The Real And The Imaginary

We live in the same country and come, more or less, from the same stock. We have been shaped by similar historical experiences; we have developed or sharpened the same talents in order to survive; we are all suspicious of politicians and wary of the law. We consider the family above all else and certainly the state; we use it as an arc to outlast not only natural disasters but also political upheavals. And, yet, the differences between, say, those who live and work in Sindh and those in Punjab are so profound that at times it appears as if we do not live in the same country.
Was all that not evident in the outcome of the elections in which one national party – the PPP – was virtually exterminated in Punjab and yet returned with an increased majority in Sindh (excluding Karachi)? The same fate awaited the PML-N in Sindh even though in Punjab it overwhelmed all others.
One explanation for this curiously lopsided and frankly befuddling result is that the Sindh voter had little choice. The PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif paid little attention to Sindh and Imran Khan ignored rural Sindh altogether. So what else do you expect?, some ask. We know we will have to wait for the Arctic ice cap to melt before we catch a rural Sindhi voting for the MQM.
But there are other explanations – like massive rigging in Punjab and Sindh – that no one really wants to talk about. Fine, if no one really wants to talk about that, and I don’t want to be a bore, let’s just forget it. But there are several PhDs to be had (and many FIRs to be registered) were some enterprising graduates to delve into the matter and explain what exactly happened or how the president’s brother-in-law continued as education secretary of Sindh throughout the elections even though all polling and balloting officers were from the Education Department. Seemingly, neither Fakhru Bhai nor his Election Commission aides saw any conflict of interest or bothered to do anything about it. In Punjab too, although I am not sure and hence will not name the constituency, one RO was allegedly a close relative (nephew) of the winning candidate.
The trouble is that we aren’t curious; we never have been. We didn’t care a hoot why a dying Jinnah was sent an ambulance with insufficient fuel to pick him up at Mauripur airport so that he was stranded in the Karachi heat for a full hour while his driver went off looking for fuel; or why Liaquat Ali Khan or Murtaza Bhutto were shot and, of course, who assassinated BB.
We had much rather discuss how the hyperactive, effervescent Shahbaz Sharif’s activities and good governance earned his party such a big share in Punjab but not how even better results were delivered for the PPP in Sindh – notwithstanding its by-now legendary misgovernance.
That said, the real reason for the wide discrepancies in the election results in the two neighbouring provinces is something else. It’s our inability to understand the real difference between the electorates of Sindh and Punjab.
The average literate Punjabi is really a different kind of man from his Sindhi counterpart. The Punjabi believes there is only one practical and sure way to achieve his goals – by acquiring wealth. He believes only wealth can ensure the lasting defence and prosperity of the family. Land, capital, credit, technical and scientific knowledge and university degrees is what he needs to ensure him better paid employment and advancement. He brings up his children with these aims in mind, educating them to become well-paid technicians, engineers and specialists. He will make any sacrifice in order to gain material advantages for himself and his family. In other words he is a pure homo economicus.
His Sindhi counterpart, on the other hand, wants above all to be obeyed, admired, respected, feared and envied. He does, of course, want wealth too but more as an instrument to influence people (for this the appearance of wealth is as useful as wealth itself). He wants things other than money – to be well-known, feared (even by the police), powerful (politicians must solicit his help come election time) and loved (he will protect the poor asking for his help).
The above is a didactic simplification, an example chosen to prove a point. Admittedly nothing is this simple in real life. Nevertheless, generally speaking Sindhis tend to make money in order to rule and Punjabis rule in order to make money.
Surprisingly, an almost identical north-south divide existed in two of the countries I served in during a long diplomatic career. In Yemen, the divide was much greater – but essentially on the same lines – between the ‘conservative’ north and the ‘progressive’ south. These were two countries before they were peacefully united in 1990, and then split to be forcibly united again six years later. They are once again threatening to separate.
The south was where the homo economicus resided and in the north were those who could not resign themselves to being homines economici exclusively bent on making money. Yet at the same time the latter could not tolerate their condition as ‘inferior’ or ‘backward’. They were proud of their past and their martial skills. They did not believe that the gains of modernity were worth the sacrifices they were being called upon to make. They felt happier in other pursuits and resented the fact that many of their older virtues had become vices in the eyes of the southerners.
Similarly, in Nigeria the gulf between the Muslim north and the Christian south is considerable. Whereas in the south the normal benchmarks for evaluating performance – material gains made by the population, the degree of corruption, nepotism etc – all count, northerners don’t think that compensates for the spiritual impoverishment crude hedonism promotes, nor the dreary levelling that are the inseparable signs of an industrialising society. For them pursuing natural and traditional instincts, rites and rituals are equally important and a party that does not pay attention to them suffers in elections.
As we integrate further these real and imaginary differences will lessen; perhaps they will be erased and the problem posed by two very distinct outlooks buried. However, it will take time before the Sindh electorate will come to grips with the requirements of the contemporary world as long as they have a party that promises to give them the Arcadian past of Sindh as well as the contemporary world of cheap and abundant industrial goods.
But it needs be said that acquiring a common prism through which citizens will judge the success of a political party and forge a semblance of uniformity in voting patterns has been made more difficult by the 18th Amendment. By granting the provinces and their ruling parties a virtually free hand in all important matters of national life we have facilitated the emergence of powerful provincial, rather than national, leaders and parties who will prefer to cling to their ways rather than work towards forming a national strategy for growth.
This will have an inevitable impact on the pace of economic development and widen the already considerable gap between Punjab and Sindh. And uneven economic development, as we know, creates resentment, acrimony, mistrust and misunderstanding and is not good for national unity. The elections have been a great cause of self-congratulations. So were the 1970 elections and look what happened.