By Rauf Nizamani
THE perception about Sindhi nationalist politics is that it’s secular, progressive, anti-establishment and left-oriented. Is this view still valid?
In recent decades, many changes have occurred in the politics of the province. Though the political parties still claim to be fighting for the interests of Sindh and its people, is that true? Is their primary motive still the fight against feudal and tribal lords, landlords and the religious orthodoxy? Does securing rights for the downtrodden, especially peasants, remain part of their struggle for national rights as was the case in the past?
That was then. Now, Sindh’s political parties don’t even talk about these issues. It is hardly the case that the problems they sought to address in the past have amicably been resolved in the people’s favour; in fact, they have been aggravated. Landlords and tribal lords have become even more powerful and have consolidated their influence by inflaming tribal feuds and further dividing the polity on the basis of tribe and caste.
Moreover, the perception of Sindhis as followers of Sufism is diminishing as time goes by. Apart from suspicions that Hindu girls are being forced to convert, it is a fact that madressahs are being established across the province.
Other recent events include the setting on fire of a malang (dervish) who was accused of blasphemy — an assault in which flag-carrying workers of several nationalist parties participated — and attacks on various shrines. These raise questions about Sindh’s secular nature. They demand a reassessment of the situation, as well as underline the need to educate and mobilise people along secular and democratic lines. It is the progressive and secular parties that ought to be doing this.
The politics of the left was the main force as well as the inspiration for nationalist politics to take a stand on social issues. Over time, however, and due to various reasons, Sindh’s left has itself become part of nationalist politics and lost a separate identification.
Nationalist parties that believed that class struggle is the key to obtaining national rights have also changed their stance and, by advocating an alliance between class enemies, have freed themselves from the burden of class politics. It is a tragedy that even the Sindh Hari Committee, a class organisation established to fight for the rights of peasants, is more active in nationalist politics than in struggling for their primary goal.
For a long time now, no nationalist or leftist party has taken a stand on the internal social, economic and political issues of the people of Sindh; they have confined themselves mostly to the emotional issues of ethnic politics in the province which helps keep them alive in the media.
Increasingly, in fact, there is a perception that they have been adopting the view that big landlords and tribal lords — instead of being regarded as political rivals and usurpers of the rights of the people — be treated as allies in the struggle for national rights. According to this view, these parties believe that opposing these landlords and tribal lords was dividing the Sindhi people, and thus weakening the struggle for national rights.
Sindhis resented the hasty passage of the local government bill through the Sindh Assembly without discussing the pros and cons with different sections of Sindhi people and despite the opposition in the house. The move was considered an appeasement of the MQM which would lead to divisions within the province.
In fact, it was a monumental blunder on the PPP’s part and constituted a golden opportunity for nationalist parties in their 40-year-plus struggle against the PPP in the province.
Almost all of Sindh rose in protest against the bill and the PPP found itself on the back foot, having mistakenly assumed that it had unconditional support among the Sindhis. Because of this reaction and with an eye to the coming elections, the PPP reinstated the 1979 local government system of the Ziaul Haq era.
The spontaneous response to the PPP’s ill-advised move was almost like the movements for the restoration of democracy in 1983 and 1986. Although nationalist parties took this anti-PPP sentiment as support for nationalist politics, this was not the case. People were not supporting one nationalist party or the other, but protesting against the bill and the PPP’s perceived betrayal.
In fact, the people were ahead of these parties. They wanted change and an alternative to the PPP, but were also expecting the nationalist parties to change themselves. It seems that their expectations exceeded the parties’ capabilities and they did not have the organisational capacity to convert the momentum into a long-term social and political struggle. The purpose, instead, became to oppose the PPP.
Thus, instead of taking advantage of the situation and organising people for a forward-looking social, economic and political programme, they remained confined to giving calls for strikes and processions.
In this pursuit the best they managed was to make alliances with anti-PPP parties in the assemblies and outside, such as the PML-N and the Pir of Pagara’s PML-F, which had entirely different agendas.
Due to this, not only did most of the political benefit of this anti-PPP sentiment go to these parties (due to their better organisation and following) as compared to their nationalist counterparts, it also further strengthened the big landlords, tribal lords and religious leaders.
The writer is a freelance contributor.