Rameez Ansari looks at a crucial twist in relationship between a leading political family
The Split in Chaudhries of Gujrat have remained a potent and relevant force in Pakistani policy for the last many decades. The political model followed by the Chaudhry brothers was undoubtedly opportunistic in nature and it heavily relied on the overt and covert support rendered to them by the forces of establishment. Despite their miniscule presence in national and provincial representative institutions, the Chaudhries have always played their cards effectively and have retained their political influence one way or the other. They are otherwise widely known as gracious hosts and remain constantly in touch with all political and social segments of the country. In the process, both the Chaudhry cousins attained high political positions both in the centre and Punjab province with Ch Shujaat Hussain occupying the post of the PM for a short while with Ch Pervez Ellahi managing Punjab for a full five-year tenure and is currently serving as Speaker of Punjab assembly.
The most glaring feature of the political careers of the Chaudhries had been the steadfast unity amongst their ranks that they successfully employed as strong political strategy. They were not known for entertaining any difference of opinion and always came to fore with unified stance on almost all political matters. Though Ch Pervez Ellahi was the junior partner of the relationship but he was considered to be more influential in decision making and Ch Shujaat often concurred with this arrangement. Ch Pervez was therefore accepted as the more politically savvy and he had a good grip on political affairs with Ch Shujaat famous for his genuine sincerity and amenable disposition. It was very good combination of soft and hard and was usually successful in attaining their mutual goals. Both Chaudhry cousins were very flexible in their political approach and accommodated diverse opinion as is evident by the fact that they retained the loyalties of diametrically opposed personalities such as Tariq Bashir Cheema and Kamil Ali Agha.
Keeping in view the proverbial unity maintained by both the cousins, the development of very clear schism between their ranks came as a shock to political observers. Most observers believe that the disunity in their ranks is the result of the diverse ambitions of their offspring and the inability of the elder Chaudhries to satisfactorily reconcile them. It was reported that differences amongst Ch Shujaat and Pervez Ellahi stated to emerge when the nine-party coalition, spearheaded by the PMLN and PPP, approached their party, PMLQ back in February with a ‘package’, including the position of CM Punjab, ministries both in the Centre and Punjab and future seat adjustments with PMLN in exchange for withdrawing their support for Imran Khan and helping them oust him from the office of prime minister through a no-confidence motion.
The recent fall from grace of the Gujrat Chaudhries conveyed a widespread impression that it occurred primarily due to the establishment withdrawing its crucial support from them as a clear signal would have been given to PMLQ the cue of aligning with the winning party. PMLQ had a long history of maintaining close relations with the Pakistani establishment that hardly wavered during testing political times but this time round the situation turned turtle badly confusing one part of the PMLQ leadership causing serious rupture between its leading lights. PMLQ clearly was receiving some conflicting signs from many segments of the establishment making its decision-making process untenable rendering it totally rudderless.
On the other hand it is pointed out that the crisis in the decision-making of PMLQ happened due to excessive and self-absorbed filial interest shown by Ch Pervez Ellahi in respect of his son Moonis Ellahi aimed at furthering his political interest. As it happened Ch Shujaat Hussain was unwilling to go along with this stand taken by his cousin badly denting the unity of the family. It was reported that it was the pressure exerted by Moonis on his father that suddenly compelled his father to change his stance. In this context it was reported that it was a high-placed state functionary, who had served in uniform, whose message delivered on behest of the establishment that became the cause of a radical departure undertaken by Ch Pervez. Interestingly, it was reported that Ch Pervez took this U-turn after meeting with Asif Zardari having assured him that he was accepting the offer of the coalition government in which he was expected to become the CM Punjab. This inference is supported by the claim made by PMLQ leadership led by Ch Shujaat clearly mentioning that it was due to the unilateral decision taken by Ch Pervez on behest of his son who insisted on taking a separate course by supporting PTI despite slim chances of such support bearing fruit.
The schism in PMLQ has resulted in two groups with Ch Pervez Ellahi and his son Moonis along with younger brother of Ch Shujaat, Wajahat Ellahi’s son Hussain Ellahi are in favour of maintaining their alliance with the PTI while PMLQ president Ch Shujaat and his sons, MNA Salik Hussain and Shafay Hussain, had gone the opposite direction by joining the ruling coalition camp along with two other party MNAs and Salik has also been inducted into Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s cabinet. It is worthwhile to note that in the 2018 general polls and by-elections, cousins Moonis, Salik and Hussain had won from Gujrat- NA-69, Chakwal- NA-65 and Gujrat- NA-68 respectively. Shafay is keen to contest the next elections from Gujrat city. The PMLQ has five members in NA — Moonis Ellahi, son of Parvez Elahi, Salik Hussain, son of Shujaat Hussain and Hussain Ellahi, son of Wajahat Hussain, whereas Tariq Bashir Cheema and Farrah Khan are not related to the family.
This lack of consensus is reported to be based upon two divergent points of view with Ch Pervez insisting that the dominant partner of the current coalition government could never be trusted. Whereas Ch Shujaat group is of the view that the PMLQ interests are better protected with the incumbent coalition dispensation. The circles closed to both the groups are extremely worried that the Chaudhries of Gujrat have singularly failed to devise a consensus formula aimed at reconciling their current differences. Ch Pervez camp, apparently goaded by Moonis, who remained minister in Imran Khan’s cabinet, is strongly against trusting the Sharifs once again because of their unpleasant past. They pointed out that PMLQ workers wanted their leadership to stay allied with the PTI as the party had a historic rivalry with the PMLN in Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin constituencies and that Ch Pervez groups respected their wish.
It was reported that Ch Pervez has opted for the popular politics first time in the history of PMLQ whereas those siding with the incumbent government insist that they have honoured the commitment made by the party leadership with former president Asif Ali Zardari, Shehbaz Sharif and Maulana Fazlur Rehman by voting in favour of the coalition government. However, many observers maintained that differences between the Chaudhries had existed for some time but have come to the fore only now. The split in the ranks of the party may result is weakening their grip on the constituency politics in their stronghold, Gujrat. In the past the Chaudhries of Gujrat have successfully played a political role much that was considered much above their station and it was rated as the fruit of their single-minded unity and jointly pursued political strategy but now an absence of such approach and practice is surely going to harm their political interests. TW