There is a storm coming in Sindh. A storm no one is taking notice of, especially the mainstream media and the ruling political parties. This storm is not the cyclone phet or Nilofer, rather it is one of a political nature that seeks institutional reform and change. No this is not Imran Khan’s Tsunami that claimed to eradicate corruption and topple the system, perhaps if it had been, the media would have duly highlighted it. It is the Sindh Bachao (Save Sindh) Long March.
The Save Sindh Long March is a movement comprising of the poor, downtrodden, and exploited people of Sindh who have set out to challenge the current system. The Movement started from Islamkot in Tharparkar on February 7th and making its way through various villages in Sindh, culminated in Karachi on March 8th. While the march has tried not to promote the agenda of a particular political party, it has been spearheaded by the Awami Tehreek Pakistan (ATP). The ATP’s Mr Rasul Bux Palejo and his lawyer son Asad Palijo have committed themselves to raise voices again corruption, nepotism and patronage that run rampant in Sindh. A core purpose of the march was to protest against the construction of the Gorano Reservoir that will negatively affect around 12 districts in the area. It is not surprising that these thoughts resonate strongly with the people of Sindh, as the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has neglected the province continuously, leading to constant degradation of the province with absolutely no trace of development.
There is no doubt that conditions in Sindh are anything but deplorable. Karachi and Hyderabad are the urban jewels possessed by the province and they too are victims of gross mismanagement and sheer negligence by the ruling political parties. While in Karachi and Hyderabad, the ruling PPP does face challenge and opposition from the MQM which has a strong base in these cities, the same cannot be said for the rest of Sindh. This is where the PPP exercises its unparalleled political control, not challenged by any strong or unified opposition. While there are other political parties who compete for the seats in Sindh, most of their efforts have been in vain. It is this dominion that the PPP has established over Sindh that allows it to continue its corrupt practices, without having to worry about development or catering to the needs of the electorate.
The Save Sindh March challenges the very notion that the self-proclaimed throne of the PPP in Sindh is uncontested. It propagates the notion that if any group of people are subjugated, deprived and exploited for an ongoing period, then they are bound to protest against the corridors of power. A democratic system evolves and strengthens as the competition for votes increases, thereby motivating the political parties to cater to the demands of their electoral base. A stagnation in competition for votes can lead to parties becoming inefficient and unresponsive to the demands of the voter. Unfortunately, the latter is a phenomenon prevalent in rural Sindh, where the PPP has become unresponsive to public demands. Therefore mass mobilization of this nature from stronghold PPP electoral areas is bound to have a positive impact on democratic and electoral processes. This is what the Save Sindh March proclaims, but it goes a step beyond. Not only is it challenging the ruling party in Sindh, who it blames for the province’s decline, but it is also raising its voice against the exploitation by the Center. Hence, demands for provincial autonomy and transparency from the Center are present within the Movement.
There is another theme of the Save Sindh March that has attracted my attention, and that is the high participation of women. In Pakistan, where the public space and even more so the political arena are highly dominated by men, it was promising to see the role played by women in the Movement. Since, the participants mainly belonged to rural backgrounds where gender discrimination is even greater, the March was a challenge to the patriarchal nature of political and social movements. Interestingly, the March reached its destination point on March 8th which is International Women’s Day. Regardless of that being a symbolic date or just a mere coincidence, the women empowerment element of the March is appreciation worthy.
Witnessing how these developments play out in the upcoming elections will truly be noteworthy. However, one thing is for certain that maintaining a complacent attitude of entitlement towards Sindh’s constituency could have detrimental consequences for the PPP.