LAHORE: Cracks have emerged in the Junoobi Punjab Suba Mahaz (JPSM) movement as some of its top leaders are fearful of being completely overshadowed by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — distancing the Mahaz from its south Punjab narrative.

Although all candidates of the JPSM have agreed to contest the elections with PTI tickets, some members of the movement are adamant that they maintain their JPSM ideology along with it.

JPSM leaders insist that if they disassociate from their roots, the movement will lose its identity, which may hurt it in the long run — damaging its credibility. It is — according to some of its leaders — imperative for JSPM members to contest the elections with a strong focus on the movement’s agenda.

Khusro Bakhtiar, president of the JPSM — who on Wednesday announced a merger of the Mahaz with the PTI, in the presence of Imran Khan — has reportedly failed to convince fellow members that their merger with the PTI will not result in losing their independence as representatives of south Punjab.

“Although Khusro had announced the merger, all JPSM members are unanimous in their resolve to continue their struggle — for creation of a south Punjab province — on the Mahaz’s platform with the help of the PTI,” a source told Dawn.

He said that all members of the JPSM including Khusro himself, had agreed to convince the PTI leadership that the partnership was merely an ‘alliance’. However, he said, that the PTI was adamant that the union was a full-blown merger.

“There is no question of losing the identity of the JPSM; the movement has received tremendous response from the people of the south. We have made an agreement with the PTI to form an alliance for the elections. The pact was made between two separate parties. Now we are part of the PTI but at the same time we continue to remain members of the JPSM. We will fight for our cause — a separate province for the people of south Punjab — on a ‘joint’ platform of the JPSM-PTI,” JPSM leader Tahir Iqbal Chaudhry, a member of the National Assembly from Vehari, told Dawn on Thursday.

Responding to a question about the differences over merging the Mahaz with the PTI, Mr Chaudhry said, “there is no dispute among the members of the Mahaz as the merger (with the PTI) has not taken place.”

He said the JPSM would exist till its demands for a separate province had been met.

JPSM co-chairman Nasrullah Dereshik was also keen to maintain the Mahaz’s independent status, claiming that “the JPSM is not losing its independent status".

A source in the PTI however said that some of the JPSM members believed that staying loyal to the Mahaz platform would win more votes, and that was the major reason these members were reluctant to admit the merger happened.

“They will continue to reiterate their Mahaz ideology, but will contest elections under the PTI flag,” he said.

When asked to clear this merger/alliance confusion, PTI information secretary Fawad Chaudhry told Dawn that the JPSM has practically ceased to exist after its merger with the PTI.

“There is no confusion at all. All members of the JPSM have joined the PTI.”

When asked why the PTI signed an agreement with the Mahaz if its members simply joined the former, Fawad Chaudhry said: “Since the Mahaz’s (21) members — current and former — lawmakers had come to join us in a group, the PTI inked an agreement, which is primarily related to its commitment to creating the south Punjab province.”

The case for south Punjab, and more

The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) — in the run up to the 2013 elections, and its manifesto — had promised to set up a “high-powered commission” to consider the creation of new provinces; in south Punjab, Bahawalpur, and Hazara.

The PPP back in 2012 had also announced its intentions to go forward with the idea of breaking up the large province, which was followed by demands in the Hazara area for a new province as well. Political slogans to emancipate several underdeveloped areas gained traction, however not much happened.

Several analysts have stressed on the importance of new administrative units across the country, as development gaps — both social and infrastructural — have expanded over time. Punjab alone accounts for than 50% of the country’s population, resulting in the province taking a big piece of the National Finance Commission (NFC) awards pie.

However, there is also the concern of breaking up provinces along ethnic lines rather than for governance issues. Given Pakistan’s volatile political dynamics, some analysts fear that demands for more provinces stem from populist slogans looking for short-cuts to solve deep-lying governance issues.

Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2018