Pakistan Muslim League, a successor of the All India Muslim League, was established in 1949. No longer a party leading a national movement, it was formed only to monopolize power, and failing that, to consolidate its share. With a different objective circumstanced in novel political milieu, it had to adjust to new challenges. League, with most of its top-tiered leadership from Uttar Pardesh, did not have a mass base in the newly independent country. An influx of refugees, regardless of their allegiances, did not constitute sufficient electoral strength to ensure its popular support. The League’s leadership was aware of its inadequacies and made political adjustments only to remain at the helm of the power pyramid.

In the western wing where power centered, feudal lords and religious mystagogues from densely populated Punjab emerged as the strongest group. In the first decade after independence, League (since it lacked organizational structure), also placed a substantial reliance on state bureaucracy. Bereft of ideology, any organizational coherence and statesmanship; the league became their creature. In the years to come, the League was only to act as a political surrogate for the mighty state bureaucracy. All these factors created schisms in the League - a constant in its political trajectory since the 50s.

Three factions of the League appeared within the first five years of independence to contest in the 1951 elections for the legislative assemblies of Punjab, NWFP and Sindh. The Muslim League (headed by Liaqat Ali Khan), the Jinnah Awami Muslim League and the Islam League. The Muslim League triumphed with 140 seats out of a total of 175; the Jinnah League won 32 and Islam League was routed.

The League’s rational rather than daring political choices also caused its isolation in East Pakistan. In the 1954 elections, feeding on the memory of partition, the League campaigned on the slogan: “Every vote against the League will go against Islam and Pakistan.” Few believed them, as United Front, spearheaded by Suhrawardy won the elections with 223 seats out of 309. The League could only manage 10 seats.

Popularity of the League in the West too began to cede, particularly in non-Punjabi provinces, through sheer venality, self-projection and unfettered influence-peddling. In this backdrop, the infamous One Unit Plan was hatched to retain the League’s hold in the West. It initially caused a split within the League - dissenting voices coming from non-Punjabi leaders. But the central government anchored by an influential bureaucracy diligently lobbied to pass the Establishment of West Pakistan Act, 1955, that dissolved all provinces and the new province of West Pakistan was formed.

Unrest within the League against the formation of One Unit had convinced Sikandar Mirza that Suharwardy was the right man to resolve the constitutional crisis of the country. He engineered a faction from the League i.e. The Republican Party. Premier Suharwardy presided over the Awami League-Republican coalition in 1955-56 - but could not survive beyond a year in office. The experiment with the shuffle had failed and still skeptical of national elections based on adult franchise, Mirza formally asked Ayub Khan to take over.

Ayub Khan lifted the ban on all political parties in 1962. His aim at legitimacy made him naturally turn to the League. Another faction was carved out, namely the Convention League. The dissidents of the regime formed their own faction called the Council Muslim League led first by former Prime Minister Khwaja Nazimuddin and after his death by Ms Fatima Jinnah. She also led the party in the 1965 Presidential elections which Ayub Khan scandalously won.

The Council Muslim League (2 seats) and Convention League (7 seats) suffered a devastating blow in the first ever general elections based on adult franchise in 1970. A third faction, the Qayyum League formed by Abdul Qayyum, also contested the elections and won 9 seats. Later, it merged with PPP.

After 1973, the Pir of Pagara heading PML-Functional, managed to bring different factions of the league under his fold. PML-F became the largest faction of the League by 1976. In the 1977 elections, PML-F joined the anti-Bhutto alliance called the Pakistan National Alliance comprising nine parties including the League. After Zia took over, the PML-F supported the new regime. It caused a split and Malik Qasim broke away to form his own faction, the Pakistan Muslim League-Qasim. He later joined the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy in 1981.

Zia too, after lifting Martial law in 1985, used League under Muhammad Khan Junejo for his ambitions. The League split yet again after Zia’s death in two groups; one headed by Nawaz Sharif and the other led originally by Junejo and after his death by Hamid Nasir Chatta. PML, despite internal rifts, contested the elections in 1988 under the banner of nine-party alliance called the Islami Jamhoroori Ittehad (IJI). It partially succeeded and formed a government in Punjab with 108 seats out of 204.

IJI came to power in the center in 1990, winning 105 seats, with Nawaz Shareef as Prime Minister who subsequently parted ways with the IJI. Nawaz Shareef’s unceremonious dismissal in 1999 was followed by rise of another faction, loyal to Musharraf regime called PML-Q. This party bagged 126 seats and formed the government after the 2002 general elections. However, its fortunes plummeted with Musharraf’s, as it managed only 54 seats in the 2008 elections before it was routed in the 2013 general elections which saw the resurgence of PML-N as the largest faction of the League with a total of 189 seats in the National Assembly.

At present, there are twenty-five factions of the League registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan. And most of them don’t feature in our national discourse. If its history is instructive, the future of the League’s parochial politics will not be any different. We may still see a new power-center regimented within the League to disturb its temporary equilibrium.

The writer is a freelance columnist.