IN order to reach the corridors of power, the PML-N needs to project itself as a national party. Nawaz Sharif did make an attempt to gain a foothold in Balochistan, but the insurgency in the troubled province has made matters difficult. Also, the N-League chief’s attempts to woo Sardar Ataullah Mengal failed to bear fruit.

Now Mr Sharif has turned his attention towards Sindh in order to take on the PPP, which considers Sindh its power base. In this regard, he has approached anti-PPP forces in the province — nationalists, ‘influentials’ and those considered ‘electables’. Political observers concede that space does exist in Sindh for an alternative to the PPP.

Zulfiqar Shah, an analyst, believes the Sindhi middle class has grown in size. Since the PPP is dominated by feudals, the middle class finds it difficult to get space within the party. He adds that the MQM can attract this class, but the Muttahida’s style of politics repels Sindhi speakers from joining it. A smaller number from the Sindhi middle class may support the PPP, but others may look towards the PML-N and PML-F.

The PML-F is also feudal-dominated but has connections in the right quarters and welcomes newcomers. The Functional League may be smaller in size yet it aspires to expand. Mr Shah observes that new power brokers and actors have emerged in Sindh to claim political space.

Sindh-Punjab alliance

Is Nawaz Sharif reviving the Sindhi-Punjabi alliance? This alliance was strengthened by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto only to be broken when Bhutto was hanged. If these are his intentions Mr Sharif needs to come clean on Sindh’s issues and focus on the common interests of both provinces.

This may, then, attract Sindhis towards his party. Political observers say he should go to the people and organise the party before entering the electoral fray. Yet since he does not seem to have the time, he has approached influentials first.

Senior journalist Naz Saheto says Nawaz Sharif has picked the right time, even though he is contacting the waderas, not the people. Analyst Jami Chandio says the influentials can only help Mr Sharif gain power without bringing any notable change to Sindh.Some observers note that if the ‘F’ and ‘N’ leagues can forge a united front, they may be able to create an effective bloc to encircle the PPP. The sitting Pir Pagara has already said he has great respect for Mr Sharif.

Nawaz Sharif also visited the grave of nationalist leader Bashir Qureshi and promised that a PML-N government would probe his death. Naz Saheto adds that people do have a soft corner for Mr Sharif due to his stance on Karachi-related issues, something the PPP has failed to take a stand on.

Jami Chandio says that while people appreciate Nawaz Sharif’s pro-Sindh statements at recent public meetings, whether this will get him votes is not known. Also, despite such statements he is relying on traditional faces.

While nationalists have no vote bank, they may win him legitimacy. Also, they can mobilise people, though elections and ideological politics are different ballgames. Mr Chandio adds that Nawaz Sharif has mood swings. For example, will he woo the MQM if the need arises? Right now he has exhibited no such indication.

Nawaz Sharif has an aggressive Sindhi in his party in the form of Marvi Memon. She was introduced by Pervez Musharraf but quit her lower house seat when her party supported the PPP. For Ms Memon, Nawaz Sharif is the only one capable of facing the PPP. She says her party is working on a two-pronged strategy to activate the “70 per cent” middle class which doesn’t vote in villages and also to approach nationalists and intellectuals.

Anger with PPP

Zulfiqar Qadri, an activist-turned-analyst, says people have two issues: they are angry with the PPP as it did not raise Sindh’s core issues while it chose the MQM as an ally, coupled with bad governance. But he doesn’t consider Nawaz Sharif as an alternative to the PPP as he has in his party elements who were with Ziaul Haq and Pervez Musharraf. Qadri says people haven’t given up their attachment with the PPP hence no dramatic changes are likely.

For Jami Chandio, voting patterns will be more social instead of political or emotional. The voters will opt for those who stand with them.

The scenario may change when the polls are announced. If the establishment supports Nawaz Sharif, the smaller parties in Sindh may follow him. But chances are the current dispensation may well return.

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