ISLAMABAD, May 18: A National Assembly committee rejected on Wednesday a private member’s bill seeking status of national language for six regional languages spoken in the country. However, the bill’s rejection divided the Pakistan People’s Party and the committee itself on provincial lines, sources told Dawn.

The bill, which had been moved by the Pakistan Muslim League-Q MNA Marvi Memon more than two years ago seeking amendment to Article 251 of the Constitution, was rejected by the members through a majority vote polled mostly on provincial lines.

Ms Memon and veteran PPP leader Syed Zafar Ali Shah, both from Sindh, staged a walkout in protest over the bill’s rejection. The only other member from Sindh was MQM’s Iqbal Qadri, who opposed the bill, though “mildly”, according to the sources.

Later, Ms Memon told Dawn that she walked out of the meeting not just in protest against the bill’s rejection but also over the “uncalled for” remarks of PPP MNA from Nankana Sahib Saeed Ahmed Zafar who termed it an “anti-Pakistan bill”.

Through the bill, Ms Memon had called for declaring Balochi, Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Shina and Seraiki as national languages alongside Urdu.

According to the sources, when one of the committee members opposed the bill and said that it was Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah who had declared Urdu as the national language, Zafar Ali Shah said there had been great resentment over this announcement in East Pakistan which ultimately resulted in a great tragedy.

When contacted, Mr Shah said those who opposed the bill actually did not know the importance of regional languages. “When we did not accept the demand of the majority of East Pakistan people to declare Bengali as national language, how will they agree to grant the same status to Sindhi, Seraiki or any other regional language,” he added.

Mr Shah, who was deputy speaker of the National Assembly when present prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani was its speaker, admitted that there had been no practice in any party, including the PPP, to organise brainstorming sessions on various issues to evolve a common stand. He said he supported the bill because he believed that it could strengthen the federation.

Ms Memon said Mr Shah’s support for the bill clearly showed that the ruling party had no clear policy on the issue. She said it was a matter of concern as to how the PPP would ensure provincial autonomy when it was not ready even to give respect to the regional languages. She said that she tried hard to convince the committee members about the importance of the bill by giving examples of other countries like India, but to no avail.

Expressing her surprise over rejection of the bill, Ms Memon said her document was neither related to sharing of resources nor to any financial matter.