In search of the sher’s cult


There is a certain aura and presence about Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) chief Mian Nawaz Sharif. His Sindh party certainly used his persona to their advantage: in a province where cult of personality matters much in politics – Haider Bux Jatoi, G.M. Syed, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto – the PML-N pitted Nawaz’s personality against Rasool Bux Palijo and Qadir Magsi. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and things are certainly desperate when a former prime minister has to be brought over to meet relative nobodies in the mainstream politics frame of reference.
But such are the dire straits which the PML-N finds itself in Sindh. Palijo and Magsi are part of a generation inspired by the Marxist or Jeay Sindh movements but who left it later on or were kicked out over disagreements in objectives, strategy and tactics. To put a long story short, Palijo’s Awami Tehreek is a product of his Marxist views, and Magsi’s Sindh Taraqqipasand Party an electoral variant of the Jeay Sindh parties.
Despite their past, both Palijo and Magsi have built a cult of personality – recognisable not just by their supporters but also by other residents of Hyderabad. It is far simpler to ask for direction to “Palijo’s residence” than the Awami Tehreek headquarters. “Progressive House” is as alien to the common Hyderabadi as the concept of non-Sindhi-speaking Sindhi to the nationalists; one is better off asking for directions to “Qadir Magsi’s residence.” It is heresy to disagree with Palijo or Magsi before their supporters; they are omniscient. Even Nawaz didn’t dare question them.
Over at Nawaz’s meeting with his Hyderabad party, his cult of personality also stood out. Activists and supporters flocked to see him in their dozens – not their hundreds, mind – but were locked outside the door. Senior party leaders stood outside among them as the sun beat down, while Mian Saheb sought to raise morale among the rank and file of the Hyderabad party.
But things weren’t well inside: Khwaja Saad Rafiq – member of the PML-N’s central organising committee – and his “infantile suggestions” were snubbed by Sindh-based party members; Ghous Ali Shah had few positions to take; some accused Saleem Zia of bias and racketeering; names for district presidents and secretary-generals were proposed, but ultimately the nominees – including a former MNA from Hyderabad – turned down their nominations; accusations few this way and the other, only for Nawaz to intervene and side by “principled stances.”
Nawaz knows much more than he is letting on, or perhaps, he can sense that change is in the air. Meeting Palijo and Magsi is part of a drive to create an anti-PPP and anti-MQM alliance, but defining oneself in opposition to a perceived adversary can only take the PML-N so far. Nationalist circles often trade allegations of one or the other party acting at the behest of, or under the patronage of, the intelligence agencies. The argument is that nationalist parties would not have split if their leaders did not play to the tune of the intelligence agencies. Such accusations have also been levelled at Palijo and Magsi before and continue to be hurled from some quarters; Nawaz’s calculation seems to be that neutralising such elements and bringing them into the mainstream proper will restrain any influence exerted by the intelligence agencies. Palijo and Magsi might not be the last ones to be contacted by the PML-N.
While Nawaz defined policy on Monday, Tuesday’s interactions were an exercise in playing yes-man: few substantive issues were discussed, there was very little said on the NFC Award or 18th Amendment. A committee was formed to frame Sindh’s issues as “national issues” – the acquiescing to Palijo and Magsi has to be seen as a strategy to open avenues for grassroots participation and perhaps, creation of new leaders for his district parties.
Palijo and Magsi have both strategised for local government elections, claim PPP sources. They enjoy pockets of support, with Magsi even telling Sharif that his party had more than 20,000 activists in its fold. Even if this number was 2,000, this situation represents a far better organised situation than the PML-N in Sindh. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a single uniting force in the PML-N’s Sindh party.
Nawaz spent much of Monday sorting out egotistical clashes between current and former stalwarts. Tuesday was about sorting out egocentric disputes between junior leaders. But Nawaz, of all people, knows that only a single cult of personality is required for coalescing the party.
But in desperate times, finding even a single tiger is a gigantic task, and one that will not be achieved in two days.