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MITHI: Tharpakar district was once ruled by the Arbabs of Khetlari who had long been portraying it as their ‘invincible fort’. However, in the May 2011 general elections all candidates fielded by the family lost to their rivals, barring the chieftain, Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, who returned on his native PS-60 Diplo constituency.

The Arbabs had contested on two National Assembly and three provincial assembly seats.

For the local bodies elections on Thursday, there were 1,050 candidates for a total of 370 seats of six town committees — Diplo, Chhachhro, Islamkot, Nagarparkar, Kheeme-Jo-Paar and Chelhar — and 64 union councils until Wednesday, when the Election Commission of Pakistan decided to postpone the polling in six union councils, five of them falling in Diplo taluka and one union council of Mithi taluka. As such, the polling will now be held for 58 UCs and six town committees.

The election for the lone municipal committee of Mithi has already been stayed by the Sindh High Court on a plea filed by Chandar Sharma of the PPP. Twenty PPP candidates have returned unopposed in various UCs in this district.

The withholding of polling in certain UCs has pushed only one heavyweight, Arbab Amanullah, a nephew of Dr Arbab Rahim, out of contest for the time being. Now, 964 candidates are in the fray for 978 seats of 58 UCs and six town committees in the Thursday contest. There are 341 members of the Hindu community contesting on various UC seats in the general category.

With the Arbabs desperately seeking restoration of their lost glory, the PPP seems not taking any chances in ensuring support of all influential figures at odds with the Arbabs for any reason. Affiliated with the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the Arbabs are likely to give a tough time to the PPP with the support of its new allies — the Pakistan Muslim League-Functional (PML-F), Ghousia Jamaat (which follows its spiritual leader Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf leader Mukhdoom Shah Mehmood Quraishi) and certain other anti-PPP groups that have formed the “Thar Ittehad”.

The Quami Awami Tehreek (QAT) has also fielded its candidates for a limited number of seats in the district.

The PPP has suffered a setback in the overall electioneering due to differences between its MPA and the district president Dr Mahesh Malani and MPA Dr Khatoo Mal Jeewan. This is likely to benefit the candidates fielded or backed by the Arbab group.

From the Arbab family, Arbab Lutfullah is contesting for a district council seat from Khetlari; his brother Arbab Amanullah is seeking another seat from Gurura Bai; and Arbab Imran, who is the son of Arbab Attaullah, is vying for a UC Bolhari seat.

Arbab Attahullah a few weeks back joined the PPP but his son dissociated himself from his decision. Arbab Lutfullah is tipped as the district council chairman if the anti-PPP side succeeds in gaining a majority.The votes of the followers of Mukhdoom Amin Fahim’s Sarwari Jamaat, Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s Ghousia Jamaat, Pir Pagara’s Hur Jamaat, as well as the low-caste Hindu communities, may change the situation either way.

Among the other prominent contestants are PPP MNA Fakeer Sher Mohammad Bilalani and his close relatives, Mohammad Hashim and Mohammad Siddique. Umeed Ali Rahimoon, the brother of provincial minister Dost Mohammad Rahimoon, is contesting from all four wards of his native town, Kheeme-Jo-Paar although the PPP has awarded him its ticket for only ward-1.

A tough contest is expected in UC Jhinji where two-times MNA Dr Ghulam Haider Samejo is fighting against Bashir Ahmed Sinhoro of the Thar Ittehad. PPP MNA Pir Noor Mohammad Shah Jilani, who had defeated Mukhdoom Shah Mehmood Quraishi in previous general election with a very thin margin on NA 230, and Mr Rahimoon are actively supporting their respective candidates heralding a neck and neck contest on many seats.

Karni Singh, the son of another political heavyweight, Rana Hameer Singh, is also in the fray while two senators, Ashok Ratnani of the PML-N and Engineer Gayanchand Meghwar of the PPP; three MNAs Rajesh Wankwani of the PML-N and six MPAs have spent much of their time in the district to ensure victory of their respective candidates.

After the 2011 election setback, the upcoming LG election are seen as the most keenly watched elections in Tharparkar.

Published in Dawn, November 19th, 2015