Now that political battle lines have been drawn, the race is on for the coveted slot of Chief Minister (CM) Punjab. When it comes to governance, the regime of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto stands out. One may not agree with his political philosophy but his administrative brilliance is acknowledged. Punjab and its capital city Lahore was the bastion of his political power. He selected his CMs after due deliberation as he wanted to deliver while retaining his power base and popularity.

After the break-up of one unit in West Pakistan on June 30, 1970 four provinces were restored (Punjab, Sindh, NWFP, Balochistan). As NWFP (KP) and Balochistan had an ANP/JUI majority, the CMs came from these parties. ZAB was responsible for Punjab and Sindh. His first choice for Punjab was Malik Mairaj Khalid who remained CM from May 02, 1972 to November 12, 1993 while Ghulam Mustafa Khar was inducted as Governor. It was an ‘Awami’ era. Elected representatives of the people sat with open doors, anyone could walk into their offices.

Malik Sahib was a genuine political worker from Lahore. All his life, he lived in a flat off Beadon Road. He understood the needs of the common man. As Governor, Khar Sahib was also very effective but his feudal background was always evident. After the promulgation of the 1973 constitution, the CM became much more powerful. Khar Sahib convinced ZAB to appoint him on this position. He remained CM from November 12, 1973 to March 15, 1974 while Nawab Sadiq Hussain Qureshi occupied the Governor’s house. Both the CM and the Governor had feudal backgrounds and represented South Punjab. Instead of serving the people with effective administrative frameworks, Khar Sahib relied on personal popularity. He was positioning himself as ‘Sher-e-Punjab’. ZAB was irked with his approach of self-projection on one hand and lack of administrative performance on the other. Procedures and paper work was not his forte. Finally, on March 15, 1974, Comrade Hanif Ramay, an artist and political worker from Lahore was appointed CM. Ramay Sahib was an honest and able politician who served his city and province well.

One day perhaps, history will record his achievements as CM of the largest province of the country. During his tenure arts councils were built in all major cities including Lahore. I remember the days when Faiz Sahib headed the Lahore Arts Council that operated in a bungalow on the Mall from where he was arrested during the regime of Ayub Khan. Ramay Sahib turned the place into a major cultural complex. On the administrative side, he and his entire cabinet had scheduled visiting hours for the public. He allotted plots to those who served the nation like writers, poets and journalists. Welfare of the common man was always his top priority. His intellect and oratory was outstanding. A paradigm political shift from the feudals to the commoners was in the making. While he remained true to his socialist manifesto he had crossed the line and was removed on July 15, 1973. In his own words, he was the first CM who was taken directly from the CM House to the dungeons of the Lahore Fort where comrades were neutralised.

The feudals were back, Nawab Sadiq Hussain Qureshi was inducted CM on July 15, 1973, a position he retained till July 05, 1977 when Zia took over. Qureshi Sahib was given the task of converting Lahore into Paris. He served his boss well. Roads and bridges were high on his priority list. Sherpao Flyover was completed in his term. Every morning, he drove on the thorough fares of the city on his Jaguar. He was not a public man and a strict disciplinarian who was not very popular in the party. When crunch time came in 1977 after the elections, Nawab Sahib was clueless. The PNA movement gained steam while ZAB was confined to the Governor’s house with his feudal CM from Multan.

Lahore is the political capital of Pakistan. ZAB called it the Leningrad (St Petersburg) of Asia and had willed to be buried here. It was here where he launched his party in 1967 and so did Kaptaan in 1996. Nations must learn from history to avoid committing the same mistakes again and again. Historically, speaking feudals have proven to be disastrous as CMs and should not be tried ever again.

Since 1985, Takht-e-Lahore has dominated the politics of the city and the country. In order to take them on and contain their influence, a genuine political worker of Lahore like Mairaj Khalid or Hanif Ramay can be very effective as CM; they believed in politics of service to the people and left no empires behind. They were ideologues who struggled for change, not power or positions.

Now that we are moving in the direction of ‘Naya Pakistan’, new minds and fresh approaches are needed, otherwise it will be more of the same. In a recent outburst by the Khawaja of Aibak Road, he asked an interesting question, ‘What is our fault’? Someone should answer on the floor of the house, but I think their biggest disservice to the nation is that they have wasted over three decades of the nation in building their own empires at the cost of the national exchequer. All institutions have been razed to the ground in this process. Khawaja Rafiq Ahmed, his father was an honourable political worker who was gunned down in the seventies after a rally behind the Assembly Hall. He ran his printing press and struggled for an honourable existence. His heirs have not been able to meet his high moral standards.

ZAB launched his ‘Awami Movement’ against the ‘Pirs’, ‘Mirs’ and ‘Sarmayadars’. He started off well. By the end of his innings, he surrounded himself by the very same class of people that he struggled against. It was a major reason for his downfall. Karl Marx’s hero was ‘Prometheus’ the Greek Legendary figure who taught man the use of fire and was punished by the Gods for his act of kindness. In the words of Baba Farid ‘Sulli tay Charna Painda ha’ (one has to face the gallows). Change is always opposed by evil forces of status-quo. Bhutto was first cornered and then punished. Likewise, the CM of Punjab who fought for change by siding with the people was taken to the dungeons of the ‘Shahi Qila’. The position calls for ‘Takht ya Takhta’. Land grabbers, cartels, mafias, fuedals, lotas, loan/tax defaulters, offshore company owners, beneficiaries of power and position cannot deliver change as such; they should be disqualified for this coveted slot. An ideologue and comrade from Lahore like Ramay is best suited to lead Punjab in the 21st century.