Around 25 minutes away from Karachi’s centre, Baba Island has its own dynamic of the local government elections, where unlike in the rest of the city, the ruling Pakistan People’s Party is contesting against its former allies.
Following the new delimitation, Baba Island is part of the West district’s Union Committee-41 that also includes Bhit Island, Shamspir Island and three semi-Islands – Younasabad, Salehabad and Kaka village, with a population of around 40,000.
The neighbouring Manora Island is a cantonment town.
Most residents of Baba Island are members of the Kutchi community, followed by Sindhis and a sparse populace of Baloch.
Before former president Gen (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s takeover, the islands were part of the District Council, a separate body for the city’s rural and coastal areas.
The islands were then included in the defunct Keamari Town.
In March this year after the District Council’s revival, the islands and semi-Islands were not re-included in it. Instead, they were made part of the West District Municipal Corporation.
The union committee has been divided into four wards.
Ward-1 comprises Bhit Island, with a population of around 5,400 and 1,600 registered voters, ward-2 includes Younasabad and Salehabad with a population of around 7,000 and 2,700 registered voters, ward-3 comprises Shamspir Island with a population of around 6,000 and 2,200 registered voters and ward-4 is Baba Island with 6,600 residents.
LG polls in islands
A nail-biting contest is expected between three panels for UC-41.
The PPP has fielded Muhammad Hanif Malah and Ashraf Bhatti for the posts of the chairperson and the vice chairperson respectively.
Malah was elected a UC nazim in the previous local government polls.
Haji Younas, an influential political figure who has remained associated with the PPP in the past, has fielded his own independent panel.
His son Faisal Younas is running for the post of the chairperson and Ali Akbar Shah for the slot of his deputy.
Haji Younas’ other son, Zulfiqar Younas, has served as the town nazim of Keamari.
The third panel comprises the PPP’s former local president, Dr Yousaf and a Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Haji Ali Muhammad who are contesting for the seats of the chairperson and the vice chairperson.
Interestingly, MQM’s Haji Ali Muhammad, who had contested the PS-89 election in the 2013 general polls as an MQM candidate and had bagged a significant number of votes in the islands, is contesting as an independently instead of using his party’s platform.
In the past, almost all political parties have fielded their candidates in the islands and semi-Islands, but this time, only the PPP has fielded its panel.
Residents said the islands had traditionally remained the stronghold of the PPP but with the passage of time, the party’s apathy towards them had helped the MQM and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz in gaining ground there.
Most of the residents are fisherfolk and because of the recent Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS) corruption scandal following which its chairman Nisar Morai, a PPP leader, and former party MNA of the constituency, Abdul Qadir Patel, had escaped, the PPP support base weakened in the islands, said a political activist of the area requesting anonymity.
The MQM has managed to make inroads in the islands in the last general elections.
But as MQM lawmaker Salman Mujahid Baloch, who was elected in the constituency, has ignored the islands, the party has lost its support base too.
“That is why Wali has opted to contest the polls as an independent candidate,” the activist said.
“The PML-N also has its influence in the communities living in the islands but its MPA, Humayoon Khan, did not start any mega project there.”
The constituents of the islands are frustrated over the Election Commission of Pakistan’s arrangement of polling stations in the union committee.
The voters of polling booth-5 in Baba Island (ward-4) will have to cast their ballots in Shamspir Island (ward-3), which is 35 minutes away travelling in a boat.
“We have asked the election authorities to move the polling booth-5 back to Baba Island as it will be very difficult for voters to travel for 35 or 40 minutes in a boat to reach there,” Asif Bhatti, president of the Native Islander Fishermen Association, told The News.
“A constituency with over 40,000 residents are without safe drinking water, a proper sanitation system and education, healthcare and sports facilities,” said Bhatti. “Decades of governmental neglect have turned the islands into dumps of filth.”
“For the past seven years, we haven’t seen any development take place in the constituency,” he added.