Swift changes in production and consumption are changing the society and politics in Sindh
By Dr Manzur Ejaz
Contrary to common belief that Sindh is a feudal-ruled primitive land, socio-economic transformation in Sindh is as fast as in Punjab. Rapid urbanization, mechanization of agricultural sector and commercialization has changed the very basis of Sindhi society. Such a transformation will have inevitable political consequences that may not be visible currently, but will materialize down the road.
The effects of this transformation are trickling down even to the common person, whether it is cellphone equipped goat herders or teens from small towns using motor vehicles. Colorful rickshaws have replaced tongas and tractors trollies have taken the place of centuries old wooden plows pulled by animals. Consumer goods have penetrated the Sindhi society deeply, uprooting and transforming the artisan classes and their skills. Consequently, the realignment of Sindhi class structure is duly underway.
Swift changes of economic production and consumption triggered mammoth urbanization from the 1980s onward. The newly urbanized masses have started playing their political roles as summed up by Zafar Junejo, chief executive officer of Thardeep – an NGO working for economic development – in an article published by Newsline.
He argues that recent protests against the new local governments system are led by these new urban masses rather than traditional nationalist groups.
Parallel to the great socio-economic transformation, Sindhi intelligentsia is cognizant of emergence of a neo-feudal class, led symbolically by Asif Ali Zardadri, Zulifqar Mirza, Pir Mazhar et al. These are people who do not come from the traditional feudal class but are rumored to have amassed huge tracts of land and industries by making money through illegal means, occupying public lands or forcing small land owners to sell their land. This is a class or type of ruling class which remains absent from their electoral constituencies and just show up at election times. They have nothing to do with the people and this is the main reason the major developmental projects are nowhere to be seen in the whole province. Hyderabad’s non existing metal roads are a manifestation of poor performance by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government in the province and the center. This may lead an ultimate downfall of the PPP in Sindh.
The Sindhi people’s love for the PPP was never a one-sided affair, argues Prof Amar Sindhu. Zulifkar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto had great affinity with Sindhi people and they delivered many good things as well, contrary to Asif Ali Zardari or his son Bilawal Zardari, she propounds. In other words, the chain that linked PPP to Sindhi masses has been broken. If Prof Sindhu’s theory holds, the PPP will have a very tough time in the coming elections. She asserts that the PPP will face a very strong opposition because it has been taking Sindhi voters for granted.
Speaking of elections, posters, banners and billboards are hanging from walls and poles in every corner of Sindh – it seems elections are just around the corner. Just looking at the advertisement material one can guess that Pakistan Muslim League-Functional and PPP are the major contestants while Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz has meaningful presence in Punjabi dominated areas like Tando Allah Yar etc. Probably, changed demographics and non-governance by the PPP were major factors behind the historical rally by the new Awami Pir Pagara in Hyderabad. Political observers believe that Mian Nawaz Sharif is also expected to play a meaningful role for slashing PPP seats in several Punjabi dominated areas. One gets the impression that an anti-PPP grand alliance led by Functional League is in the making: PML-N, the National Peoples Party, Awami Tehreek, and Sindh Traqqi Pasand Party etc are joining hands. It seems like the PPP will lose a substantial number of seats in Sindh and will be far off from coming to power in the center.
Election results are affected by many factors, and the great transformation of the Sindhi society will lead to a changing political landscape, just as in Punjab the PPP has been replaced by the PML-N.
Middle class organizations like Thardeep are leading development projects like using solar energy, micro credit and educational enlightenment. Such organizations are early signals of end of feudal stranglehold and emergence of much more rational political elites.