On trifurcating Punjab
July 27, 2012
After the disqualification of former Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in June 2012 for ridiculing the court and refusing to write to Swiss authorities for reopening graft cases against his party boss President Asif Ali Zardari, the debate of creating Seraiki (South Punjab) and Bahawalpur provinces was looking like a frozen chapter till the presidential message appeared in the National Assembly on 11th July. As President Asif Ali Zardari’s fresh stance triggered a new debate among different schools of thought as the presidential message was read out in the National Assembly calling for the constitution of a 14-member commission to submit recommendations and to decide outlines for the creation of South Punjab province and revival of the provincial status of Bahawalpur.
The Presidential message read out by Deputy Speaker Faisal Karim Kundi in the National Assembly stated, “A commission may be constituted comprising of six members from Senate to be nominated by the Chairman, six members from National Assembly to be nominated by the Speaker and two members from the provincial assembly of Punjab to be nominated by the speaker of the provincial assembly of Punjab.”
“The commission shall look into the issues relating to the fair distribution of economic and financial resources, demarcation, allocation/readjustment of seats in the National Assembly, Senate and the concern provincial assembly and allocation of seats in the new province on basis of population, including seats of minorities and women and other constitutional, legal and administrative matters”, the message further stated.
The message maintained that the commission shall submit its report to the speaker as well as to the Prime Minster within 30 days of its notification in the official gazette, which will be followed by initiation of the process of amendment in the Constitution.
“In order to address the grievances and to secure the political, administrative and economic interest of the people of the southern region of the province of Punjab and to empower them in this regard, a new province to be known as province of Janoobi Punjab be created from the present province of the Punjab. The provincial assembly of Punjab has also passed a similar resolution demanding parliament and the federal government to create a new province of Janoobi Punjab and also to revive the earlier status of Bahawalpur as a province,” according to the message of Zardari.
It is important to mention that almost same nature of reference had been sent by the presidency back on May 30, 2012 to the Speaker National Assembly, seeking formation of commission on new provinces. Earlier, in May 2012, the coalition got adopted a resolution from the lower house of the federal legislature for the creation of a Seraiki province, which, if realized, would split the most populous province of Punjab, being ruled by the PML-N since the 2008 elections. The National Assembly passed pro-Seraiki province resolution amidst uproar and intense sloganeering by opposition PML-N.
This shrewd move of the ruling coalition forced the PML-N to come up with its own plan of four new provinces: South Punjab, Bahawalpur, Hazara and Fata. “Formation of new provinces is the long-standing demand of the people and it will bring prosperity and development in the country,” the resolution stated. The PML-N demanded that the government should form new province under the article-239 of the constitution. The resolution has signatures of all the members of the National Assembly belonging to the PML-N.
One school of thought believes that political necessities will force both the ruling coalition and the opposition to take practical measures to set up new province(s) much before they had actually planned to do. To win the hearts and minds of the voters living in the areas calling for province’s status for them, both sides would have to do something to honour their commitments much before the next elections.
The other school of thought presents it as just a political gimmick by the PPP against the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to get votes of people of Bahawalpur and Seraiki people. They say the PPP is only getting attention of the masses of South Punjab and Bahawalpur to secure more seats from those regions in the upcoming general elections. They believe that there is no chance of crafting new provinces before the next general elections, as they present reason for it as without having the support of PML-N, the new provinces in the Punjab cannot be materialized because the new provinces cannot be created unless the provincial assembly passes a resolution with a two-third majority, as the constitution states, “A bill to amend the Constitution which would have the effect of altering the limits of a Province shall not be presented to the President for assent unless it has been passed by the Provincial Assembly of the Province by votes not less than two-thirds of its total membership”.
Earlier, the Punjab Assembly had unanimously passed separate resolutions in May, 2012 pertaining to restoration of provincial status of Bahawalpur and creation of a new province of Southern Punjab, besides demanding the federal government immediately constitute an independent national commission for establishing new provinces.
According to the resolution adopted by the Punjab Assembly, "This session of the provincial assembly is of the opinion that the people of Bahawalpur, who are struggling for restoring the status of Bahawalpur province since long are not demanding for creating any new province but restoring its previous status on the basis of administrative, geographical, historical, constitutional and political grounds. This session is of the opinion that following these realities, the previous status of Bahawalpur province be restored without any delay. This session besides demanding from the federal government for restoring the previous status of Bahawalpur province should immediately constitute a national commission, which will look into all the key affairs pertaining to creating new provinces in accordance with fair distribution of water and allied resources, geographical demarcation and legal, constitutional and administrative grounds and expedite the process of establishing new provinces."
Earlier this year, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) submitted to the National Assembly Secretariat a constitution amendment bill seeking creation of new provinces in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
As the time is fleeting, the government has to quickly announce a commission to submit its report to the speaker as well as to the Prime Minster within 30 days of its notification in the official gazette. The report has to contain recommendations and outlines of the creation of South Punjab province and revival of the provincial status of Bahawalpur.
Otherwise, if the PPP-led coalition government failed to trifurcate Punjab, whatever the reasons, then the PPP would have to face tough situations in the upcoming general elections in South Punjab and Bahawalpur.