One has lost count of the number of times the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has joined and quit the Sindh government and it is hard to remember the reason behind each of its decision.
The MQM has once again ended its shortlived coalition with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in Sindh and resigned from the provincial government. As in the past, the alliance was unnatural and it seemed as if the two parties representing distinct ethnic communities had been forced by circumstances to jointly rule Sindh. However, the PPP as the senior partner in the coalition retained the upper hand and the MQM found it hard to exercise real power. The coalition was bound to fail though it happened sooner than expected.
There were quite a few causes for the collapse of the PPP-MQM coalition, but the immediate reason for the break-up was the adverse comment made by the PPP chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari about the MQM’s London-based supremo Altaf Hussain. Aware of the sensitivities of the PPP’s loyal Sindhi voters, Bilawal had to criticise anyone seeking the division of Sindh province.
The MQM leaders, on the other hand, have realised that the slogan of a separate ‘Mohajir’ province would ensure they continue to get the votes and power in urban Sindh as their efforts to gain a foothold among other ethnic groups and provinces had failed to materialise. The MQM had changed its name from Mohajir Qaumi Movement to Muttahida Qaumi Movement to become acceptable to non-Urdu speaking Pakistanis, but it failed to convince them of its sincerity to their cause. Now 30 years old, the MQM is still seen as a party of Urdu-speaking people and, therefore, incapable of representing other ethnic groups.
However, as Bilawal and his PPP followers quickly found out, criticising Altaf Hussain is something intolerable for the MQM cadres. As the MQM Deputy Convenor Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui pointed out, there can be no compromise when it comes to showing disrespect to Altaf Hussain and, therefore, the party was left with no choice but to quit the PPP-led coalition government in Sindh. The MQM is driven by personality cult built around Altaf Hussain and his followers consider it unimaginable and unforgivable for anyone to challenge or insult him.
With the generational change in the PPP leadership from former President Asif Ali Zardari to his only son Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the former is letting the latter to take centre-stage and stamp his authority on its policies. However, it would take time for the young Bilawal to be taken seriously at the national level.
Asif Ali Zardari’s policy of reconciliation with political parties of different persuasion kept him and the PPP in power for five years from 2008-2013 and he tried to continue it in his native Sindh even after losing the May 2013 general election by inviting the MQM to join the PPP-headed provincial government. The PPP with its comfortable majority in the Sindh Assembly didn’t need MQM’s support to stay in power, but the elder Zardari wanted it to be part of the ruling coalition to neutralize its street-power in urban Sindh, particularly in the ethnically-mixed mega-city of Karachi with a population of more than 18 million.
Though the MQM has for the time-being parted ways with the PPP, nobody would be surprised if Zardari owing to skills at alliance-making managed to persuade its leadership to rejoin the Sindh government. It has happened time and again and could happen once more because it is often said about the MQM that it cannot remain out of power for long. One only has to recall the MQM decision after the general election last year that it would stay in the opposition both at the Centre and in Sindh. It was widely hailed by the media, which remains scared of the MQM due to its strong-arm tactics, even though not many believed that the party would toil away in the opposition for long.
Also read: MQM’s dilemma
There should have been no doubt that the MQM would in due course of time demand a separate province through the division of Sindh into its urban and rural parts. Its past policies were a pointer to the fact that it was moving towards this goal by first steadfastly supporting creation of Hazara and Seraiki provinces and then advancing the argument that the new provinces should be created on administrative basis for better governance. However, this was just a ruse as the proposed new provinces were to be created on ethnic and linguistic basis rather than on the basis of administration.
Even a cursory look at the demand for Hazara and Seraiki provinces would show that the latter would be created for the Seraiki-speaking people in Punjab and the former for the largely Hindko-speaking Hazarawals angry at the renaming of NWFP as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa certifying its identity as a province of the Pashto-speaking Pakhtuns. By the same yardstick, the division of Sindh and the separation of its urban parts to form the ‘Mohajir’ province would largely benefit the Urdu-speaking people.
However, any talk of Sindh’s division is bound to trigger a backlash as it has become an emotive issue just like the Kalabagh Dam project. By shouting the Sindhi slogan, ‘Merveysoon, merveysoon, per Sindh na desoon’ the PPP cadres and Sindh’s nationalist forces have been making it clear that they would die instead of allowing the division of Sindh. The matter is non-negotiable as far as Sindhis are concerned and the MQM has to remember this fact as its insistence could even threaten the integrity of Pakistan.
The MQM had many plus points when it emerged on the political scene in 1984. Its leaders were young and energetic having their roots in students’ politics and belonging to the middle class. The party was secular and progressive and keen to find space in the crowded political field dominated by family-run parties led by politicians with feudal, business and religious backgrounds. However, the MQM’s inability to transform itself from a Mohajir brand to the Muttahida label by transcending the ethnic barriers and its tendency to use mafia-like tactics has restricted its appeal and stopped it from growing nationwide. It had so much promise and a lot to offer. Making matters worse is Altaf Hussain’s mood-based rhetoric that serves as the MQM policy and keeps changing almost on a daily basis as he one day calls on the army to take over power and the next day swears to defend democracy. It is hardly surprising then to end up with a party that is a one-man show run by remote control from a house in northwest London.