KARACHI: Faced with a serious internal crisis that surfaced in the middle of last year, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement began to show signs of weakness in 2014 — the first year during the past quarter of a century when party supremo Altaf Hussain was arrested and later released on bail in London.

Although the party’s political activities, including rallies, public meetings, protests as well as quitting and joining the coalition government continued with the same enthusiasm, the organisational side was marred by internal rifts and a host of other issues that affected the overall direction of the Muttahida. The top leader, who has been living in London for the past 22 years, still enjoys an iron grip on party affairs, but uncertainty within the party has reached a level where even senior leaders think they may not be on their posts the next day.

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With multiple criminal investigations against Mr Hussain being under way in London ­— though he has not yet been formally charged ­— former and incumbent office-bearers of the MQM conceded that the state of affairs deteriorated in 2014 due to a lack of consistency in the party.

They said the MQM was ignoring problems of its core constituents due to its internal problems, as complaints of water shortage, power loadshedding and lack of cleanliness were on the rise. It all started after the May 11, 2013 general elections.

Mr Hussain delivered a speech at the MQM’s Nine Zero headquarters after which charged workers manhandled MQM leadership. Within the next few days, Mr Hussain dissolved the coordination committee and installed a new set-up. Later, some senior MQM leaders, including Anis Kaimkhani and former Karachi nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal, either left the country or became inactive in the party.

In April 2014, the MQM submitted resignation of Mr Kamal before the senate chairman and the next month MQM’s Maulana Tanveerul Haq Thanvi was elected unopposed on the vacant senate seat. Also in April, the MQM joined the Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government only to quit again in less than six months.

While the Muttahida’s political affairs were moving forward, the internal crisis aggravated further on May 25 when the party staged a rally on M.A. Jinnah Road against the British government for what it described as victimisation of Mr Hussain. On June 3, the British police investigators arrested Mr Hussain in London over money-laundering suspicions. “The news spread like wildfire and entire Karachi was shut within no time. But we had no line of action that day except to calm down our workers,” recalled a senior leader.

“It was Haider Abbas Rizvi who took a decision to hold a sit-in at Numaish because our priority was to gather workers at one place so that we could control them,” he said. With an unimpressive number of participants, the MQM sit-in continued till the morning of June 8 when Mr Hussain after being released on bail asked the protesters to return home.

Sources said Mr Hussain was very disappointed with his new team, headed by Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, when he was informed about the actual number of the participants. Mr Hussain then expressed no confidence in senior leadership. He publicly threatened that he would step down as party chief at least on half a dozen occasions.

In July, he suspended for a brief period 19 senior members of the coordination committee for petty reasons. On Sept 4, he disbanded Karachi Organising Committee of the Muttahida and warned the coordination committee to mend ways. The same month he announced quitting the party leadership and blaming some members of the coordination committee that they were happy when he was arrested in June.

And finally on Dec 10, Mr Hussain sent the whole coordination committee packing, accusing the members of involvement in corruption — a charge that he had levelled against the previous committee that he had dissolved in 2013 — and appointed an ad hoc body.

The sources said the Muttahida chief was aware of the weaknesses within the party and he knew it would hurt them in elections. It was for this reason, they said, he returned to the Mohajir politics in 2014 to save his party’s vote bank.

Like past years, the MQM continued to hold several successful shows of strength in Karachi in 2014.

Round the year, the MQM off and on protested against ‘extrajudicial killings and illegal raids and arrests’ of party workers. It gave several calls to observe days of mourning and ensured complete closure on each day of protest.

Also in 2014, the MQM raised the issue of new provinces and called for making at least 20 new provinces on administrative grounds. The party also observed a ‘black day’ against Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah for saying that he considered ‘Mohajir’ a swear word.

In July, the party staged a rally on Shahrah-i-Quaideen to support the armed forces and the Zarb-i-Azb Operation in the tribal areas.

Following the Peshawar school carnage in December, another massive rally was staged against the Taliban, their apologists and in support of the army.

A senior party leader, who until recently was a member of the coordination committee, said: “Although people are participating in our programmes in large numbers, the internal situation is very alarming.

“Politically we are strong, but at the organisational level we are not that good and unfortunately the whole world is now seeing it.”

Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2014