Redesigning MQM, the Haider Rizvi way

February 18, 2024

Haider Abbas became an active member of the party that re-launched itself after subtracting its founding member, Altaf Hussain, in August 2016

Redesigning MQM, the Haider Rizvi way


ou hijack airplanes but call us RAW agents; your elders write letters to India but call us RAW agents.” This was how MQM-Pakistan‘s Haider Abbas Rizvi, displaying his flair for oratory, criticised the Pakistan Peoples Party while addressing the people of Karachi after eight long years during his party’s campaign ahead of the recently held elections.

Many in the crowd wore an expression of nostalgia, as if they had suddenly been connected to their party of the past, where everything was intact – the discipline, the notoriety, the festivity, the bhai-ism and the one man show of the party founder.

The News on Sunday sat with Rizvi to discuss the future roadmap of the party which has bagged 17 National Assembly seats in the February 8 general elections from Karachi – a major comeback, some say, for a party that had won only 6 seats in the 2018 general elections.

With Rizvi’s return to active politics, there is a hope that some of the MQM’s inactive workers and supporters may decide to return to the party.

Gen Z in Karachi does not appear to be impressed by MQM-P’s politics. Rizvi acknowledges this fact but he has his own explanation. He takes us back to 2013 when MQM’s relations with the state started turning sour and an operation by the law enforcement agencies began in the city, mostly targeting the MQM and its workers.

Rizvi says that it was a difficult situation for the MQM. Party workers, he says, were being picked up and hounded; mutilated bodies were being dumped on roadsides. The only thing they could do was to look for a way to survive, he says.

He says that the party has been through a lot since 2013 – including the MQM’s founder’s anti-state speech and its aftermath; the emergence of the MQM-P; the forced coalition with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf to bolster the federal government; the in-fighting; and finally, the unifying of various groups into a single party.

Talking about the decade since then, Rizvi says that it was a time when young voters in the country and in Karachi were being attracted to the PTI. He blames the difficult situation that the party was going through then for loss of contact with the people. He claims that he had once run the most successful media cell for a political party. He recalls that he was the first to launch a digital media cell for the MQM. But as the political situation changed, so did priorities. At one point it was all about survival, he says.

Rizvi acknowledges that for the party to sustain what it has achieved in the general elections, it must focus on the youth. He says there is a need to align the party in a manner that connects with the youth. Though the party has the human resource to manage their digital media presence, funds are lacking. He says that the PTI is heavily invested in social media; no other party has ever managed to achieve that level. This also involves a lot of money, he repeats. The MQM-P, he says, has to find a way to propagate its message to the youth through digital media.

Rizvi, a member of the party’s Rabita Committee, had started reappearing in party meetings and on the media when the MQM-P began its election campaign. He became an active member of the party that re-launched itself after subtracting its founding member, Altaf Hussain, in August 2016.

Irrespective of the problems the party went through, he says, it is time for things to settle down.

“All of us have come to the conclusion that our survival, the party’s survival, lies in delivering to the people. We had our differences and issues, but we have resolved everything in the larger interest of the party, our voters and supporters.”

There has been an impression that prominent party leaders including Mustafa Kamal, Kamran Tessori, Dr Farooq Sattar and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui have been lobbying for party tickets for their favourite candidates. Rizvi says people may have belonged to one group or the other in the past but “we had our own criteria for finalising tickets.” He says most of the tickets were awarded to new candidates, educated people with good reputations.

Asked about expectations from the news leaders, he recalls how anxious he had been in 2002 when he was to appear on a talk show on Pakistan Television for the first time. He says the party is keen on grooming the youth in its ranks to attract the youth of the country.

Asked why he has been reluctant to criticise the MQM founder, Rizvi says that social norms, culture and family values do not allow him to engage in mudslinging.

The party, he says, is currently focusing on its mistakes, including its failure to launch an effective social media campaign. He says the party plans to focus on attracting the masses, especially the youth of Pakistan.

The writer is a Karachi-based journalist who covers politics, human rights and environment. He tweets at @sheharyaralii

Redesigning MQM, the Haider Rizvi way