Win hearts and minds of the MQM voters

A friend quipped recently “what the establishment of Pakistan couldn’t do to MQM, perhaps a bottle of Johnnie Walker did it.” That was the lighter side of this show. Whether the MQM godfather was drunk on his brand of alcohol or not cannot be said with certainty as this statement is hearsay. But one thing is certain there when he addresses MQM workers he is drunk on the power he has on them.

One statement by Altaf Husain against the media or anybody else mobilises his workers to take law and order in their hand. The attack on journalists and their offices was not something new on that fateful 22nd August. There are also many allegations of much serious crimes alleging that he had asked his workers to murder the people he didn’t like.

Even his fulmination against the country is not new. His close associates know it well. So what is new in this time? Most probably it is the establishment’s perception that the MQM leader is an Indian agent who wants to destabilise the country to counter Pakistan’s support to Kashmiri separatists. The establishment has been working on the project to cut down MQM’s power in Sindh for the last three years. But there was little success in furthering this project as the MQM continues to hold sway over its vote bank.

The establishment has a passion for political engineering in disregard to the dynamics of politics. There is plenty of literature discussing the crucial question: why people vote for MQM?

In the 1980s when a small All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organisation was supported by Gen Zia, with the objective that it would counter the PPP in Sindh. And they made no bones about it as the PPP was the main enemy in those days. The establishment, everywhere, resorts to such shady tactics for short-term gains without comprehending the long-term dangerous implications of these perfidious actions.

The same MQM was again used as the king’s party by Gen Musharraf during his tenure. Nobody said that they were not patriots and need to be sworn in again to prove their loyalty to Pakistan.

The MQM godfather’s recent suicidal speech has put his party in a dire state. In a press release issued by the London Secretariat, Altaf Husain apologised for his comments stating that he was frustrated and was under tension because of the workers arrests and disappearances. But the very next day in his address to workers in North America he directed the workers to seek help from other countries including Israel and India for the independence from Pakistan.

The MQM has never specified the area on which their independent state would be established it is generally presumed that they want to separate Karachi as an independent state. What would happen to the Urdu-speaking community living in the cities of interior Sindh if ever the pipedream comes through is not thought about. Wouldn’t it be the same mistake which their ancestors made in the Muslim minority provinces of India while struggling for a separate homeland for themselves?

Now the issue is would Farooq Sattar be able keep the party together after declaring a soft coup against his leader in London? Many political pundits doubt that MQM Pakistan’s declaration of independence from the London Secretariat and the godfather is a sincere attempt to save the party from being banned. The scramble for the flesh of the MQM had already started when the establishment launched Kamal Mustafa and his team of renegades.

But the harsh tactics adopted by the establishment — the demolition of the MQM offices; sealing their nerve centre in Azizabad; blindfolding and humiliating its workers after their arrest; torturing the workers — is not going to win the minds and hearts of the Urdu speaking community. On the contrary it gives these workers a reason to hate their own country and to believe that their leader was right when he spoke against it.

What our establishment doesn’t understand is that we have to win the argument in favour of Pakistan by dialogue and not by using the power. If the latter could win, the people of India would have won it in Kashmiris support; we wouldn’t have not lost East Pakistan; and there wouldn’t have been the fifth insurgency in Balochistan for independence.

MQM has built its vote bank on the perceived sense of deprivation. Much of this feeling is based on the perception that Mohajirs are not part of the ruling ethnic equation of Pakistan anymore. They had enjoyed the junior ruling partner’s position for many years after the creation of the country although their share in the country’s population was only a little over 7%.  They have been unable to reconcile with the fact that after the provinces were restored in 1972 and the provincial capital came back to Karachi the power has to be shared with the Sindhis.

Karachi has attracted an inflow of people of all nationalities from within the country, because it was the federal capital till 1962 and is the commercial and financial hub of Pakistan. The inflow was much higher till the mid-1980s. After that it slowed down. The main reason for the drop in immigrants’ inflow was that Karachi’s industrial growth slowed down in the last three decades, mainly because of the ethnic riots between the locals and the immigrants from up-country. This discouraged people to come down to the city.

In spite of these factors, according to a 1998 survey, demographic linguistic break-up by language is as follows: Urdu 48.52 per cent; Punjabi 13.64 per cent; Pashto 11.96 per cent; Sindhi just 7.34 per cent; Balochi 4.34 per cent; Saraiki 2.11 per cent and the rest 12.09 per cent. The rest includes Gujarati and other languages. But in the last 18 years the ratio of Sindhi population in Karachi has increased owing to the strong push factors in the rural areas and the Sindhis control over the provincial government.

The MQM has been unable to accept the reality that Karachi’s ethnic demography has changed in the city. And the power has to be shared with other ethnic groups residing in the city.

It was for the ruling PPP government to satisfy the Urdu-speaking community and to win their votes, but it seems they have abdicated the city to the MQM barring a few pockets. Even now there is no attempt by the PPP to win over the workers and voters of the MQM.

The Urdu-speaking community should also realise that they are Sindhis with a different language, indeed. Logically they should join the majority party of Sindh and contest for their rightful share in the management of the province from within and not from without. This would be in the interest of the youth of the province and shared progress, instead of fighting with the reality.

The writer can be reached at ayazbabar@gmail.com

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