The poor throng to Dasti’s show of solidarity

* Dasti is contesting the polls on four seats of the National Assembly, including NA-182 in Muzaffargarh city, NA-184 in the rural area of Khan Garh, and Shah Jamal, NA-185 in between Alipur and Jatoi, and NA-189 in Taunsa * In areas where Dasti's party is not fielding its candidates, it has announced its support for the Pakistan Peoples Party. He has even withdrawn some of his candidates in favour of the PPP's candidates

MUZAFFARGARH

Muzaffargarh: Leader of Awami Raj Party (ARP) Jamshed Ahmad Khan Dasti appears to enjoy more influence in certain south Punjab districts than does Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf’s (PTI) vice chairman Shah Mahmood Qureshi. Dasti is contesting the polls on four seats of the National Assembly, including NA-182 (earlier NA 176) in Muzaffargarh city, NA-184 (earlier NA-178) in the rural area of Khan Garh, and Shah Jamal, NA-185 (earlier NA-179), in between Alipur and Jatoi, and NA-189 (earlier NA-171) in Taunsa, and one Provincial Assembly seat (PP-276). Shah Mahmood Qureshi is only contesting from NA-156 and PP-217.

Muzaffargarh district has six NA and 12 PP constituencies, and Dasti has either fielded candidates or is contesting the polls himself in nearly all of them. The ARP has fielded 30 candidates in eight districts of Dera Ghazi Khan and Multan on various seats, in what is being termed a “game changer” by certain political analysts in this region.

Earlier, the PTI had offered Dasti to join their party but he had refused because of his differences with Qureshi, who is a feudal lord and has a sizeable personal and party vote bank.

In areas where the ARP is not fielding its candidates, it has announced its support for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). Dasti has even withdrawn some of his candidates in favour of the PPP’s candidates in certain districts, including Dera Ghazi Khan, Layyah, Rahim Yar Khan, Muzafargarh and Multan. Dasti had also submitted his nomination papers for NA-159 (Multan) and NA-177 (Rahimyar Khan) but later withdrew them after announcing his support for the PPP candidates in those constituencies.

The ARP’s slogan in Seraiki language reads Assaan Qaidi Takht Lahore Day (we are prisoners of the throne of Lahore).

He claims that he is in a fight against feudal lords and corruption. Talking to Daily Times, Dasti said that all feudal lords protected corrupt people including politicians and bureaucrats. “My fight is for the rights of the poor people of Pakistan,” he said, adding that southern Punjab had been neglected by all previous governments that came to power. “My mission is to establish a Seraiki province for the people of this region,” he added.

Political observers compare Dasti to Arvind Kejriwal, leader of the Aam Admi Party founded in 2012 in Dehli. They are of the view that both Kejriwal and Dasti wanted to empower deprived sections of society.

Dasti has carefully cultivated the image of being from among the masses. He wears simple attire and chapals. With a madrassah education, and no property or financial backing, he stepped into politics in 2005 contesting for the seat of nazim. In 2008, he won in NA-178 after receiving 53,817 votes but the elections were nullified after the court disqualified him for having a fake degree. In 2010, he contested by-polls from the same constituency and won again. Dasti gained popularity during the floods of 2010, when he joined rescue activities with Rescue-1122 personnel.

The 2013 general elections increased his political graph after he won in NA-177 and NA-178, by defeating Nawab and Khar families. His major turn over in politics came when he defeated Ghulam Noor Rabbani Khar, father of former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar, who contested from the PPP’s platform.

This time around, his election campaign is being run by labourers, donkey-cart drivers and road side vendors. He remains popular in eight districts of Multan and Dera Ghazi Khan.

In south Punjab, where popular political candidates, including Shah Mahmood Qureshi, are taking out rallies and riding motorbikes in their constituencies, Dasti has started a free bus service from seven locations of Muzafargarh, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan, Shujaabad and Jalalpur Peerwala and is providing free transport facilities to students and labourers. He has been going door-to-door to collect charity for the poor. During the election campaign, he even rode a donkey cart to demonstrate his ties with the labour class and cleaned the streets with a broom – his electoral symbol.

To win the hearts of voters, Dasti visits his constituencies regularly. He has also started a free ambulance service for people in this area.

“Jamshed Dasti is not like other politicians who visit their constituencies once in five years at the time of elections, Dasti stands by us through thick and thin,” said a voter, adding: “Dasti sb does not keep distance with the people of his constituency, he sits with us, eats with us, shares our grief and sorrow and even dances with us.”

Published in Daily Times, July 25th  2018.