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Second in command, most in demand

April 12, 2013

Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.—File Photo
Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah.—File Photo

Twirling his moustache in the manner of a true Rajput, he has been a darling of the television channels. Some find his remarks witty while others are appalled by the ferocity of his verbal attacks on political foes.

The ever-excited Rana Sanaullah is accused of having links with religious extremists, was at the throat of the then federal law minister Babar Awan and earned himself flak over his alleged involvement in the construction of an illegal plaza. But after all is said and done, he is a man who could get attention when his chief minister threatened to eclipse all others.

The man from Faisalabad has a long political journey behind him, which began from the platform of the PPP. Rana Sanaullah joined the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) months after he had set up a legal practice in Faisalabad in the early 1980s, having obtained his LLB degree from the University of the Punjab. Soon afterwards, he was arrested. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s jiyalas were his only companions in prison as Sana was incarcerated again and again during the Ziaul Haq period.

His romance with the PPP ended in 1993. He opposed the party over its support for a Zia remnant, Zahid Sarfraz, on a Faisalabad seat in the 1993 elections and alleged that Sarfraz had secured it against the payment of Rs5 million. Soon, Rana Sanaullah was amongst the PPP workers agitating outside the Gulzar House in Lahore.

As the story goes, a few flower pots were hurled in the general direction of Asif Zardari’s vehicle that day, which cost Rana Sanaullah his basic PPP membership. While he can be accused of many things later, he couldn’t be faulted for wasting time then.

He quickly found himself in the camp where Mian Nawaz Sharif was in charge.

The PML-N offered Rana Sanaullah a ticket in the by-polls for PP-70. He accepted, won in a recount and maintained his winning record in the 1997, 2002 and 2008 polls.

Soon after the coup in 1999, he was arrested for speaking against the army in a party meeting. He hit the headlines again when he was allegedly picked up and tortured by secret agencies for his purportedly loose remarks against the establishment in 2003.

His jibe at female PML-Q members in the provincial assembly, in 2002, also earned him the ire of some ruling party members: he was rescued by his colleagues just when physical attack appeared imminent, and banned from entering the assembly for a couple of weeks.

Rana Sanaullah really rose after the 2008 polls when he was appointed law and parliamentary affairs minister in Shahbaz Sharif’s cabinet. As the latter’s second-in-command in Punjab, he groomed himself politically by ensuring development work in the health, education and infrastructure sectors in his constituency.

The campaign against illegal high-rise buildings in Lahore on the Supreme Court’s orders landed him in the middle of another controversy. Irregularities were spotted in the construction of his chambers in the vicinity of the Lahore High Court; failing to escape the media scrutiny, he razed the plaza to build a spacious multi-storey hotel in its place.

The fact that Rana Sanaullah is a relative of the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was a point of discussion as was the former’s predilection towards declaring someone who bothered him wajib-ul-qatl - liable to be killed.

Once he joined the PML-N, he has religiously defended the Sharifs against outspoken PPP members such as Salmaan Taseer and Babar Awan.

Of all that he is blamed for, Rana Sanaullah’s alleged links with a banned sectarian outfit could haunt him the most as his party makes a bid for power at the centre. An essential component of this bid is to win over global powers that are most upset at the mention of militants, in sectarian and other guises.