District profile: Arbab family row to liven up Tharparkar contest

Published July 7, 2018
Area: 20,000 sq km 
Villages: 2,400 
Population: 1.6 million 
Registered voters: 574,333 — men: 319,811, women: 254, 522 
National Assembly seats: 2 
Sindh Assembly seats: 4
Area: 20,000 sq km Villages: 2,400 Population: 1.6 million Registered voters: 574,333 — men: 319,811, women: 254, 522 National Assembly seats: 2 Sindh Assembly seats: 4

The indecisiveness of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) on how to best safeguard its interests has turned Tharparkar into a major electoral battlefield. There is an uneasiness among the minorities — that form a considerable section of the total vote — who feel they have been ignored when party tickets were awarded. The PPP failed to decide for weeks on who to back as their candidates in two constituencies — NA-222 in the national assembly, and PS-56 in the provincial assembly. The delay caused much confusion among the voters.

Tharparkar is spread across about 20,000 square kilometres. With 2,400 villages, the district has a population of approximately 1.6 million. There are 574,333 registered voters; of them 254,522 are women. According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, about 180,000 women have not been registered — and are missing voters.

The people are represented by two national and four provincial assembly seats. The district also has a sizeable Hindu community, which takes up roughly half of the total vote.

Historically, the district had been dominated by the Thakurs — the powerful Hindu community — for several decades, before and after partition. That changed after Laxman Singh moved to India following the war in 1971. Many Thakurs and other prominent Hindu families migrated to India, which changed the political dynamics of the area. The Arbabs, who had been allied with the Thakurs, quickly moved to fill the vacuum.

Before 1971, along with the Thakurs, non-natives from other areas have been contesting and winning elections in the district. The Arbabs were the only locals who were influential enough to pose a challenge to outsiders. However, the people are not overly eager in supporting the Arbabs considering their modest performance when in power.

4 communities will play a major role in NA-221, the Nohri, Rahimoon, Samejo and Kohli, with each boasting about 40,000 voters in the constituency.

As the socio-economic dynamics of the district changed — however slow-paced — new classes emerged. Groups found space in the absence of the Thakurs, and Muslim communities including the Nohri, Samejo and Rahimoon grabbed the opportunity to consolidate power. Thar was somewhat politically split among community lines in the 2013 elections. Considering none of the local communities have worked out a solution among themselves, the electorate seems divided. The non-native phenomenon demonstrates itself in NA-221 as Shah Mehmood Qureshi of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) squares off against Noor Mohammad Jillani of the PPP, in what promises to be a tough battle. Both individuals are spiritual leaders of thousands of dedicated followers — or mureeds. The constituency includes Chachro, Nagarparkar and the newly created taluka Dahli.

Four communities will play a major role in NA-221, the Nohri, Rahimoon, Samejo and Kohli, with each boasting about 40,000 voters in the constituency. The Baloch and some other communities also matter, but it is these four that will determine the outcome of the polls. Except the Kohli, all three communities are divided into two groups. A section of them looks set to ally with Arbab Ghulam Rahim — former chief minister of Sindh — who has extended support to the PTI, and another section is likely to follow Arbab Lutfullah, who has decided to back Jillani.

In NA-222, which includes the towns of Islamkot, Mithi and Diplo, the PPP — after much deliberation — has chosen Dr Mahesh Malani to run against Arbab Zakaullah of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA). Dr Malani is a relative newcomer, but has been working with people in the area to cultivate a campaign. However, on the outside, things look difficult for the PPP in the constituency. The district has four provincial seats: PS-54, PS-55, PS-56 and PS-57. Due to the unique electorate base — divided between the Muslims and the Hindus — the PPP, and other parties found it difficult to find a candidate who was appealing to everyone.

PS-54 will see Dost Mohammad Rahimoon of the PPP take on Arbab Razak Rahimoon of the GDA. Dost Mohammad won the seat back in 2013, and has the support of the Samejo community.

PS-55 has historically been won by non-natives. This year, for the first time two locals from the area — Abdul Ghani Khoso and Ali Akbar Rahimoon, both associated with the PPP — filed nomination papers, but were overlooked by the party in favor of Qasim Siraj Soomro, who is poised to compete with Arbab Anwar Jabbar of the GDA.

PS-56 — Islamkot taluka — was a problem particularly. The PPP had to choose a candidate who was not only loyal to the party, but was also acceptable to voters in the Hindu community. Eventually, the PPP gave its ticket to Faqir Sher Mohammad Bilalani. To compliment the move, the PPP also decided to nominate Dr Malani for the NA-222 constituency.

The biggest showdown is set to take place in PS-57. The split in the Arbab family will split the votes between the two main candidates as Arbab Lutfullah takes on his uncle, Arbab Rahim. In 2013, the latter was successful, but the constituency has been reshaped following the dispute in the family.

The district is not known for its ideological voters, and political parties must therefore rely on individuals who hold sway over the electorate. With the Arbab family divided, and the minorities not overly satisfied with the choice of candidates, the results of the polls may not be as predictable as in previous elections.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2018

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