As the kite struggles to soar, other parties try to gain space in NA-254

KARACHI: An eccentric calm surrounds the streets around Nine Zero – the former headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). At round 4pm, two Rangers personnel deployed at Nine Zero keep a watchful eye on whoever passes by as they sit under a shade. There seems to be an air of anguish amid the eerie silence.

“It’s tit-for-tat with the MQM,” says Abdul Basit, a young shopkeeper at Taha Super Store located just three houses away from Nine Zero. “Jaisa karo gay waisa bhugto gay [as you sow, so shall you reap].”

The environment would have been completely different, according to Basit, had no operation taken place at Nine Zero. He recalled the days when the party had a tight grip in the area. “No outsider could enter this residential area,” he said.

MQM-P leader lashes out at PPP for ‘ruining’ Karachi

With just a few days left to polling day, the area is missing its usual election fervour conspicuously attributed to the MQM’s downfall. Nine Zero was earlier part of the NA-246 constituency, but has now become part of NA-254 after the new delimitations.

Some of the main areas of NA-254 include Godhra Camp, Gabol Town, Timber Market, Sohrab Goth, Al Noor Society, Samnabad, Ancholi, Gulshan-e-Ameen, Yousuf Plaza, Water Pump, Gulberg, Aga Khan Hospital, Azizabad, Husainabad, Sharifabad, Al Azam Square and Bandhani Colony.

This will be the first time MQM will be contesting elections without its founder Altaf Hussain’s support, not only in this constituency but the entire city. In Karachi, the Mustafa Kamal-led Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui-led MQM-Pakistan are contesting against each other.

Earlier, it was expected that Siddiqui himself would contest elections from NA-254, however, the party fielded Sheikh Salahuddin as its candidate for NA-254. Meanwhile, PSP fielded Arshad Vohra, who became deputy mayor of Karachi on MQM’s ticket in 2017. Both candidates are businessmen.

PTI’s Aslam Khan, MMA’s Rashid Naseem and TLP’s Mufti Atiq are some of the major candidates apart from MQM-Pakistan and PSP’s candidates who will be competing against each other for the NA-254 seat.

There are two provincial assembly seats in NA-254, PS-125 and PS-126.

PSP’s Haji Anwar, MQM-Pakistan’s Abdul Haseeb, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) Abbas Jafri, Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan’s (TLP) Muhammad Iqbal and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal’s (MMA) Abdul Baqi are contesting the PS-125 seat, among other candidates.

Meanwhile, PSP’s Iftikhar Alam, MQM-Pakistan’s Asif Ali Khan, PTI’s Omar Omari, MMA’s Farooq Naimatullah and TLP’s Abdul Rahim Karra are among some of the candidates contesting the PS- 126 seat.

Constituency history

Since 1988, this constituency has been MQM’s, according to the MQM-P’s spokesperson and senior leader, Aminul Haq. He recalled that late Dr Imran Farooq first won from this constituency. He won the same seat again in 1990. In 1993, the MQM boycotted the elections.

In the 1997 general election, Dr Imran Farooq’s father, Farooq Ahmed won from this constituency. In 2002’s election, Azizullah Barhoi from Larkana was given this constituency by the MQM and later, in the 2004 by-polls, Nisar Pabar, who was also from Larkana, won the NA seat. In 2008, MQM’s Sufyan Yousuf won this seat.

In the 2013 general elections, Nabeel Gabol from Lyari won this seat and after he left the party, Kanwar Naveed Jamil from Hyderabad was given a ticket for this seat in the 2015 by-polls.

In the 2013 general elections, Gabol polled 137,874 votes. The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) boycotted the election on polling day and the PTI managed to poll 31,875 votes without a proper campaign and polling agents. Later, when Gabol left the MQM in 2015 and alleged that the elections in NA-246 in May, 2013 were rigged, Jamil bagged 95,644 votes while his closest rival, Imran Ismail of PTI, managed to secure 24,821 votes in the by-polls.

JI’s Rashid Naseem came third with 9,056 votes. Such a high number of votes from MQM’s fortress to the opposition parties was alarming for the party. However, the MQM is of the opinion that the operation against the party led to this situation.

“History has proven that the MQM always bounces back after all operations,” said Haq. “Even after the operation in 2013, we won the local government elections in 2015.” When asked about the PSP element, he claimed that they are nowhere in sight.

Meanwhile, PSP’s spokesperson Wasim Aftab is of the opinion that the MQM and its founder chapter has finished in Karachi. “Prior to MQM, Karachi was known to be with JI’s Shah Ahmed Noorani,” said Aftab, adding that after MQM appeared, JI disappeared from the political scene of the city.

In 2013, had the MQM not used its political muscle, the PTI would have swept Karachi, claimed Aftab. “We know [the reality]. Had PTI made some effort, JI not boycotted and PTI’s polling agents made it to the polling stations, the city’s [political] map would have been different today.”

Is this the MQM’s battle for survival?

Community vote bank

As many as 506,309 voters are registered in this constituency, which mainly comprise the Muhajir community. However, the Godhra Biradri, Pakhtuns, Memons and Ismailis collectively have the make-or-break vote bank for any candidate.

In New Karachi’s union council 13, there are a total of 22,857 registered voters, out of whom 70% is the Godhra population. In FB Area’s UC-27, there are 34,208 registered voters, out of whom 30% belong to the Godhra community.

Almost 37,000 voters, all belonging to the Memon community, are registered in FB Area’s Block 1, Block 2 and Block 3. In Block 7, 26,054 of the voters are from the Ismaili community while in Block 9, 1-A Cottage and the Gohrabad area, there are 28,626 voters, out of whom 50% are from the Ismaili community.  The winning candidate has to get votes from these communities.

Traditionally, the Memon community supported the MQM, but there was an upset in 2013 general election when the PTI grabbed sufficient votes not only from the Memon community but also from the Ismailis.  JI’s Naseem recalls how MMA, in the 2002 general elections, clean-swept the Memon vote bank constituencies.

MQM and PSP have fielded businessmen — at good terms with the Memon community — from this constituency. So has MMA, according to Naseem. Vohra, according to the Election Commission of Pakistan’s (ECP) records, owns a Sino Pak International Trading Corporation.

Vohra claims to be Gujrati Urdu-speaking. “Gujratis and Memons are one,” he said adding that they are expecting 100% votes from the Memon community. Simultaneously, Salahuddin claims to be the first NA representative who spoke for the Memon community on the floor of the House.

The Ismailis are the silent voters of the constituency. PTI’s Aslam Khan is eyeing on their vote, whereas, JI’s Naseem accepted that they won’t get any vote from Ismailis.

For the Godhra community, Salahuddin and Naseem both accepted that the TLP can bag a good number of votes. However, TLP’s candidate for NA-254 Mufti Ismail, an Imam and Khatib of Memon Masjid Sadiqabad himself is a Dhoraji Memon while the party’s candidate for PS-126, Karra, is a Kutiyana Memon. Both the individuals are believed to have a strong influence over their communities. “We believe we will get over 0.1 million votes,” said Ismail.

Boycott factor

The MQM-London has asked the people to boycott the elections, but candidates of different political parties think it will have little impact on the turnout. Salahuddin of the MQM-Pakistan too believes there will be a minor percentage of voters influenced by the MQM-London’s call. “If there’ll be 40% to 45% voter turnout, it can be really good for MQM-Pakistan,” he said.

Naseem believes that the vote bank is so divided that whoever gets 35,000 to 40,000 votes will win.

Nine Zero — an unannounced red zone

Two years down the line, after the Karachi operation, the Nine Zero is pale. Dust has gathered at the main counter. The big kite attached at the entrance is torn. Two huge standby generators never start. There’s a dish antenna clearly visible at the entrance.

The streets surrounding the former MQM headquarters have become an unannounced red zone. PSP’s Alam said that they’re allowed to canvass for votes in the entire constituency, except near Nine Zero. Vohra, however said that they would go inside the area for a door-to-door campaign.

Salahuddin said that even earlier they were not allowed to go inside the area for rallies. “We know houses surrounding Nine Zero are our voters. So it doesn’t matter much if we’re not allowed to go inside,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2018.

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