With another term coming to an end, the issue of separating South Punjab as a province has crept up once again. The dozen lawmakers choosing to leave the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) on the grounds of ignoring the needs and poverty of the region seem to have realised the problem a little too late to actually do anything about it – but just in time to drive a timely electoral campaign. Proving again that this issue is only used to score political points before the election - something the new group (South Punjab Province Front) accuses mainstream parties like Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and PML-N of doing.
The claim is that the region faces 51 percent of the total poverty in Punjab and is deprived of the development projects is a fair claim in itself. However to ask for more federating units based on it is what is problematic. There are many more aggrieved groups and underdeveloped regions in the country overall and the answer cannot always be to create another federating unit to be able to manage the area, instead of equipping the current regime to deal with the problems.
The issue is more political than social. Parties like PPP and Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI) are up for either forming an alliance with these departing legislators or taking them into the party on the basis that they support their claim of a separate province. The lawmakers themselves seem eager for either option. All are local electables who usually contest elections as independent candidates – and join the governing party later – so their loyalties are not tied to a particular party. Despite this, Punjab, due to such overtures, will become a shaky ground and that is bound to affect PMLN. The group already claims that 20 more legislators will join them. Their own inclination is towards PTI but PTI wants them to contest elections on their ticket after joining the party. One is bound to wonder whether this is a move to make PTI relevant in the politics of Punjab, since the vote bank of PMLN has not been hit after the ousting of their Prime Minister.
This is another sizeable test for PML-N, which is already witnessing a dilemma in the management of this issue. While party members have been clearly instructed to not comment on the incident, the state information minister (a group close to Maryam Nawaz) has been quick to comment on the loyalties of these lawmakers; terming them as “never core PMLN members”.