Sindh politicians and floods (Daily Times)

All humans including politicians are not flat characters (1)

Politician bashing is fashionable these days in the land of the pure. Feudal bashing is indeed revolutionary. Even more, elected governments bashing is haute couture. Am I being sarcastic about all the criticism against the politicians, feudals and elected governments? Indeed not. I am a strong believer that the politicians and governments should be reprimanded for the follies to save them from slipping into the quagmire of greed and inefficiency. Reprimand, we must, but only to pull them out from the quagmire and not to push them in. The only beneficiaries to this unbalanced criticism, and not objective appraisal, I repeat ‘appraisal,’ are the anti-democratic forces.

What most critics tend to ignore inadvertently or deliberately is that it is not possible for an elected government and the politicians to be unsympathetic to their constituency. It is in their self interest to look after the interest of the voters to win the future elections. Many argue that the politicians elected from the rural areas are mostly feudal and hence have absolute control over their constituents. This argument is based on their outdated understanding about what has happened in the rural society of Sindh. (I would discuss most of the issues here in the context of Sindh as I have been able to probe the issue only in one province).

Sindh has many big land holdings in actuality, than it appears on the doctored official papers. There is also tribal allegiance. But in spite of this what are the reasons for the Sindh quasi-feudal class to stick with the People Party in most of the areas or with other major political parties? The major reason is that while the feudal may be able to pull in 20 to 30000 votes on the basis of their tribal and feudal control, they need support from other smaller landlords and rural poor to win the elections. This deciding winning vote is provided by the political party they belong to. Majority had stood by with PPP, which was persecuted by General Zia and Musharraf. Why? Because they fear losing the election if they walk away from their party. Just take one example: When Makhdoom Amin Fahim was jilted by Mr. Zardari and not made prime minister, he was upset and gave a few statements showing his displeasure and rightly so. But PPP then organised a huge rally in Hala showing that the over-whelming commitment of the people was with the party, though they felt wronged by Zardari. Amin Fahim’s supporters say that he fell back in line respecting his constituents’ wishes. This does not mean there was no self-interest involved.

Cut. Come back to the floods. Amin’s brother Khaliquz Zaman, who was once a fiery PPP leader, spent 27 days and Amin 11 days supervising strengthening about 100 Km of embankment during the high flood time. A visitor to the area told me that over 2000 volunteers from the area worked with them around the clock and were provided meals during watch and repair of the embankments.

Ghaus Baksh Mehar who is a big landlord from Shikarpur district and MNA of PML (Q) says he worked hard to save his village Wazirabad and Lakhi town by building protective embankments with the help of thousand of villagers. Nadir Magsi was seen supervising the efforts to save Shahdad Kot. Another young tribal chief Usman Almani was found collecting food and clothing for a number of under-privileged clans close to Naushero Feroz, although he is not in politics.

Feudalism and tribalism are indeed primitive and exploitative systems in the modern time. But while analysing them we should not over-simplify and omit certain values which keep these systems going. No doubt the major beneficiary is the feudal or tribal lord. But it should not be forgotten that to perpetuate their control they have to also look after the basic needs of their constituents. They have to help them in times of distress and sort out their disputes.

In modern times the need to deliver to a certain extent is more pressing. One reason for this compulsion is that they cannot absorb the entire work force because of mechanization of farming. This has pushed many of their peasants to send at least one of two people to the cities to seek jobs. Others have moved close to the national highway and to the near-by towns. These people have liberated themselves from the over-powering clutches of the feudal and tribal chiefs. Living in cities they also take back urban ideas to their village. Another factor is the advent of TV in these areas, which are managed by middle class professionals. Hence the content of all Urdu and Sindhi news and entertainment TV channels are challenging the feudal values. While Altaf Bhai’s anti-feudal revolution is at present just a dream, quite evolutionary forces are at work backed by the progress of technology and social requirements in the offing in Sindh for the last three decades, at least. And this is also influencing the politics of the province. Way back in the 1983MRD movement it was noticed that the rising lower and middle classes took over the initiative from the hands of the feudal leadership.

Other issues are regarding the coverage by the media, particularly the electronic media. Many TV crews were reporting that there was no government on the site and projected the misery of the people, but they missed out on the fact that most of the elected representatives were in their areas. They also missed out on the fact that army and navy which are part of the government were doing their work financed by the civilian government. The Sindhi channels which have more viewership in Sindh barring Karachi gave a balanced coverage. As matter of fact I found KTN discussions on the flood situation in Sindh focused, objective and informative. But then outside the small range of interior of Sindh nobody watches them. In any case in the electronic media the competition is tough for hard hitting and biting stories. This is done at the cost of under-playing giving the full truth. (To be continued) (

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