The hurried tabling of a highly controversial bill, with far-reaching adverse implications, in the Senate on Friday aimed at carving a separate province out of southern parts of Punjab does not chime with the oft-repeated PPP boast that it is running the country on the basis of a policy of reconciliation. For on this issue, there was anything but the meeting of the minds between the ruling coalition on the one hand, and opposition parties, particularly the PML-N. The Constitution (24thAmendment) Act 2013 bill was, for one thing, not on the agenda of the house and took at least opponents of the move by surprise; and for another, the Standing Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, which is supposed to be examining the draft in detail before putting up its recommendations to the house, was given a deadline of 10 days to do the job. The Senate Opposition Leader Ishaq Dar took exception to the limit, rightly maintaining that the committee would have to deliberate a number of issues that had been left unattended by the Parliamentary Commission on Creation of New Provinces in Punjab. For instance, as Senator Dar pointed out, the commission had not sorted out such vital issues as the assets, liabilities and revenue that would arise out of the creation of Bahawalpur Jaboobi Punjab (BJP). Besides, no assessment of the need and allocation of water resources to the new province had been done. There is also the question of making certain areas, where the people are not inclined to be delinked from the present Punjab, part of the BJP. On top of that, the bill flies in the face of the Punjab Assembly resolutions, making it constitutionally untenable.

That such ticklish matters cannot be brushed aside simply because the government is left with a short time in power and wants to force the bill through is not a wise strategy. It will, most likely, give some advantage to the PPP in getting votes from the local population which has, unfortunately, been beguiled to believe by the real beneficiaries, the influential lot consisting generally of big landlords, who hope to come to power in the new local setup that the BJP would spell the end of their problems. President Zardari’s week-long presence in Lahore along with Party Chairman Bilawal and other influential of the PPP is also suggestive of increased efforts towards the formation of this province.

One should have expected the PML-N to strongly oppose any division of the province and not just its bifurcation. Instead, it is espousing the cause of three new federating units out of Punjab. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar Ali has already said that the PML-N would move its bill in the house to that effect. It is a great tragedy that at a time when parochialism, tending to tear apart the country, is in the ascendant what is needed is all-out efforts to remove misgivings and create unity. But our political leaders, virtually across the board, are making moves that would lead to further strengthening of the bane of provincialism.