Redemarcation of provinces long over due

15-DT

The question of redemarcation of provinces on the language-based ethno-nationalism has woken up after years of coma. The shock treatment was the renaming of NWFP as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Some Siraiki belt members of the Parliamentary Committee for Constitution Reforms (PCCR) had demanded for a separate province. They have reportedly written what was euphemistically called a ‘note of reiteration’ on the PCCR report. But the Hindko-speaking members instead opposed the renaming of the NWFP within their respective political parties and did not raise the issue of separate province.

The movement for a separate province at best can lay claims on Hindko-speaking districts – Abbottabad 92% and Mansehra 47%. Hindko speaking population in Peshawar is 7% and Kohat 10% only, hence no claim can be made on these districts. (Source: 1981 Population Census).

According to the 1998 Population Census of NWFP the following is the language-wise break up: Pushto 73.9%; Urdu 0.78%; Punjabi 0.97%; Sindhi 0.4%; Siraiki 5.46%; and others 20%. Surprisingly and quite unjustifiably Hindko was lumped with other languages, although other studies show that 18% people in NWFP speak Hindko. So when a separate province is being demanded by them is it a voice of 18% people of the province?

Whether they should have a separate province or can be assuaged within NWFP would depend on the sagacity and statesmanship of the Pakhtun leaders. Increase in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa income from Tarbela Dam has also tempted the Hindko leader to demand a separate province. The protagonists of Hindko province have been claiming their right on this income. Their just demand KP could met half way by allocating at least 25-30% of the income from Tarbela to the local governments of Hindko-speaking Abbottabad and Mansehra. Devolution of maximum powers to the local councils is the answer to satisfy smaller communities with a province.

In his well-researched and most objective book ‘Language and Politics in Pakistan’ Dr. Tariq Rahman has dealt with Hindko ethnic issue succinctly. He has pointed out: “The alleged discrimination by the NWFP government led to the formation of the Hindko Qaumi Mahaz (HQM) in 1987.” But HQM did not win a single election and most Hindko speaking Hazara traditionally voted for Pakistan Muslim League (N). That is the reason that Nawaz Sharif was reluctant to accept the renaming of the province.

Once it was renamed, PML (Q) leaders opportunistically fanned the issue to win over PML constituency. The PML (Q) which has lost central Punjab to Nawaz Sharif did not stop here but has also started supporting the possibility of carving out a province comprising the Siraiki-speaking region. This new province can build its economy on income from cotton production.

Taj Langha, the erstwhile leader of Siraiki province movement, says that the Chaudhries of Gujrat have managed to win 14 seats from the Siraiki belt in the last election. And that is the reason they have now changed their previous stance against the division of Punjab. On the other hand former Information Minister Durrani has been showing his new-found love for Bahawalpur province. Reports are that when and if Musharraf league would jump into politics the popular slogan of redemarcation of provinces would be one of his main spring boards. This suits Musharraf and may be some sections of the establishment also as it would reopen the issue of carving a Mohajir Karachi province from Sindh.

Progressive forces have been demanding redemarcation of provinces on the linguistic lines since sixties. Now the political expediency is bringing support to the redemarcation of provinces on an ethnic basis by the same section of establishment which oopsed the demands of the progressives as an agenda of the communists to break the country.  Should the progressive forces withdraw from this demand as reaction? No as it would be foolish.

So let’s address the issue of redemarcation of provinces on ethnic basis. There is nothing wrong in the redemarcation of provinces whether it’s done in the name of ‘linguistic and ethnic rationalisation’ or right-sizing by taking a slice from Punjab. Uttar Pradesh was sliced for precisely the same reason. The main objective should be that this redemarcation should bring better management and give people easier access to their provincial government.

Learning from the Indian experience is not out of place. Both of us inherited the distorted division of the country which was done purely to suit the British Raj at the center. Both are blessed by the diversity of various nationalities with their own languages and cultures. Both have built their constitution on the foundation of the Government of India Act 1935 and moved to adopt a federal parliamentary system.

India has created 15 new states (provinces) since 1950. The following nine states were created dividing the existing states in the last 60 years: Andhra Pradesh from Madras; Maharashtra and Gujrat from the State of Bombay; Kerala after reorganising Travancore and Cochin; Mysore was renamed Karnataka; Nagaland was carved out from Assam; Haryana from Punjab; Chhattisgarh from Madhya Pradesh; Uttarkhand from UP; and Jharkhand from Bihar. And the seven union territories were given the status of a state: Himachal Pradesh; Meghalaya; Manipur; Tripura; Sikkim; Mizoram; and Goa. Latest attempt to create Telangana from Andhra Pradesh was foiled by a strong reaction from the opposition in the AP Legislature.

The procedure followed for redemarcation in India is:

ü A Bill giving effect to any or all the changes stated above can be introduced in either house of the Parliament, only on the recommendation of the President.

ü If such a Bill affects the boundary or name of the State, then the President, before introducing it in the Parliament, shall refer the Bill to the State Legislature concerned for its opinion, fixing a time limit within which an opinion may be expressed by the State Legislature.

ü If the State Legislature fails to express an opinion within the stipulated time limit then it is deemed that it has expressed its views. If it submits its views within the period so specified or extended, the Parliament is not bound to accept or act upon the views of the State Legislature. Further, it is not necessary to make fresh reference to the State Legislature every time an amendment to the Bill is proposed and accepted.

ü The Bill is passed with simple majority.

ü However, in the case of Union Territories, it is not necessary to obtain the views of legislatures of Union Territories before a Bill affecting their boundaries or names is introduced.

In Pakistan correction of provincial boundaries and rationalization on ethno-lingual basis of the existing provinces is long over due. It would keep on emerging and would not go away particularly when some less-developed ethnic groups continue to feel deprived. The issue is that a rising middle class in any ethnic group wants more shares in jobs and direct control over their development plans. The elite of these ethnic groups jump onto the bandwagon as they feel that creation of a new unit would give them control over their respective provincial government. The present surge in the demand for Hindko and Siraiki provinces is also primarily led by economic interests. The talk about promotion of language and culture is secondary and emotive flavour. For the time being middle class and elite of these ethnic groups’ teach their children English and Urdu because that is the language of economic opportunities in Pakistan.

The whole issue has been better summed up by Dr. Tariq Rahman: “What is certain is that language policies are so intimately related with politics that, if they change, the political map of Pakistan will also change. Whether such a change occurs with or without violence, or whether the status quo continues, with the present low level violence is for the decision-makers to decide.” (ayazbabar@gmail.com)

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