‘THE end came when it was least expected’ is a sentence that punctuates so many discussions about all kinds of sudden and not-so-sudden events in our life. Sardar Usman Buzdar may never have reached the shores during his term so far as chief minister. But once again the chatter that predicts his removal from the post has intensified just after the gentleman collected a handful of compliments for holding his nerve during Punjab’s fight against Covid-19. Most of these positive vibes have come from his PTI colleagues but then it is the same source that is believed to pose the most potent threat to the sardar. Quite certainly, the unrest predates whatever little praise may have come the way of the Punjab chief minister in recent months.
The situation appears pretty tense. As more and more people join the chorus of questions about the chances of his survival, every move that Mr Buzdar makes these days must be viewed in the context of his durability in the chief minister’s office. A meeting with the sardars who still wield considerable influence close to his base immediately conjures up images of an embattled tribal clutching on to his origins for dear life.
The image has been successfully created thanks to the refrain which calls for change in Punjab midway through Mr Imran Khan’s much-promising first term as prime minister of this country. The change is necessitated by the fact that whereas Prime Minister Khan did manage to dislodge the Sharif dynasty in Islamabad and Lahore, he couldn’t quite deliver the killer blow to Nawaz Sharif & Co in Punjab.
The Sharifs continue to be hailed as those who had done good by the land which had repeatedly brought them to power, making them almost invincible in certain parts of Punjab over long years. This is a fact known to, say, less biased watchers of the game, even though an objective analyst ceased to exist long ago if ever one was created. In recent days, hardcore PTI supporters have been heard confirming the expanse of the Sharif hold on Punjab currently. This is a telltale sign.
As the selectors look for a new bride, the candidates who push the tea trolley betray knowledge that has taken the matchmaker a lifetime to gather.
This is a challenge which inevitably brings the PTI minders to a point where they cannot help but look for options other than the shy Sardar Buzdar as their executive face in the biggest, most crucial province. But if an order for a replacement is ready to be placed here, the fundamental question would be about the mould. Do the owners want to continue with the same model or are they looking for some revolutionary departures from their original experiment?
Sardar Usman Buzdar came in the limelight with a purpose. He was to act as an unobtrusive halfway facilitator of Imran Khan. Also, in the PTI promotion books and in the imagination of one of us so-called neutral observers fed up with non-stop arbitrary one-man shows, he offered a systematic alternative to Mr Shahbaz Sharif. It served the PTI as well as others looking for relief from the angry, intimidating Shahbaz version of instant good governance.
This is a basic distinguishing feature of the PTI government in Punjab. Not by any stretch an invention, collective wisdom against individual or family domination has been the slogan for all non-Sharif governments in Punjab in the last four decades. The PTI adopted it just as it opened its doors for all kinds of political merchants to sell their ware in its stall. There is hardly any evidence that the party has the courage to look for any new ideas to fill this vacuum of leadership in Punjab.
The new idea would be what has been in practice for ages. The leadership has to be evolved within the party. For this, you need a party first, which is hardly in sight, despite sporadic attempts at creating some kind of basic infrastructure resembling an organised political outfit. In that sense, the PTI is standing where it was stationed before the 2018 election. It has precious little to show for its provincial leadership.
Happily stuck the party is from the angle of those who do not want any intrusion into Mr Khan’s casting his long shadow on the politics of his party in Punjab. This is a criteria the PTI cannot live without and it makes this exercise of finding a successor to Chief Minister Buzdar appear funny at times.
As the selectors look for a new bride, the candidates who push the tea trolley betray knowledge that has taken the matchmaker a lifetime to gather. Aleem Khan, the Lahore-based original answer to Shahbaz Sharif who somehow couldn’t be used at the last moment. Mian Aslam Iqbal, the urban, presentable, calmer choice, not just an alternative to Sardar Buzdar, but a possible substitute to Aleem Khan for those who still believe the Sharif nemesis has to be rooted in Lahore. Mohsin Leghari, the dark horse in a Senate race who has since emerged as someone who can reasonably defend his team. He is an educated rural, more specifically southern Punjab, alternative to Sardar Buzdar, as is Hashim Jawan Bakht, the young favourite of journalists in this city which is forever in love with all things Mughal. They appear to be impressed by the way he has conducted himself in his ministry under the weight of all these numbers.
What do these faces signify? They could end up living the same life of a glorified captive only required to appear to be in the saddle — surveying the subjects in a helicopter, driving, unaided, through the streets of the city, giving audience to a group of well-wishers of his boss up on the hill.
Perhaps the change is taking place but it’s not at all discernible. The status quo holds and it makes one wish that the prime minister could convince some close relative of his to mind the store for him in Lahore as he himself supervised the operations from Islamabad. That’s the only solution that comes to mind. Otherwise, it’s only going to be a change of picture.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2020