GUJRAT, Jan 22: Pakistan People’s Party workers in Jhelum district have expressed reservations over the inclusion of their rival Raja Muhammad Afzal and his two MNA sons, Raja Muhammad Asad Khan and Raja Muhammad Safdar Khan, in their party.

The PPP’s local chapter has been silent over the development as there have been no signs of welcoming the new entrants anywhere in the district. Sources in the PPP said most of the party workers had shown resentment towards joining of the Rajas and conveyed their sentiments to their district president.

Talking to Dawn, an office-bearer of the PPP lawyers wing in Jhelum said when the family of former governor Chaudhry Altaf Hussain had joined the party in 1990, local workers had expressed reservations even at that time and, according to him, the workers’ apprehensions had proved right when the Altafs ditched the party after securing benefits.

He said now another so-called bigwig of local politics had joined the PPP and the poor workers who had joined the party for its slogan of ‘roti, kapra, makan’ would again be exploited by `another family of opportunists’.

Chaudhry Sohail Zafar, PPP district president who had contested the last general elections from NA-62, confirmed the local PPP workers had been expressing their reservations over joining of the Rajas, which was understandable as they had been suffering at the hands of the Raja family for almost three decades. “It is quite difficult for them to digest such a huge development on the political horizon.”

He said Punjab PPP President Mian Manzoor Wattoo and General Secretary Tanveer Ashraf Kaira had discussed with him the matter of strengthening the party in the district and the joining of both abovementioned families, a month and a half ago.

Zafar said members of the Altaf family were currently part of both the PPP and PML-Q and that he had asked the party leadership to accept the Altaf family only if all of their members joined (the PPP). He said he would appreciate the party leadership’s decision of making the Raja family part of the PPP in a bid to strengthen it in northern Punjab.

When asked whether he had talked to Raja Afzal after his decision of joining the PPP, he said he had not been able to talk to him yet but would not hesitate in doing so when the latter returned to his hometown. As far as the future course of action was concerned, he said he would talk to Manzoor Wattoo and other leaders and convene a meeting of the local chapter to devise a plan besides trying to address the workers’ apprehensions.

Another source said Raja Afzal had sought the NA-63 (Jhelum-Pind Dadan Khan) and PP-25 seats from the PPP for the next general elections as NA-62 was supposed to be given to the PML-Q’s Chaudhry Farrukh Altaf or any of his family members in case of an electoral alliance between the two.

Members of the Altaf family – such as Fawad Chaudhry, the prime minister’s adviser, Chaudhry Shahbaz Hussain, former federal minister in the PML-Q tenure and former district nazim Chaudhry Farrukh Altaf – were busy in consultation with their aides over the development in the district. Sources claim following the Raja family’s joining the PPP, there were strong chances of the Altaf family’s joining hands with the PML-N to fill the vacuum created in that party to further sideline their immediate rival in Jhelum -- the Rajas.

Political observers believe both Raja and Altaf families could also forge a local alliance by dividing both National Assembly seats between themselves for the sake of political survival. Sources said the formula had already been floated before both families through back channel diplomacy by some common friends.

Sources said the chances of such a political arrangement between them were very slim as in the recently held by-elections of PP-26, results showed even if the votes of Raja Afzal (20,782) and Arif Chaudhry, joint candidate of the PML-Q and PPP (17,189), were accumulated, they could not beat the winner, Khadim Gurmala (39,390 votes), despite the fact that both Afzal and Gurmala had shared the PML-N’s vote bank between them.

Keeping in view these factors, the sources said the Altaf family, having a Muslim League background, could opt for the PML-N. The result of the by-elections and the reaction shown by the PML-N workers over the Rajas leaving their party suggests they had only lost a family of electables but not their vote bank.

Party’s office-bearers in the district, all four tehsils, towns and union councils reposed their confidence in the leadership of Nawaz Sharif at a meeting held at the party’s secretariat on Tuesday with the district president, Chaudhry Muhammad Boota Javed, in the chair.

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