KARACHI: It isn’t hard to tell that Siddiq Wahab Road in NA-249 is the fault line that runs between areas which are the strongholds of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Take a trip along the road from Jodia Bazaar to Timber Market and you would notice that the buildings on your left are decked with PPP’s flags and arrows while across the road, to the right, the face of MQM’s deputy convener, Dr Farooq Sattar, beams at you from large banners.
Some shopkeepers claim that the elections have set off tremors along this fault line - armed men foray across both sides of the road and tear down party flags and panaflex banners.
Perhaps it is because the race for NA-249 seems like it’s going to be neck-and-neck. MQM’s Dr Sattar has been pitted against PPP’s heavyweight Aziz Memon.
Both men have won the seat in the past. Over the past three decades, the constituency has been an MQM stronghold.
The party’s candidates have been winning the seat since 1988. The only time an MQM candidate didn’t clinch the seat was the 1993 elections which the party boycotted. That year, the seat was won by Memon, PPP’s candidate.
A man who runs a perfume shop in Kharadar is miffed at the tension that the elections seem to have stirred in the locality. “Every day, gun-toting men go around, firing rounds into the air and removing posters as wells as flags. We’ve been confined to our homes because of this,” he said, adding that the “war” has been continuing for a year. “Sometimes the armed men occupy party offices and even kidnap people.”
With all the action, politicians have jumped into the fray by starting a mudslinging match. Dr Sattar claims that gangsters have mapped out a comprehensive pre-poll rigging plan and are looking to occupy polling stations within the constituency. Memon says some rival groups have threatened him and erected barricades around some parts of the constituency, blocking his campaign volunteers’ access to it.
The conflict has meant that the campaigns in the constituency have come to a standstill. This is making the parties on edge since after the verification of electoral rolls, the number of registered voters in the constituency has dipped by a massive 83,500. Each vote here has become even more valuable. The race for PS 110 and PS 111, the two provincial assembly seats which fall within the constituency, are also likely to be a close race between MQM and PPP.
The constituency covers some of the oldest parts of the city. It has now become a business hub where people from the Memon, Kutchi, Gujrati, Baloch and Bohra communities are living in a majority.
This is the area from where a lion’s share of complaints regarding extortion chits has been reported. But there are other miseries too. A man who owns a small stall on Pan Mandi said, “The drainage system here is terrible. When it rains, all the gutters start overflowing and then foul-smelling water stagnates on the roads for weeks. As for readily available potable water - that just remains a dream of the area’s residents.”
He claimed that not a single school had been established in the area for decades. “If you go around, you’d notice that all schools here are from colonial times and are operating in very dilapidated buildings, which are dangerous.” Quite a few buildings of the area have been declared dangerous and one of the apartment complexes did come down in April, killing a family of three.
“Most building have been declared dangerous. Many of them are dispensaries and hospitals, but our elected representatives, after getting votes, don’t come back to do something about it,” added the shopkeeper.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 9th, 2013.
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