SAHIWAL: For the last four decades, Chamma Qasi, a resident of Chak 95/6-R, Sahiwal, steadfastly resisted his late mother’s advice to remove the tricolor flags or tribands of the PPP from the rooftop. His mother argued that it’s common for the people to change political affiliations and why he was not doing the same. Many of his neighbours changed their political support, from Gen Zia’s martial law to the dominance of various parties like Jamaat-i-Islami, PML, Gen Musharraf’s PML-Q, and recently the PTI but Chamma remained steadfast in his allegiance to the party of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto.

Rooted in a hereditary love and admiration for the Bhuttos, Chamma sees the PPP’s triband not just as a political symbol but as a family legacy. His inspiration for the PPP came from his father, a fervent supporter of ZAB’s resistance against the army, headed by Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Ayub Khan and Gen Ziaul Haq.

Chamma thinks that after Benazir’s assassination under suspicious circumstances, Asif Ali Zardari’s politics of ‘reconciliation’ left the PPP Jiyalas, workers, and supporters isolated in Punjab. Due to the party’s withdrawal from Punjab and Zardari’s focus on Sindh in the wake of the 18th Amendment, the party workers and office-bearers shifted to other political parties like the PML-N, PML-Q and PTI.

If you trace the political history of any PTI youth activists, his second and third generation would belong to the PPP, Chamma claims. He believes Imran Khan and his party workers, supporters, and candidates are now barred from contesting elections with the ‘bat’ symbol, hence in Punjab, the contest would primarily be between the PML-N and the PPP. The bat voters, Chamma contends, would not accept Nawaz Sharif and Jahangir Tareen but would either remain silent or give votes to the PPP in defiance of the PML-N and Istehkam-i-Pakistan Party, which had taken away their power and adopted a pro-establishment stance under a ‘deal’.

PPP jiyalas, young and old guards pin hopes on PTI voters in absence of ‘bat’

PPP District President Zaki Chaudhry recalls that in the 1970s, the PPP had won all the National Assembly seats from Okara, Pakpattan and Sahiwal. However, over the last three decades, their electoral success dwindled to winning a single seat.

Shahzad Saeed Cheema, the provincial leader of the PPP, claims that the PPP voters had left alone as they were deprived of ‘political power and rule in Punjab,’ which forced them to move to other political entities in the past three decades.

The PPP lost its voters in Punjab after 2002 general election, Chamma says. Many believe that the ongoing fight of the PTI against the establishment and the PML-N would lead the PTI voters to lean towards the PPP, bringing the PPP back into the politics of Sahiwal as well as the rest of Punjab.

Sahiwal has traditionally been a stronghold of the PML-N with Pir Imran Shah, Jutt Brothers of Chichawatni, Malik Nadeem Kamran consecutively winning the election from the area three times. But Chamma says the PML-N candidates did not improve civic infrastructure in Sahiwal and Chichawatni, develop any industrial hubs, connect Sahiwal with the motorway, improve villages and towns’ civic infrastructures like roads or brought about any employment for the youth or any mega project, except the 1,320MW Sahiwal Coal-fired Power Plant. So the voters are fed up with their 20 years of governance.

Pir Imran Shah, Malik Nadeem Kamran and Jutt brothers from Chichawatni, according to Chamma, have not delivered anything to improve the local infrastructure or generate opportunities and employment for the youth, earning more foes than friends, which would help the PPP regain power in Sahiwal.

It will be the first time in the last 25 years that the PML-N and the PPP would directly compete against each other in three national and seven provincial assembly constituencies if ‘bat’ is banned.

Zaki Chaudhry, Gulam Farid Kathiya and Shahzad Saeed Cheema are contesting from NA-141, NA-142, and NA-143, respectively, while Zafar Shah Khagga, Sarmad Shafqat, Asif Kathiya, Yousaf Kalasan, Ali Javed, Nadeem Khalid, and Shahzad Saeed Cheema are contesting from PP-198 to PP-204. The rejection of nomination papers of the leading PTI winning horses from NA-141 like Chaudhry Nouraz Shakoor and Rana Aftab, Rai Hasan Nawaz and Rai Murtaza Iqbal in NA-142 Chichawatni and Major Ghulam Sarwar in NA-143 would be another major factor, shifting the PTI to the PPP.

Sarmad Shafqat, a young ticket-holder of the PPP for PP-199, is also pinning hopes on the youth voters of the PTI who may cast their vote for his party because of Bilawal, in absence of Imran Khan, rather than going for Nawaz Sharif or Shehbaz Sharif. He says that 10-point PPP manifesto will attract the youth, which is the main force in Sahiwal’s urban and rural constituencies.

Zaki says although PPP remained a part of the 16-month PDM coalition government after Imran’s ouster but the voters blamed the PML-N for increase in utility bills, high inflation and the price hike, which crushed the lower and middle classes under debt.

Chamma also believes that the PTI youth voters would not support Nawaz and go for Bilawal in absence of their party leadership and the symbol of bat.

Published in Dawn, January 7th, 2024

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