LAHORE: As the evening air fills Montgomery Street in Lahore’s NA-124 constituency, the area is pockmarked with flags, flexes and banners of different political parties.
The opening of the street has been closed and over 50 chairs are placed in front of a stage. The area resounds with a political party song, declaring “Mian day naray wajan gay” (The slogans of the Mian will play on).
In this corner meeting of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), party supporters are raising slogans at intervals, urging people to “respect the vote” and assuring that the “lion shall rise again.”
Local party leader Ghulam Dastageer takes to the stage and starts making a speech. He reminds people that “Mian Sahab” (Nawaz Sharif) has completed development works which are changing the fate of the nation.
“This pace of development is frowned upon by some forces which are hatching every conspiracy possible to stop him. Besides development works, he had restored peace in the country,” he adds.
His fiery words are interrupted by chaos as another local leader, Niaz Khan, takes over. He underlines that Nawaz Sharif was well aware that he would be put in jail after returning Pakistan. “But he still returned. Why did he make the decision?” he asks the public.
After a short pause, he answers his own question by saying that the PML-N supremo returned home for the sake of Pakistan and its people. He asserts nobody is more honest and dedicated to Pakistan than Sharif.
UC-171 President Wasif Ali Shah, also a PML-N man, turns his guns towards archrivals Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. He slams PTI chief Imran Khan and claims that all of the latter’s aides are facing corruption charges. “Even then, he is raising slogans to eradicate corruption. Who can be a bigger hypocrite than him?” he questions.
A similar gathering is being held by PTI in the Walled City’s Dehli Gate. A group of supporters, majority of them youths, are sitting on chairs laid out on the street with party songs blaring at full volume.
Ahsan Murtaza, a supporter of PTI, says PML-N is corrupt and an enemy of the state. He continues that the party has looted and destroyed the country.
“They have been ruling the country for the last thirty years, but have failed to address basic issues such as health and education. The party has ‘dictators’ who kept their heads held high. Imran has made them to surrender,” he boasts.
He assures voters that after coming into power, the PTI chief will eradicate corruption and turn the country into a “naya Pakistan”.
NA-124 has been a bastion of PML-N. The party had been winning the seat since 2002. The constituency comprises low-income areas and the crux of campaigns from opposing parties is that PML-N has done nothing to offer to address the issues of these voters.
After the recent delimitation, the areas included in the constituency are the Walled City (Lohari Gate, Mochi Gate, Sheranwala Gate, Mohri Gate, Masti Gate, Yakki Gate and Delhi Gate), Railway Road, Qila Gujjar Singh, Misri Shah, Sultanpura, Tezab Ahata, Swami Nagar, Shuja Colony, Wassanpura, Shadbagh and some part of Badami Bagh. Previously, the constituency was labeled as NA-119 in the 2013 elections.
Biradris or brotherhoods play an important role in the politics of the constituency. Mughals, Jutts, Pakhtuns, Kashmiris, Arains and Rajputs are the main biradris living in the area. The locality is of historical and cultural importance and houses the Badshahi Masjid, Masjid Wazir Khan, Lahore Railway Station, Governor House, Walled City and Heera Mandi.
The area is also bustling with economic activity as almost all the major wholesale markets, such as Akbari Mandi, Azam Clothes Market, Shah Alami Market, Loha Market, Naulakha, which supplied goods to the city, are located here.
The constituency presents an example of interfaith harmony and peaceful coexistence. As pointed out earlier, the constituency has a concentration of low-income areas. Therefore, it is plagued with issues related to unemployment, poverty, sewerage, traffic congestion, cleanliness, dangerous buildings and land grabbing.
The constituency has been won by PML-N since 2002 when Khawaja Saad Rafique took this seat. In 2008 and 2013, it was retained by Mian Hamza Shahbaz Sharif. In the last elections in 2013, Hamza defeated Muhammad Khan Madni of PTI by a margin of at least 60,000 votes.
According to the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP), the total number of registered voters in the constituency for the 2018 General Elections was 522,226 out of which 227,579 were female.
At least six candidates are contenting from the constituency. They include Muhammad Nauman Qaiser from PTI, Muhammad Hamza Shehbaz from PML-N, Babu Zaheer Ahmad Chaudry from PPP, Muhammad Afzal from MMA, Sumaira Nureen from TLP, Asim Irshad Khan from PSP and Saleem Hammad as an independent.
Some days earlier, PPP candidate Babu Zaheer Chaudhry withdrew in favour of a PTI candidate and announced joining the latter party in a press conference.
Though the area has been a stronghold of PML-N, speculation is rife that the outgoing ruling party’s lead will be cut short.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2018.