MQM’s shock-defeat in Karachi by-elections raises new questions

Salahuddin-Haider.jpg

Salahuddin Haider

Peoples Party’s surprise win in Malir by-elections of PS-127 in Karachi, has generated an interesting debate as to whether the post-Altaf MQM of Dr Farooq Sattar will be able to manage itself well in the coming weeks or months in its strong power-base or would its popularity be at stake now.
Different viewpoints, emerging from MQM’s shock defeat, therefore, needed a dispassionate, or to be more precise, a scientific analysis. The city of Karachi stood divided between the first general elections of 1970 to the municipal polls of 1987, which really was the turning point of Karachi’s political map. Successive parliamentary elections after that, do submit incontrovertible evidence of that.
However, MQM must now forget that the PPP had won the local government elections from Malir, and had formed the district council because of its success from the area.
Karachi had just seven national assembly seats in 1970, which were divided almost equally among PPP, Jamat-i-Islami, and JUP, each sharing two seats among them, while the seventh one went to an independent candidate who later sided with Prof Ghafoor Ahmad, and Mahmood Azam Farooqui of Jamat-i-Islami. Abdul Hafiz Pirzada, and Abdul Sattar Gabol returned from Malir and Lyari respectively for PPP, while Maualana Shah Ahmad Noorani, and Allama Mustafa Al-Azhari won for Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Pakistan.
The less said about 1977 elections the better it would be, for these, being slur on the face of democratic dispensation, stood rejected by the people.
Late General Ziaul Haq, raised the number of National Assembly seats for Karachi to 13. A complex composition of nominees from religious parties and independent candidates came to fore in non-party exercise for a so-called Majlis-e-Shoora in 1985.
After Zia’s death in the mystery plane crash of 1988, MQM emerging as powerful factor, demolished the myth of fanaticism, sweeping the polls from Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, and even Sukkur etc.
Its secular philosophy and advocacy for emancipation of Urdu-speaking migrants, was like a cyclone, sweeping through the length and breadth of urban Sindh, enabling the newly emerging force of youngsters from universities and colleges to win 10 of the 13 Karachi seats of National Assembly, and both the seats from Hyderabad.
Old guards like Farooqui, Ghafoor, Noorani, and those of the PPP, all stalwarts and tall figures, were washed out of the political arena like straws and dry leaves, as I they never existed. Their myth had permanently been consigned to dustbin of history.
Then came the Mursharraf era which introduced genuine reforms in the system, including the devolution plan, and police order of 2002, raising the Karachi seats to 20, and of Hyderabad to six, of which MQM won 17 in Karachi, and all the six in Hyderabad in 2002, never looking back even in 2008 and 2013 elections. Since every rise has a fall, MQM too could not escape from the age-old Machiavellian theory, but if seen in proper perspective, its firebrand leader Altaf Hussain, lost track of the principles of equality and justice he had propounded in the beginning, and ultimately fell victim to his own machinations.
A historical background was necessary to comprehend the gradual decline of its reputation, which has certainly suffered but whether it has really waned, will be improper to declare at this point of time. It could nevertheless be said with considerable certainty that MQM and its leadership had forgotten the basic principles of honesty and integrity, falling prey to lust and greed of the glitter. Whether it would learn from its mistakes, will again be too premature a judgement for the present.
Turning to the humiliation of Thursday’s defeat, arguments, for and against MQM, could equally be weighty. Farooq Sattar’s post-election complaint that of the total 134 polling stations, signed result sheets of Form 14 were given to its nominee or polling agents at only 82 centres, which showed MQM a bag of over 14,000 votes against a mere 5,000 polled by PPP nominee Ghulam Murtaza Baloch.
If this is true, then the Election Commissions will be on trial for its being honest and impartial. At the same time, however, it would be no point crying over the spilt milk. The fact remained that minus Altaf, MQM or its new leader, Farooq Sattar has lost the game. PPP has snatched its seat from them after 12 long years. It had last won from there in 2002. Sindhi villages around Malir were die-hard voters of PPP, like Lyari, which remains the Peoples Party stronghold since Bhutto days.
The charge that police and State machinery had been a hurdle for MQM in mobilizing backing for its candidate, S M Wasim, could only be proven in courts. Secondly, MQM too must accept that elections in Pakistan, except those of 1970, or of 1988, had always been controversial. The bitter truth is that MQM stood split today. Clashes between Haqiqi faction calling itself Mohajir Qaumi Movement, and MQM Pakistan in Urdu Nagar or firing at Khokhrapar in which injuries had occurred, and arrests also made later, are known and perhaps accepted factors on the polling day.
The fact that MQM, which been bagging between 60,000 and 90,000 votes in the past, had managed just 15,000 or 20,000 votes since last one year, will have to be proven incorrect with nothing short of unchallengeable fact sheets.
This point has also been brought home at his press conference Friday by Pak Sarzameen Party chief Mustafa Kamal. His assertions carry weight. MQM will need to review its strategy, reorganize itself, and find a more convincing way to re-assert it authority. There is no short-cut to success. After All, Altaf had spent sleepless nights for years and decades to build a party. Whether he still is relevant, is a moot point, and perhaps will remain so for a considerable length of time. Mustafa Kamal’s argument that since his arrival in Karachi in March this year, and his persistent campaign against Altaf, MQM’s capacity to collect votes stands eroded. This too needs a thorough scrutiny.

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