In Sindh, nationalist parties are considered a parallel political power but they have never made it to the parliament. The Sindh United Party (SUP) led by Jalal Mehmood Shah, grandson of renowned politician and founder of modern Sindhi nationalism GM Syed, has shown its public support by holding a mammoth rally in Karachi.
The rally called ‘Sindh Rally’ started from Jinnah’s Mausoleum to Saddar and later a gathering was held at Shahrah-e-Iraq near the Passport Office. Holding party flags and shouting slogans, participants in the rally came from different parts of the province.
A stage was set on a container which was decorated with a big banner displaying the portraits of GM Syed who didn’t believe in electoral politics.
Addressing the rally, Jalal Mehmood Shah appealed to young nationalists to join hands with the SUP and become part of mainstream politics instead of going into isolation. He also asked the law enforcers to not pick the youth of Sindh. In recent months, a large number of young nationalists have gone missing.
Sindhi nationalism has a long history. GM Syed founded Sindh United Party in 1938 and after 68 years, in 2006, his grandson Jalal Shah along with his brother Syed Zain Shah revived the party. It was in 1997 that Jalal Shah was first elected on a provincial assembly seat and he became the deputy speaker. He was never elected again.
During the Pervez Musharraf’s government, bureaucrat-turned-politician Imtiaz Shaikh formed an alliance called Sindh Democratic Alliance (SDA). Jalal Shah was a part of that alliance. From influential families Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Liaquat Jatoi, Murtaza Jatoi and Mehars of Shikarpur got elected from the platform of the alliance but Shah did not succeed. Later, the alliance was merged with PML-Q, so Shah formed his own political party, the SUP.
In Sindh, during the 2013 elections, a ten-party alliance comprising Sindhi nationalist parties including that of Dr Qadir Magsi, Ayaz Latif Palijo, Mumtaz Bhutto and Pir Pagara contested the election along with the PML-N against the PPP but did not succeed.
By holding this rally, Jalal Shah has once again attempted to mobilise the public against the PPP ahead of general elections. But this time, he is alone. He has chosen popular narrative like corruption, governance and religious extremism. In Punjab, Imran Khan’s PTI stands for good governance and against corruption. In Sindh, no political force has started any public mobilisation and Shah wanted to fill the gap.
After this mammoth rally, political pundits are taking it seriously and some think that with this political momentum, Sindhi nationalists might stand against the PPP.
Renowned lawyer and academic Shahab Usto thinks that for nationalists this is wonderful time to come into mainstream politics. “In the last ten years, the PPP has failed to provide basic facilities and infrastructure. In such a situation, the nationalists could fill the political vacuum by targeting the youth that is increasingly disillusioned with the PPP’s politics and governance in Sindh.”
“We have seen ghastly violent acts of terrorism in such peaceful cities as Shikarpur and Sehwan. The poor people with large families, bound by the tribal norms and caught up in feuds, are easily lured towards religious extremism,” he says, showing concern that if nationalists will not come into power, extremists will.
In the given circumstances, chances of people voting for nationalists would depend largely on the finesse and adaptability of nationalist politics in Sindh.
In the past, Sindhi nationalists attempted to make alliances like Qaumi Awami Tahreek’s (QAT) Ayaz Palijo and Pakistan Muslim League PML-Functional led Pir Pagara but they were not successful. “Jalal Shah has a few plus points in Sindh compared to Pagara and Ayaz,” says analyst and anchorperson, Manzoor Shaikh.
According to Shaikh, being the grandson of GM Syed, he had two advantages. “One, he is a top nationalist as per his legacy and has access to groups which are called separatists in Sindh because they follow Syed’s thought of Sindhudesh. Two, he is part and parcel of Pakistan’s parliamentary system which gives him an opportunity to justify his existence as a force which is anti-PPP and also one that discourages anti-Pakistan elements in Sindh.”
Shaikh says Shah will follow the same line as before and surely ally himself with any anti-PPP force which allows him to win quite a few seats in Sindh. “He had signed a pact with Nawaz Sharif but the affinity between the PPP and the PML-N nullified its impact. While he believes the PML-N is a better political party than the PPP, his eyes are set on the polls. He is open to move an inch forward to the PTI if it takes Sindh seriously. It is in his interest.”
Dr Riaz Ahmed Shaikh, Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, SZABIST says, “Sindhi nationalists could not perform even in the 1970 election because their major demands were already addressed in the shape of dissolution of One Unit and restoration of provincial identity of Sindh.” Later on, during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, “other demands like Sindhi Language Bill and separate quota for rural Sindh were accepted.”
According to Riaz Shaikh, during ZAB’s government, a new Sindhi middle class emerged which thought “their interests would be better served if they voted for the PPP instead of nationalists, as the nationalists failed to unite on single platform”. He thinks that nationalists seem unsuccessful again as Zardari-led PPP has managed to get “all electables in the party”.
Sindhi language news anchor Ayaz Naich, talking about why the nationalists are not contesting elections, says, “It was because they have limited vote bank. Sindhi nationalists are trained in resistance. They can hold protests and go on strike. However, election is a serious matter that needs prolonged attention.”
He explains that in the past “most of the central leadership of the nationalist parties contested the elections but slowly other leaders are also coming up.”
Analysts are of the view that if nationalists successfully spin out a new political programme that promises to protect Sindh from a decadent PPP-elite and the menace of religious extremism, it is possible that the new nationalist narrative and the corresponding organisation finds support among the disillusioned Sindhi youths and common man. And if they learn to dovetail nationalist politics to democratic norms and electoral politics, forge strategic alliances and tactical alignments with mainstream actors, they may transform the politics.