Seraiki province as a bargaining chip – By Aziz-ud-din Ahmad
While the issue of a separate Seraiki province has so far been raised mainly by the intellectuals and out-of-mainstream politicians, it is now on the agenda of the political elite also.
The Seraikis have a language of their own. They also have a geographical habitat which is different from much of the rest of Punjab. Its Rohi, Thal, Damaan have been celebrated with deep love by poets from Khwaja Fareed to Dilshad Kulanchvi and evoke feelings not shared by their Punjabi neighbours. Its Pilu, once abundant but now a rarity in Punjab, also provides popular imagery to Seraiki poetry. While jhumar is a popular folk dance in Seraiki area, Punjabis are enthused by altogether different steps and movements of bhangra and ludhi. Unlike Punjabis who comfortably settled in Canada and parts of the US as early as in late 19th century and joined the British Army to fight wars in far off lands around the same period, the Seraikis have led till a few decades back a somewhat sedentary life. The tendency is described in the proverb: Safar-e-Multani ta ba Eidgah i.e, the Multani hardly travels beyond the Eidgah, constructed by a governor of the later Moghul era in 18th century on what in those days comprised the boundary of the city.
Multan has retained a separate identity for hundreds of years before and after the Muslim rule. Under the Moghuls too it had its own governor. It was first amalgamated into Punjab under Ranjit Singh who was out to unify and extend Punjab through diplomacy, cunning and conquest in early 19th century. While Ranjit occupied Multan, Bahawalpur remained an independent state till it was made a part of One Unit and at the latter’s demise in 1970 merged with Punjab on orders from General Yahya Khan amid widespread protests. A number of protestors demanding a separate status for Bahwalpur were awarded lashes by a military court.
Numerous reasons have attracted people to the idea of a separate Seraiki province, the foremost being a sense of domination by Punjab. Having better access to bureaucracy and army, Punjabis acquired vast tracts of land in Cholistan during and after the Zia era. This was the latest but by no means the only instance of domination. Many army officers awarded land in Cholistan also hail from Punjab. This has sent a wave of resentment among thousands of local landless and small cultivators.
Source: The Nation, July 2, 2009