It is commonly believed that democracy results in a government elected by the people to ensure their common welfare. If it does not live up to people’s expectations and fails to deliver, it is replaced by a new, relatively efficient regime. However, the politics of Sindh defies this logic.
Despite its track record of bad governance, the PPP continues to rule the province for the last nine years and it is highly likely that it will succeed in winning a majority of the seats in the 2018 general elections. In recent months, various prominent politicians of other parties such as Ismail Rahu, Imtiaz Sheikh and Ghulam Murtaza Jatoi have joined the PPP. Why are political leaders jumping ship to join the PPP in Sindh and how is the party getting elected despite its failure to improve governance?
Most analysts explain this phenomenon by arguing that there is no real alternative to the PPP in Sindh. The people of Sindh still have a strong penchant for Bhutto’s party and believe that only the PPP can truly represent Sindh in the federation.
This view is essentially superfluous. In fact, a proper explanation of Sindh’s political milieu can be provided by understanding the social dynamics in the province.
Sindh is divided into urban and rural areas. The former comprises of Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. In the past, the MQM won the majority of the seats in the urban areas of the province by playing the ethnic card, and through coercion. However, it seems the Farooq Sattar-led MQM Pakistan will not be able to gain votes in the next general elections. But the party will manage to retain its share of seats in the national and provincial assemblies.
Rural Sindh also experiences coercion in political matters. However, this intimidation does not come from a political party. Instead, it is the social structure and the deplorable circumstances of the village, the neighbourhood or a particular tribe that compels people to follow the majority. If anyone rebels and defies norms, s/he faces social alienation. In order to avoid estrangement, many people do not voice dissent and create a spiral of silence which helps maintain the status quo.
When the majority fails to strive for change, it provides opportunistic, feudal politicians – who are the prime beneficiaries of political stagnation – greater space to act on their whims.
Every politician enlists the support of nearly 50 to 100 influential local proteges who have a large vote bank. They are rewarded with development schemes, contracts and jobs in return for support. They eventually distribute these spoils to their core supporters. Not only that, whenever a local issue – such as the registration of an FIR – arises, people approach the protege who uses his connection to get the work done because no official at the union council, taluka or even the district level will act without the approval of a politician or his protege.
Rural areas have been in the grips of this system for decades. It remains largely unchallenged because of the lack of economic independence and an educated middle class. Most educational institutions do not provide quality education. This dismal state of affairs not only impedes progressive thinking but also serves as the primary cause of an intellectual crisis. As a result, a strong and enlightened middle class that can break the shackles of a feudalistic mindset has not been to emerge in Sindh.
This situation benefits the political elite and serves their narrow interests. During election rallies and canvassing, issues of common welfare are seldom heard. The whole electioneering process revolves around narrow issues of honour, patronage and personal gains. When such parochial issues take precedence over common welfare, bad governance becomes inevitable.
As a majority of people in rural Sindh have tacitly accepted poor governance and are not demanding change. Whenever other major political parties such as the PTI or the PML-N turn to Sindh for votes, they often get a poor response. This is largely due to their failure to adapt to the political and social structure of Sindh, and not because the people are content with the performance of the PPP’s leadership.
There is a stronger need for a social consciousness rather than political change in rural Sindh as the former will pave the way for the latter. If the PML-N and the PTI want to give a tough time to the PPP in Sindh, they must play their part in generating social awareness among the people and actively participate in Sindh’s politics. This is only possible when their leaders will frequently visit the rural areas and organise campaigns and rallies there.
They also need to assure people that the due rights of their province will be secured in the federation. In addition, the PML-N and the PTI leaders should reach out to prominent political families and other electables to gain their support – even though it is an elusive task given the PPP leadership’s expertise in luring them into its fold.
The writer is a postgraduate student in the department of political science at the
University of Sindh, Jamshoro.