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The debate on new provinces — I

Pakistan has always had a very precarious relationship with sub-national groups. Looking at the demand for new provinces in this backdrop

The debate on new provinces — I

The last few weeks has again seen the rise of several vocal demands for new provinces in Pakistan. A Janoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM) has been set up by Khusro Bakhtiar, composed mainly of disgruntled PML-N politicians. While the real political plans of these politicians are unclear, they are claiming that this movement is the result of the neglect of the PML-N-led federal and provincial governments.

The Nawab of Bahawalpur has also raised his oft repeated cry for the restoration of the Bahawalpur province which was unwillingly merged into the One Unit in October 1955, and then forcibly merged into the Punjab in 1970 as the One Unit unravelled. More striking has been the recent demand of MQM-Pakistan leader Dr Farooq Sattar that considering the dire situation in Karachi he is being forced to demand a South Sindh province.

It is all the more interesting for the MQM to demand a separate province as it was exactly this demand (and a few others) which led to a major crackdown against the party in the 1990s. It was then alleged that they wanted to create an independent ‘Jinnahpur’ under the demand of a separate Urdu-speaking province in southern Sindh. While ‘Jinnahpur’ was debunked as a plot later, it is clear that the thought of a separate province has never left several members of the MQM, especially in the wake of the disillusionment of their electorate with the idea of Pakistan for which they suffered so much.

And finally, the demand for a separate Hazara province in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), has also remained and survived under the surface.

What has given poignancy to the demands of these new province movements is that for the first time since 1971, when the country was dismembered, there has been a structural change in the geographic constitutional framework of Pakistan. The 31st Amendment Act of the constitution of Pakistan, merged the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) with the KPK province, in the most significant administrative change in decades. This decision, which was the right thing to do, and long overdue, has given hope to the stalwarts of other movements, who are demanding that their legitimate grievances be addressed through the creation of new provinces in the country.

Pakistan has always had a very precarious relationship with sub-national groups. While the All India Muslim League, the party which created Pakistan, was all for more provinces and provincial autonomy — it strongly supported the creation of the Sindh province in 1937 and the giving of full provincial status to the erstwhile NWFP, its successor the Pakistan Muslim League has been less supportive. Where provincial autonomy weakened the Muslim League’s rival, the Indian National Congress, with sub-national politics and demands, it was the perfect scenario for the Muslim League which could then represent the Muslims of India in the centre while non-Muslim League Muslims controlled the provinces.

So while Pakistan has had an almost obsession with state consolidation and central control, India has moved in the completely opposite direction, creating newer provinces almost every decade as a result of public demand.

After independence in August 1947, the strong provincial Muslim Leagues, with many leaders who had only nominally become Leaguers, were deemed to be a headache for the party as well as the government. The paramount concerns of provincial politicians were local and they would seldom agree on national issues. Therefore, not just the bureaucrats and the generals, who never liked politicians, fellow central politicians also exhibited a great dislike for provincial politics. Hence, ministries were removed, governor’s rule imposed, and several provincial powers, such as those of levying taxes, were curtailed.

Thus by the time the One Unit idea was floated in western Pakistan, it had already gained some important proponents.

Understood to be the brainchild of the then Governor General, Sir Ghulam Mohammad, the One Unit was to combine all the provinces in west Pakistan, together with the states of Balochistan, Khairpur and Bahawalpur, to create a ‘One Unit’ to be called West Pakistan. The states of Swat, Dir, Chitral and Amb, and FATA, remained outside the preview of West Pakistan for the moment. The bureaucracy and the military were in one mind that the politicians were a nuisance and the real hindrance behind progress and so needed to be removed in one sway. Also a united West Pakistan was a better bet to counter the still more populous eastern wing, which was now renamed East Pakistan from East Bengal.

Interestingly enough, when Pakistan was embarking on further consolidation, India was undertaking an exactly opposite venture. In 1953, a new Andhra province was created out of the Telegu speaking northern districts of Madras presidency, after a lot of public agitation. Indian Prime Minister Nehru then appointed a States Reorganisation Commission in December 1953 headed by the former Chief Justice of India, Sir Fazl Ali. This commission submitted its report in September 1955 and the subsequent States Reorganisation Act of 1956 radically redrew provincial boundaries mainly along linguistic lines.

So the Telegu speaking districts of the occupied Hyderabad State were merged with Andhra, the Punjab states were merged into East Punjab, Kerala was formed by the merger of the two princely states of Cochin and Travancore and some districts of Madras presidency, Madhya Pradesh was created by the merger of the erstwhile Central Provinces with Vindya Pradesh and Bhopal State, and Mysore State was enlarged by the addition of Kannada speaking districts of the adjoining provinces and states.

Other provinces were also reorganised, though on a minor scale. Thus, within a decade of independence, India had double the number of provinces it inherited from the British Indian Empire. Since then India has continued with province creation and now stands at twenty-nine provinces and seven union territories, with the latest being the reorganisation of Andhra Pradesh into Andhra and Telengana in 2014.

So while Pakistan has had an almost obsession with state consolidation and central control, India has moved in the completely opposite direction, creating newer provinces almost every decade as a result of public demand. It is quite ironic that this is almost the reversal of the stance of the founding political parties of both countries, where the Congress always supported a strong centre and control and the Muslim League preferred a federation with a loose centre.

Since Pakistan was created as a result of ‘Muslim nationalism,’ it was thought that all other nationalisms would be submerged in it. Thus, when an ardent Leaguer G.M. Syed raised the slogan of Sindhi nationalism, without decrying his Muslim nationalism, he was promptly thrown out of the League. Similarly, the League was wary of the Pakhtun nationalism, again with a Muslim framework, of Bacha Khan and his Khudai Khidmatgar movement, and spurned their attempts to align with the League.

Read: The debate on new provinces-II

After independence this rejection became open hostility and the government of Dr Khan Sahib was unceremoniously and unconstitutionally thrown out of power, and Bacha Khan subsequently arrested with0ut charge for years.


To be continued

Yaqoob Khan Bangash

Yaqoob Bangash
The writer teaches at the IT University in Lahore. He is the author of ‘A Princely Affair: The Accession and Integration of the Princely States of Pakistan, 1947-55.’ He tweets at @BangashYK.

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