The day PTI candidate had pizza for lunch outside NA-246Pakistan
KARACHI: It is 7:30am and there is no sign of the media or Imran Ismail, the PTI candidate for NA-246 by-election, at his residence in Phase VIII of Defence Housing Authority on Thursday. A couple of guards, other domestic staff are milling around with boredom in the porch.
Fancy chairs upholstered in black velvet have been laid out in rows. Food is being warmed in several elliptical-shaped dishes on a long table. After 15 minutes or so, a fresh-faced and relaxed Mr Ismail emerges donning a black shalwar kameez. His aides, too, trickle in all clad in solid coloured latha shalwar kameez. By 8:30am nearly all the big TV channels and their reporters have filled the porch. “It is going to be a tough contest. God willing, the people of Karachi will hear good news today,” says Mr Ismail to a TV reporter.
Everyone is invited to have breakfast comprising potato curry, chickpea curry, halwa, puris and tea. “The party has just started,” says an aide of Mr Ismail, chuckling loudly. The interviewee is in no hurry to leave and speaks to every channel reporter present in his house. To one, he says: “I am hopeful that the Rangers will do their job well.” To another, he expresses his misgivings: “I have been receiving reports that there is no electricity in most polling stations. What is the point of installing the CCTV cameras then?” I double check Mr Ismail’s allegation with a colleague. I am told that no such thing has happened so far. If it were the case, the Rangers would have suspended polling till the electricity was restored, he opines.
The PTI candidate finally leaves his abode at around 9am in his jet black land cruiser with tinted windows and all of us follow him in our vehicles. Half an hour later, he stops near the Karimabad flyover and goes to PTI’s Karimabad office in Sohni shopping mall and stays there for a while. At around 10:15am, he visits the first polling station, H.B. Malik Public School, Federal B Area, in his constituency NA-246 where he is not enrolled as a voter. But just before he crosses the gate, he stops to give interviews to the channels. Someone asks him about PTI’s arrangement for transporting voters to the polling stations in the wake of the ban on pillion-riding. “We haven’t made any. People should come out and vote,” he says.
He goes inside and we all follow him but not before the Rangers check our accreditation cards and even demand to see CNICs of some reporters. Mr Ismail takes a round of the premises housing polling booths, peeps into some of them and then leaves.
We next visit The City Model School. Mr Ismail meets his young fan and kisses her cheek. He is told by a presiding officer that there were supposed to be four polling booths but because there were only two CCTV cameras, they merged them into two.
“It is too hot outside, let the people especially senior citizens come inside the school and make them stand in a shade,” he tells the officer who assures him that he will do something. As he leaves the school, going towards his land cruiser several Muttahida men chant: “Jiye Altaf”. Some come close to the bonnet of his vehicle, banging it. Mr Ismail seems unaffected, makes victory signs and leaves.
At Government Elementary College in Hussainabad, a woman is talking loudly to someone on her cellphone and says: “There is rigging happening here. There is no ink here. I couldn’t stamp the ballot paper.” Mr Ismail and his aide smile and walk past her. By noon he returns to the PTI Karimabad office, giving more interviews. There is mention of lunch for PTI workers.
Two hours later he leaves. Perhaps he will be undertaking another round of visits to the polling stations. But his vehicle goes to UP Mor in North Karachi. We call each other up, wondering what is happening since the area is not in NA-246. The mystery is soon solved. He and his convoy of vehicles, comprising a police van and another vehicle carrying guards, stop at Pizza Hut for lunch near Nagan Chowrangi. Mr Ismail sits on the first floor with the media persons while other PTI leaders including Andleeb Abbas gather around a TV screen on the second floor. Pepperoni cheese pizza, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi are offered to everyone.
With everyone feeling satiated, the PTI contingent decides to stop over at the house of PTI worker Nazish Rabbani, where she had earlier hosted PTI chief Imran Khan and his wife Reham Khan.
Mr Ismail’s final visit is at 4.30pm to the PTI polling camp, the only one that I have seen so far, at Liaquatabad No 4, a narrow lane thronged with a large number of Muttahida supporters and workers and deafening chanting in favour of Altaf Hussain. MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi visits the camp, warmly hugs Mr Ismail and invites him to visit the MQM camp. Mr Ismail reciprocates but not without being pushed and jostled by Muttahida workers. Pleasantries are exchanged over cups of tea served in simple glasses.
The PTI candidate returns to his camp office unscathed and gives interviews from his car. Meanwhile, a couple of PTI workers are heard complaining to Mr Ismail’s aide that they still haven’t eaten lunch.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2015
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