For Abdul Hakeem Baloch, a well-liked politician from Karachi’s rural areas, joining the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) was a big blunder of his political career. Baloch was once a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) front-man from the city’s Malir area. After developing differences with the party leaders, he chose to contest the 2013 general elections from NA-258, a PPP’s traditional constituency, on the PML-N ticket. He defeated the PPP’s candidate with a great margin and became the PML-N’s only candidate to win a National Assembly seat from the Sindh province.
However, Baloch became frustrated within months when he was first offered the ‘toothless’ state ministry of Railway and then changed to communication, and did not have any sufficient powers and funds to serve the people of his constituency. Finally, he resigned from his seat and the party and, along with his team, rejoined the PPP in September.
In the November by-polls, he got re-elected on the PPP ticket from the same constituency, where the PML-N even could not find a candidate to field.
In Sindh, the PML-N is perhaps the most unfortunate party, which has lost most of its parliamentarians and leaders to the PPP — mainly because of the cold response from the party’s top leadership.
Also, in its efforts to not allow any other viable option in Sindh, the PPP’s top brass, especially Asif Ali Zardari and his sister Faryal Talpur, has been busy exploiting the situation and bringing the PML-N’s disgruntled lawmakers into the party’s folds. These include Irfanullah Marwat, a PML-N MPA from Karachi, while Haji Shafi Jamot, another parliamentarian, has got his family to join the province’s ruling party. More recently, the PML-N’s Sindh president Muhammad Ismail Rahu, who is also an MPA from Badin, has quit his post and is expected to join the PPP soon. Four former chief ministers Ghous Ali Shah, Arbab Ghulam Rahim, Liaquat Jatoi and Mumtaz Bhutto have already parted ways and ended alliances with the PML-N.
However, keeping in view the 2018 general elections, the PML-N, after neglecting the Sindh for almost four years, has stepped up its efforts to stop the remaining allied lawmakers and leaders from joining the PPP and find a few ‘electables’ to win the National Assembly seats.
The PML-N cadres on the ground are unhappy with the party leadership’s tendency to ignore Sindh. “For the PML-N’s top leadership, Sindh has never been a priority. Now in Sindh, people believe that the PPP and the PML-N had made a deal not to disturb Sindh and Punjab respectively,” says a party worker from Karachi.
He says the PML-N claimed to be a federal party but in fact, its acts show it is a Punjab-based party.
In recent months, the PML-N has been trying to remove the tag of a Punjab-based party, albeit a little too late. That is why the party first appointed the Privatisation Commission chief Muhammad Zubair Umar as Governor Sindh, with a task to salvage the party in the province, especially in its capital Karachi, where he has been told to exploit the success of the ongoing crackdown.
These days, the Governor House is serving as the party’s Sindh headquarter, from where all activities are being directed, according to the PML-N leaders.
Also, the party supremo, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has started his visits to different cities of Sindh to announce development schemes and packages. All of these visits are happening in the election campaign mode, and not in his ‘official’ capacity.
The party succeeded in stopping Thatta’s influential Shirazi family to join the PPP after Sharif, on March 9, announced the construction of a seawall, construction of a 500-bed hospital to provide health cards to constituents of Thatta and adjacent districts. After Thatta, Sharif, along with his federal ministers, visited Hyderabad district on March 28 and then Jacobabad in April.
The PPP is also eying on the Sharif’s Sindh visits. Its chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in his April 4 speech at Garhi Khuda Baksh, while talking about the visits, reminded Sharif of his commitment of giving a grant of Rs2 billion in Mithi two years ago. “People know you well and the hollow promises you made in Hyderabad and Thatta,” he said.
Asad Usmani, the PML-N’s Sindh spokesperson, says that residents of Sindh want development and progress, and are therefore looking at the PML-N. “After Sharif started his visits in Sindh, a new enthusiasm has been seen in its residents, and the wrong perception about the invincibility of the PPP in the province has also been removed,” Usmani tells TNS. He says the people of Sindh are frustrated with the PPP’s bad governance and corruption and they want to get rid of it. He also claims that a number of ‘heavy-weights’ have been trying to join the party before the general polls.
However, analysts view the PML-N’s politics in Sindh differently. They believe the PML-N, traditionally, has never been serious about Sindh and instead of properly organising the party, it always focused on bringing ‘electables’, almost all influential landlords, into the party fold. “In the PML-N Sindh chapter, factionalism has been there for the past two decades,” says Wakeel Ur Rehman, a Karachi-based journalist.
Information culled from the PML-N circles suggests the party has been thinking to forge an alliance with Sindh’s ethnic parties. For this task, the party has recently elevated its provincial vice-president Shah Muhammad Shah to central vice-president. Before joining the PML-N, Shah was associated with the Sindh United Party (SUP), a Sindhi ethnic party headed by Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, G.M. Syed’s grandson.
In a larger anti-PPP electoral alliance in 2013 general polls, the PML-N had made coalition with three leading Sindhi ethnic parties — the SUP, Ayaz Latif Palijo’s Qaumi Awami Tehrik and Dr Qadir Magsi’s Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party. Sharif had also persuaded Mumtaz Bhutto to merge his Sindh National Front with the PML-N and separately signed a seven-point electoral agreement with the SUP. However, after forming government in the centre, Sharif turned his back on the Sindhi ethnic parties, making them angry.