What is to be done for Sindh?

By: Shahab Usto

These days a very interesting discourse is going on among the Sindhi intelligentsia and public intellectuals as regards the need and creation of an alternative political platform/forum to fill in a potential gap that is supposedly to be left by the ‘dwindling popularity’ and ‘mass appeal’ of the PPP. This is primarily a courtesy to the controversial and ‘perfidious’ Sindh Peoples Local Government Ordinance 2012 (SPLGO) and the ruling party’s failures on its socio-economic and governance-related score card.

One can sum up the gamut of the discourse in three possible questions:

. Is there any other political alternative available, or which can be created, to replace the PPP in Sindh? If yes then, then the next question that arises is:

. What are the other possible players who can play a pivotal role in the creation of an alternative leadership?

. A related question has also cropped up as to whether the people of Sindh throw their weight behind the PML-F, NPP et al to get rid of the divisive SPGLO?

.Is there any other political alternative available, or which can be created, to replace the PPP in Sindh?

Obviously, the immediate answer that comes in the mind is, of course, the Sindh nationalist parties. After all, it is their moment of truth. The people are probably for the first time clearly resentful of the PPP’s policy of ‘appeasing’ the MQM. Sindhi nationalism is finally speaking out whether through the media, intelligentsia, political workers, academia and men in the street. The long-awaited train has finally pulled up in the nationalists’ terminal. Whether they board it, or leave its cozy compartments to be occupied by the recently pro-establishment-turned-Sindhi-nationalists parties, is yet to be seen.

The nationalists have to surmount three hurdles to board the train:

One, they must agree to a common manifesto, electoral platform/alliance, seats adjustment, if they have to contest and make an impact on the coming elections.

Two, they must connect with both the urban and rural masses. In the interior, they must protect the people from the ongoing abusive excesses of a troika consisting of feudals, tribals, and corrupt bureaucrats. The days of issue-based politics are over. Sindh is suffering from an organic discontent. Sindhi society is bleeding of many an ulcer—feudal oppression, worsening law and order, tribal wars, virulent epidemics, spiraling unemployment, natural and corruption-induced disasters, illiteracy and mass student dropouts, degenerating physical, social, economic infrastructures, and the increasingly tightening feudal-tribal-bureaucratic noose over villages and towns. Until now none of the mainstream political parties has tackled these problems. Rather, many of these problems have been adroitly used by the local and state grandees to muster their wealth and power.

Three, Thanks to the aforementioned problems and the natural process of mobility, the rural Sindhis have now developed an increasing economic dependence on, and socio-cultural integration with, Urban Sindh. Particularly, Karachi’s industrial and labour markets and the varied ethno-cultural physical landscape have become a vital source of the rural Sindh’s economic survival and cultural development. Sindhi labour and other sections are visibly playing a significant role in Karachi’s private security, construction, retail, supply, and services markets. Particularly, the rural-urban supply chain–grain, vegetable, fruit, Milk, fish, cattle, raw material, water, gas etc—has become considerably significant for running Karachi’s markets and residences. Therefore, there is a need to augment this rural-urban economic and socio-cultural integration. The new leadership should come up with a long and short-term plan which should envisage protecting the economic, social and political interests of the Sindhi speaking laborers and middle class sections in Karachi.

A possible list of the to-dos for the nationalists to help them emerge as an alternative political force on the Sindh’s political horizon would include the followings:

1- They must close their ranks to remove a perception that they are a fissiparous lot, ever prone to sectarianism.

2- They must not rely only on a nationalist agenda. A comprehensive socio-economic, cultural and political program is needed to cater to all the sections of society, including the Urdu-speaking communities’ problems.

3- They should also profile every district and constituency to come up with the plans to cater to the local problems. For instance, tribal strife and feudal influence are thick in the upper Sindh, while settlement of outsiders and the exploitation of natural resources are rife in the lower Sindh’s district.

4- As Sindh has been brutalized by the regional and geopolitical wars waged by the establishment, they should also produce a broader outline on the regional and internal security issues, including how to stop the settlement of Afghanis and others in Sindh.

5- They should also devise a plan, at least to begin with, to remove the ongoing multi-ethnic ‘wars’ in Karachi, and tribal fights and crimes afflicting the village life. It is a must to initiate a process of inter-ethnic understanding and co-existence and to marshal joint efforts on the issues that threaten the Sindh’s overall interests— immigration from other provinces/country, construction of Kalabagh Dam, Zulifiqarabad, exploitation of Sindh’s natural resources, equitable distribution of federal taxes, acceptable local government, and so on.

In short, the nationalists have to present a platform that is equipped with adequate organizational underpinnings, a broader and much inclusive electoral manifesto, and a workable plan for addressing the urban and rural problems. They must not expect to smugly cash in on the increasing wedge between the PPP and the electorates due to the former’s socio- political policy failures and bad governance. Instead, they must try to form an organic bond with the electorates on the promise of a new ‘deal’ or ‘social contract’ with them. Let the people find in the deal their own redemption from the tribal/feudal/ethnic mafias and that of Sindh from those who want to divide it and deny its people their historical right to rule based on majoritarian principle.

At present the Sindhi masses are caught in a pernicious web of coalition spun by the neo-feudal-and-chauvinist forces. The tormentors and marauders are custodians of people’s destiny. This tormentor-victim relationship is unnatural and hence untenable. Therefore, a new configuration is indispensible between the battered masses and a cleaner, credible, reform-minded and tenacious leadership. Obviously, the task is hard but within the realm of possible. The recent strikes and public reaction to the SPLGO manifested the signs of public awakening, reminding of the times when they broke the myth of the establishment’s invincibility during the MRD movement and when they stormed the ramparts of power in the wake of the BB’s assassination.

II. What are the other possible players who can play a pivotal role in the creation of an alternative leadership?

We must also reckon the collective and individual strengths and resources of the other forces–Sindhi media, professional bodies, working classes, academic associations, student bodies, socially-committed lawyers, (good and clean) NGOs and rights activists, various consumer groups, public intellectuals, small and medium entrepreneurs, public servants and the Sindhi diaspora. Their contribution, impact and implications for future politics are immeasurable. Just reflect on the following points:

i. Except for a thin layer of the political and bureaucratic interests, much of the society stand increasingly alienated with the prevailing socio-political order. Therefore, a great majority of Sindh’s populace is desperately vying for a meaningful change in their realities. And in their desperation lie the seeds of a new political leadership.

ii. All we need about 50 credible, clean and socially-committed candidates to contest elections, if not from all then at least from the towns and district headquarters of rural Sindh.

iii. A host of organizational, communicational, fund-raising, and electioneering tools are available in the form of electronic communication, cell phone, satellite television, internet, and social media.

iv. A hugely stupendous social and intellectual asset is also available in form of vernacular media, anchors, writers, poets, singers, teachers, students, intellectuals, engineers, doctors, economists, agriculturists, famers, workers, shopkeepers, small businessmen. If connected all over the province, they can create an irresistible swell of popularity and pressure against the old hats.

v. More importantly, the Sindhi diaspora living in North American, Australia, Middle East, the Near and the Far East, and Europe can also be galvanized into making financial, political and intellectual contributions, which would expand the ambit of support for the candidates/electioneering to the every nook and corner of the world. Luckily some of our SANA friends are ready to play their bit if such candidates

vi. True, individually a middle-class candidate may not sustain the feudal and tribal muscular and financial onslaught. But if all the candidates are contesting from a single platform and they are supported by media, writers, intellectuals, professors, students, women, businessmen, and like-minded politicians, then no wadero or sardar would dare to mess with him or her. Of course, such a unity requires a herculean effort on the part of all the Sindh and people-loving people work hard and create a consensus among the much robbed repressed masses that the new candidates are absolutely clean, committed to their wellbeing and averse to pelf and power.

vii. Then these middle-class candidates galvanize win over electoral support from the vast number of people, the victims of a pathetic educational system, worsening law and order, tribal strife, massive unemployment, all-round corruption, bad governance, politicization of bureaucracy, ethnic mafias, degenerating agricultural infrastructure, and finally the purported division of Sindh via SPLGO.

viii. On the other hand, their opponents, the old feudal, tribal and corrupt politicians, have no new message or policy for electorates. Indeed the PPP’s efforts to stitch an elitist electoral alliance are already falling apart, with the PML-F, NPP, and ANP having quit the coalition. Most likely, a host of other feudal and tribal interests would leave an unpopular PPP as soon as a care-taker set up is installed.

ix. Winning an MPA seat from a town or district headquarter may become more possible because there would triangular or quadrilateral contests. At the end of the day, 8 to 10 thousand votes will determine the race. Getting such a number should not be difficult if the women, students, and civil society, helped by intelligentsia and media, are made to vote.

x. Finally, if the credentials of the candidates are good then it is most likely that the people in general may also lend financial support in small or big ways. Even a ten-rupee donation through cell phone can make a huge difference for an MPA constituency. President Obama used this method to generate millions of dollars from the people.

• Just imagine the collective power of a new breed of Sindhi leadership emerging vis-a-vis an oppressive, obsolescent and utterly discredited elitist leadership;

• Imagine a new class of clean leadership belonging to the middle class and aiming at transforming the entire spectrum of electioneering, political discourse, public policy, style of governance, and centre-province and the inter-ethnic relations;

• Imagine the oppressed minorities and the exploited peasants and workers are receiving their voice through their natural allies—an enlightened secular middle-class leadership;

• Imagine the Sindhi women contesting elections against the powerful Bhotars and giving new meaning and expression to the gender issues and women empowerment;

• Imagine a new breed of academically bright, techno-savvy, motivated and creative youth and students employing their energy and skills towards creating a vibrant atmosphere of electioneering, resounding with the voices of hope, splendor, will and vigor.

I know some of my readers would find the aforementioned as nothing but a pack of utopian pipe-dreaming. They will point to the powerful axis that exists between the rich and powerful in rural and urban areas. My respectful reply to them would be: if striving for rights and liberties is a utopia, then the world would have stopped evolving beyond the age of slavery, and today except for a few blighted states and societies, much of the world wouldn’t have graduated into advanced industrialized societies.

In any case, what is the other option? Should we continue to leave our own and the future generations’ destiny to be dictated by the inept, unscrupulous and backward-looking political and bureaucratic elites; or we should learn to stand on our feet and be protect our personal space and also our land, human and natural resources?

The choice is yours.

. What should be the ‘tactics’ or ‘strategy’ of forging alliances in order to get rid of the black and divisive SPGLO?

In this respect, there have developed two perspectives:

One view favors an alliance with all the anti-SPGLO forces, regardless of their past political record or the probable future actions/betrayals. The proponents of this view point to the relatively weaker position of the anti-SPGLO political forces vis-à-vis the powerful PPP-MQM duo. They also argue the benefits of capitalizing on the rift within the until-recently coalition partners, particularly the PML-F and NPP. Moreover, a section of otherwise sincere and well-meaning Sindhi intellectuals and political workers believe that the anti-PPP forces—PML-F, NPP, et al –are genuinely concerned about the interests and future of Sindh geographical unity. Some of our intellectuals’ recent meeting with Pir Sahib Pagaro is reflective of this spirit of bonhomie.

The other view, however, shuns the idea of lending unconditional support to the ‘traditionally pro-establishment’ PML-F et al. They see the current PML-F as the continuation of the earlier PML-F from perspectives of organizational composition or political ideology. Therefore, they are wary of giving it any ‘benefit of doubt’, let alone a carte blanche. Instead, they find a glaring weakness in the ranks of our intellectuals and political classes to lean on the crutches that have never upheld the interests of Sindh or its people. It is also pointed out that the SPLGO is a mere worsened version of the Musharraf’s 2001 Ordinance, which the PML-F and many others had not only accepted but benefitted from. Finally, it is averred that the PML-F’s ‘tactical’ opposition to SPLGO would immensely benefit it during the elections, in addition to letting it grab a powerful Sindh Card which it can use at the behest of powerful establishment at some opportune times; after all that has been the trajectory of its politics.

There may be some merit and demerits in both the points of views. But what is certain is that PML-F and others have nothing to lose from the politics on SPLGO. If anything, they will only gain from it politically and during the elections. Until recently they had no program to offer but now they have a highly volatile issue to build their political credentials before the voters.

The question is this: whether Sindh would progress in the long run on the crutches of traditionally pro-status-quo pro-establishment elites, and has it ever before?

We must not forget that modern Sindh has moved much ahead of the era when the social, political and state elites were the indispensable masters of its destiny. Now there are the legions of burgeoning middle-class sections which are playing an enormously significant role in the economic, cultural, administrative and political life of Sindh. There are hundreds and thousands of engineers, doctors, students, teachers, professors, professionals, lawyers, shopkeepers, businessmen, technicians, intellectuals, media persons, public servants, farmers, white-color workers and so on. They are sick of the elitist leadership. They desperately need a new leadership that could relate to them, grasp and address their problems, and serve not rule over them; a leadership that understand mechanics of modern state, societal relationship, complex ethnic interplays, and regional and global implications on national and local politics.

People have missed opportunities and lost generations waiting for a new socially-committed leadership, but in vain. Fortunately, now the tide seems to be turning against the status quo. Both objective conditions and the public sentiments seem away from the old leadership that resurfaced masquerading new faces. The people are not ready to be cheated and defrauded by them in the name of ‘Sindh card’, political stability, national interests, or reconciliation. In the given circumstances one can safely conjecture that if given the right candidature and the corresponding impetus, the elections could be a game-changer in Sindh, and the country.

So our aspirations should be:

Let the real masters of Sindh–the writers, media, academia, students, lawyers, artists, NGOs, rights activists, working classes, small and medium entrepreneurs, public servants, that innumerable mass of voters waiting for a new leadership in the urban, sub-urban and rural areas of Sindh—come together and elect a new leadership which should be from them, for them and by them!

Writer can be reached at: shahabusto@hotmail.com

Courtesy: The Sindh Journal


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