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Swimming against the tide

April 17, 2013

— File photo

Jhang district has a tendency of swimming against the tide. In 1970, when the PPP swept the polls in Punjab and Sindh, Jhang voted for the Jamiat-i-Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP), which convincingly won all the three National Assembly seats. In 1990, when the PPP was routed everywhere in Punjab, it won three NA seats in Jhang.

Most recently, in the 2008 elections, the PML-Q bagged four NA seats in Jhang. The district has 84 union councils spread over four tehsils — Jhang, Shorkot, Ahmadpur Sial and Athara-Hazari. Before the creation of Chiniot as a separate district in 2010, the old Jhang district had six NA and 11 provincial assembly seats. Now, Jhang has three NA seats while it shares two with Chiniot. The district has seven Punjab Assembly seats.

Sect is a huge factor in politics here. The seeds of sectarianism were sown in the district way back in 1969, when violence erupted during a Muharram procession in old Jhang city.

In sharp contrast, though, Jhang also offers an enlightened face. The area has produced more directly-elected female parliamentarians than any other part of the country. Syeda Abida Hussain has been elected MPA, MNA, chairperson of the district council and has been a federal minister on several occasions, besides serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to the US. She has to her credit victories over two very powerful clerics in two different constituencies in the 1988 elections.

Abida’s daughter Sughra Hussain Imam has been elected chairperson of the district council Jhang and member of the Punjab Assembly. In 2008, Sughra narrowly lost on an NA seat to another female candidate, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana, who along with Saima Akhtar Bharwana won NA seats consecutively in the 2002 and 2008 general elections from two Jhang seats. One should also not forget Asifa Farooqi, who became a senator in 1973.

Whereas sect is something to contend with in Jhang, the politics here are least influenced by the biradri (clan) factor. Most of the politicians elected over the past 43 years happen to come from minority biradries.

In NA-87, both Abida Hussain and her old-time rival Faisal Saleh Hayat are Syeds who constitute just five to six per cent of the constituency’s population. In NA-88, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana’s biradri inhabits only five or six villages. In NA-89 Sheikh Waqas Akram won in the last two elections even when his Sheikh biradri hovers at around 10 per cent of the total electorate. His opponents, Maulana Ahmad Ludhianvi and former MNA Maulana Azam Tariq, appealed to the religious rather than the clan vote.

The two-time winner from NA-90, Saima Akhtar Bharwana, can claim to have three to four villages inhabited by her Bharwana biradri. Her opponent and five-time elected MNA from this constituency, Sahibzada Nazir Sultan, comes from the Awan family which constitutes not even one per cent of the total population of this area.

Another very prominent feature of Jhang politics is the lack of influence enjoyed by the country’s mainstream political parties.

Here, there are personality vote banks and a very solid vote bank for some sectarian outfits.

Political parties are finding it difficult to field candidates in all the constituencies of the district for the upcoming elections. The PPP has been able to field only a couple of strong candidates, Syed Abid Imam from NA-87 and Agha Tariq Gillani from NA-89.

Had the party strengthened its organisation and worked with its 2008 candidates instead of pandering to the MNAs of its ally the PML-Q, the PPP would not have been in so much trouble.

Similarly, the PML-N has ignored its own party members and awarded tickets to ‘electables’ migrating from the PML-Q. Ghulam Muhammad Lali from NA-87, Ghulam Bibi Bharwana from NA-88, Sheikh Waqas Akram from NA-89, Saima Akhtar Bharwana from NA-90 and Mehboob Sultan from NA-91 are all outsiders. By contrast, the PML-N has not awarded a ticket to its own district president, Aoun Abbas Sial, who is a very strong ‘electable’ in his own right.

The PTI too is facing a nomination dilemma. Rana Ataullah, who polled 65,000 votes in NA-91 but lost in 2008, and Dr Abu-ul-Hassan from PP-88, are the only recognised faces; the rest are unlikely to create any real impression.