"Popular applause veers with the wind."

– John Bright

It seems that the PPP-led democratic setup has finally decided to make efforts for the welfare of the people, which may provide it another opportunity to form a government after the next general elections. Keeping this in view, the leadership has started talking about creating new jobs for the people and providing relief in the 2012-2013 budget. The question, however, remains: Why does it consider the people as goofs even in the 21st century? If performance is a yardstick to win the elections, then none of the present governments, both federal and provincial, will be able to claim a re-election victory. But inflation has eaten away so much into the incomes of the poor that any indication or rhetoric about providing relief is bound to bring a smile on their faces.

As if that was not enough, Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani raised the stakes by declaring that the government is determined to create a new province for the Seraiki people. Apparently, this seems to be a popular slogan and could not have come at a better time for the federal government. It is common knowledge that any party that is opposed to this idea will definitely receive a political drubbing, a prospect that no one can afford. Meanwhile, the initiative is likely to yield political dividends for the PPP.

One only hopes that the federal and provincial governments have a plan ready that would allow the creation of a Seraiki province without much hassle. In case proper homework is not done, then it could easily degenerate into chaos creating more misery for the common man, instead of providing relief.

The Prime Minister's timing definitely smells of politics and is a useful ploy to put his political opponents in complete disarray. There has not been much debate on this issue by other political players, which means that presently only the two mainstream political parties - PML-N and PPP - who stand to either win or lose with the creation of a new province are debating the issue, both privately and publicly. Reportedly, the people of Hazara are also demanding a separate province. While those who desire that Karachi and Hyderabad should be separated from Sindh may well be marking their time before they raise the issue.

Against this backdrop, it has become absolutely essential for the ruling elite to take a decision on this sensitive issue. Also, there are no two opinions that to increase administrative efficiency, power must be delegated to the lower tiers and with too much of centralisation of authority, the system becomes cumbersome and virtually ineffective. For example, for a person living in Rahimyar Khan, Sadiqabad or D.G. Khan it is very difficult to come all the way to Lahore to get their grievances redressed; the Lahorities are aware of the fact that how difficult it is for a common man to enter even the premises of the Civil Secretariat. Therefore, in case the authority is shifted to a convenient place in southern Punjab, it will not only help to alleviate the sufferings of the poor, but also establish good governance that caters to their requirement.

Having said that, another issue that needs careful study is the economic viability of such proposals. In case, it is established that the state would have to incur heavy financial burden, then they could be deferred to a later stage when financial viability of a separate province can be guaranteed. But since the issue has now been raised by no less a person than the Prime Minister all the stakeholders must show political sagacity and join together to find a solution to resolve the issue, instead of political point scoring against one another. Since both the federal and provincial governments would be affected in case a new province is established, it would be in the fitness of things if a team, comprising politicians and civil administrators, is formed to look into this sensitive issue and come up with proposals that are meaningful help to improve the lives of the people living in the Seraiki belt.

If a consensus is achieved, it will be no mean achievement because people expect the politicians to show tolerance and political maturity, as they have been doing during the passage of the 18th, 19th and 20th constitutional amendments. It must be understood that the creation of a Seraiki province is a much more serious issue than the passing of the constitutional amendments. Thus, the PML-N and PPP are expected to understand the ground realities existing in southern Punjab and find a solution that is fair and acceptable to concerned parties.

While it may not be feasible to create a new province before the next general elections, the politicians may categorically convey to the Seraikis their resolve to accept the popular demand deferring it to a later date. It would be better if a final date is announced. But if that is not possible, then a resolution on the subject may be acceptable, since it will set the ball rolling in the right direction.

Similarly, instead of outrightly rejecting the demands from other regions for separate provinces, there is no harm if proper research is conducted to create new provinces because of over-bloated bureaucracy and overburdened administration. The focus must only be the welfare of the people; surely, if the requirement is genuine and has no sinister motives attached with it, then there is no harm to analyse the pros and cons of such proposals.

The creation of a new province out of southern Punjab, however, has two dimensions: One that it is the demand of the Seraiki people and the other is pure, hard politics where the political parties want to gain in the next general elections by playing with the issue.

n    The writer has been associated with various newspapers as editor and columnist. At present, he hosts a political programme on Pakistan Television.

    Email: zarnatta@hotmail.com