HYDERABAD: The winds of change have begun to blow in Matiari’s constituency politics, throwing down the gauntlet to the decade-long electoral invincibility of the Makhdoom family. At stake is the political stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party locked down by the late Makhdoom Muhammad Zaman Talibul Mola since the general elections of 1965.
It is now being sustained by the PPP stalwarts, federal minister Makhdoom Amin Faheem and his son, provincial minister Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman. They have always won the elections hands down. However, as the time for the next polls approaches, the family is watching as its long-time support base has started turning against it on the back of widespread resentment.
The sentiment is being fuelled by complaints about a lack of development and access to the leaders, cronyism and growing crime which targets a particular community. Furthermore, the repercussions involve more than just an electoral advantage for local political adversaries.
Besides other communities, the urbanite Memons, one of the disgruntled pivots of Makhdoom clout with strong representation in business and bureaucracy, are coalescing under the Memon Itehad. The Itehad has begun drafting to one platform the community members, who have been up till now divided by political affiliation. It is also trying to unite other influential communities to create a larger alliance against the Makhdooms.
“We are being targeted through crimes like extortion, robberies and kidnappings,” claims Haji Maqbool Memon, the deputy chief organiser of the Itehad. He lamented that the suspects of most of these crimes go scot-free. “We are not living in a big city like Karachi where catching the criminals is strenuous and menacing,” he observed, insinuating that the criminals enjoyed the patronage of those in the saddle.
Even minister Makhdoom Jameeluz Zaman admits that the Memons are being singled out. “I also want to discover what’s this conspiracy? Why are mostly Memons attacked?” He told The Express Tribune that he raised this issue in the Sindh cabinet meeting in Matiari last week. The minister sought a high-level official inquiry to find out which forces were perpetrating these crimes. “My family’s association with the Memons is not restricted to just electoral support and reciprocity, they have been our friends and neighbours for centuries.” He holds firm that the community as a whole has not turned against his family although some people are annoyed.
The Memons have historically been traders. They now own huge swathes of agricultural land and have found jobs in the bureaucracy and other important organisations. According to Haji Maqbool, the community has around 50,000 votes scattered in the one National Assembly and two Sindh Assembly constituencies in Matiari. The district has a total of 294,589 registered voters according to the latest electoral rolls.
The Itehad is also putting out feelers to draw in politicians from the outside such as the new face of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) in Sindh, Marvi Memon, who has been leading sans a constituency. “We have only held informal talks so far to bring Marvi to contest the Makhdooms,” confirmed the Itehad’s chief organiser Abdul Ghafoor Memon. He added, however, that they are also skeptical about supporting the PML-N. “A final decision to choose the candidates has not been made.” He told The Express Tribune that the Itehad will hold a convention after Eid to announce their alliances and possibly candidates.
For her part Marvi, who is still not certain about her candidacy from Matiari, is playing her cards close to her chest. She denies that the Itehad leaders have approached her, saying she learnt about it through the media. “I am grateful for their [Memon’s] support. I shall be communicating this to my leadership … the decision as to who stands from where will be taken by only Mian Nawaz Sharif,” she told The Express Tribune.
Marvi asserts that she had still not weighed the prospects of taking on the formidable Makhdooms on their home turf. “I don’t know much about that constituency,” she admits. Moreover, she will also have to face opposition from the N-league’s leadership itself in Matiari, which wants members of the late Makhdoom Shahnawaz’s family to get the party ticket. “The services of Shahnawaz for the PML-N, especially during the time when Ghaus Ali Shah [provincial president] was in exile during Musharraf’s regime, and [how] he managed the party in Sindh, should not be forgotten,” says the N-league’s district president Akhter Bhanbro.
Some of the local workers frown upon Marvi’s possible candidature, having witnessed her public meetings in Bhitshah along with the owner of a regional television channel. “We have seen her going from one group and party to another,” a worker from Bhitshah commented disparagingly. “She often pays visit to the shrine of Shah Bhitai but we don’t see her attracting more than a couple of dozen people,” he claims.
While the outlook for Marvi is still foggy, annoyance with the Makhdooms is glaring. Ali Ahmed Nizamani, a veteran local politician from union council Karam Khan Nizamani, has remained loyal to the Makhdooms since 1970s. But, not any more. “I will not budge even if they [Makhdooms] come to me and urge me to put aside [my] grievances.” He accuses the Makhdooms of neglecting the local people and of having given up on development works. He told The Express Tribune that many resentful supporters are trying to form an election alliance and that the Memon Itehad is one of them.
Syed Bhooral Shah, the gadee nasheen (caretaker) of Syed Noor Shah Bukhari shrine in the Tajpur area of Matiari, organised a protest rally against the Makhdooms on Monday. He alleged that Jameeluz Zaman was trying to intimidate him so that he stopped demanding jobs for people and development work in the area. “I have been putting these demands to Amin Faheem but his son had me arrested without any regard for my association with his family since the 1970s,” Shah said. He too welcomed the forging of an opposition against the Makhdooms who, according to him, have been riding roughshod over the workers.
Not all observers are convinced that these communities can forge a solid opposition and even more so demonstrate complete unity within their ranks. “The Memons [have] internecine differences and [are represented] in all political parties, including the nationalists,” says a Memon journalist. “Besides this, there are staunch Memon followers of Makhdoom Nooh Sarwar’s shrine in Purana Hala who would never desert the Makhdooms.”
According to him, the Memons are not the only major community of voters as Kaka and Khaskheli people, among others in the rural parts of the city, also have huge numbers. Unless one or a few of these communities form a new electoral alliance, victory will remain elusive, he believes.
The Makhdooms, on their part, are neither oblivious to this growing resentment nor unperturbed. They acknowledge that the Memons, Nizamanis, Syeds, Khaskhelis, Kakas, are the mainstay in their electorate. “I will personally meet all of them and address their grievance,” says Jameeluz Zaman.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 13th, 2012.