Will the PPP gain from the infighting in the MQM in the upcoming general election?
In recent days, the split in MQM-Pakistan has caused ripples of excitement across the PPP in Karachi. While no one is sure about the future of MQM, especially who will the Urdu-speaking population in the province vote for, some analysts are predicting that the PPP stands to benefit a lot after the new delimitation of constituencies, equally in Karachi.
"The party has been discussing ways to fill the political vacuum," says PPP Secretary General Sindh Waqar Mehdi. "More than 1000 MQM workers joined the Bilawal’s PPP. Mohajirs from other political parties are also joining us. For instance, the three sons of an ex-MNA of JI have joined us. Around 14 Urdu-speaking artists have joined us as well. We have set up more than 200 membership camps in Mohajir areas, where people have shown interest in our party."
The attempt of PPP to woo the Mohajirs has created consternation among various Mohajir parties. "There is much concern among them that the PPP will exploit the situation," says Ameen ul Haq, ex-MNA and spokesman for MQM-P (Bahadurabad faction). "It has already tried to contact some of our provincial lawmakers," claims a soft-spoken Haq, predicting the PPP might win more seats than it did in the polls of 2013.
According to sources in the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), after census the non-Urdu speaking areas will get more seats of national and provincial assemblies. Stating details, a source in the commission says, "District West has emerged as the most populous district of the city, housing the largest number of non-Urdu speaking population. The district had nine MPAs and four MNA seats earlier, which will be increased to 11 and five. Two seats of MPAs and one seat of MNA will be shifted from District Central to District West."
Analysts believe since District Central is the power base of MQM, a reduction in seats will definitely affect the party’s electoral strength.
According to a government document, a copy of which is available with TNS, the Urdu-speaking people do not constitute a majority in any area of District West. It does not even enjoy a majority in Orangi Town and Baldia Town, where it is 40 per cent of the population. Their percentage in other areas of the district is, Site 10 per cent, Momenabad 15, Manghopir 5, Mauripur 5, Harbour 5 and Manora Cantt 5. Baloch and Sindhis are in a majority in some parts of the areas while Pukhtoons dominate other parts. The ANP and JUI-F enjoy support in Pukhtoon areas and have been in alliance with the PPP in past.
So, if the three parties strike a deal, which many feel is quite possible, they may sweep this district.
In District South, Lyari has only five per cent of Urdu-speaking people, Karachi Cantt 25 per cent , Clifton Cantt 20 per cent. It has a significance population in some areas of the district but still not a majority. For instance their percentage in Saddar is 40, Arambagh 45, Civil Lines 40 and Garden 30.
District South witnessed the worst ethnic killings in 2010-2012, dividing the population into pro- and anti-MQM people. Therefore, an alliance of the PPP with non-Urdu speaking voters will be a serious blow to the MQM.
In District East areas of Gulzar Hijri and Faisal Cantt, the Mohajirs are 30 and 20 per cent respectively. Gulzar Hijri borders the Pukhtoon area of Sohrab Goth. Here, again, an alliance of the PPP with ANP and JUI-F could help it clinch provincial assembly seats.
In the overwhelming non-Urdu speaking District Malir of Karachi, the PPP is already dominant and will benefit by the rise of provincial assembly seats in the district.
Only two areas of District Central have a majority of Urdu-speaking population. In the rest of the areas, they may be the single largest ethnic entity but not a majority.
In District Korangi, the community is 30 per cent in Shah Faisal, which also houses a large number of the Punjabis, Pukhtoon, Hazarawal and other communities, whereas it is 35 per cent in Model Town, 35 in Korangi and 30 in Landhi.
So, if the PPP can pull off the non-Urdu speaking votes in the city, it will be in a position to challenge the decades-old dominance of the MQM.
PPP leader Shahjahan Khan, ex-special assistant to Sindh chief Minister, is optimistic about winning more seats in the next general polls. "We are making inroads in the Urdu-speaking areas, and I think if the party brings more Mohajirs with good reputation into the party’s decision-making bodies, then the PPP may win seats from the Urdu-speaking areas. Our seats for Sindh assembly are likely to rise from five to 16 in the next polls from Karachi in provincial assembly."
Many analysts believe it will not be an easy task for the PPP to take votes from the Urdu-speaking areas. "The Mohajir community views the PPP as a party of the Sindhis," says political commentator Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan.
"Mohajirs accuse the PPP of stuffing the government departments with people from rural areas. The PPP did not improve the basic amenities or launch a mega project in the metropolis. So, given this, it will not be easy for the party to make in-roads in the Urdu-speaking areas."
"Historic animosity harboured by the Urdu-speaking community towards the PPP will not die down easily," says Syed Sabir Ali Jaffery, a bookseller in North Karachi area of district central, where the MQM secured the largest numbers of votes in 1988 polls. "Z.A. Bhutto not only introduced the language bill that triggered ethnic riots but also sacked the Mohajir bureaucrats, thus harming the interests of Mohajir traders and industrialists."
He thinks the PPP discriminated against the Mohajir community in 1988, which culminated into the Sindhi-Mohajir riots. "It’s difficult for Mohajirs to forget all this. I think the Urdu-speaking community would rather vote for the PTI or Jamaat-e-Islami than the PPP."
Nadeem Nusrat, ex-convener of the MQM-London and a close confidant of Altaf Hussain, says the PPP cannot win votes from the Urdu-speaking areas without gerrymandering. "It is true that some practices of the MQM leadership between 2002 and 2013 has left a large number of its supporters disappointed, but the brutal crackdown against the party since late 2013 has galvanised its vote bank once again. The sympathy element will play a huge role in its revival."
He claims if the MQM-London is given a level playing field in the next elections, it will sweep the polls. "Karachi has always been an anti-establishment city; since the PPP is the darling of the GHQ these days, it cannot get any sympathy here."
Pak Sarzameen Party, an archrival of the MQM-London, also believes he PPP will not be able to win the hearts and minds of the Mohajir community. "We have been mobilising people across the city, presenting ourselves as alternative. We will field our candidates from all areas of Karachi. Our organisational structure is expanding; so, we hope to get the majority votes in the up-coming polls," says Secretary General PPP Raza Haroon.