Here's a little story, which some might find interesting given the times. In the 2013 election, the provincial assembly of Sindh narrowly missed having to swear in the leader of a banned organisation who contested a provincial seat from Karachi under the cover of a hitherto unknown party.
The leader was Aurangzeb Farooqui and the group he is a leader of is called the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), proscribed in February 2012, and formerly known as the Sipah-i-Sahaba, a virulently sectarian organisation with a violent track record. The party under whose banner Farooqui ran is the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz, which fielded candidates in a number of other provincial seats around the city.
The electoral constituency was PS 128, an industrial area including Korangi, Landhi and Malir, and home to some of the largest manufacturing plants in the country. In 2002, this seat went to the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA), with a wide margin of almost 7,000 votes, with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) as a fairly distant runner-up. In 2008, it went to the Awami National Party (ANP), again with a large margin of almost 7,000 votes, and again with the MQM as the distant runner-up.
The ECP announced a run-off in six polling stations when a bomb hit their area on election day, apparently targeting the ANP candidate who was running for re-election from the same seat. The ANP and the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) both boycotted the polls after the run-off was announced, taking at least 12,000 votes out of the contest.
When the run-offs began in the six polling stations, the MQM candidate led by just over 2,100 votes. By the time the run-offs ended, that lead had narrowed down to 200 votes, or 0.3pc of the total polled vote in the constituency, arguably amongst the narrowest margins in the entire election.
In 2013, the banned ASWJ, a virulently sectarian outfit, was a clear contender in a Karachi constituency.
The close nature of the contest led me to examine it more closely, so I acquired polling station data to see where in the large area the votes came for each party in the contest. And here is what I found.
In 2008 and 2013, the MQM received all its support from three localities out of 16 in the area, with 56 polling booths in them. The entire constituency had 286 polling booths. The rest of the constituency voted evenly for the winning candidate in 2002 and 2008, with a spattering of votes going to a few minor candidates running as independents or from parties hardly anyone has heard of.
In 2002 and 2008, the winner carried the day with 29,000 votes roughly, and the runner-up — the MQM — kept its share at roughly 22,000, a pretty decisive margin. It appears that the constituency has a very strong anti-MQM vote because the same localities gave their vote to the MMA in 2002 and to the ANP in 2008, and the MQM’s vote in all elections came from the same three areas — D-1 area Landhi, 37-B Landhi, and Jam Nagar. These three localities had the highest turnout in 2008 and 2013 as well.
In 2013, the vote in this constituency appears to have been almost entirely a protest vote. Many of the localities carried by the MMA and the ANP in the past went to the ASWJ this time round, but a number of other smaller names picked up a large number of votes too. One independent, for example, got more than 5,000 votes from one locality alone, taking more than two-thirds of the polled votes from the heavily populated Sharafi Goth area, whose vote in 2008 went largely to the ANP and the remainder to the MQM.
Another party — Tehreek-i-Tahafuzz-i-Pakistan — picked up more than 3,000 votes from across a wide swathe of localities, and the Pakistan Muslim League (Sher-i-Bangal A.K. Fazal-ul-Haque) took 5,500 votes, again from across the constituency. The PTI and the ANP further divided the total vote bank, leaving the ASWJ unable to come up to the 29,000 vote mark that the winner of the seat from the last two elections had secured.
But the ASWJ was clearly the contender. Just when the MQM was struggling to secure its lead, it received a sudden burst of support from an unexpected quarter: a large, very poor and very diverse locality called Bhutto Nagar. In 2008 this locality had only 1,000 polled votes, of which only 20 went to the MQM. Half of the votes from here went to the ANP and the other half to the PML-N candidate.
But in 2013 Bhutto Nagar suddenly burst onto the electoral map. With 5,000 registered voters, it had a turnout in excess of 50pc. And out of the 2,600 votes polled from this locality, more than 1,700 went to the MQM. Clearly something stirred in Bhutto Nagar, and the boost this gave to the MQM candidate played a decisive role in sending him across the finish line. Had it not been for this boost, we might yet have seen the ASWJ candidate being sworn into the provincial assembly in 2013.
Karachi is a complex place. If you want to understand why the thinking ones among us harbour some anxiety about the troubled waters the MQM finds itself in these days, take a look at PS-128. It is true that Karachi needs to be cleansed of the violent style of politics, and it is also true that the ASWJ made a very poor showing in every other constituency they fielded a candidate in. But the vote bank in this city can work in unpredictable ways, even dangerously so, and it is always useful to ask what force is gearing up to step into the game should a vacuum be created.
The writer is a member of staff.
Published in Dawn March 19th , 2015