ISLAMABAD - Despite hectic lobbying by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, President Asif Ali Zardari is reluctant to support the Seraiki province move and rather approves the argument built by PML-Q President Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain for naming the new province South Punjab, as well as the revival of provincial status for Bahawalpur – a demand strongly opposed by Gilani, Pakistan Today has reliably learnt.
Gilani has been advocating the creation of Seraiki province for the past six months. However, on the advice of the president, PPP MPAs in Punjab Assembly had supported a resolution seeking the creation of two provinces in Punjab, Bahawalpur and Southern Punjab. Later, President Zardari also sent a reference to the NA speaker on May 30 asking her to form a commission to oversee the matter of the creation of Multan and Bahawalpur provinces.
Despite the lapse of around 17 days, the speaker has not yet taken action on the reference. A well-placed source, requesting not to be named, said the prime minister had been making hectic efforts to convince Zardari to trash the idea of revival of Bahawalpur province and rather go for Seraiki province. “However, the president feels that the creation of Seraiki province would only serve the cause of PM Gilani in person, not the party, as Gilani has been championing the cause. The president has been advised not to go for Seraiki province that may damage the PPP’s vote bank in Bahawalpur, where a massive majority of Punjabi and Urdu-speaking settlers may take this move as a bid to marginalize their influence,” the source said.
The source added that Zardari had been informed by multiple sources that creation of Seraiki province may further deepen the lingual and cultural divide between locals and settlers across Bahawalpur division, who had been living in harmony for decades since partition. “However, the prime minister wants to emerge as a champion of rights of Seraiki people as he is facing a tough challenge from his opponent candidate in the next general election,” the source added.
He said the president, in a recent meeting with prime minister, had asked him to show the public support in Seraiki areas for creation of Seraiki province. “After a clear indication by the president, the prime minister had decided to launch a public mobilization campaign for Seraiki province and various party leaders and Seraiki nationalists had been tasked to mobilize public opinion,” the source said. PM’s elder son, Abdul Qadir Gilani, had been tasked with working in Rahim Yar Khan district to build public opinion for Seraiki province.
“The prime minister also summoned the party’s MNAs on Thursday at PM House and asked them to mobilize the public in their respective constituencies for support of Seraiki province to get maximum political mileage in the upcoming general election,” the source added.
“On the other hand, the prime minister has tasked Seraiki nationalist leader Barrister Taj Mohammad Khan Langah and asked him to mobilize public opinion for creation of Seraiki province,” the source added. Another source said Gilani had planned launching a long march for the creation of Seraiki province from Rahim Yar Khan and had sought support from Sindhi leaders Khursheed Shah and others, but his move was cut short by Zardari. Ali Qadir Gilani was mobilising resources to start a long march from Rahim Yar Khan, while Taj Langah was provided funds to muster support for the march from Multan, he said.
In this regard, Langah was in touch with pro-Seraiki poets, artists, thinkers and workers to get support for the planned long march. This move was aimed at attaining personal benefits and making his election campaign viable for upcoming polls, as Gilani faces a tough fight. However, President Zardari intervened and preempted this move by indicating avoiding confrontation with the PML-N leadership.
When contacted, Taj Langah confirmed that the prime minister had held a meeting with him last fortnight and has urged him to work for raising public opinion for creation of Seraiki province.
“I have already launched a mass contact campaign as asked by Gilani. I met the prime minister two weeks back and he had tasked me with building public opinion for Seraiki province. I am in Khanewal for a meeting today, while a public demonstration by women wing would be held tomorrow (Sunday) in Multan. Next week, demos would be held in Bahawalpur and Dera Ismail Khan (DIK),” he said.
Langah said he had also met Religious Affairs Minister Khursheed Shah who had told him that the president was supportive of Seraiki province and his public stance for creation of Multan and Bahawalpur provinces was just for public consumption.
He added that he and his colleagues had planned to hold at least two demonstrations for creation of Seraiki province in every tehsil.
“Actually, when we mobilize the public, a commission would be announced that would visit various areas to get public’s opinion about Seraiki or South Punjab province. The commission would also visit Bahawalpur to ascertain public support for Bahawalpur province,” he said, adding that he would make sure the commission decides in favour of Seraiki province rather than Bahawalpur or South Punjab.
“Our slogan is Bahawalpur Na Multan – Sooba Sirf Seraikistan and we are working to achieve this objective,” he added.