An analysis of how its electoral strength has ebbed
It used to be that if you went to Baldia, you were on Farooq Dada’s turf. The MQM muscleman may have been summarily dispatched to a higher plane in 1995 in a police encounter but his spirit lingered on in name. For years no other party’s candidate stood a chance in this part of Karachi.
All that changed this April. Farooq Dada’s legacy finally ran out in the by-election held in Baldia Town for its NA-249 seat. The MQM came in sixth with 7,511 votes. With this, the MQM solidified a spectacular losing streak: it has lost the last four out of five by-elections in Karachi.
It only won Landhi and the rest of the seats were mostly taken by the PPP. The only other major party in the field, the PTI, managed to hold on to Imran Khan’s seat in NA-243.
The string of by-election defeats tempts casual political observers to conclude that without Altaf Hussain, the MQM has faded into oblivion. Sure he was muzzled forever after his pyrotechnics in 2016 (remember that speech) but the Baldia case tells a different story.
The mechanisms Altaf Hussain enshrined are still very much alive—but are not being ignored at the party’s peril. Altaf’s formula was that nominations for MPAs and MNAs came from the very bottom of the hierarchy: the sector. A senior worker, who parted ways after 2016, explained how this was evidence of being a strong ‘tanzeemi’ or organizational set-up. “The MQM does not have any solid political set-up,” he said. “Party decisions were always being made on the basis of its sectors and units.” Mess with this system and you will shoot yourself in the foot. This is what happened in Baldia’s NA-249.
Just 10 days before the by-election the party’s new top leaders foolishly decided to remove Baldia Sector In-charge Asif Arain and replace him with Mehmood bhai. “The Arain community has a vote bank in Baldia Town and its adjacent areas,” a party worker added. This upset the Arain voters.
The sector did not also like the Coordination Committee’s choice of candidate: Hafiz Muhammad Mursaleen. Mursaleen was ready to spend Rs6 million on an election campaign, which is why he seemed like a good contender for the ticket. The sector had sent up another name but was overruled. This was a second decision that alienated voters. It was political suicide to go with someone else. The result: just 21% of registered voters showed up.
Anis Qaimkhani used to run the party set-up as deputy convener before he joined Pak Sarzameen Party. The new deputy convener, Aamir Khan, has not been able to re-organise and re-structure the tanzeemi set-up since 2016. And so, NA-249 was lost not just because of a cut of party finances, a lack of resources, and internal difference among party leaders but because the people at the top deviated from that very thing which made the party strong.
Baldia Town was formerly a part of the NA-240 constituency, which was an MQM stronghold. Its boundaries were redrawn before the 2018 general elections, to turn it into NA-249. Baldia Town has an estimated population of around 600,000 and used to be part of Karachi’s District West. It has eight union councils:
In 2020, Keamari District was carved out District West, so Baldia Town is now a part of Keamari along with Site and areas near the Karachi Fish Harbour. The result is that the Mohajir vote bank shrank to Gulshan-e-Ghazi, Islam Nagar, and Mohajir Camp after Baldia came into Keamari, which has a very different make-up.
NA-249 used to be NA-240 and NA-239 until they redrew the constituency boundaries. The MQM candidates were strong in NA-240 and won three straight general elections. In 2002, it was the party’s Sarkaruddin Advocate, followed by Khawaja Sohail Mansoor in 2013 and 2008.
It was more of a mixed bag in NA-239 and no particular party was strong. In 2013, MQM’s Salman Mujahid won. But in 2008, it was the PPP’s Qadir Patel, and even earlier, in 2002, the MMA took the seat.
MQM’s Aminul Haque, who is a federal minister, was more circumspect about the party’s prowess in the constituency. It isn’t supposed to be a winning seat, he said. The party has only won here “on and off”.
In the PS-94 Landhi by-polls, the MQM-P won with a heavy mandate. Candidate Hashim Raza got over 20,000 votes, which was a clear signal that the party is still in power in its strongholds. “The MQM-P has won CBA elections in major federal organisations, including PTCL and KPT, too, which means it still has reach at the grassroots level,” Haque said.
Journalist Mazhar Abbas said the division and fall of the MQM after 2016 was the main reason for the party’s defeat in Baldia. It had lost its mass appeal and now people have two options: PTI or TLP. He added that it has been established that there was manipulation in 2018, as a result of which some confirmed MQM seats were taken from them. But NA-249 and PS-88 are not surefire party constituencies.