“Daily Dawn” is the leading and perhaps the best English daily in Pakistan. It has recently published an article that caught my eye. In the Punjabi town of Kasur there is a Socialist MP, who is up for the re election. May be PPP still is Not dead”
Whose Kasur is it?
By Asha’ar Rehman
NEVER before have I seen so many Bhagat Singhs at one place.
The young sardar who along with his comrades had taken on the might of the British in the 1920s looks at the visitor from the various souvenirs the owner of the house has been presented with during his peace explorations in India in recent years. “To a VIP personality from Pakistan,” says an inscription.
In one corner of the room, a showcase has a poster in the Pakistan People’s Party colours. The slogan promises ‘uncompromised struggle until a socialist revolution’. Another Shaheed, his name Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, peers out from a side-wall that he has all to himself. With an Ajrak thrown round his neck, ZAB wears a look that would rival the innocence frozen in an 18th century painting.
Have I been overawed by the surroundings already? Surely it is a picture that I haven’t seen before and a setting that has taken its time returning to me. Perhaps it has all this while been eclipsed by perceptions more pragmatic and more popular.It takes me a little while to reconcile to the reality as it exists in this room, as it exists in this constituency, NA-139.I am in Kasur, inside the last bastion of a socialist PPP. The house or the Dera belongs to Chaudhry Manzoor Ahmed, “the only communist member” from the PPP in the last National Assembly”.
He had won in one of the most interesting four-way contests in the country in the 2002 election. The losing candidates included Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri while Sardar Assef Ahmed Ali had withdrawn from the fight after filing his nomination papers from the same seat. Both the Sardar and Mr Kasuri are now pitted against each other in the adjoining constituency which, because of the presence of these two former foreign ministers, has been tagged ‘FM 140’.
Syeda Neelofar Mehdi, who had back then given the PPP candidate a run for his money and whose vote tally had far exceeded Mr Kasuri’s, is this time in the fray on a PML-Q ticket. One of the two women candidates with a claim on an NA seat in the district, she is by most local accounts a very resourceful lady and a strong rival for Chaudhry Manzoor and for Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Sheikh Wasim Akhtar. Both Syeda Mehdi and Sheikh Akhtar had got more than 25,000 votes each in the 2002 election — some 3,000 votes less than the winner.
As I ask around in Kasur, I am reminded of the ultimate election truth: the numbers as they had stood the last time are not always a good indicator of how things would shape now.
Much has transpired between 2002 and now and much is going to change between now and Jan 8. There are candidates who have somehow failed to maintain a physical presence in their constituency, candidates who have been heard complaining in private how their ‘supporters’ had the last time round failed to deliver on their promises after charging a heavy fee for their services. The Biradari factor refuses to die and the ‘independent journalist’ working for a local newspaper admits that he is himself unsure which faction of his Biradari he will ultimately side with on Jan 8. Not to forget, there are groupings within the parties. These trends are better discussed post-election, with the help of hindsight. Election predictions, if they have to be made, have to be blamed on a local volunteer.
Without too much difficulty, I manage to find a true servant of humanity, a doctor-cum-journalist-cum-the rest who apparently has the credentials to call the race. I watch as he charges Rs15 in fee for the treatment his assistant gives to a patient, one-third of which he is willing to spend on providing me with a cup of tea. But he volunteers no information beyond the “It is going to be close” refrain.
It is not hazardous to observe though that one thing that cuts across Biradaris and parties is the view that while elections do not necessarily change things, these are to be taken part in and not boycotted. The feeling was the same even when the PML-N appeared to be seriously considering the boycott option.
The popular issues exist at a distance from what roles some of us would want to assign to our politics and politicians. Chaudhry Manzoor’s interaction with a group of men from his area corroborates this. He is one moment heard reprimanding a group of men for a quarrel they had been involved in last Eid before he assures them that he will help them reach a compromise (a deal?) with their rivals. The next moment he is telling someone by telephone how he had, tongue in cheek of course, called for privatisation of the army and of parliament itself on the floor of the house. And he returns from some secret discussion that had briefly taken him out of the room to tell another couple of visitors that he is doing all he can to ensure that they get their visas soon — I guess visas for Haj. Yet another assignment that his supporters have for him must wean him away from his constituency at such an important time to Lahore for a few hours. Besides he has to see an SE — I presume at the local Wapda office.
Little seems to have changed in the 37 years since the country started to have its general elections. No wonder the socialist wants his party to return to where it had been left off in 1970.here is the link to the Dawn: