LAHORE, Oct 17: Mian Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, described by many in the PPP as an ‘outsider’, has become party’s central Punjab president to give a `tough time’ to the Sharifs in the coming elections.
Party Co-Chairman President Asif Ali Zardari issued a notification on Wednesday replacing Imtiaz Safdar Warraich with Federal Minister for Kashmir Affairs Manzoor Wattoo as central Punjab president. MPA Tanvir Ashraf Kaira was made central Punjab secretary general in place of Azizur Rehman Chan.
The decision was `chocking’ for many in the party. “Wattoo never remained a loyal worker of the party as he joined the PPP just after getting elected as independent candidate in 2008 election,” a PPP leader in Punjab commented. Requesting anonymity, he told Dawn that the decision had surprised everyone in the party. “Mr Wattoo can be a good choice for achieving a specific target but heading the party of Jialas is too big a task for him as they (PPP workers) will not accept him,” he said, adding the appointment might cause groupings in the party.
“Those who are aware of the PPP culture can predict that the Jialas never will accept an outsider as their true leader. Take the example of Senator Babar Awan. The Jailalas never accepted him as their leader despite he was made vice-president of the party but once he was shown the door by Zardari, he failed to find a single sympathizer in the party,” he said.
Some PPP circles are taking Wattoo’s appointment as a new candidate for the chief minister slot. “Mr Wattoo, in fact, will be the PPP’s jiala candidate President Zardari had spoken about in his last month’s visit to Lahore,” another PPP leader from Lahore said.
He said everybody in the PPP was expecting replacement of Imtiaz Safdar Warriach as he was not the stuff the PPP co-chairman would like to go with into the next election. “But the replacement in the form of Wattoo is taken by surprise even by the PPP leadership of the south Punjab.” Makhdoom Shahbuddin is the president of the south Punjab. Wattoo’s opponents raise finger at his past record of ‘shifting loyalities’.
A source in the PPP said former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had good terms with Wattoo and he put his weight behind him before Zardari finalized his name.
Hailing from Deepalpur in Okara district, Wattoo has to his credit over three decades of political experience. He knows the art of carving his way out to important positions in almost each setup. He was first elected chairman of the Okara district council in 1983. He became a member of the Punjab Assembly in 1985 and was elected speaker. He was elected as an independent MPA in 1988 and soon joined the Nawaz Sharif-led PML which was the part of Islami Jamhoori Ittehad and became speaker. He was elected as MNA and MPA from IJI platform in 1993 but he opted to remain in Punjab and became speaker for the third time in a row.
After the 1993 election he dislodged the Wyne-led PML government in Punjab through a vote of no-confidence and became the chief minister with the PPP support. At that time he had a group of only 17 or so PML rebels on his side and gave a tough time to the Sharifs.
When he fell out with the PPP in 1995, then prime minister Benazir Bhutto installed Arif Nakai, another PML (Junejo) man, as the new chief minister.
In 1996 he became MNA from the PML-Jinnah platform. He faced corruption references and was convicted in a case. He remained in jail for a few months and then moved to the top floor of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology on health grounds. His room was declared sub-jail where he stayed for more than two years.
After his acquittal, he joined Musharrf’s PML-Q.
Wattoo’s supporters in the PPP say that he was the best possible choice available in the party ranks in Punjab to lead it. “Wattoo will not only woo the support of influential political families of Punjab but also pose a formidable challenge to the PML-N in the coming elections,” a PPP leader who is considered close to Wattoo said. He said like the late Salman Taseer, Wattoo had a political stature and the Sharifs were uncomfortable with him.
“In coming days you will see PPP gaining politically in Punjab. Besides, Zardari wants a man like him to negotiate with the PML-Q leadership on the seat adjustment issues as the Chaudhrys are apparently dominating the PPP in Punjab to secure better deals,” he said.
Ahmed Riaz Shiekh, a friend of Zardari, said Mr Wattoo was a very good choice of the party. “The party expects him to take the workers and allies along.” Besides, he said, the two former chief ministers – Wattoo and Pervaiz Elahi – would make a very good combination for the next elections.