Punjab, the last battleground

By Nadeem Syed

The city is ablaze with Iftar parties these days. But the two Iftars that drew most attention were those arranged by the rival Leagues, PML (N) and PML (Q). In fact they were not simple or ordinary Iftars, but do-or die political shows put up to demonstrate their respective parliamentary strength in the largest province which means a lot to every political party, let alone PPP and PML (N) who are destined to compete with each other in days to come, more so at the time of next election.

For PML (Q), it was an important event to establish that it is still a force to be reckoned in the province; enjoying the backing of MPAs good enough to bring a bout change in the Punjab. As far as the PML (N) was concerned, it was equally important occasion to show that it has the requisite numbers in the provincial assembly to sustain its government without the support of PPP. The show that PML (N) arranged was a bit risky. The party leadership entrusted with the task to organize the show was probably depending too much on the members of forward bloc, originally belonged to PML (Q).
But in the end, both the parties, it seemed, fell short of accomplishing their objectives. Hence, pin-drop silence in their ranks which suggest that they have little idea where to go from now onwards.
For both, it appeared that the members of forward bloc are too dodgy to rely upon when the chips are down. One day they could pledge their loyalties with PML (N), the next time it could be PML (Q). All they need is a little push from the forces that be.
As two leagues came face to face for the first time, the PML (N), appeared more of a nervous bunch of the people not sure what treatment will be meted out to their government in Punjab. Its leaders including the Sharifs, ministers, party grandees and top officials are not certain even at this stage as to what will be the outcome of their tussle with the Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, sitting pretty and who in the Punjab has successfully made it a common cause with the Chaudhrys leading PML-Q.
Most importantly, they are not sure if they will be able to hold the Punjab government any more if the PPP any day decides to flex its muscle. Hence every now and then we heard cries from its top leaders that nothing will ever happen to the Punjab government. The PML (N) leaders find even greater comfort when Prime Minister or President Asif Zardari make statements that PPP will bring no harm to provincial government. These are real words of solace for the PML (N) leaders. A report that Punjab Governor was called by Zardari in the Presidency came like music to their ears, though the news item was later on contradicted. The comfort they felt is often short lived. The very next day Salman Taseer is seen hobnobbing with Chaudhrys at their residence, discussing the future of the Punjab.
No wonder the PML (N) leaders are constantly making hue and cry that the Governor’s House has become a hotbed of conspiracies against the provincial government.
We also often witness outbursts from PML (N) leaders asking the PPP leaders to leave the provincial government. Then the PPP leaders have to remind their counterparts that their survival rest on the PPP support.
As the power game rages in the province, it is being asked more frequently in political quarters as to what is the future of PML (N) government-whether the PPP will upstage it. More importantly, what this fight is all about and that too so early in the day after enjoying such a good time in the recent past, culminating in signing important documents like Charter of Democracy. Even Manzoor Watto and Arif Nikai survived much longer than the alliance between the PPP and PML (N).
It seems, at the heart of the growing tussle that pitted Salman Taseer against Shahbaz Sharif lies the battle for the control of Punjab. For both the PML (N) and PPP, political hold over the biggest province is very important in terms of their future politics. For PPP, Punjab appears even more important with its cherished desire to form government in the province.

As such, Punjab remains the last battleground for the PPP after establishing its rule elsewhere.  The battle continues on and off. The real question is when the PPP leadership makes it an all-out war. Probably, that does not seem to be taking place very soon or in near future as was expected.
E-mail: nadeemsyed@nation.com.pk

Source: The Nation,23/9/2008

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