HAFIZABAD Its 10 pm in Mandhiawala, a slum settlement off Jagawala Road in Hafizabad. About 150 male residents have gathered in an empty plot next to the downtrodden house of Qari Ahmad Raza, a prayer leader in an area mosque. Ignoring the sewage-laden mud carpeting the plot, the men remain occupied with raising passionate slogans of “Sunniyon K Rehnuma, Waseem Shah, Waseem Shah.” The congregation is a corner meeting held as part of the election campaign of Sayed Waseem Shah Naqvi, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan’s (TLP) candidate from PP-70. “Unlike bigger parties, we aren’t resourceful enough to offer food at our corner meetings. This is not a rented crowd. These people are here because they are dedicated to the cause,” comments Ahmad Raza, before gleefully proceeding to join in the sloganeering. The sloganeering stops suddenly. Waseem Shah takes the podium and begins his address with a raging proclamation “The ulema did not come into politics out of their own self-interest. We were forced to join the fray only after the dignity of the whole Muslim Ummah was challenged. Our tehreek started with a single goal to resist Mumtaz Qadri’s arrest. Afterwards it became about avenging his martyrdom.” The crowd responds with a thundering chorus of Labaik-Ya-Rasul-Allah (‘O Prophet (PBUH), we submit ourselves to your will’). Though his speeches begin with what he says is the ‘core mission’ of the party, they are not limited just to that. Very soon, he moves on to secular concerns of the electorate. At the Mandhiawala corner meeting, he picked common themes from popular political discourse about prioritising human development over large infrastructure and making development spending more equitable. “We do not need roads, we need hospitals and universities. Why is it that we (the people of Hafizabad) have to go to Lahore for education or for decent medical treatment? Why do we have to send our children away?” he asks, and continues to assert the importance of education, calling it the ‘key to our chains’. Contrary to the image of the hardline, illiterate mullah that comes to mind with the mention of barelvi outfits like the TLP, Waseem Shah is an eloquent speaker who easily weaves in and out of English, probably because of his brief stint in London where he studied for his masters in law degree. None of the candidates are campaigning in working class areas, and the peasantry … the small peasants are being sucked dry by the artis (local loan sharks) and the dodhis (middle men in milk supply chain) on the one hand, and by the corruption of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank, on the other,” says Qari Imran, a retired school teacher and an active TLP campaigner “I could have easily stayed in Britain since my wife is British, but I came back to Pakistan to serve my people,” says Waseem Shah, while sipping tea in the study room at his ancestral home in Hafizabad. Waseem Shah owns a house in Lahore’s Defence Housing Authority (DHA), but these days he spends most of his time canvassing for votes in Hafizabad. Oddly, he is a fan of ‘Bhutto’s style of pro-people politics’, and believes that the traditional way of electioneering in Pakistan is skewed in favour of the rich. He admires election campaigns in Britain for their strong focus on manifestos and policy debates instead of a focus on personalities. Rather than looking at the TLP as an extremist or sectarian outfit, Waseem Shah explains it as a ‘movement with legitimate constitutional demands’. “Murders on blasphemy issues arise out of the state’s failure to uphold its own law. If the law says that a blasphemer should be hanged, they should be hanged,” he says in response to a question on Article 295-C of the Constitution, completely ignoring instances where mobs take the law into their own hands on the call of clerics as well as where the law gets abused for settlement of personal scores. A pragmatic alliance Waseem Shah’s family enjoys overwhelming influence among barelvi circles in Hafizabad. His father Pir Shabir Ali Shah was a local imam who rose to prominence because of his fiery oratory. Pir Shabir remained associated with the Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP) during the 1970s and 80s, contesting the 1988 election on the party’s ticket. In 1993 election, Pir Shabir contested for an MPA seat on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) ticket, albeit unsuccessfully. Now, the family is running a vast network of Islamic centres, seminaries and mosques in Hafizabad, besides owning a network of private schools. Waseem Shah talks with great pride about the fact that he recently got his seminaries affiliated with the Allama Iqbal Open University (AIOU). He says that now students from his seminaries can easily get an equivalence made. Despite this seemingly progressive outlook, Waseem Shah partakes in all the rituals associated the custodianship of an influential shrine. His murids kiss his hands and touch his knees to offer respect whenever they meet him. Perhaps in recognition of his influence in the area, even before he joined the TLP, Waseem Shah was receiving offers from a political heavyweight, Chaudry Liaqat, to join him and his panel of independents, comprising of Asad Arain and Shoaib Shah against the PML-N and PTI panels in Hafizabad. A former Q-Leaguer, Liaqat unsuccessfully tried to get tickets for Hafizabad’s only NA seat from both PML-N and PTI (his nephew is the PTI’s candidate), before considering the independent route. Both former MPAs, Arain and Shoaib Shah recently parted ways with Q-League and PML-N, respectively. Eventually, however, Waseem Shah convinced the trio to contest the election on TLP’s tickets. “It was our resilience that brought these heavyweights to our side, the side of the cause,” he boasts, conveniently missing the underlying political calculus based on factions and delimitations. Liaqat Bhatti explains the alliance in the following words, “Our campaign is a beautiful marriage of my performance in my traditional stronghold and the ideologically charged cadres of the Labaik Ya Rasool Allah.” Shoaib Shah invokes his family’s religious roots, and says, “I am a Sayed and my family is well rooted in the spiritual tradition of Golra Shareef.” Notwithstanding these explanations by the candidates, there is widespread discontent among the rank and file TLP workers regarding ‘the moral standing of these candidates’. In casual conversations at corner meetings, Liaqat, Arain and Shoaib Shah are often criticised for their decadent lifestyles. However, some politically active supporters have a more pragmatic approach. Preferring anonymity, Rajput*, a former local body councilor from the PML N who is now actively campaigning for the TLP, says, “Every party has an antibiotic for the people, be it corruption or the sanctity of the vote. We have Khatam-e-Nabuwwat”. He continues, “Apart from the dominant rhetoric, electioneering is pretty much the same. You need resourceful candidates and you need to be able to tilt the baradari dynamic in your favour, otherwise you lose.” Rajput is familiar with the dirty art of politics in Pakistan and he has played an instrumental role in bringing Hafizabad’s Rajput vote bloc, traditionally allied with the PML-N, to the TLP camp. A majority of the Rajputs in Hafizabad have historically associated with the Deobandi school of thought, and bringing them over to a party that showcases it’s barelvi identity is an achievement he takes pride in. “Hafiz Saeed’s candidate has no social base to campaign in because we swayed a large portion of the deobandi vote to our side, so now he is supporting our campaign as well,” Rajput says. Reaching across sectarian, economic fault lines TLPs campaigners in Hafizabad have not only been able to consolidate the ‘Sunni vote’, but they are also making inroads into the local Shia populace. An old friend of Pir Waseem Shah, Liaqat Ali Khunnu, a popular Shia khateeb of the Muhalla Hussain Pura Imambargah, is an active member of the TLP’s campaign team, and is playing an instrumental role in swaying the Shia vote in the party’s favour. TLP has organised several corner meetings in Shia-dominated neighborhoods like Dhabala on Farooq-e-Azam Road, Muhalla Hussain Pura and Muhallah Peer Kalay Shah. Oddly enough, the TLP activists have been granted access to a couple of imambargahs (in Ward 1 and Ward 2) for their campaign. An old friend of Pir Waseem Shah, Liaqat Ali Khunnu, a popular Shia khateeb of the Muhalla Hussain Pura Imambargah, is an active member of the TLP’s campaign team, and is playing an instrumental role in swaying the Shia vote in the party’s favour In addition to consolidating the ‘Islamic vote’, the TLP campaign has adopted an aggressive ‘anti-status quo’ rhetoric. In their speeches and their pamphlets, party leaders refer to ‘rampant inequality that persists in a society that has seen years of economic development’. TLP cadre in Hafizabad understands that a large portion of the society has missed out on opportunities created by development projects. They lay special emphasis on two particular socio-economic classes i.e. the urban labouring class and the small farmers/landless peasants. “None of the candidates are effectively campaigning in the katchi abadis, working class areas and the peasantry. The most they do is meet their wadairy (elders). In villages, the small peasants are being sucked dry by the artis (local loan sharks) and the dodhis (middle men in the milk supply chain) on the one hand, and by the corruption of the Zarai Taraqiati Bank, on the other,” says Qari Imran, a retired school teacher and an active TLP campaigner who was among prayer leaders arrested during a crackdown on violations of the Loudspeakers Act. They were released followed protest demonstrations. He continues, “The peasantry has become a slave to this [rentier] class and none of the mainstream candidates want to talk about it.” “A few families rule our political system. We want to break free from the stranglehold of traditional politics and represent the un-represented masses,” he continues. In Hafizabad, the TLP’s campaign constitutes multiple, and often contradictory, layers. However, by fielding educated and accessible candidates, who can assert the strength of their character based on their religiosity, and by getting electables on board, the party has successfully transformed itself into a viable electoral force, at least in this district. Published in Daily Times, July 9th 2018.