At the outset of the election campaigns, or sometime earlier this year, the common opinion was that Narowal will be a comfortable win for the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz. But as the final day nears, ground realities are shifting and the outcome is unlikely to be as clear-cut.
Narowal, located in northeast Punjab and a two-hour drive from the city of Lahore, is divided into two National Assembly constituencies. Earlier, it had three but lost one post-delimitation.
First one, on entering the city, is NA-77, which comprises of areas, Zafarwal, Shakargarh and Dadu Chowk, amongst others. It had a total of 507,995 registered voters and the main challengers are the PML-N’s Mehnaz Akbar Aziz, the wife of recently disqualified Daniyal Aziz, and PTI’s Mian Muhammad Rasheed.
Aziz, the minister of privatization in the outgoing government, is the son of Anwar Aziz Chaudhry, the oldest living politician in the district. Chaudhry began his political trajectory during the Z.A. Bhutto years and was a minister in his cabinet. The ageing politician is also credited for laying out the blueprint of the local body system during the tenure of General (retd) Pervez Musharraf.
An interesting fact about NA-77 is that it has been stalked out merging the previous NA-115 and NA-116. In 2013, while Daniyal Aziz won a healthy majority in NA-116 on the PML-N platform, NA-115 was picked up by Mian Muhammad Rasheed also using the PML-N ticket. But in May, Rasheed left the PML-N for PTI and is now contesting against Aziz’s wife. This alone makes the race more complicated and hard to predict, since half the constituency may be loyal to Rasheed while the other half could still vote for the Aziz family.
Abutting the constituency is NA-78, with 516,249 voters. The primary contest here is between the PML-N’s Ahsan Iqbal, the former minister for interior, and the PTI’s Abrar Ul Haq. Iqbal comes from a political background. His mother, Nisar Fatima Zahra, was a member of the parliament twice, on special seats, during the government of General Zia ul Haq. While Iqbal lost the 2002 polls in NA-78 (previously NA-116 and NA-117), he picked it up in 2008 and 2013.
Opposing him is singer and philanthropist, Abrar ul Haq. But this contest is lopsided. Ahsan Iqbal is a favourite to win. During the PML-N government, he had initiated several developmental projects in the boundaries of his electoral unit, as well as three university campuses, a DHQ hospital and a sports stadium. He also adds to his achievements the linking of Narowal to Sialkot via the motorway. “I did whatever I could to develop by constituency between 2013 and 2018,” Ahsan Iqbal Chaudhary tells Daily Sun News.tv, “A more immediate concern was the supply of gas to homes, which I also worked on. I expect the public to keep in mind my public services when voting for the tiger on July 25.” The former lawmaker might also have the voters’ sympathy after a gunman shot and injured him at an election rally in May.
Across the political spectrum is Haq, who founded the Sughra Shafi Medical Complex and the Sahara Medical College in NA-78. He accuses his opponent of taking kickbacks while initiating projects in the area, although none of these charges have ever been proven in a court of law. “If I were given the opportunity in 2013, I would have worked for the employment of the educated youth. That is a bigger problem. And made sure that Narowal is an industrial city like Sialkot.”
Dr Tariq Uppal, a voter in the constituency, agrees with Haq. Youngsters without jobs is a huge problem, he argues. “While there has been much development work in the Narowal city, the small towns are in terrible condition.”
Every third person, claims Haji Mohammad Safar, another voter, is suffering from hepatitis due to unclean drinking water.
In 2013, the PML-N walked out with all three national assembly seats from Narowal. But this time, will turncoats and the city’s unaddressed civic issues turn the tide? Or are the stars aligned for the incumbents again?