Sep 12, 2017 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Punjab dominance
Which ethnicity and class has ruled us the most? Each era has a ruling clan with a top honcho and kitchen cabinet. But for ease, I focus on the former (ignoring dummy PMs). Jinnah (middle-class Mohajir); Liaquat Ali (landowner Mohajir), Bhuttos/Zardari (landowner Sindhis) and Sharif (industrialist Punjabi) were elected/political rulers.
But I take the full eras of Ghulam Mohammed/Zia (middle-class Punjabis); Iskander Mirza (middle-class Bengali/Moghul); Ayub (middle-class Pakhtun/Hindko); Yahya (middle-class “Frontier” Persian) and Musharraf (middle-class Mohajir) as unelected/illegitimate. Besides Ayub, Zardaris and Sharif, we had honest top honchos for 40 years untainted by sleaze. But this didn’t end sleaze as naively expected. Centrists (Jinnah and Bhutto clan; all from Sindh) ruled for 17 years, all politically.
Middle-class persons held the top spot the most (41 years), an industrialist for 10 years and landowners for 19 years. I don’t recall many landowners even in other kitchen cabinets. So, claims about their political hold only reflect their share in our dummy assemblies. Industrialist and landowner rule was elected (29 years); unelected rule (40 years) all by a right-wing middle-class. It never held power politically after Jinnah (Imran may change this), but for long via intrigue. Middle class army rule was our most damaging era politically and security-wise. But this reflects both middle-class and army ethos. Sub-national rule by the middle-class-led PTI and MQM shows promise but issues too. But all its rules have had autocratic and elitist streaks since it’s largely right-wing. So its rise is no panacea.
Bengalis were a 50%+ majority till ’71 but got the top spot for three years, and that too via the bi-ethnic Mirza’s intrigue. Ayub ruled the longest, and then Punjabis and Mohajirs. After ’71, Punjab became a 50%+ majority and held the top spot most followed by Sindhis and Mohajirs. Paths to power and time there since ’47 vary ethnically. Punjabis and Mohajirs got it both ways (25 and 13 years), Sindhis politically (16 years), Pakhtun/Hindko non-politically (10 years) and Balochs neither way. Our most charismatic rulers (Jinnah, Ayub and Bhuttos) were all minorities; the three rulers from Punjab (all conservatives) had dour personas. It may be a fluke but I couldn’t resist a cheeky swipe at our forgiving hegemon! Change champ Imran may change this too, if nothing else. In Pindi, Punjabis were top honchos for 31 years (all after ’71), followed by Persians, Mohajirs and Pakhtuns.
So Punjab led both domains after ‘71, but did share the top spots. The 18th amendment helped a bit too. But a new era run by Punjab conservatism is on now, as demographic destiny becomes democratic destiny belatedly after ‘71. All four PMs and three army chiefs after 2008 were Punjabi, both sequences even singly a first in history. Punjab conservative elites hold all the top spots in PML and PTI, the main 2018 federal rivals. And if we tire of democracy and “invite” our Pindi boys for a “short” run, we will get Punjab conservatism too! So, all paths to power end at it. To use an Urdu couplet resignedly: wherever I look, you are there my love! But size divides too. Our two key current conflicts (army vs. Nawaz; PML vs. PTI) are within Punjab conservatism, economic vs. political. The former wants peace and latter tensions with India, where BJP dominates. So conservatives, feeding each other, may run both for long to scuttle peace. Both states now adorn three-barrel conservatism: economic elitism, social extremism and political exclusion.
Punjab conservatism’s hold irks KP elites less as they are largely conservative too and have a share in our real power bases (military/bureaucracy). It irks more the mainly centrist elites of the southern two provinces weak in these bases. This is the land of aggrieved ethnicities (Sindhis, Mohajirs and Baloch) irked with their low political pecking orders and in conflict with the center. The days the PPP ran centrist coalitions of weak elites federally are over. Northern elites now run our power train, with the south being pulled along reluctantly in back bogies. The plush front bogies sing fiery patriotic songs, the bare back ones moan in dissent sullenly. The creaky train mirrors the ‘Pakistan’ acronym: Punjab first, then Afghania, Sindh next and Balochistan last. What’s in a name? In Pakistan’s name is freakily its elite hierarchy. But masses all suffer.
Punjab was a fun place once with bhangra, music and other fun stuff seen so vividly in the “Billo day ghar” song. I know as I was born there then, in Faiz and Manto’s land. It now adorns vacuous public religiosity which doesn’t improve morality but fans extremism and unthinking mediocrity. Many forms of mob extremism (acid, blasphemy and lawyers’ attacks) occur almost solely there. One yearns for the old Punjab, for its own, Pakistan’s and the region’s good. But that civilization may be gone with the wind.
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