Thursday June 20, 2024

Counting on Barelvi votes, the rise,fall and now persistence of JUP

Late Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani’s party faces biggest challenge from its own splinter faction

By Ebad Ahmed
August 17, 2015
In the pre-sunset twilight of Karachi, Faheem Chishti, a man in his early 20s with a weather-beaten complexion, trimmed beard, coloured cap and paan spots standing out conspicuously on his white kurta, fervently sits along with hundreds of other devotees of Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani at the late cleric’s urs.
Imbued with religious zeal, the young Chishti does not shy to respond to the slogans initiated by the clergymen on stage.
The slogans are often echoed when the flamboyant, high-pitched speakers deliver harangues on the waywardness of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan’s recently splintered group headed by the party’s former president, Dr Sahibzada Abul Khair Muhammad Zubair.
Anas Noorani, who remains the centre of attraction throughout the congregation, chuckles out loud whenever the speaker’s speech hits a high pitch and the vocabulary turns crude.
His brother, Owais Noorani, the central leader of his faction of the JUP, administrating the gathering, takes a brief break, perhaps to enjoy the speakers’ verbal jabs at the “deserters”.
The JUP - once a key player in national politics because of its phenomenal vote bank in Karachi - withered in the presence of its founding leader, Maulana Shah Ahmad Noorani.
Veteran politician Haji Haneef Tayyab believes that it happened because “the party lost touch with the masses on their basic issues”, whereas senior journalist Mazhar Abbas thinks that the JUP itself set a platform for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement by blatantly taking its side during the linguistic riots in 1972.

Lost turf
The party, which had won three of the seven national seats in Karachi in the 1970 elections with a total vote share in the province of 7.4 percent and three of the eleven in the controversial 1977 elections under the Pakistan National Alliance, lost its considerable vote bank after the emergence of the MQM in 1978.
Owais, the scion of the late Noorani, blames General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime for the downfall of the party after it had rejected the military dictator’s proposal to form a government in Sindh and become part of the coalition set up in the Centre under his rule.
He said the MQM was formed to dilute the JUP’s vote bank and the party had further suffered a setback when some of its leaders were lured away with offers of ministries. “And then you know that people choose Islamabad over Islam,” he added.
Responding to a query about the MQM's vote bank in Karachi, the JUP head said it was more hype than reality.
Speaking on the recent polls in NA- 248, he said, “We don’t recognise the so-called 96,000 votes as voter lists were not verified before the elections. It’s completely illogical to believe that the votes were cast for MQM, even in Azizabad.”
When asked if the JUP stood a chance of reclaiming its lost seats now that the MQM was in troubled waters, he replied, with a brief pause, that in the next elections, his party was capable enough of winning three national and four provincial assembly seats, if the army was deployed inside polling booths.
He shunned the perception that the JUP was “done and dusted”. “Our political rivals still consider us a significant entity, and the fact that in the 2013 elections the MQM had offered to support us in NA-256 if I withdrew my candidacy for the NA-249 elections, proves this,” he maintained. However, MQM s information secretary Amin-ul-Haq rejected this claim.
Looking at the electoral performance of the JUP in the previous general elections, Owais’ assertions do not seem to be mere political rhetoric. The party had boycotted the 2013 elections at 12pm on the polling day, but still managed to bag over 18,000 votes in NA-256.
Syed Agha Gul Qadri, the JUP finance secretary and a member of the Majlis-e-Shura, told The News that 60 mosques of the Barelvi school of thought, a coalition that he heads himself, openly supported the party. Qadri believes that besides the ideological vote bank, the party’s structure in the NA-256 constituency is comparatively stronger.

Barelvi politics
On a question about other political parties, especially the Sunni Tehreek, that claim to be politically representing the Barelvi school of thought, Owais responded that other than the JUP, no political party had a structure that connected the masses of Karachi with the central leadership. He mentioned the JIT report wherein it was stated that the Sunni Tehreek had a militant wing.
“Our politics is against gun culture, while they [the Sunni Tehreek] are enforcing it. The Sunni Tehreek is a ploy to divide the JUP's vote bank,” he added.
Though the JUP faces many political challenges, the one that has emerged from within in the form of a splinter group led by Abul Khair Zubair seems to be the biggest one. With back-to-back crowd-pulling rallies in Nishtar Park and Noorani Chowrangi in Karachi, the faction has marked its presence.
Haji Tayyab, a veteran politician who now heads the Tehreek Nizam-e-Mustafa and had won a national assembly seat in Karachi from the PNA/JUP platform, believes that there are no chances of the JUP or any other small party of winning even a single constituency until a grand coalition of parties belonging to the Barelvi school of thought is formed.
On the JUP’s role in Pakistani politics, senior journalist Mazhar Abbas said the party should not be viewed as a sectarian entity, but a national religious party that adhered to the Constitution of Pakistan. “The marginalisation of the JUP in national politics will give an opportunity to the political elements that are more prone towards violence to attract the masses,” he added.
When The News asked Faheem Chishti as to why he supported the JUP, he answered, “Because it is on the right path.”
With the changing political dynamics of Karachi, perhaps the only card the JUP has in its deck is that it is on the “right path”, but reclaiming its lost turf with it would not be an easy task.