And yes, it is there in NA 151 Multan. I mean the Bosan part of our electoral politics. It has been there in theory but the recent electoral collision, the by-election, provides us some interesting insight.
Loyal party voters, at the national level, started shrinking to margins by the mid 1990s and we observed wild swings in the next three elections. By now, it appears that only around half of the voters are predisposed while the rest keep the decision pending till late. Who do these ‘party-less’ voters support?
Let’s have a close look at NA 151 Multan 4. The constituency traditionally comprised of some of Multan’s suburbs and the nearby villages situated along the southern bank of river Chenab in tehsil Multan. The area was endowed to the Aitcheson-educated feudal lords and it was an imperative to be a Quershi, Gardezi or, best of all, Gilani to contest the elections here.
The Pir power in the area however was not uncontested but the challenger could hardly secure a quarter of the polled votes in early elections starting from 1970. When Nawaz Sharif contested Yousuf Raza Gilani here (then NA 114) in 1988, he lifted that non-Pir share to 41 per cent though the PPP leader’s 57 per cent was still too good.
Sikandar Hayat Bosan, a leader of the Bosan clan that inhabits banks of Chenab was given the IJI ticket for the provincial constituency, PP 165 (that fell within the boundaries of present day NA 151). The Bosan area is rich in agriculture, cattle and mango orchids and being in close vicinity of Multan city benefits from growth in urban economy.
Bosan triumphed over the PPP candidate, Haider Zaman Gardezi, with a thumping lead of 10,000 votes, which was a very impressive win for a provincial seat. This too came on the back of the fact that the IJI candidate on the national seat (of which PP 165 was a part) was defeated by PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani. So one of the PPP’s best fighters could not prevail over Bosan in his (Bosan’s) provincial home constituency.
Bosan thus amply demonstrated that he has a vote bank of his own within the constituency and is a power to be reckoned with. He was awarded the PML (N) ticket for the national seat in 1993 elections. He raised his votes to almost 50,000 but these were still not good enough to defeat Gilani who easily sailed past. In the next elections as PPP’s vote nose dived, Bosan raised his tally further to 67,000 and won on the national seat for the first time.
When hard times struck PML (N), Bosan ditched his party and joined the next king’s party - PML (Q). But before the next elections, constituencies were redesigned. The part of the constituency east of Qadirpur Raan was swapped with Multan Cantonment to form NA 151. A quarter of the voters of the new constituency lives in Multan Cantt and the rest in 127 villages, of which 87 fall in provincial constituency, PP 200 that has now become the Bosan stronghold. This provincial seat is almost half of NA 151 while the other half is divided between PP 198 (39 per cent) and PP 199 (13 per cent). To cut it short, Bosan, it seems, was now designed to win NA 151.
Bosan did win in the 2002 elections but his tally was cut short. He was discarded by around 12 per cent (of total polled votes) who stayed with PML (N)’s Ansari despite the fact that nobody expected him to win. PPP also maintained its share of loyal voters. The voters thus were split in three, PPP jiyalas, PML-N diehards and the Bosan voters who did the so-called establishment’s bidding.
The year 2008 was a confusing time. Nawaz Sharif had just returned from exile, Benazir was assassinated, the Chief Justice was defunct and Musharraf was forced to quit as general but stayed as president. It was really difficult to assess who will be who in the future setup and how to ensure ones’ self or community interests. Bosan had little choice but to wait and see which meant sticking on to PML (Q).
But the network of small village level power brokers that he heads suffered from anxiety. A part of it, 12 per cent to be exact, assessed that PPP is a better bet and broke away from Bosan. Their bet paid off as PPP’s Yousuf Raza Gilani not only won the seat but went on to become the prime minister.
The two parties can depend on their respective shares in electorate, Bosan cannot. His supporters are gullible. They love the taste of power more than anything else. They had deserted one of the two main parties to support Bosan as he followed the establishment’s call. The only way Bosan could sustain his electoral standing is to stay in power or at least create make-believe among his supporters that his patrons stand a real chance to come to power. Can Bosan’s mentors provide his vote bank a new spin or would it be up for grabs for the two traditional contenders?
The Multan collision has made evident the Bosan factor, it however could not give a verdict on its future as none of the other two contenders, PML-N and PTI, dared to make a move. That was cowardly on their part as they both dreaded that a defeat would have a negative impact on scores of wishy-washy, dilly-dallying Bosans all over the Punjab, and partly in other provinces too. So wait till the actual giant vote collider starts crunching numbers but till then do keep an eye on the Bosans.
Note: Vote percentages for each election year (shown in the above graphic) do not add up to 100, as there were other candidates as well, securing a total of 1 to 4 per cent of the polled votes in each election.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.
Tahir Mehdi works with Punjab Lok Sujag, a research and advocacy group that has a primary interest in understanding governance and democracy.
He tweets @TahirMehdiZ
The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.