Mangla Sharma sits among her community members at Laxmi Narayan Mandir, next to the Native Jetty Bridge, answering questions while campaigning in her constituency, PS-113.
Requesting them to stamp the kite symbol as they go out to vote in the General Elections, “Apna vote apno mein,” she says, repeating her party’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan catchphrase this election.
Although Sharma is not a Muhajir, she is able to use the slogan for her electioneering at the temple as she is sitting among the members of her community – Hindus.
The provincial assembly hopeful’s life in politics began in 2001 when she was elected union councillor in local bodies elections. At the time, non-Muslims had a separate electorate, but when joint electorates were introduced in 2005, Sharma decided to join MQM and has been associated with it since then.
In the 2013 elections, she was nominated on a reserved seat for minorities. This year, she is contesting on a general seat from PS-113 on an MQM ticket, while the party has also nominated her for provincial and national assemblies’ reserved seats for minorities.
Sharma is well aware that her constituency has a majority Muslim population, which might reduce her chances of winning the seat. But she says that if she contests and wins from an area with a large Hindu population, it won’t be a remarkable victory.
“We enter the election race as a participant, and while we do hope to win, I feel there is no shame in losing either,” she says. “When a person from a minority community asks for votes from a majority one, the latter raises their eyebrow. This relationship will not change until we start participating on general seats as well. No one can win instantly, it would take time to bridge that gap, and I want to make a continuous effort to do just that.”
Admitting that it is wishful thinking, Sharma hopes that the voters would understand that an MPA or MNA is not supposed to work on local bodies’ issues like water, sanitation and basic infrastructure. Instead, their job is to work on legislation and implementation.
Speaking about her party, the MQM-P, Sharma said no other political parties were stressing on the need to hand over powers to the local government. The MQM had remained critical of the former PPP-led Sindh government claiming it was not handing over powers to local bodies.
“We are protesting against census results because it directly affects the administration of the largest city of this country. Hence, we keep reiterating the need to create more provinces as well,” she says.
Speaking about her work, Sharma, who is a member of the Pakistan Hindu Council, says that she has been looking at the issue of forced conversions and discrimination in the public sector against her community.
“There were many people whose children were asked to perform the same janitorial tasks as their parents despite having qualification for other jobs,” she says. “They were either asked to take up the same job or leave. I have been working for that as well. None of us have magic wands so it will take time to change the structure but slowly and gradually, we will implement policies guaranteeing us equality.”
With having to arrange funds, setting up corner meetings, meeting and greeting sometimes testy constituents, campaigning is never easy, particularly for independent minority candidates who do not enjoy popularity based on party affiliations and also face harassment and intolerance.
Just Monday night – the last day for electioneering – Nomi Bashir, independent Christian candidate for NA-244, had to deal with one such situation that left her a little upset as she was running her door-to-door campaign. “A constituent misbehaved with me and called me a very bad word,” she recalls. “Instead of retaliating, I just told him that it was his opinion and reflected his upbringing.”
Bashir says that even when she had put up posters near a church, activists of rival political parties had come by and torn them down. “But I am not getting disheartened, rather I think it’s because my opponents are treating me like a threat,” she says.
Born and raised in Akhtar Colony, Bashir has a bachelor’s degree and intends to work on solutions to the sanitation, water supply and landfill problems of her constituency. She also wants to fight for the rights of the Christian community, especially concerning false accusations, which land many behind bars.
However, because she doesn’t have the backing of an influential party, her campaign has not been a smooth run. “Even till last night [Monday], my supporters and I were receiving threat calls with people asking us to detract in exchange for money. We all know about the extremist groups,” she says, declining to take any names as she resides in the same area and doesn’t want to make enemies.
She laments that despite being a Pakistani citizen, people see her solely as a Christian candidate and not someone from their own area, so much so that she was not able to campaign to her fullest in areas like Karsaz and Tariq Road. “I came across many Muslim voters, but they told me they would vote for someone ‘of their own’. They said we would vote for Kitaab, rail engine and others because they represent Muslims.”
Bashir did try to reason with them explaining that candidates were vying for general elections not religious elections, but to no avail. “The voters need to come out of their cocoons and treat the candidates without religious discrimination.