Power games in Punjab

  • Thus passes the glory of the world

In a letter to Gandhi, Lord Mountbatten wrote, “In the Punjab we have 55,000 soldiers and large scale rioting on our hands while in Bengal our forces consist of one man, and there is no rioting.” Punjab and the games of power within the historic bread basket of India have bewildered political scientists since the Raj era and up till today.

This time around, Imran ascended to Islamabad and the mother of all questions was who’s going to run the show in Punjab. Imran chose Buzdar. Buzdar fits Tehmina Durrani’s typical feudal landlord description and is mired with rumours regarding murder cases among other things.

The problem with Buzdar, however, does not lay with his feudal background, rather his incapability. Virtually unknown among South Punjab’s political giants, Buzdar joined PTI just before the elections. With Buzdar’s election to Punjab’s top office, several power centres have emerged in the province.

To begin with, there’s Imran himself, who will soon enough find himself incapable of the restraint required to keep away from provincial affairs. On the other hand, Buzdar is rumoured to be Jehangir Khan Tareen’s creature, who has managed to make inroads into political power despite being disqualified by the Supreme Court. JKT, some say, has perfectly established himself in Lahore’s halls of power following the rise of his creature.

Then there’s ‘governor’ Sarwar. Sarwar distanced himself from the Nawaz-led regime because he was apparently unhappy with the powerless role he had been given as Shehbaz stood his ground and refused to concede power. Sarwar had famously remarked in an intimate setting that despite being governor, he had failed to help a person whose land had been encroached upon by influential land mafia. Now, Sarwar is poised to become Punjab’s governor once again but the CM this time is weak and Sarwar is in no mood of being just another toothless governor. The governor house in Lahore, it seems, is all set to become the hot bed for political activity and internal political strife.

The commando’s boy Pervaiz Elahi has found himself surprisingly in power and relevant in Punjab once more. Elahi was ‘posted’ as speaker of the Punjab Assembly in a move to manage Shehbaz’s son Hamza and the Sharifs’ foot soldiers. As a short term initiative, Elahi’s position in the assembly backed by PTI may help in keeping the opposition under check but in the long run, Elahi will seek to enhance his own power and subsequently PML-Q’s seats in the assembly at the expense of the PTI.

The Siraiki Suba Mahaaz, which has a habit of rearing its head with five year electoral cycles, seems to be a power garnering plot at the best

Former favourite for Punjab’s coveted top office Aleem Khan has also firmly established himself in Lahore, seeking to enhance his own political prowess. Then there’s Nasir Durrani, who Imran has charged with the responsibility to bring the Punjab Police to heel. Durrani, who has previously served in Punjab, understands very well that police in Punjab is starkly different than his former jawaans in KP.

The police in Punjab are a conniving and resourceful lot. The IG is rumoured to have over 30 members of staff at his residence and on the other hand, provincial secretaries barely make do with two or three. The V8s, the ones that recently came to light, show how the service’s top brass has indulged in a complete breach of the law, especially the one that allows civil servants a 1300cc car. Shockingly, the V8 used by the chief secretary has also been provided by the police and rumour has it that Punjab’s ‘muscle’ is beyond the Punjab secretariat’s control. A show of power was observed when the police successfully had certain clauses deleted during the Shehbaz regime pertaining to powers of the district commissioner in relation to the police. At the same time, subsequent IGs have time and again failed to resist political pressure even when it came to their own officers.

On the other hand, the bureaucracy in Punjab is now used to being ruled with a Shehbaz-held iron rod. With multiple fountains of power and a weak CM, the bureaucracy will find it easier to flout orders and damage Imran’s anti-corruption and pro human development agenda. What happens when the governor wants something done and JKT wants something else? The bureaucracy, which has been ruling since decades, becomes overwhelmingly powerful and Imran may soon find himself facing a white elephant that he is unable to tame, unless he can successfully reform the service, which in itself is harder than becoming PM.

Whispers can also be heard that Buzdar was elevated to facilitate the move to create a southern province without having to bring a strong southern Punjabi politician to Lahore, who might have been difficult to control.

The Siraiki Suba Mahaaz, which has a habit of rearing its head with five year electoral cycles, seems to be a power garnering plot at the best. Yes, Southern Punjab has been neglected but is another province truly a solution? It is one of the solutions, but are there other, more efficient solutions? If the aim is human and infrastructure development and equitable public good delivery throughout the province, then why not appoint a permanent additional chief secretary followed by joint secretaries in a Southern Punjab secretariat, located in Dera Ghazi Khan or Rahim Yar Khan? It will take a lot less money with direct oversight by the Punjab cabinet. More on that later.

Buzdar, his cabinet and what is now his bureaucracy, is going to be part of a tug of war between JKT, Sarwar and Aleem Khan. However, Imran might have tried playing Machiavelli by dividing power centres but Punjab is used to being ruled by a single fountainhead or he may have decided to give power to Sarwar, JKT and Aleem without upsetting the Shah and this seemed like the only way. Only time will tell whether Imran’s decision is a master stroke or a signature on his own political invalidity in Punjab. Well that is, unless Buzdar is a stop-gap decision, and the unknown son from the south is soon to learn Sic Transit Gloria Mundi; Thus passes the glory of the world.