Aika karlo, ho jao katthay

Bhull jao Ranjhay, Cheemay, Chatthay

FAIZ’s plea to the Cheemas and Chatthas to come together in the fight for the rights of the sons of the soil has not yet reached Wazirabad — which is not very far from Kala Kadir in Narowal, where the great poet was born over a century ago.

Each election time, the Cheemas and Chatthas line up against each other in an unending tribute to the Pakistani electorate’s reliance on the biradari. In an election where so much emphasis is on the ‘electable’, the biradaris are going to appear much more capable of deciding a vote.

Analysis: Biradari figures prominently in strategy sessions

At a first glance, the Chatthas of Wazirabad seem to have been lagging the Cheemas in the local politics in recent times. It’s been a while since the prime period of Hamid Nasir Chattha, a kingmaker in his own right through Gen Zia’s 1980s and the tit-for-tat democratic decade of the 1990s.

Over time Hamid Nasir, once known for his near indispensable value to Benazir Bhutto, has somewhat faded out of the frame. The Cheemas, however, have been very visible — safely placed in the security of the PML-N camp — but in a manifestation of how biradari politics influences party politics and vice versa, it will be worthwhile to recall that the Cheemas had once been the proud PPP flag-bearers in the area. Col Ghulam Sarwar Cheema as a PPP candidate defeated the much-fancied Hamid Nasir Chattha in 1988. The colonel was to later become a victim of Benazir Bhutto’s search for stable, ‘national level’ partners to take on the Sharifs of Lahore in a difficult battle for control of Punjab and overall supremacy in the country. This need led her to cultivate an alliance with Chattha as he instead of joining the PPP chose to do politics from the platform of a PML faction accompanied by other locally powerful politicians opposed to the Sharifs such as Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo, another famous electable from Okara .

This alliance alienated the Cheemas and weakened the PPP locally indicating that the bad policies which damaged the party in central and other parts of Punjab preceded the ascent of Asif Ali Zardari as the party leader. The Cheemas quickly found a new, more durable patron in the PML-N, while the Chatthas eventually found another mainstream party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, they could formally be a part of rather than making do with an alliance on the pattern of the one they had with the PPP. Ahmed Chattha, son of Hamid Nasir Chattha, will contest the July 25 election on a PTI ticket. He is going to face, who else, but a member of the Cheema clan, as Dr Nisar Cheema is a PML-N candidate.

The fights between the two sides or biradaris have been close and for the time being there are no signs that the voters will be required to overly strain their minds as they are not going to be asked to think beyond this simple Cheema-Chattha equation any time soon.

It has been a little more complicated in the case of Manzoor Wattoo, Hamid Nasir Chattha’s and PPP’s old pal in the anti-Sharif politics in Punjab. Wattoo was long considered a master at pulling off biradari-based successes in elections before his Waterloo beckoned as he got too close to the PPP at a time when the party had become a liability in Punjab. The wise man from Wasawaywala in Okara known for stitching together successful alliances from nothing had been lured by Asif Zardari’s dream of creating a viable power system consisting of electables at the cost of, and ultimately over the ruins of, the party. He did not just support the PPP from the outside, he joined it though at the wrong time.

The two men relied almost totally on the biradaris and other local centres of powers such as the ones provided by the sardars to do their politics on. Together they oversaw the demise of the PPP, only for their association to culminate in an instance that yet one more time brings out the complicated nature of the party versus biradari formula.

A son and a daughter of Wattoo have now ditched the PPP by securing tickets from the PTI for the July 25 election. The Wattoos had chosen to go into the electioneering as independents, indicating — falsely — that they hoped to win it purely on the basis of the biradari vote, leaving the decision which party they wanted to join for later. That they have chosen to wear the PTI colours post-haste is a vindication of just how necessary it was for them to be formally a part of a major party in the contest — just as it is more proof how keen Imran Khan is on enlisting the support of candidates belonging to major, electable biradaris. It is clearly a complementary relationship that binds the party and biradari together.

Similar alliances are rampant all over Punjab, the biradari being a very useful platform for a bunch of voters to assert their presence from. One benefit of the arrangement, like in the case of all groups and lobbies, is that the head of the biradari who pledges his clan’s vote to a candidate en bloc is then responsible to mediate on behalf of his members, to the convenience of the individuals in his camp.

The biradri is one of the basic units that is only weakened when there are other groups to take over from it the role of binding like-minded individuals and bunches of people together.

Take Rahim Yar Khan, where the urban areas are by and large ruled by the biaradri principle. In the last election, the Arain abadakars won a large number of seats under the leadership of Chaudhry Munir. They were particularly dominant at the provincial assembly level. But as you move to the rural areas where the sardars and pirs are in the dominating positions a different set of leader-follower relationship defined electoral politics.

Similar situation prevails in several other areas of Punjab where various biradaris are at the loggerheads to ensure representation and clout.

In Jhelum, the Rajas and Jats are pitted against each other for distinction. In Sialkot, where Arains are present in large numbers, the PTI and the PML-N opted to put up Arain candidates for a Punjab Assembly seat.

In a part of Lahore that is spread over two NA and more than four provincial assembly constituencies, the Khokhars rule the roost — representing both the PML-N and PTI at polls. It seems that anybody who does not have the Khokhar name does not even deserve a mention on all these banners hung overhead. They may have earned their right to be PTI and PML-N nominees through various routes, but first and foremost, it is the biradari they belong to that has been the major factor in their selection as candidates.

Whichever way the contest may go, these seats are going to return a handful of Khokhars and Arains to the assemblies.

The Ansaris of the nearby Kasur, however, will tell you it is not always as easy as it looks. The Ansari biradari is said to have around 70,000 votes in the Kasur city constituency, and consequently, they are most sought after by the parties. While they have traditionally been on the PML-N’s side, currently the biradari has been courted by so many parties that it has created the ‘fear’ of a division in the Ansari vote.

“The Ansaris are divided this time,” says Tufail Baloch, a school principal who has closely observed past many elections in Kasur. “The PML-N has an Ansari as its candidate. Both the PTI and PPP have fielded Ansaris. Even Tehreek-i-Labbaik has an Ansari as its nominee for this seat, PP-174.”

The ‘knowledgeable’ circles say this division has come about despite the fact that the Ansaris had resolved that they would field candidates from their own biradari on the NA and PA seats. If such an accord was ever reached, it has not quite been able to withstand the pulls of pragmatism, the very base on which is raised the edifice of the biradari as a huge factor at work in Pakistani politics.

Should we say this is the party’s way of getting back at the biradari in a long-running love-hate engagement?

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2018