LAHORE: PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari concluded his speech at his party’s rally in Multan on Dec 15 with a promise of a separate province for the area.

Seraiki nationalists offered mixed reactions to the announcement.

Rana Faraz Noon, the Seraikistan Democratic Party head, says the PPP’s promise would force other parties to make the new province part of their manifestos.

Pakistan Seraiki Party President Dr Nukhbah Langah, however, calls it an “election stunt and a Seraiki vote securing strategy”.

“The PPP did not change the name of their party unit of Seraiki wasaib,” she said while referring to the PPP south Punjab chapter.

She said Asif Zardari promised a Seraiki bank during his tenure as president but that was not established.

On the national language bill in the Senate, the PPP did not include Seraiki in it.

“Three cheers for the PPP for speaking for us but why the party has shied away from calling it a Seraiki sooba,” questions Zahoor Dhareeja, the president of Seraikistan Qaumi Council Pakistan. He says speaker after speaker at the massive rally kept calling our wasaib as south Punjab, which is incorrect. “We lay our claim from Bahawalpur to Khushab districts, and Khushab, Mianwali, and Dera Ismail Khan, all Seraiki-speaking districts, do not fall in south part of Punjab,” he explains.

He sees Seraiki as his identity and wonders when the PPP gave identity to Pashtuns by renaming their province as Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, why not the similar approach for the Seraiki belt.

Seraiki nationalists had pinned great hopes on the PPP rally and done spadework to convince the party to raise the slogan of the province for the Seraiki belt.

When he landed in Multan, huge billboards and banners inscribed with a separate province demands welcomed Mr Bhutto-Zardari. Such columns of banner had popped up in every nook and cranny of the Multan city days ahead of the rally. Local newspapers published front-page ads and special supplements on behalf of Seraikistan Democratic Party General Secretary Asif Khan. But all the publicity material missed the word ‘Seraiki’.

Asif Khan acknowledges there are some concerns in the PPP over raising the slogan of the Seraiki province. He, however, calls it a milestone for the nationalists that the PPP chairperson wears a Seraiki ajrak, calls Seraiki the language of four provinces and promises to raise a new province for the area. “Let us not make the name a big issue at this stage,” he says.

Rana Ibrar Khalid, a journalist with a deep interest in Seraiki issues, offers an explanation. He says when a commission for a separate province was formed by the Zardari government in 2011 under Senator Farhatullah Babar, then the powerful circles had warned the PPP not to use the word ‘Seraiki’ in the province issue. He said though it was undesirable, the PPP be forgiven for the reason that it had made the province issue a national issue, which was earlier confined to drawing room and seminar discussions.

“When the PPP presented a bill for the Seraiki area province in the Senate, Nawaz Sharif would instigate the people of Bahawalpur to demand the revival of their defunct state, not a province,” he said.

Ijazur Rehman, Pakistan Seraiki Party activist, says the PPP needs to understand public sentiment. “The crowd went mad when Javed Siddiqui anchored the rally proceedings in Seraiki, when Yousuf Raza Gilani and Asif Zardari spoke in Seraiki and when Javed Multani sang a song in Seraiki,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 17th, 2017