are those who doubt her still. She is not seen as a true-blooded PPP supporter, argue critics, who have questioned her appointment. Despite the opposition, Sharmila took charge from Jameel Soomro, who was appointed in January 2010.
Soomro was appointed by Qaim Ali Shah in place of Shazia Marri. Marri who originally belongs to Sanghar, is the daughter of Atta Muhammad Marri and Parveen Marri, both parliamentarians. Despite her political credentials, she failed to keep this high-profile job.
While seen as a popular minister, Shazia Marri was abruptly removed from her ministry under the cloud of various allegations.
Official sources said that she stopped giving advertisements to different vernacular newspapers and issued advertisements to the papers of her choice on her own terms and conditions. A few newspaper owners and employees started campaigning against her and staged demonstration and rallies in Karachi and other districts of the province.
Meanwhile, a senior PPP leader told The Express Tribune that the advertisement issue was actually an excuse to get rid of Marri.
The real reason was that in the provincial and federal capital, Shazia Marri was becoming more popular than the CM himself.
On one occasion President Zardari criticised all Sindh cabinet ministers but appreciated Shazia Marri and Sharmila Farooqi, saying that these two “are very active and know very well how to fight the party case. I watch them on television.”
As the president completed his sentence, Sharmila Farooqi exclaimed in obvious delight, “Sir do you really watch us on TV?” To this, Zardari looked away and ignored her. But he meant what he said.
Party insiders say that while Sharmila Farooqi continued to work under the CM’s command, after the public endorsement by the president, Shazia Marri became more independent and this led to her dismissal by the CM.
In her place came Jameel Soomro, who had started his career as an activist of the Sindh People Students Federation and later he was given the responsibility of media in-charge of Bilawal House. After the assassination of Benazir Bhutto he became close to the president and worked at the media section of President House in Islamabad until he was given the information ministry in Sindh.
However, Soomro was not a PR man and soon complaints surfaced of his inability to keep the media happy. There were also stories of advertisements being given to favourites. The last nail in the coffin was the fact that Soomro could not ensure prominent publicity for the president during his long stays in Karachi.
Now with the appointment of Sharmila Farooqi as the de-facto information minister of Sindh, there are questions about how the media set-up will be managed in the province. Farooqi is a Zardari loyalist and knows how to be on the right side of the president’s sister Faryal Talpur, who onec scolded her in a meeting for her inability to deliver. Many predict she will last longer than both her predecessors.
DESIGN: AMIR MIRZA
Published in The Express Tribune, October 14th, 2010.