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Analysis: Is it over for the JI after by-poll debacle?

Analysis: Is it over for the JI after by-poll debacle?

Losing a seat in an election is not something that surprises the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), its leaders and ideology-driven loyal workers. But after the NA-246 by-election results, what probably shocked the country’s oldest political party the most is the number of votes it managed to poll. (The JI candidate was among those who forfeited their security deposit in the by-election.)

Hardly any political quarter in Karachi doubts the JI’s organisational strength — a trained and well-informed cadre of workers — as well as its decades-long presence in Karachi which was known as a stronghold of the right-wing party before the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) emerged to change the political demography and set a new electoral history in the city.

Read: NA-246: Official results announced, MQM regains seat by huge margin

Though it was never counted as an electoral competitor of the MQM, the JI was always believed to be, to a large extent, the second most influential party of the city. That was the factor that mostly allowed the JI to replace the MQM when the latter boycotted the 1993 National Assembly elections and the local bodies polls in 2001.

But, to some extent, things started to change after the May 2013 elections. And the situation that is emerging following the NA-246 by-poll is convincing analysts and people aware of Karachi’s political history that the JI is fast losing its traditional place in the city. For many, it could be the trickle-down effect of the growing popularity of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) across the country that is denting the JI in Karachi; but there are also other factors responsible for the declining graph of the party.

Also read: JI candidate complains of pre-poll rigging

“I think the Jamaat is fast losing its interaction with the common man,” says journalist Idrees Bakhtiar. “If you compete in a particular city you need to counter your rivals or competitors with better moves. For instance, I don’t think the JI is as active as the MQM when it comes to addressing the common man’s issues. People expect political parties to listen, but unfortunately the Jamaat did not do that even when it was governing the local bodies system of this city.”

To shore up his arguments, he refers to the regular sittings of MQM legislators and their scheduled meetings with people at Nine Zero, which strengthens the party’s contact with its voters and the people of this city. No such arrangements were made by the JI, even when the party won seats and was part of the government in some capacity.

Also read: Jamaat credits Rangers for peaceful Karachi by-poll

“I don’t think that the slogan of the Jamaat-i-Islami for Sharia rule has lost charm,” insists Mr Bakhtiar. “It’s all about the presentation you make to convince people about your slogan. The Ikhwan-ul-Muslimeen or Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Welfare Party or Refah Party in Turkey had the same slogan, and also had strong contact with people and made a larger contribution towards social and welfare segments. The Jamaat needs to come out of its shell and approach the common man. I don’t see new blood joining the party except those who have a family history of loyalty to the Jamaat.”

For Athar Hashmi, the editor of the JI-founded Daily Jasarat, the party is facing the challenge of ethnic politics in Karachi, which always attracts the masses, has a strong slogan and the power to defeat any ideology. He recognises the ‘PTI factor’ which is overtaking the JI in Karachi and feels that the city’s youth gravitates more towards Imran Khan.

“So it must surprise and disappoint the Jamaat that it’s no longer even at the third place,” he says. “But, at the same time, one has to understand that whatever policy reforms the JI leadership brings for its national politics, they are not going to affect its standing in Karachi. Here, the Mohajir slogan has become much stronger over the years for voters.”

He recognises that it’s a “source of concern” for the Jamaat leadership, but doesn’t sound very optimistic about the future trend of politics in Karachi. He is not supportive of any major change in policy in the Jamaat’s Karachi politics, but at the same time doesn’t see the existing slogan winning votes in the city.

“The Jamaat has an ideology and slogan for Sharia rule,” says Mr Hashmi. “You can’t change your ideology and slogan for the sake of votes or seats, nor should anyone do that.

But the problem is that it has not been effective in Karachi’s electoral politics.”

Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2015

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