The Battle for Punjab
The ingress of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf into the Punjab’s heartland has sent shivers down the spines of many strong-rooted political parties.
Pakistan’s politics turned chaotic on April 9, 2022 when the Imran-led federal government in Islamabad was ousted in a no-confidence vote, which the former prime minister says was part of a US-backed regime change operation. Following on its heels, Hamza Shahbaz, son of the new prime minister, was also sworn in on 30th April, 2022 as legally invalid 19th Chief Minister of Punjab (the return of dynastic politics) by a similar no-confidence motion against PTI chief minister Usman Buzdar. The people of Pakistan watched with utter disgust and bewilderment the way both the federal and the provincial governments changed hands through sale and purchase of the PTI’s Punjabi electables becoming turncoats and bringing the judiciary as well as the full spectrum establishment under sharp criticism. While the PDM coalition government is still managing to cling to the throne, the provincial government in Punjab returned to PTI and PML (Q) after turncoats got disqualified and PTI won back 15 out of the 20 seats of disqualified turncoats considered hitherto sure winners; this shook the old myth of politics in Punjab. As of now, Ch. Pervaiz Elahi of PML (Q) has taken oath on 27th July 2022 as a ten-seat partner of PTI. With the return of PTI coalition government in Punjab and already held provincial government in KPK, the federal government looks insecure and unnerved as they are now facing even greater criticism compared to the overthrown PTI government due to devaluation of Pak Rupee, uncontrolled inflation, crippled economy and most ugly political polarization manifested through hypocritical rhetoric by all and sundry, establishing new lows in politics as well as in human conduct. It is well established that Punjab being the most populous province, has always dominated the country in all spheres of national life and its distinct inscription can be recognized across the nation, whether in politics, civil services, armed forces, education, medicine, sports, arts and crafts, literature agriculture, industries, technology, manufacturing and other fields. The status of the Punjab has always held the key to Pakistan’s governance. As summarized in the preceding lines, the struggle for control of Punjab has become even more accentuated. While the PML-N has traditionally been the dominating factor in this part of Pakistan since the 90s, the turf is now being invaded by the PTI. In order to comprehend the ongoing political battle for Punjab, and its impact on the federal government and overall governance in Pakistan, a brief overview of Punjab is considered imperative.
Punjab is one of the four provinces of Pakistan and the second-largest province of Pakistan by land area (205,344 km2). It is the most populous i.e. more than 110 million (2017 Census) and with almost a 40/60 urban and rural divide, has the strongest impact on Pakistani politics and share in the bureaucracy and ultimate governance. The literacy rate is 66.3% (2021). The region was central to the independence movements of Pakistan and India, with Lahore being the site of both the Declaration of Indian Independence as well as the Lahore Resolution that called for the establishment of a separate state for Indian Muslims. The modern-day Pakistani province has its roots in the Punjab province of British India, which was divided along religious boundaries by the Radcliffe Line during the Partition of British-held India in 1947.
Punjab is Pakistan’s most industrialized province, with the industrial sector comprising 24 percent of the province’s gross domestic product. It is known across Pakistan for its relative prosperity, and has the lowest rate of poverty among all Pakistani provinces. However, a clear divide is present between the northern and southern portions of the province; thanks to the political strategy of the obedient servants of the colonial masters of the past and consequent big land owners and evergreen power brokers of the present who continue to thrive on the votes of the poor and dependent masses.