KARACHI: Political parties in Pakistan have seldom given weightage to members of minority communities when it comes to the electoral process - their role limited to casting votes for the choice candidates from their respective areas.
This election season, however, a large number of non-Muslims are contesting the polls, either as party candidates or independently, against political heavyweights in the province.
"In every election, political parties tend to allot reserved seats to minorities. But this time, there is a long list of non-Muslim candidates, both male and female, contesting the polls on general seats," an official of the provincial election commission told The Express Tribune, while quoting the data.
The development is not restricted to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), with the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz, Awami National Party (ANP), Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf and Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan (MQM-P), collectively fielding 10 non-Muslim candidates in the province. Other parties such as the Grand Democratic Alliance have joined the fray too. However, the largest number of non-Muslim candidates is contesting independently, with dozens vying for national and provincial assembly seats against parties' electables in their constituencies.
Khehal Das Kohistani, the PML-N's minority wing president of Sindh Chapter, is contesting the election from NA-233, Jamshoro, against the PPP's Sikandar Rahupoto and Sindh United Party President Jalal Mehmood Shah.
Kohistani, who has also been allotted the party's reserved seat for minorities, said that no minority representative had ever dared to contest polls against feudal lords, especially in the Kohistan area of Jamshoro, where influential people either kidnapped the opponent or registered cases against them. "You can say I have challenged the status quo by contesting against these bigwigs," he remarked.
The PML-N has also allotted a ticket to Neelam Walji, a Hindu woman contesting from NA-220, Umerkot, where she will face the PPP's Nawaz Yousuf Talpur and Shah Mehmood Qureshi of PTI. In the same district, a Hindu girl, Mariam Bheel, is contesting from PS-51, Umerkot, against the PPP candidate, Syed Sardar Shah, who served as the culture minister in the last PPP government.
According to election commission's data, Diwan Chand Chawla of the MQM-P is contesting from NA-236, Malir, against PPP's Jam Abdul Karim Bijar and Pak Sarzameen Party candidate, Ashfaque Ahmed Mangi. Another member of the Hindu community, Sanjay Parwani, is contesting on the MQM-P ticket from NA-218, Mirpurkhas, against the PPP's Pir Hasan Ali Shah, son of Pir Aftab Shah Jeelani. In the same constituency, Roop Chand, a member of the Hindu community, is contesting as an independent candidate for the national assembly seat, with the "Apple" as his election symbol.
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The GDA has allotted its ticket for NA-216, Sanghar, to Kishan Chand Parwani, where he will face PPP's Shazia Atta Marri. In Matiari district, Ramesh Kumar of the PTI has challenged the PPP's Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman, PPP candidates.
Sofia Yaqoob, a Christian woman from North Nazimabad and a long-serving worker of the Awami National Party (ANP), has been awarded the party ticket for NA-256. Her husband, Yaqoob, works as a priest in a local church. She is contesting against MQM-P's Amir Chishti. Sofia's constituency comprises areas of Paposh Nangar, Nusrat Bhutto Colony, SakhiHasan and Hussain D'Silva Town.
In Tharpakar, several Hindu men and women belonging to the scheduled caste have challenged Muslim and upper-class non-Muslim candidates. One such candidate is Tulchi Bai, who is contesting as an independent candidate from NA-222, Tharparkar, against upper-caste Hindu and PPP candidate Mahesh Malani. Two other Hindu candidates, Kanwar Kumar and Kianchand, are also contesting from the same national assembly seat as independent candidates with the Jeep and Sunflower as their election symbols.
Also in Tharparkar, Sunita Parmar Menghwar has decided to jolt the feudal-electoral system by contesting the elections from PS-56 as independent candidate. The election commission data reveals that Raj Kumar and Naresh Kumar are also contesting from NA-197, Kashmore, against the PPP's Ehsanur Rehman.
Veero Mal, another Hindu independent candidate, has decided to stand up against the PPP's Nafisa Shah and former Sindh Chief Minister Ghous Ali Shah, from NA-208, Khairpur Mirs. Meanwhile, Raj Kumar is contesting the polls as an independent candidate from NA-247, Karachi, against PPP's Aziz Memon, PSP's Fauzia Kasuri, PTI's Arif Alvi and MQM's Farooq Sattar.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 8th, 2018.