Jhelum
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Waqas Shabbir |

Imran Khan last month paid a much-awaited visit to Jhelum. It was supposed to be a power show from PTI clan. But something unexpected happened which marred the political consolidation efforts and rather haply transformed it into a baffling mess of egos. Jhelum, a northern Punjab district having a population of more than 1.22 million is situated along the GT-road. Major sections of the population from Jhelum district have migrated to European countries. Economic migration has played a key role in raising the living standards & quality of life in the area.

Going forward, they might prove to be more of a liability than an asset for PTI. How can they work together going into the election year remains to be seen?

Historically, the politics of this affluent area despite having high literacy rate has not been ideological. Its politics has been embedded in the old system of caste and clan. Gujjars, Jats, Nawab’s and Raja families have dominated the politics of the district. Jhelum’s local leaders are apparently full of greed and ego which is evident from their continuous struggle to secure limelight prompting the switch in alliances amid infighting.

Post the massive demonstration of power (in Karachi and Lahore in 2011 and 2012) many influential & some less prominent groups mainly from the city, and its surroundings joined PTI. Subsequently, the politics of Jhelum underwent a major transformation after the emergence of PTI as a main rival to the seemingly uncatchable PML-N in the region.

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Replicating the trend set in the rest of Pakistan, ignored and sideline influential local leaders from different parties having old animosities against the PML-N decided to join PTI. The most ludicrous case is of Raja Afzal Khan, twice the mayor of the city before going on to become the MNA for the PML-N three times. The internal feud within PML-N’s current favorite Gujjar family brought much-publicized meltdown in the fortunes of Raja Afzal. In failed by-election contest against Chaudhry Khaadim Hussain in PP-26 haphazardly convinced Raja Afzal Khan to quit PML-N for PPP.

The rhetoric of change may have struck the chord with youth and people who were fed up with the murky politics of PML-N in the region

Plunging fortunes of PPP, greed and instant success tempted Afzal to join PTI. He shifted loyalties for the second time in the short span of time, but with so many groups already competing to gain Imran Khan’s attention, Afzal miserably failed to make any grounds in the new camp.  Astonishingly, he went ahead and rejoined PML-N, thereby completing a full circle. Much to his dismay, by this time, his other inter-party rivals namely Nawabs and Gujjars secured position by consolidating on their success in 2013 elections.

Besides, Raja Afzal, the other notable to join PTI was locally known Ladhar group’s Fawad Chaudhry who also decided to jump onto the PTI bandwagon. Ladhar groups history goes back to independence. After witnessing many contrasting fortunes, the Ladhar family came into limelight after the Chaudary Altaf managed to become the Governor of Punjab.

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However, after the martial law, Ladhar family shunned PPP for PML-Q, and Chaudhry Farrukh under Musharraf’s Local Government System became a dominant and unchallenged figure. During his tenure, Jhelum did witness some development, with some major roads reconstructed and new bridges built in the outskirts of the city that linked many villages. But, he could not gain decisive popularity in this land of fragmented allegiances based on baradari system.

Fawad Chaudhry is in a better position now for two reasons which convinced him to join PTI. First, he has baradari vote of up to approximately 40,000

After PML-N’s reemergence post-Musharraf era, Ladhar group again switched the loyalties. This time PTI was trusted to bring the much-needed success through ballot boxes which eluded the family in elections of 2008 and 2013. In the aftermath of 2013 defeat and having witnessed the continuous decline of PPP and Q-league, Chaudhry Fawad seemingly had no choice but to follow the footsteps of many another ex- Q-league members.

Another one who stood out was Chaudhary Saqlain (of tehsil Sohawa). He was the first one of many who became part of PTI after an initial wave of change in the area before the 2013 general elections. Many other opportunistic local leaders witnessed the growing popularity of PTI which convinced them to take part in elections in 2013 on PTI ticket.

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Now, with two bitter rivals in the same party from the same area was not something which the PTI would have wanted. Both sets of the groups command respect in the constituency and have huge family vote bank in different ‘locations of influence’. Things are not even this simple. There are some other groups of PTI in Jhelum as well. Most of them are ideological which supported Imran since the early days of the party when its impact was virtually non-existent.

These were mostly urban votes which were cast entirely based on ideology rather than historically favored caste or clan system of voting

Last week, Imran Khan addressed twice in Jhelum at two different venues situated at merely few kilometers from each other. It has bitterly exposed the conflict between the local rivals trying to minus the possible ‘dream alliance’ under the PTI ‘Slogan of change.’ This situation presents a major challenge for the PTI to somehow mediate between the rivals. Imran Khan is no longer in control of the situation.

Though, he may have ordered the people in charge in Punjab to look into the matter. But, a swift solution is needed to avoid any major damage proceeding into the election year.

A natural beneficiary of this acrimonious situation will be PML-N. But the irony is that in the past, PML-N also faced many similar challenges before the 2013 elections. And going into next year’s election, the situation remains fragile between the N-league rivals.

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The rivalry between the PTI groups also dates back to the times, when both the Ladhar Group and Chaudary Saqlain were in different parties. For example, in 2013 in NA-62 Jhelum-I Chaudary Farukh of Ladhar group pitted against the Chaudary Saqlain on PML-Q and PTI tickets respectively.

Though PML-N’s Chaudhary Khadim Hussain was a clear winner with 102200 votes, Chaudhary Saqlain comprehensively out voted Chaudary Farukh by securing 62800 votes against the later’s 36800 votes.

Chaudhary Saqlain comprehensively out voted Chaudary Farukh by securing 62800 votes against the later’s 36800 votes. Now, both of them in PTI, a mutually exclusive selection is not possible

Now, both of them in PTI, a mutually exclusive selection is not possible. They cannot compete for the same seat on a PTI ticket in NA-62 Jhelum I. Chaudary Saqlain group had shown reservation even at the time when Fawad Chaudary joined in. Former MPA enjoys strong influential clout in Tehsil Sohawa & was PTI’s MNA candidate from the same constituency. He looks poised to beat Chaudary Farukh to the ticket.

Will Fawad Chaudary’s  proximity with Khan spoil the show, only time will tell. But, having seen the two separate Jalsa’s in Ladhar and Dina, surely explains the bitterness between the two which makes things difficult for PTI against powerful but beatable PML-N.

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At the same time, in NA-63 Jhelum-I, Fawad Chaudhary was the distant number 3 in the election won by late Nawab Iqbal Mehdi of PML-N by huge margins who secured 116013 votes as compared to Fawad’s 34072. What makes this constituency interesting is that in the recent past, PTI’s relatively unknown candidate Mirza Saeed Mehmood Baig secured 42573 votes.

A question arises here, what changed in semi-tribal kind of place where politics has always been all about family and clan? Why so many ideological votes for PTI?

These were mostly urban votes which were cast entirely based on ideology rather than historically favored caste or clan system of voting. While Fawad Chaudhary managed to secure only 34057, on the Q-league ticket, which was entirely a baradari vote.  It was the primary reason that when Fawad Chaudhary a new entrant in PTI was preferred on Mirza Saeed Mehmood Baig in by-elections of 2016. Mirza Saeed Mehmood Baig left the party and joined PPP, where his son Jahangir Mirza could only muster up 5295 votes.

It proves the point that the votes which Mirza Saeed Mehmood Baig secured in 2013 were ideological. That’s why Fawad Chaudary under PTI ‘slogan of change’ collected 73819 votes which were 117% more than the votes he managed in general elections of 2013.

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Fawad Chaudhry is in a better position now for two reasons which convinced him to join PTI. First, he has a baradri vote of up to approximately 40,000. Secondly, there are 30,000 to 40,000 ideological votes for PTI in the area. It makes the overall situation much better for him and gives him a good chance against the traditional PML-N rivals.

However, the contrasting situation exists in NA- 62 Jhelum- I, where Chaudhary Saqlain and Farrukh Altaf- the Ex-PML-Q candidate and Ex-Nazim now in PTI may not be able to reach a compromise. The feud between the two is nothing but the typical aura of ego, greed, and absurdity always apparent in this part of the country.

Fawad Chaudhary a new entrant in PTI was preferred on Mirza Saeed Mehmood Baig in by-elections of 2016. Mirza Saeed Mehmood Baig left the party and joined PPP, where his son Jahangir Mirza could only muster up 5295 votes

It will be interesting to see the choice of candidate for PTI from this constituency. Will it be the ex-PML-N leader Chaudhary Saqlain or Chaudhry Farrukh Altaf? The difference between the two is that former joined the party in 2012 and later migrated over in 2015. Otherwise, both were the part of Q-League at one point of time.

A question arises here, what changed in semi-tribal kind of place where politics has always been all about family and clan? Why so many ideological votes for PTI?

Firstly, the literacy rate is very high in Jhelum which may have convinced people in urban areas to go for the change as most of the votes bagged by PTI are urban. Secondly, the rhetoric of change may have struck the chord with youth and people who were fed up with the murky politics of PML-N in the region. Finally, since, PTI has the huge following overseas, and this place is closely integrated with European countries which may have led people to join PTI.

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Overseas Pakistani’s desperately want to see a progressive Pakistan, but the weak and ineffective economic policies failed to avert the fortunes of this resource-rich country. Imran Khan stands for hope for most of these people which is a crucial factor for the rise in PTI vote bank in the region.

The positive outcome from Jhelum is that ideological politics has emerged and is here to stay. But, it’s not easy to digest the transformation of PTI local leaders from being a worse of critics of PTI to crusaders of change.

PTI leadership was unable to convince the two local rivals to stage a single workers convention. Going forward, they might prove to be more of a liability than an asset for PTI. How can they work together going into the election year remains to be seen?

Waqas Shabbir is a Derby Business School graduate in Finance, currently working as a freelance writer. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect GVS editorial policy.

Waqas Shabbir is a Derby Business School graduate in Finance, currently working as a freelance writer.

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