Sindh once again reverberates with slogans for and against division of the province. Whenever relations between the MQM and the PPP get soured, this slogan is aired to extract more concessions and bargain better share in jobs and other goodies.
The PPP leaders reciprocate with nationalist chants of protecting unity of Sindh even over their dead bodies. This also provides an opportunity to national parties to scrub their arsenal and galvanize their ranks. The fury of pejoratives subsides as clandestine demands are satisfactorily negotiated, leaving behind a trail of bruised relationship between Sindhi and Urdu speaking communities.
The MQM often masks such campaign through some surrogate outfit and ultimately recants the demand through a stereotype conciliatory statement of considering Sindh as their motherland. All actors grab their pie of ephemeral political dividend without realising the wounds inflicted upon communal harmony among permanent residents of the province.
The recent wave of the MQM’s ire is fuelled by a mix of internal and external factors. Challenged by internal friction and screwed up by multitude of external pressures, the party is traversing through a turbulent phase and clumsily attempting to keep its ranks intact. More frequent announcements of dissolving bodies, purging unscrupulous elements and tendering resignation by the MQM leader are only a few symptoms of internal friction.
Emergence of new militant outfits among other ethnic groups has posed serious challenge to the monopoly of MQM’s iron fist, whose power is being rapidly diluted in parts of the city. After flexing muscles for months it had to retreat and surrender some of the covetous localities to Baloch and Pakhtun armed gangs in recent years. This has deprived the party from a substantial inflow of revenues and other assets.
Karachi has remained a laboratory to blending violence in politics particularly since mid-80s. The idea proved stunningly successful that has now perverted other ethnic groups as well. The inventors are no more patent holders of the formula which is now being practiced in every street of Karachi. Arson, violence, blockade, repulsion, persecution and retribution are some of the ingredients of violent political ambience of Karachi. These tactics are under no privileged proprietary any more.
A unilateral authority of Karachi has become a nostalgic history which is a major source of frustration and disorientation of the MQM. Much trumpeted sense of deprivation actually emanates from a sheer feeling of loss of an undivided dominance over the city affairs.
On the political front, the PTI has snuck into its constituency and substantially eroded its vote bank. Voting pattern in 2013 depicted a visible shift in the MQM’s constituencies where it used to enjoy unparalleled power till recent years. First time voters defied the party muscle and risked tribulation to vote for another party.
Imran Khan’s recent mammoth rally in Karachi on a short notice of few days would certainly have brought more wrinkles on foreheads. The PTI was able to mobilise a large number of supporters who were not transported to the venue under duress. The crowd represented a mosaic of nationalities and ethnic groups infused with an overwhelming exuberance. No other political party has demonstrated such a strong political gusto that could parallel the MQM’s flamboyance in the city.
Although Sindhi nationalist parties have been mustering even bigger rallies in Karachi, they were often glossed over by so-called national media for understandable reasons. Those rallies were isolated events and failed to create a sustained surge like the PTI that has successfully permeated into the MQM’s domain. If the PTI’s demand for election audit is accepted and electoral process is properly scrutinised, it will expose real vote-base of both parties in the ruling coalition in Sindh. Likewise if the agenda of a transparent electoral system makes headway, the PTI is set to pose a formidable challenge for both parties in the next election.
Although the PTI has not yet dedicated ample time and energy to Sindh, it has enormous potential to emerge as a strong contestant to reckon with especially in Karachi. Karachi has already experienced the PTI’s stunning inroad in the politics of city during previous general elections. Considering the PTI’s international outreach and overseas support base, conventional methods to subdue the opponents can’t be tried against the party candidates so easily.
The ongoing operation in Karachi is another cause of consternation. Militant elements of all political outfits have been squeezed. The MQM offices were not spared either and its workers were rounded up. Imran Farooq’s murder case has also made the party vulnerable to establishment which possesses potential approvers. The MQM cadres are also bewildered due to skittish policy about security apparatus. The MQM leadership’s thoughts fluctuate between imploring military to takeover and showering pejoratives for targeting the party.
All these factors are drilling a deeper sense of vulnerability in the MQM ranks. The predicament is compelling the leadership to resort to a range of tactics for keeping its cadres riveted. A reversal to Mohajir-centric slogans and demands denote a shift towards the politics of 80s and 90s. During these draconian decades, the MQM remained engaged in bloody clashes with Pakhtuns, Sindhis and its own dissident factions. Brutal tactics to dominate political spectrum during those years blotted the party image. Communal riots and pogroms acted as a tool for the Urdu-speaking community to remain rigged up with the party.
Karachi’s demographic shift is a stark reality that can’t be simply shrugged off by stakeholders. The Urdu-speaking community is the primary constituency of MQM. In the census of 1998, the Urdu-speaking population in Karachi was less than 50 per cent. Demographic configuration of Karachi has undergone a sea change during recent years due to mass influx of other communities. The MQM’s support base is under severe stress and shrinking perniciously. Even a conjured up separate administrative unit would not guarantee the MQM’s sole authority anymore.
Musharraf era’s delimitation in Karachi was a masterpiece of creative art that enabled the MQM to grab 14 out of 18 towns. Unlike Musharraf, the PPP has a constituency that precluded extension of tailor-made local government system of Musharraf era. This, however, does not obviate the need for a transparent local government system which the PPP government has padlocked for its own vested interests.
To thwart all these internal and external trepidations, the MQM leadership has embarked upon a campaign of a separate province. As a corollary, the Urdu-speaking community may gravitate to MQM, yet the ramifications would be too perilous.
On the other hand, the credibility-starved PPP was in a dire need of such stunt to hoodwink its constituency. An incendiary demand of division of Sindh was bound to elicit an inflammatory reaction. It prompted Bilawal Bhutto’s much anticipated recrimination which perfectly completed the scripted loop and both parties were able to hit media headlines that kept harping about staled dharna news for weeks. It also triggered a flurry of brickbats by Sindhi nationalist parties. Viral messages on social media further fanned the fire and it was hard to remain insulated from this hysteria.
The PPP leadership dexterously exploited this heaven sent opportunity to bewitch its belligerent constituency. The PPP has been ruling Sindh in a sordid manner and has earned the wrath of its supporters. A mock war favours both parties by keeping their cadres engaged, media focused and masses oblivious of their poor performance.
Bilawal Bhutto’s recent tirade against the MQM leader and the reciprocal salvo are episodes of a woeful soap opera. The PPP has announced a mass rally in Karachi for yet another launching of its brash young supremo. Following some insane advice, he has unleashed a pandemonium to gain media and public attention. His splenetic gestures and gratuitous harangues prompted matching retort from the MQM. It can trigger an unnecessary slugfest among Sindhi and Urdu-speaking communities.
Just before completion of their jointly ruled term in 2013, both parties in cahoots swung into a mock battle that culminated at the MQM’s separation from the coalition. It was a well-conceived choreography that constitutionally enabled both parties to jointly decide the caretaker setup in Sindh. The stratagem worked well and a pliable man was made caretaker chief minister of Sindh. After the elections both parties returned to their coalition to continue the mission of plundering the province. Once again, both partners in a bid to capture their constituencies are fanning the flames of hatred that would be difficult to douse.