The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz seems to be depending a lot on a local businessman’s influence on the non-Seraiki population, especially the large Arain vote bank, for reviving its fortunes in Rahim Yar Khan, the last southern district of Punjab bordering Balochistan, Sindh and India.
The party leadership is said to have given weight to the recommendations of the businessman, Chaudhry Munir, while fielding its candidates for the six national and 13 provincial assembly seats in the district, even if it meant sort of marginalising its old hand, Chaudhry Jafar Iqbal — at least in the eyes of the local cadres.
“Chaudhry Munir has virtually edged Jafar Iqbal out of the district politics of the party,” a PML-N leader from Rahim Yar Khan tells Dawn on the condition of anonymity. “The PML-N had consulted Chaudhry Munir on almost all aspirants for its ticket for national and provincial seats and his ‘advice’ has almost been binding.”
Local journalists confirm his claim. They say the PML-N has gone to the extent of leaving the National Assembly seat from Sadiqabad-Jamal Din Wali (NA-195) uncontested because Chaudhry Munir is backing Makhdoom Khusro Bakhtiar, former state minister for foreign affairs under retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, from there. This is in spite of the fact that Mr Bakhtiar has fought the last two elections on a PML-Q ticket and is being backed by the Chaudhries of Gujrat in the next election.
“Chaudhry Munir has promised to the PML-N leadership that he will deliver Mr Bakhtiar, who is also one of the shareholders along with Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, in his sugar mill in Rahim Yar Khan, to the party in case he wins against Makhdoom Syed Mustafa Mahmood, son of Punjab Governor Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mahmood, from his family seat,” says the PML-N politician quoted above.
Other candidates being strongly backed by the businessman, who is known for his close links with a royal family in the Gulf, include Sheikh Fayyaz-ud-Din from Khanpur (NA-193) and Mian Imtiaz Ahmed from Rahim Yar Khan City (NA-196).
“Both have been brought in to replace Jafar Iqbal from NA-196 and his daughter Zaib from NA-193, showing the reducing influence of the former deputy speaker of the National Assembly on his party’s politics in the district.”
However, some other factors behind the change are not difficult to locate: “Both the father and daughter had lost badly in the last two elections in 2002 and 2008 and there is a lot of resentment against Jafar Iqbal in the district,” says the PML-N politician.
It is obvious that while Chaudhry Munir’s arrival is duly marked, the ‘snub’ to Mr Iqbal has been exaggerated in the talk of the local PML-N circle — perhaps based on the disappointing show in recent polls.
PML-N president Nawaz Sharif has ‘rewarded’ Mr Iqbal for his long association by giving party tickets to his son Umer from a provincial seat from Rahim Yar Khan and his son-in-law Faisal Gujjar from a provincial seat in Abbotabad, as well as nominating his wife Begum Ishrat Ashraf, daughter Zaib and niece Maiza Hameed for reserved seats. He himself has already been sent to the senate.
Chaudhry Munir, who rose from a humble background to become one of the wealthiest businessmen of the country with his own private jets, came into the limelight during the period of Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as chief minister of Punjab because of his close political and business relationships with the Chaudhries of Gujrat. In spite of his influence on the leadership of almost all major parties on account of his closeness to the royals in the Gulf, he prefers to keep a low profile and stays away from the media glare even in his hometown. Some even liken him to Malik Riaz of Bahria Town. “Both are rags-to-riches stories; both made money in the construction business; both enjoy considerable political clout in every major party. But the difference lies in their personalities. While Malik Riaz likes media glare, Chaudhry Munir prefers to work behind the scene,” says a journalist based in Rahim Yar Khan.
There are two major factors for Chaudhry Munir throwing his weight behind the PML-N. “First, he doesn’t see any chance of the revival of the PML-Q, or more precisely the Chaudhries of Gujrat. Second, it is rumoured that he has something personal with Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mahmood,” claims a local journalist.
The local PML-N leadership expects their party to give a good performance in this year’s electoral race because the “wind is blowing the PML-N way” but also because of the political backing to its candidates of Chaudhry Munir.
On the other hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party is hoping to improve upon its tally of four seats (NA-192 Liaquatpur, NA-193 Khanpur, NA-194 Khanpur-Rahim Yar Khan, and NA-196 Rahim Yar Khan City) to six.
“In the last election, the PPP had won four seats from the district. One (NA-195 Rahim Yar Khan-Jamal Din Wali) went to the PML-Functional, which was led by Makhdoom Syed Ahmed Mahmood before he joined the PPP a few months ago. Their alliance has boosted the chances of the PPP and it is better placed this time than ever before,” a journalist from Khanpur argues. “To counter that the PML-N and Chaudhry Munir is mobilising the non-Seraiki, biradri-based vote by fielding good combinations of candidates representing Seraiki and settlers/Arain/Jat candidates from the national and provincial seats according to the size of their vote bank in different constituencies.”
It could turn out to be tougher for the PPP than it looks on paper.