THE possible presence of a bigwig like Makhdoom Javed Hashmi in the election on Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf ticket from NA-118 may be a test for the PML-N in the upcoming polls where it is yet to witness defeat.
With the emergence of the PTI as a potential challenger in the political scene, particularly in the October 30, 2011 scenario, an interesting election contest is expected in NA-118 (previously NA-92) where the PML-N or its allies has never witnessed a defeat during last two decades.
However, the PPP, traditional rival of the PML-N, despite possessing a significant vote bank in the constituency and having some major credits to its name, is passing through a struggling phase, mainly due to reluctance of its ticket holder Syed Asif Hashmi to contest the election and dismal performance of its government over key public issues like electricity and inflation. According to a survey conducted in NA-118, locals envisage a tough contest between the PML-N and PTI as the latter is pondering to pitch Javed Hashmi from the constituency.
NA-118, Lahore I, the constituency which can rightly be called the gateway to Lahore, comprises of a huge population living on both sides of the Ravi. It comprises of 13 Union Councils, including UC 1, Shahdara, to UC 13, Badami Bagh, all of whom fall in the Ravi Town. The provincial seats falling in it are PP-137 and PP-138.
The constituency, which was carved out of NA-92 in 2002, includes the areas which are densely populated like Shahdara, which comprises of some highly populated localities like Shahdara Town, Kot Shahabuddin, Jia Musa, Dher, Match Factory, Qaiser Town and Haji Kot. NA-118 also comprises of areas like Khokhar Road, Khokhar village, entire Badami Bagh, Siddiqia Colony and adjoining areas. Major clans of the constituency are Arain, Kakkay Zai, Rajputs and Kashmiris whereas settlers hailing from the Pakhtoon community are also in good number. History shows that the constituency has been a battleground for the PPP and anti-PPP forces since 1988. Since 1988, the PPP has been able to win the NA seat though it has won a couple of times on the provincial seats. Despite witnessing the victory of some key political figures of the country like Nawaz Sharif, Mian Azhar, Humayon Akhtar, Hafiz Salman Butt, a major chunk of the constituency is in deplorable state. People, particularly from Shahdara, are struggling hard to get basic facilities like clean drinking water, sanitary situation and poor infrastructure. Several parts of the constituency contains ponds of stagnant water which are proving breeding grounds for mosquitoes and increasing the threats of diseases like malaria, dengue, etc. In 1988, General (Retd) MH Ansari of the Pakistan Awami Ittehad, one of the IJI components emerged victorious from the area against PPP’s Sheikh Rafique Ahmed after a close finish. It was NA-92 then. In the 1988 election, the PPP, however, managed to win both the provincial seats, PP-116 and PP-117, falling under the then NA-92. In 1990, the PPP, once again, pitched Sheikh Rafique Ahmed who lost by a big margin to the IJI’s Humayon Akhtar Khan. In 1993, Mian Nawaz Sharif chose NA-92 as his constituency and won the election with even bigger margin against the PPP’s Haji Azizur Rehman Chan. In the by-election, when Nawaz vacated the seat, his brother Abbas Sharif, however, had to face a tough time but he also managed to win the seat.
In 1997, the PPP didn’t pitch any candidate and supported Mian Mehmood Ahmed, the representative of the PML-J who lost to the PML-N’s Mian Azhar.
Dynamics of the constituency changed slightly in post-October 12, 1999 scenario with the formation of a rebel group within the PML-N in form of the PML-Q. In the 2002 election, the then PML President Mian Azhar contested the election from the area. Much to the surprise of many, Mian Azhar, who was till the election day considered the would-be PM of the country, witnessed a defeat at the of PML-N and JI-backed candidate, Hafiz Salman Butt. During the 2002 election, the PPP stood at number three with Chaudhry Abdul Qadir in the run.
In the 2008 election, which were held in the presence of the Sharifs in Lahore after a period of eight years, PML-N candidate Malik Riaz, a former MPA won the election while bagging over 50,000 votes. Next to him was the PPP’s Syed Asif Hashmi who bagged nearly 25,000 votes followed by PML-Q Mian Azhar, who remained at number three. The PML-N candidates also won from both the provincial seats in form of Rana Iqbal and Dr Asad Ashraf. With the return of the Sharifs, the PML-N got further strength in the constituency and its supporters still claimed that it would win the seat in the upcoming election as well. Some of the party members also hold the view that with all the removal of all the legal bars on PML-N President Nawaz Sharif to contest the polls, nothing can be predicted as to who would contest the NA election from this seat. “It may be either of the Sharif brothers, or anyone from his family from this seat,” said a senior PML-N leader. However, majority of the party members predict that the Sharif brothers may come from different seats like NA-119, NA-120 or NA-123.
Changes are quite likely on the provincial seats where, sources in the PML-N revealed, that Dr Asad Ashraf, the MPA from PP-138, may not be the leaders’ choice following the inclusion of former MPA like Qaisar Amin Butt in the PML-N and other members who could not contest due to the graduation bar last year. In case any of the senior figure of the PML-N comes from the NA seat, Malik Riaz, the sitting MNA may replace Rana Iqbal on the provincial seat though there is some resentment against him as well in the party ranks.
PML-N Lahore President and MNA Pervaiz Malik while talking to The News said that like the past, the constituency would once again prove a stronghold of the PML-N.
The PTI is expected to come up with Javed Hashmi who has been the winner from different seats of Lahore on different times. He won in 1993 by-election, 2002 and 2008 general election on the PML-N tickets but now he is the part of Imran’s bandwagon. In case Hashmi does not opt for this seat, Yasir Gilani, one the staunch PTI loyalists, is very much expected to replace him. Yasir has been very active in organising the PTI for last many years and so far his name is making rounds for the provincial seat. Some of the PTI members also predict Mian Azhar as another choice from the slot but sources stated he would prefer to work for his son, Hammad Azhar, who wants to contest from NA-121. The PTI supporters also hold the view that the election, which would be held under fresh voters list, would pave its way to victory as now all the fake votes had been cancelled.
Mian Mehmoodur Rasheed, President of PTI Lahore, told The News that Tehreek-e-Insaf had a very organised network in this area and it would break the myth now. He said that any candidate of the PTI could create upset from the seat in the election.
The PPP supporters in the constituency, on the other hand, also seem convinced that their party could bag more votes than the past and the split between two anti-PPP forces could also cause an upset. Nevertheless, most of the party workers also look disappointed with the inability of their own government over the important issues which, according to them, could be a setback for the party on the polling day.
The PML-Q, an ally of the PPP and the ruling party of the Musharraf era, has almost vanished from the political scene and majority of its former Nazims, councilors, elected in 2001 and 2005 elections, have either defected to the PML-N or have joined the PTI.
The PPP wants to pitch Syed Asif Hashmi from the seat who was the candidate from this seat last time but is so far reluctant to contest.
Asif Hashmi, Chairman of Evacuee Trust Property Board, however, has possessed significant footings in the area due to some important projects which he managed to execute due to his close affiliation with former PM Yusuf Raza Gilani. The first major credit he has managed to achieve is the shifting of the Ravi Toll plaza, a project that had been pending for nearly four decades. Population of Shahdara, which had to pay toll many times in a day even while traveling within the City, have got a respite from the practice as the toll plaza has been shifted miles away from its previous place.
Besides, amid severe criticism from the PML-N, Syed Asif Hashmi also gave employment to hundreds of residents of Shahdara and other parts of the constituency in the ETPB which is also a major step to his credit according to the PPP supporters but a politically-motivated move meant to increase vote bank, according to the PML-N.
However, his unwillingness to contest the election can cost the party very high in the upcoming general election as his absence from election run may divide the party organisation over the issue of candidates. Sources say that he has also conveyed to the leadership over his reluctance but still the matter is under discussion in the party.
On the provincial seat, the PPP may come up with Samiullah Khan from PP-137. Sami, the former Secretary General of the PPP Punjab, won this seat in 2002. He remained a runner-up in 2008. From PP-138, the names of Zafar Masood Bhatti, Chaudhry Abdul Qadir and Muzaffar Shah are making rounds. Zafar Masood Bhatti is a senior party leader from Lahore and son of former MNA Sher Mohammed Bhatti. Chaudhry Abdul Qadir has been a PPP candidate from NA-118 and PP-138 in 2002 and 2008 general elections, respectively. Muzaffar Shah is a close confidant of ETPB chairman.
Samiullah Khan, the former MPA from Shahdara who also remained secretary general of the PPP Punjab for three years, while talking to The News said that like the past as well, the party would show good results. He stated that apart from a few occasions, the PPP had always shown good vote bank whether it was the elections of 1988, 1990, 1993 or 2002 and would once again show its ballot strength.