The column was published in The News on 12th March 2010
Habib Jalib wrote a poem for Benazir Bhutto when she came back to Pakistan in 1986 to lead the struggle against General Zia’s rule of darkness. It was titled “Aik Nihatti Larki” (One unarmed girl). He highlighted the fears of the powerful, the omnipotent dictator and the coterie of undignified men who surrounded him. They were fearful of a frail young woman, physically frail but mentally stronger than mountains in her resolve to bring change to her country. It was a replay of an earlier struggle launched by the political workers of this country led by the sister of the founder of Pakistan, Fatima Jinnah. The otherwise weak, old woman stood up to take on General Ayub Khan, the man responsible for sowing the seeds of military dictatorship in the country. The status of both these women transcends their party affiliations and many of us consider them our common heroes. For the same reason, Mai Jori, the peasant woman who ran for PB 25, Jaffarabad-I, the provincial assembly seat in Pat Feeder’s command area of eastern Balochistan, the only place irrigated by a canal from the Indus in the otherwise arid province, chose to launch her election campaign from Benazir Bhutto’s tomb in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh.
Mai Jori was a candidate of Awami Party Pakistan, the newly established political organisation of workers, peasants, middle-class professionals, youth, women and common citizens of the country. Earlier, for NA-55 Rawalpindi, the party fielded Abdul Sattar, a trades-unionist who was forcibly retired from Pakistan Railways some years ago due to his struggle for the rights of workers. Talib Hussain, a young, enthusiastic political worker who trained as a chartered accountant, ran for NA-123 on party ticket. All three of them lost. They had no money to match their competitors to invest in the campaign, they were far less known to the constituents and the vernacular media completely ignored Sattar and Talib. Mai Jori was an exception. But the statement these three candidates give out is loud and clear. Enough is enough. Commoners are finally showing their will to take charge. They are in the process of organising themselves and reaching out to people at large. They are very much in the political arena. Even after use of coercive measures by the feudal contestants in the area, disinformation disseminated among the voters, life threats to the candidate herself and massive rigging, Mai Jori stood by her commitment to fight the polls. She said in her last press conference, “Whoever sits in the assembly now doesn’t bother me. I have done what I had to. I am from the people. They will also realise one day that they can win. And that day will come sooner than most of you realise.”
Her party officials also held a press conference in Islamabad to highlight threats to her life and the failure of the Election Commission and the Balochistan government to ensure the security of the candidate and her supporters. One of the journalists with a flash of arrogance asked them why the party had given ticket to Mai Jori Jamali, an uneducated peasant woman. “What contribution could she make to the assembly?” “What contribution to the betterment of people has been made by the Harvard-, Oxford- and Cambridge-returned sons and daughters of feudal lords and capitalists, or how well have the highly qualified bureaucrats served us?” they responded. Our parliament and assemblies need true representatives of people who could seek solutions to our deep-seated problems.
The writer is a poet and advises national and international institutions on governance and public policy issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org