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HYDERABAD, May 3: Had Dr Irfan Magsi and his elder sister Dr Rahila Gul Magsi joined the PPP as agreed, election in Tando Allahyar would have just been a formality. Though the PPP over a series of meetings had attempted to lure Dr Irfan Gul Magsi by promising him a Sindh Assembly seat and reserved National Assembly seat for his sister, at the eleventh-hour the brother and sister decided to join the PML-N, dealing a hard blow to an easy PPP vote bank.

However, behind the ‘change of heart’ there is years-long association of the Sharif family with the Magsis because of their father, late Allah Bux Magsi, who had been the PML-N president for Hyderabad. Instead of joining the PPP, Dr Rahila persuaded her brother to bolster the family’s alliance with PML-N with electoral ties.

The family developed relations with the Sharif family during the hearings of the plane hijacking case against Nawaz Sharif. They used to visit the ousted prime minister during case hearings at the Anti-Terrorism Court in Karachi despite the martial law regime.

“Allah Bux Magsi (the father of Dr Irfan Magsi) was the first person to meet me in Jeddah after I was exiled,” PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif had recalled while speaking to a large public gathering in Tando Allahyar on April 22.

Dr Rahila who had also been present at the gathering appeared to be confident of her chances of wining from the National Assembly seat. “We will win from here Inshallah Mian Sahib,” she had said.

Crumbling PPP fortress The district of Tando Allahyar was carved out of Hyderabad in 2005 when Arbab Ghulam Rahim was the Sindh chief minister, with one NA and two PA seats up for grabs.

The NA constituency covers the whole district with several communities including Loond, Pitafis, Legharis, Mirjats and Mastois having important electoral stakes. The PS-51 covers urban areas where the Muttahida Qaumi Movement has vote bank of between 10,000 and 12,000 votes. The district is known for fertile land and besides the Magsis, President Asif Ali Zardari too has hold considerable land-holdings.

The PPP had such strong hold over the area that even the late Benazir Bhutto had decided to contest from the district’s National Assembly constituency NA-223 (formerly NA-171) when

Ghinwa Bhutto decided to contest polls from the Bhutto’s hometown of Larkana after the assassination of her husband Mir Murtaza Bhutto in September 1996.

In 1997 election, Benazir Bhutto defeated Allah Bux Magsi, who had been contesting from the PPP-Shaheed Bhutto, comfortably by a margin of 25, 607 votes after which he joined the PML-N. He had served as the PML-N president for Hyderabad till his death.

However, his son had stayed with the PPP and also served as the PPP president for Hyderabad. But the assassination of Murtaza Bhutto in 1996 affected him emotionally and he left the PPP. In 1997, he contested from a PPP-SB ticket but lost.

Mir Murtaza Bhutto himself had contested from a provincial assembly seat in the 1993 election from Tando Allahyar but could not win. For the past two decades, the Magsis have garnered a lot of support in the area. The first dent to the PPP vote bank was caused in the 2001 party-less local government election when Dr Irfan was elected as the nazim of union council Chambar. After that there was no turning back.

In 2002, after beating PPP’s Imdad Pitafi by a margin of 2,644 votes at PS-52 as an independent candidate, he became a provincial minister in the Ali Mohammad Mahar-led Sindh government. In 2005, his sister Dr Rahila became the first district nazim as a candidate of the Azad Magsi Ittehad. The bother-and-sister duo worked for the area and managed to carve a political niche for themselves.

Another sister, Adeeba Gul Magsi contested from a National Assembly seat in 2008. Though she got more votes than she did in 2002, she still lost to the PPP-backed Shamshad Bachani by 40,167 votes thanks to the PPP riding a sympathy wave after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Divided vote bank This time round, the only benefit to the PPP candidates in Tando Allahyar is a divided vote bank. Candidates from the PML-F, Sindh United Party (SUP) and Sindh Tarraqi-pasand Party (STP) — part of the Sindh 10-party alliance — are also in the fray for contesting on all three seats in the district.

From the PML-F, Amjad Khokhar is vying for NA-223, while Mushtaq Talpur for PS-51 and Mir Mohammad Khokhar for PS-52. Ameer Ali Thebo of the SUP is contesting on PS-51 and STP’s Nusrat Altaf Jaskani is contesting for PS-52.

All of these candidates would only prove to be vote spoilers in Tando Allahyar. For all practical purposes, the real fight is between the PPP and now PML-N backed Magsis.

The PPP has pitted Zia Abbas Shah, son of former Sindh minister Ali Nawaz Shah, on PS-51 against Dr Irfan Magsi.

Dr Rahila Gul Magsi is contesting from PS-52 and also NA-223. At PS-52 she is contesting against PPP’s Imdad Pitafi and at NA-223 she is up against Abdul Sattar Bachani, an old PPP guard and the husband of former PPP MNA Shamshad Bachani.

The electoral bout is expected to be an exciting one as Dr Rahila could potentially upset the PPP vote bank on NA-223 mainly due to the development works executed by her as the nazim of Tando Allahyar district. Even the Urdu-speaking population living in urban areas might go in her favour. The people have various complaints against the PPP regarding jobs and other issues.

However, Sattar Bachani, being an experienced jiyala, cannot be underestimated. Though he has been out of the electoral arena since 1997 when he became an MPA. He couldn’t contest 2002 election because he was not a graduate, his stakes are still high and he is set to give Dr Rahila a tough fight.

“When you meet the stakeholders of the area you will come to know that there will be no contest for Dr Rahila and Inshallah and we will win on all three seats,” said Dr Bux Ali Pitafi, the father of former PPP MPA Imdad Pitafi. “The people do have some reservations but the complaints are personal in nature. They are there in every election.”