MQM needs to change her perceptions before she finds any ground in the Punjab

By Yasmeen Ali

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MQM’s effort to enter Punjab can be deemed as a historic political development. Altaf Hussain in an address many months earlier, promised Punjab an end to feudalism, while announcing MQM’s entrance in the Punjab political kaleidoscope .This is an interesting promise, considering MQM was unable to dent the feudalism in rural Sindh where it exists, much more than in Punjab. According to the MQM’s 2008 election manifesto “the prevalent feudal system of Pakistan is the main obstacle in the progress of the country and the prosperity of the people”.

Before going any further, let us identify what feudalism is. In one view, that of Marc Bloch, views feudalism as the complete system, political, military, social, and economic. He saw all of these issues centering around lordship. Karl Marx also took this perspective with one major difference; he centered on peasants. Marxism’s main emphasis is that of the plight of the worker thus in his view of feudalism only the peasants contributed to society. In another major view, feudalism is largely a political term. The political power in feudalism, these individuals claim, was treated as an individual possession and held by those who owned the land. Thus the government was ruled by the lords and royal officials who ruled over their land.

In Punjab, the majority of farmers cultivate small packets of lands. This means they need a crop whose market price is high enough and whose labor cost and input is low enough to make it a viable proposition.

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According to records available, by 1999, 88 % of cultivated land in Pakistan was in farm sizes below 12.5 acres. Just over half the total farms in 1999 were less than five acres in size. This can hardly be construed as a feudal society.

However, the agricultural land is, even today, in Pakistan, a symbol of power. It has been a powerful tool in the hands of those who entered in the corridors of power, using it as a springboard. For years, Pakistan has had it’s share of “feudals”.  The image of the “cruel feudal” has been reinforced by media. Though true in a number of cases, it is also a fact, that the feudal plays the role of the government, in the rural areas. May it be an issue of a woman being kidnapped or running away with her love, may it be a dispute owing to loans, may it be a dispute owing to water or land, these cases are resolved and settled by the “feudal”. Very few, go the thana (Police Station). Even if they do, the costs of the case are covered by the “feudal”.

What MQM will do well to realize is that “families” in Punjab, the “Biradari (clan) System”(Tribal Loyalty)  hold sway. This phenomenon is totally missing from Muhajir Community in Sindh. Biradari system is not to be confused with feudalism. However, the main large, traditional holdings continue only in Sindh, where, as I already pointed out, MQM was unable to make changes.

In Sindh, MQM owes it’s thumping success to a number of reasons. There was no conflict between the Muhajirs and Sindhis prior to 1947. Though non locals controlled trade in Sindh even then, their culture, language and heritage remained un threatened. The huge flow of Urdu speaking who migrated to Sindh and the outflow of Hindus created a shift in demographic make up of Sindh. Added to this was the new imposition of Urdu as the official language creating frictions within the locals.

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The Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz (MQM), was a party formed to represent the interests of the muhajir community in Pakistan, founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984. The MQM had its origin in the All-Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization at Karachi University. It has had an resounding success in urban Sindh, in laying down roots and strengthening it’s hold over the muhajir predominant population, through all means at their disposal.

In Punjab, MQM will not find the ethnic base , the sentiments of which it plays on, in it’s hometown. Yes, There are issues that need to be addressed. People are disillusioned and disenchanted because of the multidimensional problems faced in their day to day lives. Some may relate to steps that need to be taken by the Federal Government. Others may relate to steps taken by the Provincial Government. The question that rears it’s heads is: to what degree can MQM be of practical help in addressing these problems by developing a pressure group in Punjab? In the vacuum created by lack of Good Governance, a new entrant will make a dent.However, to what degree this will happen, needs to be seen.

The writer is a lawyer and currently teaches in the Mass Communications Dept. of the Beacon House National University. She also owns and moderates her blog.

Yasmeen is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.

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