The Sindh government has out rightly rejected the results of 6th Population and Housing Census alleging that the federal government had conspired to deliberately show the population of the province lower than the actual numbers. Senior minister of Sindh and provincial President of PPP Nisar Khoro while talking to media said that the federal government had done so to deny the province of its rightful share from the Federal Divisible Pool. The PPP is also contemplating convening an All Party Conference in the province to firm up a united stand on the issue while hinting at the possibility of taking the issue to the court.

Opposition leader Khursheed Shah has demanded comparison between the data collected by the Statistic Division and the Army to find out the truth. PPP Senator Aijaz Dhamra also rejected the preliminary results, pointing out that the populations of Karachi and Lahore — the provincial capitals of Sindh and Punjab — had not shown major differences, which was not possible. MQM has called the results a mockery of the ground realities and a few other political parties and leaders have also voiced their concern. Some have said that the Census had been carried out in a non-transparent manner.

In the meanwhile the Census Chief Commissioner Asif Bajwa briefing the Senate Committee on Privatization and Statistics categorically rejected the objections raised by the political parties saying that the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) had verified the national ID cards of 20 per cent of the population through National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) adding that 70 million people in the country did not possess ID cards. He explained that the PBS and the Army had similar records and the latter had assisted the PBS in carrying out the census in a transparent manner by providing adequate security to the census staff. He also explained that the reason why there was not much difference in the population of Karachi and Lahore was that the government had declared the entire Lahore district as urban while two districts in Karachi were still classified as rural. On the face of it, what Mr. Bajwa said makes sense.

Nobody in his right mind can accept the argument about the census not having been carried out in a transparent manner in view of the fact that the exercise was undertaken and conducted with the concurrence of all the stakeholders and the actual census was done by the district administrations with the help of the staff provided by the provincial governments, while the army supported the exercise by providing security and also by helping in Housing Census. So the provincial governments also had a major role in carrying out and facilitating the Census. It is worthwhile to point out that nobody raised any objection when the exercise was being carried out. There has been no official opposition from the provincial governments of KPK, Balochistan and Punjab which meant that they believed in the transparency of the exercise.

While the possibility of some administrative inadequacies here and there cannot be ruled out, it is rather preposterous to suggest that the federal government deliberately manipulated the results to deny Sindh, and for that matter the other province, of their legitimate share from the Federal Divisible Pool. Challenging the results the way it has been done also implies connivance of the Army in doctoring the census figures. Only the fools could give credence to such a hypothesis.

The allegation of manipulation of the results of census by the federal government is also strongly refuted by the fact that according to the new Census Punjab might have to lose four National Assembly seats to KPK and Balochistan if the constituencies are marked on the basis of the population. It is pertinent to mention that Punjab had been given fewer seats proportionate to its population size in 2002 when the last delimitation was carried out. Punjab actually would have clinched 151 direct seats if the population formula had been strictly followed but it had been allocated only 148 seats with the other three adjusted among the smaller regions.

According to the provisional data for the 2017 Census Punjab’s population grew at an annual rate of 2.13% which was the lowest among all the federating units. It was also the only federating unit to stay below the national average of 2.4%. If the population formula is followed now, and parliament decides to partially amend Article 51, which deals with the number of National Assembly seats, Punjab’s share will have to be reduced further due to its lowered share of the population growth. Had the federal government, as alleged, opted to manipulate the Census results it would have done by showing a greater rate of population growth in Punjab to secure more NA seats for the province as well as increased share in the Federal Divisible Pool. But the situation is absolutely the opposite which strongly refutes the allegations of the Sind government and other political parties.

It is unfortunately the hallmark of our politics that the opposition parties invariably look askance at anything associated with the sitting government and they let go of no opportunity to denigrate it to gain political mileage, rather than acting as an honest opposition opposing the government policies on principle or for cogent reasons in the national interest. In the prevailing hostility between the ruling party and the opposition parties what the Sindh government and other political parties have alleged is nothing but politicking for narrow political ends, which is quite lamentable development.

Under current circumstances when the country is confronted with myriad of challenges on the internal and external fronts, fanning provincialism and fissiparous tendencies is hardly desirable. It sends very wrong signals to the outside world, particularly the enemies of the country, and it weakens the ability of the country to deal with the challenges with single-mindedness. Political differences must not be allowed to override the national interests. The political parties need to do some serious rethinking in regards to their approach to the national issues by abandoning the politics of animosity and replacing it with politics of healthy and constructive criticism designed to promote only the national interests. They need to learn to resolve the issues at appropriate forums and strengthen the state institutions so that they could deal amicably with the emerging challenges guided by the national interests rather than partisan considerations.

While the possibility of some administrative inadequacies here and there cannot be ruled out, it is rather preposterous to suggest that the federal government deliberately manipulated the results to deny Sindh.