THIS past week, former governor Punjab, Sardar Zulfiqar Khosa, went public with a lengthy list of complaints over his diminished role in the PML-N, and a host of decisions taken by the party’s senior leadership.

In multiple press conferences, and a detailed one-on-one interview with Hamid Mir on Geo News, Khosa outlined grievances in several key facets of party affairs: his family’s gradual elbowing out, public office appointments, ticket management, relationship with elected politicians, and overall party structure (or lack thereof). All of this, quite naturally, was couched in the language of selfless concern at the party’s degeneration and decay.

Khosa’s critique of the Sharif brothers’ school of political management is neither empirically novel nor particularly groundbreaking in terms of timing. For the past three months, the PML-N has faced criticism from within and outside of parliament, from the commentariat, and from the public in general, over its heavy-handedness and a general inability to find political solutions to political problems.

An entire generation of Muslim Leaguers has been sidelined by Punjab itself.
What is infinitely more interesting, though, is that Khosa’s entire critique is framed normatively; that is to say it’s expressed in the language of a violated moral economy, of ‘what should’ve been’, and how several ethical principles stand desecrated along the way.

The first, and most obvious charge is the disregard for loyalty — politicians who stuck with the Sharifs during the difficult decade of Pervez Musharraf’s rule twiddle thumbs on the side due to an influx of turncoats, new entrants, and even foreign imports (this last grenade being lobbed in the direction of Punjab’s Governor House).

The second morally tinged accusation is the bureaucratic paternalism exhibited by both chief executives, specifically when it comes to engaging with their own MPAs and MNAs. In his interview to Mir, Khosa states he repeatedly asked the leadership to involve party office-bearers, and the elected caucus from the district, in local administrative and development affairs. Instead, he rightly alleges, the reliance on BPS-19 DMG/PAS officers continues unabated.

Finally, the last accusation is that as a true Muslim Leaguer, he is worried at the party direction taken by a brash, non-nazriyati leadership. This last one comes across as a direct assault on the Sharifs’ political credentials. When asked if Khosa would resign from his current seat, and from the party in general, he countered by citing his role as an election agent in Fatima Jinnah’s presidential contest against Ayub — a thinly veiled response suggesting he is more Muslim League than those currently in charge.

This exchange reminded me of an interview Pervaiz Elahi gave to Najam Sethi, four years ago, in which he mentioned how the formation of the PML-Q was Nawaz Sharif’s betrayal, rather than the other way around. As ‘true Leaguers’ (‘Muslim League House ki chaabian toh hamari paas theen’), Elahi and Shujaat were left high and dry by the Zia-manufactured, Jeddah-departing Sharifs. While one may contest the depiction of events, the moral undertones of betrayal and disregard for Muslim League tradition were quite similar to those articulated by Khosa last week.

All of this brings us back to an old puzzle. Was there even such a thing as a Muslim League tradition, or ideology, that stands to be violated by the Sharifs’ style of leadership?

The party, in all its alphabetical incarnations since independence, has in some manner or form reflected and articulated the statist, political ambitions of Punjab’s conservative elite, and its aspirational, albeit culturally desi, middle class. It was the party of Unionist turncoats on the eve of March 1946, the party that gave Ayub a decade in power, the party against Bhutto, the first party amongst the PNA to join Zia’s cabinet, the party that sustained Musharraf’s rule in the legislatures, and also the party that brought him down. It has and continues to be a reflector of (mostly Punjabi) ambition, and not a vehicle of ideological articulation.

Hence, the reality is that an entire generation of Leaguers — the Elahis, Khosas, Chatthas of an old Punjab — haven’t been sidelined by what they label an ideologically bankrupt, upstart-ish leadership. No, that is far too personalised and superficial an explanation. In reality, they’ve been left in the lurch by the province itself, forced onto the sidelines by an increasingly urban, increasingly capitalist region that no longer runs on the staid principles of elite rural tradition and moral captivation, but on the cold necessities of hard capital, economic rents, and consumerist ambition. For a party to survive and flourish in the Punjab of now, it has to reflect this particular truth.

When Khosa talks about new entrants, those independently occurring brokers who’ve managed to find their way to the assemblies on PML-N tickets, he’s inadvertently referring to Punjab’s new elite. Not the landlords of old who actively bought into the notion of politics as a lifelong vocation, but businessmen, and extended networks, who see politics as a means of sustaining or reallocating economic and social privilege. Their base of operation isn’t the dera, but the shop, or the office, or the factory. In short, Nawaz’s Muslim League is now operating in the arthi’s Punjab, while the moral economy of the Muslim League articulated by Khosa et al was the zamindar’s Punjab.

None of this is a judgement on which Punjab is or was better. At a personal level, neither comes across as particularly desirable. Politicians were conservative and venal back then, they’re conservative and cut-throat now. What is certain though is that the onward march of political history is agnostic and mostly brutal. Khosa is merely its latest victim.

The writer is a freelance columnist.