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SAHIWAL: The promotion of ‘Arainism’ can prove fatal for Chaudhry Muhammad Ashraf alias Leader, the PML-N candidate for NA-148, Sahiwal II, if he does not get back his original PML-N vote bank in mostly rural constituency.

Local political observers believe Chaudhry Ashraf’s silent support to two independent Arain candidates -- Chaudhry Asif in PP-198 and Umer Ishaq in PP-199 -- will deprive him of support of two PML-N candidates in the constituencies, Malik Arshad and Naveed Aslam Lodhi.

Chaudhry Ashraf was a runner-up in 2002 against Rana Tariq Javed and in 2008 against Ghulam Farid Kathiya of the PPP. In both these elections, he was not a part of the PML-N. He won the 2013 election on the PML-N ticket by defeating PTI candidate Malik Muhammad Yar Dhaku. Then Malik Arshad, PML-N candidate for PP-198, was his strongest supporter in previous election. After winning the 2013 election, some differences emerged between him and Malik Arshad.

Ashraf, being an Arain, promoted ‘Arainism’ in a constituency which is also dominated by local Ravi clans like Katiyas, Murdanas, Baloch, Kharal, Saghlays, Sahis and Lodhis besides having a strong presence of the Jutts, Rajputs, Sherazis, Shaikh and Bhattis.

It is learnt that long before the election, Ashraf started promoting Chaudhry Asif, the UC-25 chairman who had won the local government election as independent candidate and later joined the PML-N. He is a local real estate tycoon who had a strong to get a PML-N ticket from PP-198. He was in competition with Malik Arshad with the support of some groups in the PML-N. Despite investing his time in the PML-N leaders, Asif could not get a PML-N ticket but this had embarrassed Arshad as his MNA was making room for the man who had joined the party just one year back. Mian Nawaz Sharif allotted the ticket to Malik Arshad in PP-198 as he had travelled along with him in his GT Road march after disqualification by the Supreme Court.

PML-N nominated Naveed Aslam Lodhi, son-in-law of Arshad Lodhi, a senior leader of the party from Harappa in PP-199. The Lodhis hosted Hamza Shahbaz during 2016 by-election.

However, Ashraf promoted another Arain, former nazim Umer Ishaq, for PP-199. Ishaq first tried to get into the PML-N but shifted to the PTI in 2015. He could not get a PTI ticket despite being close to Chaudhry Sarwar and the party awarded ticket to Irshad Kathiya.

Both Umer Ishaq and Asif failed to grab ticket from PTI and PML-N. It is in this background that both Arain candidates decided to contest election as independent candidates. Now Ashraf is silently supporting these two Arain candidates, ignoring his own party-nominated candidates Malik Arshad and Naveed Khan Lodhi.

Malik Arshad has strong support in rural villages especially in Kameer Town while Lodhi have strong pocket in Harappa. Arshad succeeded to upgrade Kameer Town Committee status to tehsil corporation status besides getting a boy and girl colleges for Kameer during his previous tenure. In case, Chaudhry Ashraf persists with his support for independent candidate against him, Arshad can ask his pockets not to vote for Ashraf. Such a situation would harm both Ashraf and Arshad. Ashraf is in contest with former MNA Gulam Farid Kathiya of the PPP and Malik Muhmamd Yar Dhaku of the PTI while Malik Arshad is competing against PTI’s Malik Fasil Jalal Dhaku and this election is not easy for the PML-N.

There are reports many Arain villages will also move to the PML- in Kameer. It is also said an independent candidate, Shabir Mustafa of the Sherazi group will also withdraw his independent candidature in favour of Malik Arshad. If this happens, Arshad will be in a good position to defeat Fasil Jalal Dhaku of the PTI.

Fasil Jalal Dhaku is son of the late MPA Malik Jalal Din Dhaku who won this seat for four times.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2018