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Tuesday April 23, 2024

Feb 8 elections are matter of survival for the united Muttahida

The party has traditionally been a major political party or representative of the city

By Our Correspondent
February 05, 2024
Supporters of the Pakistani political Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-Pakistan) attend a campaign meeting in Karachi. — AFP/File
Supporters of the Pakistani political Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM-Pakistan) attend a campaign meeting in Karachi. — AFP/File

KARACHI: After the 2013 general elections, this would be the first time the erstwhile Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leaders, sans the party founder Altaf Hussain, have converged on a single platform of the MQM-Pakistan (MQM-) to contest the General Elections 2024.

Before the 2018 polls, the MQM had been divided into various factions. The London faction was and is still loyal to the party founder. The MQM-P, which had been formed by those leaders that had dissociated themselves from the party founder, was also splintered with Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui leading one faction commonly called MQM-Bahadurabad and Dr Farooq Sattar another that was called MQM-PIB. Then there was the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) led by Mustafa Kamal and other former MQM leaders.

The vote bank of the erstwhile united MQM was divided between these factions in the 2018 elections, which resulted in a major defeat. The PSP and Dr Sattar’s faction could not win a single seat in the polls while the MQM-Bahadurabad could only clinch four of the 21 National Assembly constituencies of Karachi.

In the aftermath of this, Dr Siddiqui, Dr Sattar and Kamal took the strategic decision to unite.

Now, with the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which emerged as the biggest political party of Karachi in the 2018 elections, almost out of the elections courtesy of the blanket ban by the state authorities, the MQM-P seems to have only one challenger in the city, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

The PPP, which has been keeping the mandate of the rural Sindh, and forming its government in the province consecutively for the past 15 years, has also made some moves to gain presence in the city by inducting former MQM lawmakers, office bearers and workers within its ranks.

Even if both political parties deny, ethnicity is a key player when it comes to the elections. Traditionally, the MQM has been regarded as a party of Muhajirs, those who migrated from India to Pakistan during the Partition and later when East Pakistan turned into Bangladesh.

On the other hand, the PPP is seen as a party of Sindhis, having its bastion in Larkana and its central leadership coming from the same family. Its vote bank comprises Sindhi-speaking areas, not just in the rest of the province but also Karachi.

Speaking of the speeches that the MQM-P leadership has been making during their campaign, it seems that their main narrative is to blame the PPP for all the problems of Karachi, including water shortage, land grabbing and lack of opportunities for the Karachi youth to secure a government job because of the quota limitations.

It is pertinent to mention that one of the key factors that led to the formation to the MQM was the resentment of the Urdu-speaking people against the quota system, which the party has not been able to abolish until now despite being in power multiple times.

It seems that the domicile on the basis of which one falls within a certain category when it comes to public service is not a matter for government jobs but for many other important things in the country.

For example, in 2021, former president and PPP leader Asif Zardari commented that Nawaz Sharif’s domicile was better than his because Sharif belonged to Punjab and not Sindh.

Similarly, when it comes to Karachiites, until recently, or precisely in 2000s, they were stereotyped as being supporter of Altaf Hussain. This impression not only existed among common people from different parts of the country, but was often asked in interviews for public jobs, such as in ISSB interviews for aspiring army officers.

However, with the PTI claiming the mandate of Karachi in the previous general elections, and the PPP having the Karachi mayor and some Urdu speakers in its candidate pool, this impression of Karachiites is getting dissipated.

However, this poses a challenge to the MQM-P in keeping its vote bank intact.

Now many other parties claim to have Urdu speakers’ support and have actually inducted them in their rank and file.

The MQM’s politics has always revolved around the rights of Muhajirs, or Urdu speakers, or Karachiities. The party has traditionally been a major political party or representative of the city, at least for Millennials and Gen Z, who make the largest pool of voters in Karachi.

On many occasions, the party has championed the cause of a separate province, such as Muhajir Sooba, Karachi sooba or Matrooka Sindh. However this time, they have not raised this demand during their any election rally maybe because the demand for a separate province is often met with severe resistance, and the party might not want to have controversies popped up during the election season.

Not just some political analysts but even the MQM-P leaders view this election as a matter of their survival. Given its size and resources and most importantly the vote bank, the MQM-P has never been a contender for the premiership but has been a major player in making and breaking governments.

The party also has a history of siding with the powerful players, be they politicians or those who are credited with doing political engineering in the country.

One thing is for sure that a political vacuum was created in Karachi after the downfall of Altaf and his MQM in 2016. Those who sided with him either went missing or were sent to jail or became apolitical. When the party rebranded itself as the MQM-Pakistan sans Altaf, its focus was on bringing their inactive, disgruntled and missing workers back into the party.

They did become successful in this to an extent, however, being divided into separate entities, it did not cause them much good.

To fill this political vacuum and to cash on the political work force left abandoned in the aftermath of the MQM downfall, not the only the MQM-P or the PSP were in the race to get these workers. The PPP also contended for this. Not to mention, other political parties, such as the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan, which primarily thrive on religious sentiments, and emerged as a political denter in the 2018 elections, and some non-political groups also came in the race to secure the loyalties of these workers.

However, now the erstwhile MQM united without Altaf and with all other leaders on the same platform, the MQM-P hopes to emerge again as a major political force from Karachi.

Since, conspiracy theories suggest that the one needs to have backing of powerful quarters to make governments or do politics freely, speeches of the MQM-P leaders suggest that they have made a good deal.