The times have changed, and so have the people of Thar. Gone are the days when people would vote on the basis of a verbal command from Arbab Amir Hussain, says a trader in Mithi.
“His son Arbab Lufutullah begs for votes in the bazaar of Mithi town.”
The stereotypes surrounding Thar, therefore, must now be questioned. Arbab Ghulam Rahim, a former Sindh chief minister has been challenged by three pirs, two Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP)-backed minority candidates and Thakur Hameer Singh. So for the first time, the fight is a close one – and winning the six seats of Thar will be a different ballgame.
The 2008 polls can’t be seen as a benchmark. Thar witnessed 'its highest turnout'
then because ballot boxes were stuffed. Arbab was the chief minister at the time, and around 275,000 votes that were pro-Arbab were then declared bogus. Some 200,000 new votes have been registered this time around thanks to the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) launched by the PPP-led government. In addition, the pirs of three shrines, belonging to the Ghausia Jamaat, Jillani Jamaat and Sarwari Jamat are in the fray.
Arbab is now contesting NA-229 (Diplo-Mithi) and faces PPP’s Faqir Sher Mohammed Bilalani, and the competition is going to be tough. In 2002, Arbab Ghulam Rahim won this seat with 51,854 against 34,342 votes of PPP’s Gul Mohammed Lat. Another Arbab, Arbab Zakaullah went on to win against his rival PPP candidate Mahesh Malani in 2008.
On other seats in the region, however, the Arbab group may not be so lucky.
NA 230 (Chachro-Nagrparkar) is another seat the Arbab group has won in the last two elections. Now, PPP has awarded a ticket to Pir Noor Mohammed Shah of Tando Allahyar on the Umerkot seat to face Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI). PML-F, PML-N and a 10-party alliance are supporting Makhdoom on both seats. Arbab has withdrawn Dr Ghulam Haider Samejo after negotiations to facilitate Shah Mehmood Qureshi so that it can be a one-to-one contest.
In PS-63 (Chhachhro), Dost Ali Rahimoo is the PPP candidate while Razaq Rahimoo was the Arbab group candidate. After a deal between Qureshi and Arbab, Samejo is now the candidate of the Arbab group – but the seat is considered to be smooth sailing for Dost Ali Rahimoo as his community has the largest number of votes.
PS 62,PS 61 and PS 60 have also gone to the Arbabs over the last two elections.
Initially, the PPP tried to lure Arbab but the ploy failed. A development practitioner working in Thar said on the condition of anonymity that after the failure of clinching a seat adjustment deal with Arbab, PPP is now trying to muster the support of other groups to defeat Arbab in his home district.
In addition, other groups such as the Thakurs who are powerful but now powerful enough may help split the vote bank and bring victory for the PPP in Thar.
The Arbabs may be socially well connected, and the PPP may lack the skill to win Thar alone without seat adjustments, regardless of BISP.
But it is significant that the Arbabs were used to consolidating the anti-PPP vote, which they no longer can. The PML-F is not going to support Arbabs, and the 2013 elections have now become a matter of survival for the powerful politicians.