Patang not so dabangg any more?

Division of the MQM its own fault – in a way

Patang not so dabangg any more?
A clash of egos revolving around Kamran Tessori may be one of the reasons for the ongoing crisis within the ranks of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P). But there is more to this split between what have come to be known as the MQM-P’s PIB and Bahadurabad camps.

What is most unfortunate from the MQM-P point of view is that the latest schism surfaced on the eve of the Senate elections scheduled for March 3. There are also worries about how the party will fare in the general elections.

It was the August 22, 2016 speech by Altaf Hussain that caused the latest crack in the party which, with time, seems to have widened. (In fact there have always been rifts and divisions within the party, especially since the 1990s. They simmered but would not surface thanks to command and control and fear of the supremo).
"[Farooq Sattar] was fancying himself the party head," says Aminul Haq. "He wanted to enjoy Altaf Bhai's powers. He was trying to become Bhai II"

Altaf Hussain’s much-criticised “anti-Pakistan” August 22 speech left the party in complete disarray and provided the law-enforcement agencies a real opportunity to lay their hands on all man and material that belonged to this organisation. For the rank and file of the party, Farooq Sattar emerged and played the role of a saviour and reportedly negotiated some terms with powerful quarters to prevent the party from being consigned to the wilderness. He was soon able to bail the party out of uncertainty, confusion and collective depression.

Enter Mustafa Kamal with his Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) as an allegedly engineered but potential threat, leading to some desertions from within the MQM-P. But Sattar and his comrades managed to withstand this onslaught despite visible and invisible pressures from within and outside.

The decisive blow seems to have been dealt on November 7, 2017, however, when Sattar and Kamal were made to sit together for 18 hours to reach some understanding on future electoral politics. A subdued and bewildered Sattar sat with the confident and ebullient Kamal at a joint presser where the latter spoke about the salient features of the deal which, if translated into reality, was seen as MQM-P sacrificing its identity at the altar of the PSP. It was here that Kamran Tessori was suspected of having played a role in this engineered arrangement. Whose proxy he was, it has yet to be ascertained.

Kamran Tessori was with the PML-F till Feb 2017 before he joined the MQM. According to MQM’s MNA Syed Ali Raza Abidi, the party gives Tessori credit for standing for the PS-114 by-election on his own dime against the PPP’s Saeed Ghani who won. He fought the July 2017 by-election at a time when the party was in a financial crisis post-Aug 22. This was appreciated by many as an investment. “Yes, his roots, contacts were used by the party and he arranged some meetings in Islamabad where the Rabita Committee and Sattar met,” says Abidi. “After that we got our offices back in Karachi. The sealed offices.” They give him credit for this.

Tessori was, at one point, the only one defending Sattar in the Rabita Committee. When Tessori was made deputy convenor, though, people say his behaviour changed and he became aggressive. This didn’t sit well with many. He had become too successful in such a short period of time. In one year he had gone from a party worker to senator nomination.

The entire MQM-PSP episode did not sit well either with the old-timers (Aamir Khan, Aminul Haq, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Nasreen Jalil, Kunwar Jamil, etc) who saw it as an attempt to eliminate the MQM-P as an entity from the political landscape of Pakistan. It did not help, for example, that PSP’s Anis Qaimkhani and Bahadurabad’s Aamir Khan have not gotten along. From 2008 to 2013, Qaimkhani was virtually running the party in Sindh. Few people have forgotten 2013 when Rabita Committee members were roughed up at Khursheed Begum memorial hall, which, according to one side, had been instigated by Aamir. After this Qaimkhani left the country. When he returned, in 2016, he was PSP with Mustafa Kamal.
A deal between the two parites, which, if translated into reality, was seen as MQM-P sacrificing its identity at the altar of the PSP

More than the possible alliance with the PSP, the old guard became suspicious about the role Sattar intended to play in the party in future. “He was fancying himself the party head,” says Aminul Haq. “He wanted to enjoy Altaf Bhai’s powers. He was trying to become Bhai II.” Haq is a founding member along with Altaf, a university class fellow and a member of the old guard. He may not be very visible but he is important in party circles.

According to Bahadurabad, they began to grow alarmed when Sattar made an amendment to the party constitution which gave him as the convenor veto powers on all decisions. This group had it withdrawn on Nov 30, 2017 at a party meeting. Sattar had submitted it to the ECP. Previously, only Altaf Hussain had these powers as the party founder. It was small wonder then that amid growing pressures from the old-timers, Sattar was made to rescind the deal with the PSP, and save face with cryptic explanations about it.

Is the good doctor still under pressure to make nice with the PSP? Sattar told TFT that the pressure was lifted on Nov 9 when he ended the alliance, which was the bone of contention with the Rabita Committee in the first place and which is why it kept playing a “double game”, as he puts it. “They kept telling me they did not want an alliance,” he told TFT. “And they kept telling the other forces and PSP that Farooq Sattar bhai doesn’t want it. And that they were up for it.” As far as he was concerned, he had to toe one line or the other. “No double policy works if any matter is working out based on the reality or truths of Pakistan’s politics.”

Amid all of this difficulty, people have noted that the PSP has not said anything against or in favour of Sattar. This is being interpreted as an indication of a deep understanding between Sattar and Qaimkhani who are old sathis. “Anis Qaimkhani can start working with us any time,” Sattar told TFT.

TFT asked why PSP workers took part in Farooq Sattar’s rallies. “Look, party workers will keep going there and coming here. They will go where they feel comfort,” he said. PSP is unlikely to try to take advantage of the split in the MQM. And it has assured Sattar of this.

In the meantime, MQM-London sits and watches these tussles in Karachi from the sidelines. There are some people who have been playing the role of a middleman in this entire episode. Sindh Assembly Leader of the Opposition Khawaja Izhar is one of them. “The leadership of the MQM has split but not the worker,” he says. “The worker who goes to the Bahadurabad jalsa also turns up at the PIB intra party election. But things are not looking good. Any one decision could be extremely damaging to the MQM. I am trying to make sense to them. We do not want a situation where some third force tries to take advantage.”

The leaders on both sides realise that their disagreements are hurting the party and confusing the voter. “The way the MQM is right now, you just can’t wrap your head around it,” said one worker. “But your heart is still in it.”

People are now asking what will happen when the general elections roll around. Indeed, who will get the ‘patang’ or kite symbol, the all-important identity of the MQM. “Time will tell which group is the real MQM,” says Rauf Siddiqi. “The real MQM will be the one that has the red green and white flag and kite. The rest is not MQM but can be factions.”

In the latest developments, which unfolded as we went to press, on February 18, the Farooq Sattar-led ‘PIB’ faction conducted an intra-party election in Karachi in which Sattar was elected as the party convener. This has been challenged, however, by the ‘Bahadurabad’ faction led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. They have gone to the Election Commission against PIB faction, calling the intra-party election invalid. It argues that Sattar was removed as party convener on February 11 and had no right to dissolve the Rabita Committee and conduct the election.