Raza Habib Raja
At the onset I would like to make one thing clear that this article is not a negation of my earlier article titled as the “The Punjabi Pakistan” . This clarification is essential because there is bound to be confusion when I am critical of a state structure favoring Punjab and at the same time try to defend ordinary Punjabis. People will object as supposedly there are overlaps as a particular state structure in a democratic state is at least theoretically supposed to be a representative of people’s will.
Democracy as they all say is after all the game of numbers and if Punjab is the most populous province then definitely ordinary Punjabis have some say in this. A common narrative is that Punjabis are chauvinistic and are always conspiring against the smaller provinces.
One of the reasons as to why I am offering my two cents is that I think in an increasingly ethnically charged state, we need to resolve the issues without undue hatred towards each other. Continuous allegations against Punjabis breed hatred and at times may manifest in violence.
Yes Punjab is dominant but ordinary Punjabis may not have conscious scheming role as is often projected by some of the people. Whereas I am against this current set up as it causes grievances to smaller provinces, at the same time I would like to make one thing clear: It is not correct to blame the Punjabi masses.
Yes it has become sort of a trend particularly among some of the liberal journalists to blame all the Punjabis. I can understand the rationale because that is a well-accepted narrative. Moreover, since the smaller provinces have complains therefore it becomes difficult to say anything in defense of the Punjabis for the fear of being called “pseudo liberal” or worst still a closet chauvinist. Some of the journalists just throw the word Punjabi chauvinism without even trying to justify their stance. And some very esteemed journalists are also guilty of it. The title “liberal” is perhaps more important than credibility and they just don’t want to be accused of being ethnically biased no matter even if they are projecting an unsubstantiated opinion.
Punjab’s dominance is not springing from the fact that ordinary Punjabi is a chauvinist but rather due to the fact that it is most populous province and our systems of revenue allocation is based on population. Secondly, the quota system is also based on population and demographics favour Punjab. It is this quota system which has given rise to higher representation of Punjabis in the state institutions.
So quota favours Punjab, but do we really want to see the end of quota system? We all know that in reality quota works for the advantage of smaller provinces. If you don’t trust me then try repealing it and the strongest protest will come not from Punjab but from other provinces barring Mohajir community. In fact quota system hurts them (Urdu speaking community) the most.
Yes it is a combination of quota system and historical legacy of colonial times that a large chunk of armed forces are drawn from Punjab. We keep on hearing the word “Punjabi army” and through an over simplistic analysis also conclude that this “Punjabi army” is always trying to ensure province Punjab’s interests.
Unfortunately, the reality is often not that simple. First of all army’s primary interest is not preservation of Punjab’s interests but rather its own institutional interests. It has behaved the same no matter what was the ethnicity of its Commander in Chief. Whether it was a Sindhi Benazir or a Punjabi Nawaz Sharif, it has intervened whenever it assumed that its interest were being undermined by the “bloody civilians”.
Army acts as an institution rather than as an agent for a particular province. Yes Punjab benefits but not due to conscious and planned efforts of Punjabis or for that matter army itself but simply due to the fact that a large number of army officers are from Punjab.
Even within Punjab, most of the army recruitment has been from merely three districts of Attock, Jhelum and Rawalpindi. The high recruitment from these areas is a legacy of colonial times. Yes there is a spillover effect to other areas as well but primarily the economic benefits within Punjab are restricted to these areas.
Secondly it is true that while Punjab gets more benefits due to its higher representation but army’s interest may or may not be completely synonymous with Punjab’s interests each time. Yes these may even overlap at times but we need stronger evidence to conclude that army is a non elected political institution SOLELY geared to just ensure Punjab’s hegemony and that too at the behest of Punjabi populace.
Then is the issue of voting pattern. Here too it has often been alleged that Punjabi masses are chauvinistic and vote to ensure Punjab’s hegemony. This is also a pervasive point of view often repeated by some of the journalists. Some of them even went to the extent of interpreting lawyer’s movement as a Punjabi population’s conspiracy to establish its “lost” electoral advantage.
I have several objections to this voting pattern paradigm of analysis.
First of all, it is idiotic to assume that all Punjabi or for that matter even majority of the Punjabis think and then vote like a monolithic entity. Vote is a one-time exercise and is often influenced by multitude of factors. To simply assume without any evidence that their sole criterion is ethnicity is stretching it too much and in fact borders on intellectual dishonesty.
A deeper analysis would reveal how flawed this assertion is. The rural Punjab has more seats than any other area in Pakistan and in rural Punjab all politics is local and completely revolves around local issues. A candidate is not voted on ideology but on his/her ability to wield influence at the local level. This is such an evident fact and yet simply overlooked. Anatol Lieven in his brilliant book “Pakistan: A Hard Country” has wonderfully articulated as to what politics is all about in Pakistan and particularly rural Punjab. In his words “Since the kinship group is the most important force in society, the power of kinship is inevitably reflected in the political system”.
The fact is that rural Punjab does not vote on ideological or for that matter even ethnic grounds but along tribal and kinship lines and gives importance to local issues. And no matter which party the individual voter by and large would cast his vote based on the candidate’s ability to wield local influence. Hence it is no surprise that PML Q could not get a single seat in the cities and yet was able to win more than 40 seats from rural Punjab. PML Q’s voter was not voting on PML Q’s ideology (was there any?) or its pro Punjabi stance (again was there any?) but was actually voting for the strong individual candidates the party had fielded.
The other two parties had also fielded powerful candidates with several who had in the past switched sides. No where were these candidates selected on so called ethnic grounds or for waging conspiracies against other provinces.
The ordinary rural Punjabi is as miserable as the rest of the country and is only trying to make his end meet. He votes for a candidate who he thinks can give him access to state resources and resolve his daily issues. Rural Punjab has remained frozen in time and the voting pattern may have witnessed changes in choice of political parties but essentially the rationale for vote has changed little.
Even Urban Punjab has seldom voted on ethnic grounds. However, it may be correct to assert that perhaps a substantial chunk of Punjabi urban MIDDLECLASS voter has been successfully tutored in state cultivated nationalism. To that extent, “complains” are justified. However, to assume that this automatically equates chauvinism against other ethnicities is stretching it too much.
In my opinion, we need to analyze the entire issue in a more dispassionate way and rather than whipping up sentiments which further breed hate, come up with solutions through mutual consensus.
If population advantage is an issue then I am all for breaking up Punjab to reduce it. In fact my support for Saraiki province is chiefly for the same reason.
Punjab’s hegemony has to be eliminated if we want to continue as an integrated state. But at the same time we need to look at the real reasons rather than whipping up mistrust.