WHEREVER he goes in his constituency, villagers welcome him with open hearts. People tend to see a saviour in him. It was around midnight and he was visiting a small village in his constituency to seek votes for him and his fellow candidates in Badin who are contesting elections from the platform of an anti-PPP alliance.
“He is truly a murs maanrhun [brave man] for us. Only he has the guts and courage to speak against anyone,” says Mithan Khaskheli, who was waiting for Dr Zulfiqar Mirza in Kario Ghanwar town of Badin’s Golarchi constituency at 12am, where the former was running his election campaign. Dr Mirza is a candidate of the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA), a conglomerate of various individuals and parties which the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) believes has been cobbled together to deny the PPP the required number of seats in Sindh.
Take a look: Panicked PPP declares its contestants from Badin
Mr Mithan has been associated the PPP ever since it was founded by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who himself contested election from Badin district in 1970 when he fought from several constituencies in different areas of Pakistan. But when Dr Mirza parted company with the PPP, Mr Mithan decided to switch sides, too. “Since then I have been with Mirza”, says 55-plus Khaskheli. Like him, there are many who have joined Dr Mirza and left the PPP.
Sindh’s oil rich coastal district of Badin was a stronghold of the PPP till 2013. Dr Mirza changed his heart in Sept 2011 when he decided to resign as Sindh home minister and quit the PPP at the top of his differences with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) over the Karachi imbroglio.
Originally non-natives of Badin, Dr Zulfiqar Mirza and his spouse Dr Fehmida Mirza actually hail from the Mirza and Qazi families of Hyderabad. Mirza arrived in Badin initially for business purposes in the late 80s when he started establishing his sugar mill which he concedes he owes to his schooldays friend Asif Zardari, co-chairman of the PPP, and then settled there. It was time, contends Dr Mirza, when PPP old guards became turncoats and he filled that political vacuum for the PPP. He contested against Benazir Bhutto’s estranged brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto in 1993 and defeated him on a National Assembly seat.
And from the 90s onwards the Mirzas have been the PPP’s source of strength in Badin, besides the Nizamanis and Halepotos, to enable the party to romp home in elections. With the Mirzas in their fold, the PPP usually remained least concerned about elections in Badin. This, however, has changed in the last five years. The PPP now looks genuinely worried about its stakes on its erstwhile turf after facing considerable defeat in 2015 local bodies’ polls.
Did at any stage of his life he ever think he will contest elections against the PPP? “Never, I always thought that the PPP will be my first and last party to work with because I never imagined politics without Shaheed Bibi [Benazir Bhutto],” Dr Mirza explains at a roadside restaurant where he dropped by to talk to this reporter in Kario Ghanwar.
Dr Mirza’s defiance of the MQM — an ally of the PPP at that time — made him a hero among people of Badin as he accused the MQM of working against Pakistan. After quitting the PPP Dr Mirza remained silent for a few years. His son Barrister Hasnain Mirza contested by-poll for the seat vacated by his father in 2011. Mr Hasnain, again, contested for the seat as a PPP candidate and his mother became a PPP MNA from Badin in 2013 polls.
As the PPP’s political fortunes dwindled in Badin, the popularity of Dr Mirza got Mr Hasnain 50,000 votes from this constituency (old PS-57, now PS-72) in 2013 polls despite the fact that his father had deviated from party policies and defied Mr Zardari. Dr Mirza himself had been elected with 33,111 votes from this constituency in 2008 polls, held amid a sympathy wave for the PPP after assassination of Benazir Bhutto.
“Hasnain could have won as an independent candidate in 2013 but we decided to get a party ticket. I also contested on a PPP ticket in last polls though I was fighting a disease”, says Dr Fehmida Mirza at her Morjhar farm house.
Dr Zulfikar Mirza discontinued his journey with the PPP as, according to him, ‘in Benazir Bhutto’s absence the party’s principles had changed. I worked in the PPP that had colour of “Benazir Bhutto but then emerged a party which now has colour of Asif Zardari. Even Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari can’t exercise his authority. I had pinned hopes on him”.
The situation reached the point of no return in mid-2015 when Dr Mirza found his farmhouse under siege in the backdrop of an unpleasant incident in Badin when he forced his way into a police station to support his followers allegedly harassed by police. He appeared on live television talk shows with guns blazing to expose his party’s leadership.
Then with his unending vitriolic he led local bodies’ election campaign, denying the PPP Badin’s municipal committee, a few town committees and grabbing substantial number of seats in the PPP-led district council in November 2015, proving he has his own vote bank in Badin. Since the Mirzas aren’t with the party, Dr Mirza is yet to have Badin municipal committee’s chairman of hisown. Later, Dr Mirza helped Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML) leader Ismail Rahu win by-poll — held in March 2016 in the wake of a verdict on Mr Rahu’s election appeal against the PPP MPA from PS-74 (old PS-59) where Dr Mirza now squares off against Mr Rahu. After being elected Mr Rahu parted ways with the PML-N to join the PPP in May 2017 and resigned as MPA.
Dr Fehmida observes that things continued to worsen after 2014 for her family as the entire district administration was changed and the then deputy commissioner did so many things purposely against them. “This forced us to decide our future strategy because [Badin] people are committed with us. They [PPP] stooped so low against us and our people. We can’t leave the people in the lurch”, she says as pictures of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Benazir Bhutto and Asif Zardari weaved on a carpet still adorn her drawing room’s wall. Besides Dr Mirza, she and two of their sons are taking on PPP candidates.
Badin — home to oil and gas fields — has a large coastal strip. Its agricultural land is known for sugarcane cultivation though sea intrusion has devoured soil fertility on large swathes of land like Thatta and Sujawal districts.
Now this southern part of Sindh is bracing for interesting electoral fights on July 25. Upsets and neck-to-neck fights on seats is a foregone conclusion. Badin has pockets of supporters of Hala’s Makhdooms, Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Pir Pagara whose PML-F is the single largest entity in the GDA. The alliance has found potential allies in the Mirzas and that’s why it has awarded five tickets to them — two national and three out of five provincial assembly seats — to face the PPP though the Mirzas joined the alliance only in June.
Published in Dawn, July 16th, 2018