In 2013, Pakistan Peoples Party had prepared a list of potential nominees for reserved seats for minorities in the Sindh Assembly. When the dust settled, the first five people on that list – all Hindus – were selected as members of the provincial legislature. As expected, the sixth person was not very happy with that outcome.
However, fast forward four years and Anwar Lal Dean, a Christian, who narrowly lost an MPA seat, is now among PPP’s candidates for next month’s elections for Senate – a vindication of his decision to stick with PPP despite the setback of 2013.
In an interview with The News, Dean, an old PPP guard who has served as the president of party’s minority wing of Karachi division for more than 15 years in various tenures, said he is thankful to the party’s leadership, especially Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, Asif Ali Zardari and Faryal Talpur, for nominating him for the upper house of the Parliament.
“The PPP has maintained its old tradition of awarding Senate tickets to ideological party workers,” said 62-year-old Dean, who started his politics during student life along with prominent priest Father Derek Misquita, who became an MNA on a reserved seat for minorities during Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government.
Dean, who lives in Saddar, said that the PPP is the only political party which has been taking concrete steps to protect the rights of all minorities, including the Christian community, and empowering them socially, politically and economically. “PPP considers minorities as equal citizens of Pakistan and has given power to them whenever it has come into power,” he said.
Vying for Christian vote bank
However, Christian activists argue that the PPP had always ignored Sindh’s Christian community – most of them are Punjabi-speaking – and because of a significant Hindu vote bank in rural Sindh, especially in Tharparkar, Umerkot and Jamshoro, the party mainly accommodates its Hindu leaders, making them MPAs, MNAs and senators on reserved seats.
Of the nine seats reserved for non-Muslims in the Sindh Assembly, only one Christian – Arif Masih Bhatti – was elected in 2013 on a Muttahida Qaumi Movement, while PPP has elected its Sindhi-speaking Hindu leaders on seven reserved seats. On June 7, 2017, Bhatti quit MQM and joined PPP.
Because of its continuous rule over the municipality, MQM has traditionally been enjoying support among Christians as many from the community are employed there as sanitary workers. Also, because of its majority in the City Council and three-fourth of the districts of the metropolis, the MQM-P has elected dozens of Christians as councillors at city, district and union council levels, strengthening its support base.
However, to take advantage of MQM’s internal crisis, PPP has been working hard to make inroads in urban areas of Karachi. Realising the crucial votes of the Christian community in some of the city’s constituencies, PPP has also started bringing Christians into its provincial leadership.
Anthony Naveed, a vibrant Christian leader and Akhter Colony Union Council’s former vice-chairperson, has been nominated the provincial secretary information for the party’s minority wing. Before this, Naveed, who has also submitted papers for a Senate reserved seat, served as the special assistant to the chief minister on interfaith harmony for several months.
This strategy worked well in the June 7 by-polls in PS-114 constituency, which is home to heavily Christian-populated localities such as Akhter Colony, Kashmir Colony, Azam Basti and Junejo Town. Because of the community’s support, PPP for the first time managed to snatch the constituency from MQM and the politician Irfanullah Marwat, who has been elected from there several times.
Activists believe that nomination of Dean is also part of PPP’s efforts to gather the Christian support base in favour of the party’s candidates in the upcoming general polls.
Reservations on party’s selection
However, a number of social and political activists from the Christian community have also raised objections over the selection of Dean for Senate nomination, saying that political parties, including PPP, should consult the Christian community representatives and leaders before selecting its members for Parliament.
“Minority leaders chosen by political parties only remain loyal to their party leadership and not to those they represent,” said a Christian cleric from Essa Nagri, referring to Dean’s nomination.
“In the past, MQM made its Christian leader Yaqoob Ilyas the provincial minister for information and technology and he could not even email someone,” he told The News, requesting not to be named.
While praising PPP for nominating a Christian for the Senate for the first time from Sindh province, community activists demanded the party’s central leadership to reconsider all Christian candidates and send a party leader, who enjoyed support from the community to Senate instead.
“We are thankful to PPP, but for upcoming six years, we need an active Christian leader in the Parliament, who can understand the issues of non-Muslim communities in the country and should have experience of working on legislation,” said an activist from Junejo Town.