KARACHI, May 10: Vijay, a 27-year-old sanitation worker of Narayanpura, sees the upcoming general elections as “yet another festival for Muslims” to which religious minorities have only been ‘invited’, but they have to stay “on the fringes” and not to take the centre-stage.
“This is the second time that my name is on the voters’ lists to take part in general elections, but I will not vote this time as well because I see that no candidate from religious minorities has been fielded by any party [on a general seat] in Karachi,” he said with a wry smile.
Vijay is one of the scheduled cast Hindus who tried to make a departure from his occupation to clean the city of 18 million with a predominant Muslim majority but failed. “I did matriculation as my father agreed with me to shun the tag of a sanitation worker and do something else to make a living, but I could not find any other job like many of my community youths who also tried to escape from this unending tunnel,” he said.
“How can the matriculated sons of poor Hindus or Christians get a better job when we see that people with better qualification could not get one?” he said.
Vijay lives in one of the hundreds of two-storey apartment buildings in the walled compound of Narayanpura, a ghetto for Hindus, Christians and a few Sikhs, surrounded by Ranchhore Lines, Gazdarabad and Fire Brigade headquarters.
Unlike him, most of his neighbours said that they loved to vote and some of them who expressed their political thoughts showed a balance between the PPP and the MQM.
Narayanpura falls in the National Assembly constituency NA-249 where one of the most eagerly-awaited contests is going to be held mainly between Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Dr Farooq Sattar and PPP’s Aziz Memon.
This constituency is one of the 10 NA constituencies in the city where minorities have more than 10,000 votes and one of the provincial assembly constituencies (PS-110) falls within the same NA area and has 13,500 minority votes. Some 15 provincial assembly constituencies have more than 5,000 votes of members of minorities’ communities.
On some seats, the contests hang in the balance as religious minorities may cast decisive vote. “We have 30,000 Christian and 3,600 Hindu votes in Mehmoodabad’s PS-114 and the number swell to 36,500 on NA-251 in the same neighbourhood. It is going to be a game-changer,” claimed Michael Javed, a former Christian lawmaker in the Sindh Assembly, speaking to Dawn.
Official figures released by the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra) show that out of 85 million, some 2.78 million registered minority votes in the country could decide the fate of the candidates who are contesting elections on some 96 national and provincial assembly seats in Sindh and Punjab.
Among these minorities, Hindus are largest in numbers with 760,171 male and 643,838 female voters, followed by 711,013 male and 527,218 female Christian voters. Besides, there are 58,160 male and 57,806 female Ahmadi voters, 3,103 male and 2,831 female Sikh voters, 1,735 male and 1,915 female Parsi voters, 763 male and 689 female Buddhist voters and 382 male and 427 female Jew voters.
The voters comprised 1.4 million scheduled and upper caste Hindus, 1.23 million Christians, 150,000 Ahmadis, 5,934 Sikhs, 3,650 Parsis, 1,452 Buddhists and 809 Jews, according to figures issued by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) and the Pakistan Dalit Solidarity Network (PDSN).
Their analysis said that the significance of minority votes, especially of the scheduled caste, could be gauged from the fact that out of total 272 national assembly seats, 98 national assembly constituencies had more than 10,000 minority votes and out of total 537 Sindh and Punjab assemblies’ seats, 191 constituencies had more than 5,000 minority votes.
Hence, they said, it could be safely concluded that minorities could decide the fate of 96 national and provincial constituencies in Sindh and Punjab.
The NA seats in Karachi where significant numbers of minority votes have been registered are: NA-239 (13,500 votes), NA-245, NA-246 and NA-258 (8,500 votes each), NA-247 (11,500 votes), NA-248 (12,500 votes), NA-249 (15,500 votes), NA-250 (28,500 votes), NA-251 (36,600 votes), NA-252 (16,500 votes), NA-253 (12,400 votes), NA-254 (21,700 votes), NA-256 (13,500 votes) and NA-257 (11,000 votes).
The provincial assembly seats with significant registered voters are: PS-90 (10,500 votes), PS-108 (6,000 votes), PS-109 (6,500 votes), PS-110 (13,000 votes), PS-112 (15,500 votes), PS-113 (13,000 votes), PS-114 (33,600 votes), PS-116 (11,500 votes), PS-117 (5,000 votes), PS-119 (12,000 votes), PS-124 (19,500 votes), PS-126 (6,000 votes), PS-127 (5,700 votes), PS-129 (5,000 votes) and PS-130, PS-110 (5,400 votes).
Mr Javed said that some of the constituencies had been “cliff hangers” in the past and the votes of non-Muslims could attain cardinal importance if security fears forced low turnout in the May 11 elections. “The security fears in these elections are huge, which can cause many people to stay indoors and enjoy holiday. In that scenario, the contests on seats, where winning margin remained narrow in the past will highly depend on us,” he added. However, he lamented that the religious minorities could vote for Muslims, but none of the political parties had fielded Hindu or Christian candidates in the general elections in Karachi, apart from negligible minority candidates elsewhere in Sindh, where they stood no chance of winning.
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council, is a candidate on a reserved seat for minorities from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz.
He conceded that no party, including PML-N, had awarded tickets to minority candidates in Karachi to get a chance to get votes from fellow Muslims.
“We do not mind voting for Muslims, but we are being denied to get votes from Muslims,” he said.
Reserved seats ratio
Both Mr Javed and Mr Vankwani criticised the way the reserved seats were awarded in Sindh. They said there was no reserved seat for people representing minorities on the ratio of Hindus, Christians and other non-Muslims living in a particular area.
“Look, more than 200,000 Christian and Hindu voters live in Karachi, but no one from the city has been given representation on the reserved seats. You can see four members of a family from Thano Bula Khan given one NA and three PS seats by the PPP, but none from the low-caste Kolhi or Menghwar, who are 90 per cent of total Hindu population in Sindh, has got representation in assemblies,” said Mr Vankwani.
Mr Javed said that the PPP had put five Hindus on top of its list of the reserved seats and gave the sixth slot to a Christian, where he could not win. The MQM put a Christian on second on its list for NA reserved seats, which was again unlikely for him to win.
The PDSN said in its report that the ensuing election results would not be of any significance without the participation of scheduled caste votes and the media and the civil society should take steps for the participation of 46 per cent minority voters living in Thar.
“Some 90 per cent votes within the Hindu population belong to the scheduled caste, yet 10 per cent upper caste Hindus make most of it to rule,” it said.
The analysis shows the scheduled caste people have been kept away from the political process and denied of their proportional representation in legislative bodies.
Rafiq Bhag, 70, a resident of Essa Nagri, an impoverished neighbourhood in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, said that he gave his vote to the PPP candidate last time hoping for a quality life in his area, but the situation worsened instead.
“We are in the mid of criminals and drug peddlers, who are operating openly in Essa Nagri. Our women and educated youth are unemployed and we are being killed in targeted shootings,” he said.
He added at least six Christians of Essa Nagri had been killed in violent shootings last year.