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THE National Assembly constituency NA-114, spread over the tehsils of Jhang, Athara Hazari and Ahmedpur Sial, is the scene of a unique fight featuring three major shrines.

The shrines of Hazrat Sultan Bahoo and Hazart Shah Jewana are situated within the precincts of this constituency. The shrine of Sial Sharif lies only 15 kilometres outside the constituency in Sargodha district, but it has a large number of devotees in NA-114.

Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, contesting on a PPP ticket, is the sajjada nasheen of Syed Mehboob Alam, popularly known as Hazrat Shah Jewana.

Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan, a PTI candidate, is a descendant of Hazrat Sultan Bahoo, whose shrine is situated in the village of the same name on the southern edge of this constituency in Ahmedpur Sial tehsil.

Alisha Iftikhar Baloch, an independent candidate and newcomer to the political arena, is the daughter of a former MPA, Iftikhar Baloch, and granddaughter of Muhammad Khan Baloch. She does not belong to any Pir family, but is being vehemently supported by the pirs of the highly influential shrine of Sial Sharif.

She has been nominated by Khawaja Hameed-ud-Din Sialvi, the sajjada nasheen, himself. The Pir is supporting her in spite of the fact that the Sial Sharif custodians are in alliance with the PTI in the rest of the country.

This sprawling constituency touches the western bank of the Jhelum river and stretches from Tahthi Langer village, on the border of Khushab district, to Pir Abdul Rehman village, close to the boundaries of Layyah and Muzaffargarh. The constituency is almost 150 kilometres long.

The eastern segment of the constituency lies between the Jhelum and Chenab rivers. It borders Sargodha district to the north and Chiniot to the east.

It is a vast area comprising six “kanoongo halqas” of Jhang tehsil and the entire area under the jurisdiction of Qadirpur and Massan police stations.

This constituency came into being after fresh delimitation in the light of last year’s census report. It includes chunks of three old National Assembly constituencies which were part of the electoral map during the elections of 2013, 2008 and 2002.

Faisal Saleh Hayat is the only candidate in this three-way contest who is familiar with the better part of the electorate as most of these areas formed a part of the constituency he had contested between 1988 and 1997.

Sahibzada Mehboob Sultan, who twice returned as member of the National Assembly from Athara Hazari tehsil and Ahmedpur Sial, is a stranger in Qadirpur and Massan areas of Jhang tehsil.

Likewise, Alisha Iftikhar, given her geographical base, is totally alien to voters living on the western edge of the NA-114 constituency — Athara Hazari and Ahmedpur Sial tehsils.

Supporters of Faisal Saleh Hayat, a veteran of eight elections who has been a part of the federal cabinet over long stretches, claim he has carried out massive uplift work here. They cite the electrification of large swathes along the western bank of the Jhelum river. They also credit him with the construction of a large number of farm-to-market roads and for creation of job opportunities.

But the feather in Mr Hayat’s cap, they assert, is the construction of a bridge on the Chenab near Chund Bharwana. This ensured hassle-free travel from far-flung rural areas to the district headquarters and gave a fillip to business activities.

Material considerations aside, Faisal Saleh Hayat is not oblivious to the spiritual bond people have with Shah Jewana. He is up against Sahibzda Mehboob Sultan, a PTI nominee this time. Mehboob Sultan had won an NA seat from Jhang in 2002 and 2008, but lost in 2013. He enjoys the backing of the highly influential shrine of Hazrat Sultan Bahoo, an ancestor of his.

Mehboob Sultan has a big following in the Garh Maharaja area of Ahmedpur Sial tehsil in the southern part of this constituency and has good support in the Athara Hazari tehsil as well.

Although he is a newcomer to Qadirpur and Massan, on the eastern bank of the Jhelum river, the Bahoo title does make it easier for him to appeal to voters.

Two small shrines in Pirkot and Sialana have already pledged their support to him, but he will be beholden to the devotees of Hazrat Sultan Bahoo for success on July 25.

The third candidate in the race, Alisha Iftikhar Baloch, is being actively promoted by represen­tatives (Khal­ifas) of Sial Sharif. The khalifas have been asked to visit every village of the constituency and seek the devotees’ support for Alisha.

Contrary to the rest of the country, the campaigning here is being done more by devotees of these shrines than political workers. Thus the election to NA-114 promises to be a fight between three shrines.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2018

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