Why PTI is the new PML-Q
Mianchannu district Khanewal is approximately 230 km south of Lahore and 60 km north of Multan, with a population of just over 100,000 it lies in the heart of the cotton belt, and is irrigated by the 15-L distributary of the Lower Bari Doab Canal. Apart from being a tehsil headquarters and a Mandi town Mianchannu is also known for its manufacture of agricultural implements. A reasonably prosperous town, now due to shrinking land holdings, it has become more of a homestead for women folk, children and older generations while working age men see employment opportunities in Lahore, Karachi or increasingly Saudi and UAE.
Right until 1985 Mianchannu was a bedrock of the Pakistan People’s Party, though politically it is dominated by two families both Pirs; Pir Mian Sanaullah Bodla (and later his son the sitting MNA Aslam Bodla) an Arain, and Pir Shujaat Husain Qureshi (Shah Mahmoud Qureshi’s bother in law), and after his death his son Pir Zahoor Husain Qureshi.
However in 1985 due to PPP boycott, Pir Sanaullah Bodal managed to get elected as an MNA and Mr Ghulam Haider Wayne as MPA, a humble man and a dedicated PML worker, Wayne built up the PML support base and ingratiated himself with the Sharifs. In 1988 he narrowly managed to beat Aslam Bodla (Sanaullah’s son) who was standing on a PPP ticket on the National Assembly seat. His loyalty to the Sharif family was rewarded when he was appointed as Chief Minister Punjab in 1990-1993, Even as CM Punjab he would drive down every Friday to Mianchannu to meet his constituents. Wayne also defeated Bodala in 1990. In 1993 Mr Wayne was murdered and the mantle passed onto his wife Majeeda Wayne who although elected MNA in the 1998 elections she was not of the same mettle (she also lost to PPP/ Bodla in 1993). In 1993 Shujaat Qureshi left PML, contested and won the Provincial Assembly seat on a PPP ticket in 1993 and 1997.
In 2002 election as they did not have a degree neither Majeeda Wayne nor Shujaat Qureshi could contest, so Aslam Bodla easily won on the national seat on a PPP ticket, while Zahoor Qureshi (Shujaat’s son) won the provincial seat also on a PPP ticket. But once elected, Bodla promptly joined PML-Q government as part of the PPP forward block.
Subsequently he has been with the party expected to win, in the 2008 election he contested and won on the PML-Q ticket and was part of the ruling coalition, and in 2013 he won on the PML-N ticket. Mr Qureshi and son also switched to PML Q, but Zahoor lost the 2008 provincial assembly seat to Rana Babar of the PPP. Their cousin Barrister Haider Zaman Qureshi on a PPP ticket meanwhile lost the national seat in 2008 to Bodla (PML-Q) by 956 votes.
In 2012 Mr Qureshi joined PTI, contested and lost the national assembly seat to Mr Bodla who this time was running on a PML-N ticket. Rana Babar won the provincial election also on a PML-N ticket. Due to his approachability and willingness to help people, today Rana Babar is probably the most popular politician in Mianchannu.
Interestingly in the recent local body elections, not a single councilor holding the official PML-N ticket (Sher) won instead supporters of Mr Babar with the election symbol of Balti (bucket) had the largest number of elected councilors, followed by Mr Bodla supporters (Shuttlecock) and then PTI (Bat).
So on a recent visit, when I asked how it goes politically, I was aghast at finding out (as per local gossip I must caution) that now all three major player (Qureshi, Bodla and Baber) are leaning towards the PTI and honing their credentials as “electables”.
I have no idea how representative Mianchannu is of the rest of central Punjab, or even the veracity of my sources, but by all accounts despite their many projects, Mr Sharif’s position appears not to be as secure as one thought. For the voters there is resentment against their perceived anti agricultural policies particularly after last years’ fiasco of the cotton and potato crops, and the incumbency factor including the erosion of the voters purchasing power. For the politicians, the resentment is against their arrogance and aloofness, the fact that they rely almost exclusively on a select bureaucrats for advice, and the perception that Lahore has consumed a substantial proportion of the development funds.
Due to its formidable election machinery and patronage, at least a quarter of the voters will vote for PML-N, but the remaining votes are up for grabs especially if there is no official patronage. As far as the “electables” are concerned, by themselves they only have a solid base of 10-20,000 votes – for the remaining they must align with a winning party.
Currently most are watching which way the wind is blowing before hitching their wagons. The joke in Mianchannu is that if tomorrow the “electables” think that JUI has a chance of winning the elections, the black and white flags would be soon flying at their deras. People vote for them because there is little to choose from between the various political parties.
Since 1985 Bodla has won five elections, on a nonparty basis, as a PML-N candidate, as a PML-Q candidate and as a PPP candidate, this time he may well try and win as a PTI candidate. The Qureshi’s meanwhile have contested as PPP, PML-Q and PTI candidates and have won three elections. So much for Tabdeeli!
In today Punjab at least – based on whispers, it appears that PTI is the new PML-Q. Next month all this can change of course, but then as Keynes said, “In the long run we are all dead”.