Just a few days from now, Pakistan will hold its 11th general election amid political uncertainty in the country. Political parties have expressed serious reservations about the free and fair conduct of the polls. Black clouds of media censorship are hovering over the political landscape. Despite all these, the public has high hopes from the upcoming government. This election is slated to see participation from all segments of the society, like never seen before.
For the first time in Pakistan’s history, a sizeable number of people belonging to religious minorities is contesting from general seats. Although many of them are contesting as independents, a few political parties have also fielded candidates from minority communities against political heavyweights in different constituencies.
However, most influential names – including former parliamentarians as well those from religious minorities – have chosen to get selected on the seats reserved for minorities in the national and provincial legislature.
Here are brief profiles of candidates contesting as part of the religious minorities:
Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
Dr Vankwani hails from Mithi city of district Tharparkar, Sindh. He is a doctor who started his political career in 2002 by becoming a Member of Provincial Assembly, Sindh, on a reserved seat. He remained advisor to the then Chief Minister of Sindh.
In 2013, he became a Member of National Assembly (MNA) on a reserved seat. He was nominated by Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N). As an MNA, he highlighted the issue of forced conversions of Hindu girls in Sindh province and lobbied to pass the Hindu Marriage Bill from the Parliament. He also regularly writes columns in local newspapers highlighting the plight of Hindus in the country.
Dr Vankwani jumped PML-N’s ship after serving as MNA for five years and joined the rival party, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaaf (PTI), just a few weeks before the elections. He is hopeful of grabbing the reserved seat as PTI’s nominee. Dr Vankwani is also the Patron-in-Chief of Pakistan Hindu Council and possesses substantial influence over Hindus residing in Tharparkar and Umerkot districts.
Isphanyar Bhandara belongs to a small Parsi community of Pakistan. He is the Chief Executive Officer of Murree Brewery, Pakistan’s oldest and largest producer of alcoholic products. Bhandara holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration. He reached the National Assembly in 2013 on a reserved seat on the PML-N ticket. Once more, he is contesting for a National Assembly seat on reserved quota. His father, MP Bhandara, had also been elected as an MNA on a reserved seat. MP Bhandara remained in the National Assembly from 2002 to 2007.
Asiya Nasir belongs to the Christian community and hails from the Balochistan province. Since 2002, Nasir has been in the lower house of the parliament on reserved seats. She is affiliated with JUI-F, a far-right Islamic party of Muslim clerics. As a parliamentarian, Nasir has always raised her voice against the discrimination faced by minorities in the country.
Mahesh Kumar Malani
Mahesh Kumar Malani also hails from Mithi city of district Tharparkar, Sindh. According to the Population Census 2017, Tharparkar district is home to more than 1.1 million Hindus. In the election of 2013, Malani was the only minority candidate from all over the country who got elected on a general seat. He became a Member of Provincial Assembly (Sindh) on the ticket of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) from his home town constituency of Tharparkar. He bagged more than 41,000 votes.
Before that, he also served as a Member of National Assembly from 2008 to 2013, on a reserved seat. This time again, he is contesting for a National Assembly seat on a reserved quota. Malani is the PPP from the constituency of Tharparkar. He holds great influence in his constituency and has a greater chance of reaching the lower house.
Unlike all the above-listed candidates, Bheel is contesting the polls as an independent candidate on a general seat. This is her maiden election. Being a women’s rights activist, Bheel, who belongs to the Dalit caste, ran an advocacy campaign against early age marriages and forced conversions of Hindu girls. In 2016, she along with other members of the scheduled caste founded an organisation called Dalit Sujaag Tehreek (DST) to fight for the rights of people belonging to lower socio-economic class and scheduled castes. DST has fielded a total of eight candidates from different constituencies in Sindh.
Lelan Lohar, 50, is a candidate for a National Assembly seat from the Mirpur Khas district. She is a street vendor, belonging to the Dalit community, and has to struggle to make ends meet. She got married at the tender age of 11 and has four daughters; all of them were married off by the time they were 12. One of her daughters died due to post-maternity complications after giving birth at the age of just 14 years. Lohar, disturbed at her daughter’s early demise, decided to run an advocacy campaign against child marriages and maternity healthcare. She is also a member of the Dalit Sujaag Tehreek.
Khalil Tahir Sindhu
Khalil Tahir Sindhu is a Christian by religion and has served as a provincial minister in the last government of PML-N in Punjab. He is a practising lawyer and belongs to the industrial city of Faisalabad. He was first elected as a Member of Provincial Assembly in 2008 on a reserved seat. He has been nominated again by the PML-N on the reserved seat for Punjab provincial assembly.
Sanjay Perwani is contesting on the general seat from Mirpur Khas city on the ticket of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Perwani has remained a Member of National Assembly from 2013 to 2018 on a reserved seat. MQM has also nominated him on a reserved seat. Perwani belongs to an influential Hindu family from Sindh.
(Ahmed Saeed is a multimedia journalist who has a keen eye on politics and social issues. He tweets @ehmadliveson)
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