Editorial: Give Punjab back?Amid scuffling MNAs, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani announced Saturday on the floor of the National Assembly that the PPP would sit on the opposition benches in the Punjab Assembly if it failed to form a majority government in the province. He must have been a bit self-conscious when he added, “There is no need for horse-trading...we will sit on the opposition benches if we fail to form a majority government”.
The prime minister also talked of reconciliation as the touchstone of the PPP’s politics as asserted by the late Chairperson Ms Benazir Bhutto. He asserted that he had not known about the Supreme Court verdict on the electoral eligibility of the Sharifs and apparently expressed the wish to smoke the peace pipe with the PMLN. That, of course, would mean giving Punjab back to the Sharifs under a new PMLN chief minister. But is that on the cards?
The change in Punjab has not gone down very well in the country. It has not only further polarised national politics; it has displeased the people watching it. Even the coalition partners have chosen to go to the media condemning it and offering to mediate between the two traditionally brawling parties. The umbrage is specifically taken, not on the Supreme Court verdict, but the imposition of Governor’s Rule. The PMLN has charged that President Zardari had manipulated the “fake” judiciary but most of the “impartial” criticism has focused on the emergency that preceded the imposition of Governor’s Rule and, more intensely, the Governor’s Rule.
Governor’s Rule is not popular because it conceals behind its legality the business of buying and selling votes in the Punjab Assembly. It becomes more ominous when you consider that the PMLN has a majority that might increase rather than decrease if it is a better horse trader than the PPP. But then one has to keep in mind the reflexes of our politicians. They keep looking for the main chance and jump ship if the jumping is lucrative and promises more years in power and the spoils that power brings. Already the gossips are talking of crores of rupees being held up as the price for a single Punjab vote.
But two months are a long time to test the probity of the Punjabi politician. Prime Minister Gilani has hinted at the irreducibility of these two months. The two months are clearly meant for something else. You don’t have to cudgel your brains to arrive at the conclusion that the PPP aims to ward off the danger of the Long March on March 12 and the more dangerous “dharna” on March 16 in Islamabad.
Punjab is pivotal to the success or failure of the Long March. Whoever controls Punjab controls the fortunes of the Long March. And it goes without saying that it will have to be controlled not inside Islamabad but before it reaches Islamabad. It is the gathering of its force in the approaching districts including Rawalpindi which is the main threat and which has to be countered. The PMLN and its supporters will have to be endowed with colossal will power to scale the impediments that the new Punjab administration will place in their path. Once the Long March threat subsides, it will be time to think of the numbers in the Punjab Assembly.
If the Long March is not successful — that is, if the “indefinite dharna” doesn’t lead to the restoration of Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry or the unseating of the PPP government — there will be a month and a half in which to persuade the “forward bloc” MPAs to change their sentiments. As we know, loyalties have a peculiar way of undergoing change after an unsuccessful undertaking. The general atmosphere of deflation will no doubt set the stage for the PPP’s victory. But, before that, there is a more sensible and wise course open, that of compromise and reconciliation. And the time for it has not passed. (Daily Times)