I step into a narrow road at Liaquatabad No 3, the road further constricted by motorcycles parked alongside pushcarts selling shoes and plastic goods. Behind them is a row of run-down shops thronged with women and girls laden with bags of shopping on a Sunday evening.
Crossing the road is a feat in itself. There are women haggling with rickshaw drivers, cars and motorcycles coming from the wrong side. As I thread my way across, I hear supporters of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) cheering loudly, riding buses and motorcycles to attend a PTI rally that is to be addressed by their leader later that night.
A couple of shopkeepers and vendors abandon whatever they were doing and shout back. One says, “All of them are from Keamari!” and they all laugh loudly.
I ask them if the PTI has approached them, asking for their votes. “Nobody has come,” they say. “The media is running the PTI’s election campaign,” say these friendly and loquacious flower vendors. Perhaps the PTI people visited their homes while they were away at work, I say. “No, they didn’t come canvassing for our votes at home,” says Mohammad Shahid Khan. Maybe they sent an SMS, since that was their modus operandi in their 2013 election campaign? The reply is again in the negative.
I know the answer to my next query but for objectivity’s sake I question them about the Jamaat-i-Islami. “We haven’t seen them around,” says Mohammad Aslam, a resident of FC area. What about the MQM? “They don’t need to come. We attend their corner meetings. They will come a day before, give us our voting cards, inform us about our polling booths and we will go on April 23 to cast our votes.”
The men go on to have a lengthy discussion with me about what is being shown in the media, what the mood is like in Karimabad, why the MQM garnering a large number of votes in the previous elections is plausible, and how much of the Ismaili community’s vote will be in favour of the PTI. It’s hard to tear myself away, but we need to go to other areas of NA-246.
We drive to Gharibabad, which has many furniture shops. Most of the items are buffed dark-brown. But then we spot a hip, tomato-red sofa set with zebra-striped armrests, which makes everyone smile. I get out of the car and walk towards three women, each carrying a child, haggling with a rickshaw driver; he wants Rs100 for a ride they think should cost Rs80. “So far, no party member has come to our homes asking for our votes,” they say.
Making our way further inside Gharibabad, ie Bhangoria town, we see a group of men sitting quietly with a table in front of them covered with green cloth and with a fibreglass kite perched on it. Two large speakers sit on either side of the kite. “Why so quiet?” I ask. “It is time for Maghrib prayers so we have stopped the music,” say the workers of MQM unit office 153-B.
About their door-to-door campaigning in the area, the workers say they have divided the neighbourhood into two circles comprising 5,000 votes. “Nearly 60pc of the area is commercial, and most shopkeepers are not from this area; they belong to Punjab,” they say. “Nevertheless, we have met everyone nearly thrice. Our men approach the male members of a family and our bajis talk to the female members. This is the end of our campaign. All we have to do is distribute the cards which we will complete within the next three days.”
Next, we find ourselves on Liaquatabad bridge, our vehicle snarled up in a traffic jam due to the convoys of PTI vehicles. On the left side of the bridge is a dilapidated apartment complex where one can see women and girls on their tiny grilled balconies; some of them make offensive hand gestures at the PTI. My colleague asks the bus driver where the buses are coming from. “From main Baldia.” And how many buses have come from your locality, he asks further. Twenty more buses, he replies.
Dusk is falling rapidly, the traffic jam is persistent, and I become restless. I have to meet members of the Ismaili community. Imran Khan has urged them to vote for his party. I need to know their views. We slowly make our way to Karimabad colony, apartment CC DD2. We are met by security volunteers who refuse to let us enter, saying that their community is on its way to Maghrib prayers. As I am telling them the purpose of my visit, a cantankerous old man interjects: “We have nothing to do with politics, please go away.” I catch the gaze of a young volunteer and ask him if any political party has knocked on doors asking for votes. He says nobody has done so.
The chowkidar of the building, too, says that nobody has come asking for votes.
As we finally leave, the area near Ayesha Manzil is fading into semi-darkness. The narrow lanes are bustling with people, eateries are getting ready for customers and party workers are preparing for a corner meeting in a street lined with rows of chairs and a canopy of red, green and amber fairy lights.
Published in Dawn, April 21st, 2015