LAHORE - With the recent defections from the PML-N from south Punjab, the so far hidden plan to cut the PML-N strength in Punjab has started unfolding in the desired direction. 

As reported earlier by The Nation, the PPP supremo Asif Ali Zardari has been working on this plan for the last over six months with the tacit support from the powers that be. Now, the PTI is also onboard.

The idea is to incapacitate the PML-N to form the next government at the centre by making sure that Nawaz party does not get more than 100 general seats from Punjab. The remaining 43 seats may be shared by the PPP, the PTI and the independents.

Depriving the PML-N of its religious votes by encouraging the religious forces currently agitating the issue of Khatme Nabuwat is also part of the strategy.

Six MNAs from south Punjab left the PML-N on Monday last while Raza Hayat Haraj from Khanewal has already said good bye to the house of Sharifs. Federal Minister Riaz Pirzada from Bahawalpur is also less likely to remain part of the PML-N by the end of his ministerial term. The defectors claim many more are waiting in the wings to join their group.

Before the recent defections, the PML-N had 35 MNAs out of total 43 from three divisions of south Punjab. The PPP has three MNAs while the PTI has two MNAs from this region. PML-Q and PML-Z have one seat each in the National Assembly. Jamshed Dasti from Muzaffargarh is the only independent from south Punjab. 

Last census results curtailing Punjab’s share of National Assembly seats by seven have further made the things easier for the planners who are confident of their success ahead of the coming elections.  

In order to execute this strategy, South Punjab has been perceived to be the most vulnerable area to make dents in the ruling party. It is because the south region of Punjab is home to a good number of electables who can secure their Assembly seats irrespective of whether or not they keep their affiliation with any of the political parties. Also, they can change political loyalties any time and still get elected in the elections. 

It is an established fact that Gilanis, Qureshi’s, Dogars and Bosans of Multan would retain their seats in all circumstances. Same is true of Harajs, Bodlas and Daultana families of Khanewal and Vehari districts. Similarly, Khosa and Legahri clans have strong hold in DG Khan while Dareshaks and Mazaris hold sway in Rajanpur. In the same way, Khars, Jatois and Dastis from Muzaffargarh and Abbasis and Makhdoom families of Bahawalpur and Rahimyar Khan will keep hold of politics in their respective domains. 

Likewise, the politicians from Khushab, Bakkar and Mianwali districts of Punjab also fall in the same category though these districts are not part of south Punjab. The electables from this region would also be focused in the days ahead. 

As is evident from country’s electoral history, these political families have never had strong bonds of loyalty with any of the political parties. Interestingly, south Punjab had witnessed large scale defections more than any other region under the political setup orchestrated by General Musharraf in 2002. PML-Q was the main beneficiary of these massive defections ahead of 2002 elections.

Under the plan, the present and the would-be defectors from the PML-N may join either the PPP or the PTI just before the upcoming elections. They may also contest the elections as independent candidates and later join the anti-PML-N alliance when the National Assembly elects its new leader of the house. And there is also a possibility that some of them might join the PTI and a few may go to the PPP before the elections.

In the new scheme of things, the PPP will also be open to any seat adjustment formula with the opposition parties to ensure that the PML-N is not able to bag more than 100 seats. And if the PTI performs exceptionally well in Punjab and grabs more seats than expected, it will also be seen as a good sign to oust the PML-N from the centre.

In a house of 342, a party needs 172 votes to form the government at the centre. As conceived in the plan, if the PML-N is restricted to 100 seats or so in Punjab, it will not be able to get the magic figure needed to form the government. The plan will work well even if the PML-N is able to retain its current tally from other provinces. In 2013 general elections, the PML-N had obtained 120 general seats out of total 148 from Punjab. The rest of 28 seats had gone to the independents, the PTI, the PPP and the PML-Q. Its total seats from this province touched the figure of 163 as it won 32 reserved seats of women and 11 independents also joined the party considering it was going to form the next government.

The PML-N had won five general seats from KP and one each from Sindh and Balochistan in the last elections. Its total strength in the National Assembly rose to 188 after addition of women seats, those of non-Muslims and 17 independents who joined the party mainly from Punjab and Balochistan.

Under the strategy, efforts are also underway to oust the PML-N from the Punjab Assembly as well. The provincial seats falling under the national constituencies held by the present and likely defectors would automatically fell to the PML-N opponents in Punjab.

The option of making seat adjustments by the opposition parties at the local level will also be tried to achieve the desired results.