KARACHI: Zain Aquil, 28, did not buy a smart phone. He had been saving for it for months but ended up using the money to pay the Election Commission of Pakistan's (ECP) fees to contest the elections for a National Assembly (NA) seat.
Disgruntled with all political parties, the young resident of North Nazimabad, popularly known as 'Baalti wala', is contesting the upcoming elections independently for NA-256. His election symbol, a bucket, is a reference to his nom de guerre.
The constituency covers around 80% of North Nazimabad, along with Pahar Ganj, Paposh Nagar and Sir Syed Town - traditional strongholds of the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
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In the last general elections, no political party other than the MQM could dare establish their election camp in District Central's constituencies. Individuals contesting elections rarely came out to canvass. With the improved law and order situation, however, Aquil believes now is the chance to test his fortune in politics.
"Usually people start their political career by contesting the election for a councilor's seat, then the provincial assembly and in the end, they eye the NA seat," he told The Express Tribune at his cramped election office located near Madras Bakery in North Nazimabad's Block M. Small buckets in various colours hang in the doorway.
For Aquil, what sets him apart is his motivation to contest the elections. "The bucket sign was my fourth priority," he laughed. "I wanted a 'jharoo' [broom]. But never mind, we're making good use of this sign too," he added mischievously. Behind him, friends and cousins sorted pamphlets and flyers to distribute in the area.
The constituency covers a large area, according to Aquil. His campaign revolves around propagating his message to as many people as possible. "It doesn't matter if I win or lose," he shrugged. Even if he loses, he plans to keep the returned candidate on his toes for the next five years. "We'll form a union of residents and support the winning candidate in his good work and oppose in the bad," he explained, adding that if the winning candidate cried for shortage of funds or authority, they'd invite him to protest along with the residents. "We cannot let them enjoy the perks of the seat [parliament] without doing anything."
It all started with a group of friends who used to play street cricket in North Nazimabad on Sundays. Tired of the sight of garbage strewn across the streets and losing faith in the authorities, the youngsters decided to take ownership of the city and started a cleanliness campaign, 'Saaf Karachi' [Clean Karachi], in December 2016. Within months, the project was wound up after political parties tried to hijack their efforts. "Once, we were cleaning the 'Kati Pahari' area and the police detained our volunteers for hours. I was also slapped by a police constable," Aquil smiled. That was when they decided to shut down the campaign.
Aquil believes the citizens of Pakistan have become used to living through alternative means. "If there's no water, we'll come up with boring water. A clean Karachi can only be seen during the Pakistan Super League matches," he said, adding that what he wanted was a permanent fix to all these problems. The day Aquil made up his mind to contest the elections, he marched straight to the District Central Deputy Commissioner's office to submit his nomination. He had no idea of the procedure. A kindred soul later guided him to the city court, where he filed his nomination papers. "Initially my family was bit worried, but later they were all okay with my decision," he says. He now has a team of around 80 polling agents which he expects to increase to 100 by election day.
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Aquil graduated from the University of Karachi three years ago with a Masters degree in Actuarial Science and Risk Management. His education has helped him design a systematic campaign from his own resources.
Currently, he runs his own business of moving advertisements. His primary focus is on outdoor branding, for which, he believes, eyeballs movement is necessary. He organises rallies on scores of motorbikes and cars completely wrapped with slogans of his election campaign.
Perched on the roof of his own car is a backlit signboard and a bucket. He also takes two mics and a wireless speaker wherever he goes. The rally drives through North Nazimabad, the portable speaker blaring his manifesto. Every few minutes, Aquil stops to engage with the residents, smiling and twirling his handlebar moustache.
On Saturday night, Aquil's rally came head-on with the rally of MQM-P's Amir Chishti, who is also contesting the election for the same NA seat. "We both met each other and there was no hooting or clash between us, which was even ironic for me," he said, adding that he explained to Chishti his reasons for contesting the elections and also what a tough time he would give him if Chishti were elected. "We have had similar interations with the Pak Sarzameen Party and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf rallies several times," he smiled.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2018.
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