THE much-debated topic regarding the creation of new provinces in Punjab — and elsewhere in the country — has drawn some extremely emotional responses of late. Tuesday’s session of the National Assembly once again underscored the complications that overlie the ostensibly simple idea of a new administrative unit. Angry lawmakers in the house were divided along regional, rather than party, lines after the PML-N’s Rana Sanaullah submitted a bill asking for the creation of two new provinces in southern Punjab. In addition to a janoobi Punjab suba, the bill sought the establishment or restoration of the Bahawalpur province. The move is consistent with the PML-N position which gives the party space for political manoeuvre in southern Punjab, where it lost in many constituencies, giving the PTI the seats it desperately needed to be in a majority in Punjab and at the centre. The Bahawalpur province demand, along with that of a south Punjab province, allows the PML-N to stay relevant in the southern districts without facing a greater threat to its hold on the upper parts of the province. And indeed, the enthusiastic reaction of the local politicians across the party divide to the call for a province comprising Bahawalpur and its surrounding areas does bring into focus just how overpowering the urge to self-govern is.
The pro-Bahawalpur-province politicians are quite categorical in their declarations: they are not prepared to be dominated by Multan — just as they desire to escape the long shadow of the rulers from Lahore. The smaller unit appears to the people to be the winning solution here, with some adding that the concept is as useful for parts of Sindh as it is a practical answer for Punjab or any other part of the country. There are likely to be more flashpoints on the national map signifying local aspirations for a ‘province of our own’. The only element that can perhaps help rationalise the demand is the presence of powerful local governments that vest real authority in people at the grass-roots level.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019