Sindhi middle class politics

By Javed Ahmed Qazi

Sindhi politics are a paradox. When there is democracy, the political pendulum swings towards the PPP, and when there is dictatorship, people support ethnic politic parties.

The ethnic parties that represent the middle class hardly ever win legislative assembly seats. But when they called strikes recently, the entire province came to a standstill. And that is a sign the middle class is starting to matter.

Although separatist movements are more popular in Balochistan, their flags are not displayed openly. SindhuDesh flags are seen all over the Sindh.

In his book Idea of Pakistan, Stephan Cohen says: “An independent Sindh would block the access of the rest of Pakistan to the sea. Separatist movements there were intolerable to the central government and a mixture of inducement and punishment was applied to keep the nationalist sentiments in check.” But “Sindhi separatist feeling still exists today, and political unrest runs deep”.

Sindhi nationalists are generally anti-establishment, and are not ready to stop supporting the PPP for either ZulfiqarMirza or MarviMemon.

The hub of middle-class Sindi politics is the Qasimabad town of Hyderabad. For a long time, Sindh University in Jamsharo supplied its cadres. Dr QadirMagsi, Bashir Qureshi, and Gul Muhammad Jakhrani began politics when they were students. But partly because of the ban on student unions and partly because of two streams of education, that has changed.

Hyderabad is also the hub of Sindhi press, and editorial pages specifically address issues of ethnic orientation – governance, economy, taxes, and long standing water related debates.

The middle class has grown substantially all over the province in the last few decades, but the economy is not entrepreneurial. Most middle-class professionals are teachers, journalists, retailers, clerics, government employees, or skilled workers.

The birth of the middle in Sindh began in the 1970s when Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave out government jobs, set up universities and built roads in the province. But eventually, he also sternly suppressed middle class political voices.

The ethnic Sindhi middle class has traditionally been wary of the Punjabis as well as the Mohajirs. While President AsifZardari has helped pacify the Mohajir-Sindhi differences in the recent past, issues between the two groups remain unresolved.

Ethnic Sindhis also have concerns about distribution of river water with Punjab and are especially concerned about the proposed Kalabagh Dam.

Sindhi politics have been secular and Sufi-leaning so far, but Taliban-friendly seminaries have recently made inroads in northern Sindh. The development has specifically concerned Sindh’s Hindu community, but Shias are comparatively safe.

A vast majority of Sindhis is Sunni, but they have immense respect of Shias. Many Sindhi feudals are also Shia. A large number of Sufi shrines are taken care of by Shias, and even Hindus have a say in the affairs of those shrines.

Hindus and Muslims lived peacefully in Sindh before Partition, and the Sindhi middle class accuses the feudals of having instigated Hindu-Muslim riots for political gains. Middle-class Sindhi politicians were popular in Sindh before the riots, it is said, and Shiekh Abdul Majeed Sindhi defeated Sir Shahnawaz Bhutto, father of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, in the 1937 elections.

Sindhi ethnic parties had also supported Sheikh MujiburRehman, because there was a perception in Sindh that the Bengali nationalist movement and Sindhi nationalist movement had common goals and a common rival – the middle class of Punjab.

The demand for an independent SindhuDesh was first made in 1973, but it has never been as popular as the separatist movement of Bangladesh, or even the recent separatist movement in Balochistan.

Courtesy: Friday Times

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