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FOOTPRINTS: A NIGHT OF DASHED HOPES

Updated August 10, 2018

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Salman Naeem’s supporters celebrate his win from PP-217 against Shah Mehmood Qureshi on election night.—Dawn file photo
Salman Naeem’s supporters celebrate his win from PP-217 against Shah Mehmood Qureshi on election night.—Dawn file photo

LAHORE/MULTAN: It was a night that began with hope and joy for Shah Meh­mood Qureshi but ended with a shock.

His supporters were still celebrating his win from a national seat from his hometown of Multan on election night when the early counting trend started showing that he was losing against his protégé, Salman Naeem, from the provincial assembly seat he was running for. By midnight, it had become quite clear that Mr Qureshi’s rival had dashed whatever hopes he and his supporters had been nurturing for the job of chief minister of Punjab in case of the PTI’s victory in the province.

Mr Naeem, who contested the election as an independent candidate after his mentor “reneged on his promise to give him the party ticket” and ditched him to run for the provincial seat himself, has since joined the PTI — thanks to the efforts made by its senior leader Jahangir Tareen. Mr Tareen is credited with having brought several other independently elected members of the national and provincial assemblies from Punjab into the fold of his party to ensure that it has enough numbers to form its governments in Islamabad and Lahore.

Days later, Mr Naeem’s supporters continue to pour in at his election office, Insaf House, to celebrate his win. His victory against the vice-chairman of the PTI did not come as a surprise to his fans even though Mr Qureshi had vanquished his PML-N rival Amir Saeed Ansari by a wide margin of more than 31,000 votes, to take the national seat (NA-156) from him.

“If Qureshi has won the national seat it is because we did not campaign against him and refused to support his PML-N competitor. Had we wanted, we could have created problems for him at the national seat as well. But we decided to just focus on our contest,” one of his supporters said at his main election office in Multan days after the election. “We knew Naeem was going to win (PP-217) from the day we started canvassing for him. He is very popular in the area because of his charitable and social work. We were certain no one could beat him.”

Mr Naeem, 25, says he was very close to Mr Qureshi until he was refused the party ticket. “It was Shah Mehmood Qureshi who brought me into politics. I have financed and organised several large gatherings for him in this constituency during the last two and a half years. He had promised to give me the PTI ticket for PP-217.

“I was refused the party ticket at the last minute because some sycophants had advised Shah Sahib to also run for the provincial assembly. He telephoned me to ask me to withdraw my nomination papers, but I decided to run as an independent because I knew I could win,” he told Dawn.

However, the Shah Mehmood Qureshi camp strongly believes that his rival’s win was part of a conspiracy against him to stop him from becoming the chief minister of Punjab. “Many powerful groups were working against Shah Sahib,” contended Rana Jabbar, who joined the PTI along with Shah Mehmood Qureshi and twice fought for the same provincial constituency in the 2013 general election and the 2015 by-poll on its ticket and lost.

“Even some people from our own party like Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan were also working against Shah Sahib. They financed the campaign of our rival candidate, sent their people in Multan to distribute motorcycles among the people in the area to buy the election for Naeem. They did so because they do not want to see Shah Mehmood Qureshi as chief minister of Punjab,” he continued.

Mr Naeem, a businessman who owns a food factory and has invested in real estate development, nevertheless says he owes his victory to his social and charity work in the area. “I have been doing social work in this area for the last several years. We have been helping people by providing them free healthcare, financing mass the weddings of poor girls, and have sent many for Haj and Umrah and so on. People voted for me because they know I am available to them when they need me. Shah Sahib does not give enough time in the constituency,” he said.

He added that Mr Tareen approached him only after he had won the election. “How could Tareen Sahib help me win the election? Politically, he doesn’t have any influence in my constituency because he is not from Multan. Financially, I don’t need any support from him or anyone else to contest an election. I have enough money to finance my campaign. It was not a sensible decision for Qureshi Sahib to contest from the provincial constituency where I had worked so hard. He should have known he could not win [against me].”

Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2018