Influence of Pirs in politics of Sindh

ByMalik Nasir Mahmood Aslam

Seasoned social activist


June 1, 2023

Influence Of Pirs In Politics Of Sindh

Malik Nasir Mahmood Aslam talks about a traditional issue

Influence Of Pirs In Politics Of Sindh – Sindh is particularly known for its Sufi culture with its inhabitants assigning a great deal of importance to Pirs who have exercised decisive influence over the political process in the province. Pirs have proved to be almost a permanent part of Sindhi political scene and a good deal of political activity revolves around them. It is quite routine to witness them participating in the governance process as they mostly succeed in winning elections from their constituencies. Their influence in modern political processes has been reflected at all levels from the local taluka board to the national assembly. The reasons for the continued influence of Pirs in Sindh are their long-held social, economic and political power along with their strength in the rural areas of the province where their religious-oriented activities are widely acknowledged.

Though the advent of Islam in the subcontinent took place in Sindh yet their evolved its own distinctive religious character based on strong Sufi traditions that became more popularly accepted than the rigid practices associated with Islam. Islamic environment in Sindh became strengthened owing to the religious shrines and these dargahs continue to dominate the countryside. The ability of pir families to provide new sources of leadership in a society in which old tribal loyalties were dissolving as a result of the process of settlement that helped to bring them temporal power. Links between the followers known as murids who shared the same spiritual guide helped to create alternative tribe-like structures based on association rather than birth. In addition, the relative isolation of Sindh from important centres of Muslim state power in the region meant that successive rulers delegated power to local elites in return for political arbitration. The most important factor in this process was the gradual material prosperity by the Pirs and their families enabling them to command loyalties across the divide.

Sindh was administered as an outpost of the Bombay Presidency for most of the duration of the British raj. Sindhi society remained overwhelmingly agricultural and its people lived in small isolated villages scattered over the province where water was available. Authority in the countryside was concentrated in the hands of powerful landholders to whom ordinary Sindhis looked for security, protection and leadership. British control over the region would have been very difficult without the active assistance of local Sindhi elites and Pirs formed their considerably strong segment. The governance machinery was instructed to protect and promote their interests and in return they cooperated with them and were considered crucial intermediaries between the government and the populace. It was the system of executive control which eventually encouraged Pirs to take part in new forms of political activity.

Then came the next stage in evolution of the institution of Pirs when the colonial authorities introduced the principle of local representation. The result was that the Pirs were first co-opted on to local boards and later were drawn into more direct kinds of representative politics and this participation reconfirmed their position in society. The flourishing local bodies’ phenomenon provided enormous opportunities to the Pirs who gained influential political and social offices and slowly they gained an extremely powerful position in the polity. The same forces which motivated Pirs to take advantage of the additional power and influence offered also persuaded some of them to look further afield to larger political activity in order to demonstrate their importance. Resultantly, the political horizons of Pirs extended to such an extent that they became virtual guarantors of electoral victory and gradually became an indispensable ingredient in the success of electoral campaigns.

The creation of the separate province of Sindh, combined with the constitutional changes embodied in the 1935 Government of India Act, raised local political stakes considerably. Once ministries depended on the result of localised elections, the incentive to participate in electoral politics increased dramatically, and Pirs, like their secular counterparts, joined the new provincial scramble for power. They now were placed in a situation where they had Muslim majority in the province that increased their influence as they were no more dependent on the Hindu segment of population. This advantage was brought to fore in 1937 elections held by the colonial empire and it was noticed that electoral vied with each other for the blessings of Pirs who felt free to canvass for candidates in almost all constituencies and what emerged was a Pir-dominated elected house. This election was a precursor to the future events as it revealed how little real part was played by the concept of party in either electoral behaviour or electoral outcome.

The importance which the political participation by Pirs assumed during the years leading up to independence was underlined by the way in which the Muslim League actively sought their backing in order to generate support for itself in Sindh. It was quite obvious that the Muslim League leadership sought their help and this collaboration proved to the forerunner to the future course political activity that took place in Pakistan. Now that the League had established itself as an integral part of the framework of Sindhi politics they saw advantages in being associated with it. Pir cooperation with the League, therefore, underlined the extent to which they were prepared to take advantage of the new sets of ground rules by which the status quo in the Sindhi countryside and hence their power were to be maintained. Their involvement demonstrated an increased identification with the Indian Muslim community as a whole but it was primarily their position as local leaders which drew them into the broader framework of party politics.

Political developments in Sindh between 1936 and 1947 revealed the importance of the political influence which Pirs were able to exercise. The resilience which pir families enjoyed was shared by other landlord groups who emerged in 1947 similarly endowed with the strength to make a smooth transition into the post-independence period. Their religious responsibilities did not prove much of a barrier to active political participation; instead their religious status often endowed them with the means with which to be successful. The victory in the electoral exercise henceforth became a tool for exercising influence by the Pirs and they started to collaborate with their ilk to widen their influence.

The Sindhi politics currently has plenty of influence that the Pirs hold and their assistance is fervently sought as ever. With the passage of time they have attained even greater clout in the provincial and national politics than the preceding decades. Nearly all important pir families are strategically well-placed in political terms and they have done so by ensuring that they have members positioned across the political spectrum so that they can be obtain their due share in the socio-political spectrum of activities. Their dargahs still exude tremendous confidence and they are thronged by devotees on multiple occasions the Pirs have carefully devised to retain the allegiance and loyalty of their followers. They have successfully ventured out in all fields of activity dealing with public and political affairs and have kept themselves ready they insure themselves against whatever the future may bring. They are a force to be reckoned with and cannot be ignored by any type of dispensation that exercises power in the country. The Weekender


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