Having won the local elections, Maulana Hidayat has set his eyes on the provincial assembly
uring my visit to Gwadar in May, it became apparent that Maulana Hidayatur Rehman is the rising political star in the port town. I was unable interview him because he was at that time busy campaigning for local government (LG) polls. He might also be avoiding journalists.
In any case, he surprised many a political pundit by securing a decisive victory in local polls.
In Gwadar town, the Haq Doe Tehreek of the Maulana swept the elections, defeating an alliance of the Balochistan National Party-Mengal, the National Party, the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-F and the Pakistan National Party. The candidates of the Tehreek also secured majorities in Surbundar, Pasni and Pishukan. Led by Maulana Hidayat, the Tehreek is likely to get the chairmanship of the Municipal Committee of Gwadar. The chairmanship of the District Council of Gwadar is still up for grabs. A candidate supported by Maulana Hidayat might clinch it.
Maulana Hidayatur Rehman, who belongs to a family of fishermen from Surbundar, is the general secretary of Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) Balochistan. However, his recent political success is not related to his affiliation with the JI but due to Haq Doe Tehreek. While he has not publicly announced his plans yet, he is known to aspire to be the next member of the Provincial Assembly (MPA) from Gwadar. That is why his main political rival is Hammal Kalmati, the incumbent MPA of Gwadar, who is affiliated with Sardar Akhtar Mengal’s BNP.
Maulana Hidayat’s nominees were able to beat candidates endorsed by Kalmati because the latter is not as accessible to the people of Gwadar. Some locals residents allege that Kalmati spends most of his time in Quetta, Karachi or Muscat. The Kalmati family has been winning the provincial assembly seat from Gwadar since the 1980s. Maulana Hidayat may be the most formidable challenger they have faced in years.
Maulana Hidayat has cleverly championed the cause of the common people of Gwadar. His defiant stance on issues like excessive security checkpoints, problems faced by fishermen, deep-sea trawling and restrictions on border trade has resonated with many. Kalmati had long remained aloof from these issues. Maulana Hidayat exploited the vacuum. The pro-people approach of Maulana Hidayat is paying dividends and his support is growing. Now, he has also started raising the issue of the missing persons that has been traditionally championed by the Baloch nationalist parties. Thus, Maulana Hidayat is rapidly climbing the popularity ladder. However, there is a glitch.
Maulana Hidayat’s nominees were able to beat the candidates endorsed by Kalmati because the latter has not been as accessible to the people of Gwadar. Some of the local residents alleged that Kalmati spends most of his time in Quetta or Karachi. The Kalmati family has been winning the provincial assembly for Gwadar since the 1980s. Maulana Hidayat may be the most formidable challenger they have faced in years.
In June, in an interview shared on social media he defended the thrashing of Baloch and Pashtun students at the Punjab University at the hands of Islami Jamiat-i-Talba (IJT), the student wing of the JI. He said that the IJT only enforced public morals and that in this case the Baloch and Pashtun students were at fault. He also criticised the University of Balochistan students for taking co-education classes. Further, he went on to criticise the family of Akhtar Mengal, the head of the political party with whom his rival Kalmati is associated. These lapses resulted in widespread condemnation of Maulana Hidayat and many people announced their decision to stop supporting his Tehreek.
To limit the damage, Maulana Hidayat later apologised for his comments. Still, he did not condemn the IJT. Some of the locals who have been following the Maulana’s politics say such comments lend credence to the suggestion that he is using the rights agenda to secretly advance his religious agenda. They say that if Maulana Hidayat does not distance himself from these comments, his chances of further electoral success in Gwadar might diminish significantly.
Not deterred by criticism, Maulana Hidayat is continuing his politics. He is planning another sit-in in Gwadar to protest the issue of deep-sea trawling after September. However, now Kalmati has also entered the field. He has apparently realised that if he does not make an effort now he might lose his seat to Maulana Hidayat. A tough political battle may lie ahead.
Based on the current political trends, it is clear that Maulana Hidayat can win the next election only if he distances himself from the JI and its ideology. If he keeps pushing his conservative agenda including his opposition to co-education, he will never get the political support he needs in the relatively progressive Baloch society. Maulana Hidayat has to come out clearly about his stance on religious conservatism. His silence on this matter will be read an admission of his loyalty to die-hard religious politics. If he is able to tackle this problem, the Maulana can win in a fair and free election, come next year.
Irrespective of whether Maulana Hidayat wins or loses, he has set a trend of political accountability in the Makran region. If there were no Hidayat, people like Kalmati would only appear for a short election campaign and then disappear for the next five years. The Maulana’s politics of massive street protests has also provided relief to fishermen and the people of Gwadar in various ways.
The writer is a journalist covering Balochistan, CPEC, politics and the economy. He can be reached on Twitter: @iAdnanAamir.