­LAHORE - A tough polls battle is awaiting the PML-N and the PTI in NA-124 constituency which represents the people of every class and variegated areas, marking true character of Lahore.

The PML-N has fielded a heavyweight, Hamza Shehbaz Sharif, who will face PTI beginner Muhammad Nauman Qaiser in NA-124, from where the former had twice returned to the Parliament in 2008 and 2013. Unlike the past, this time a hard contest is expected for multiple reasons and a changed ground situation due to Panama verdict and annoyed voters of the PML-N.

The constituency not only presents true picture of Lahore, but also its cultural and social treasure that spreads from Badshahi Masjid to Lahore Railway Station on one hand and from Governor House to Shadbagh on the other. And studded at its heart is the Walled City in the ring of 12 Doors and one water channel (Mori) that spans from Heera Mandi to Akbari Mandi with a number of sacred places.

The Walled City has been inhabited by the Lahorites in their original brand. A variety of figures wherein the likes of Mama Mooda, Gogi Butt and Tipu Tarakanwala on one hand and Mian Salli and Khawaja Dil Muhammad, who live and think in their own style and manner, on the other, impart a peculiar visage to NA-124.

The constituency is not only a combination of two main sects but also a role model of their peaceful coexistence through the centuries. The world-known Nisar Haveli, the origin of the main Ashura procession, and Masjid Wazir Khan and Sunehri Masjid, with narrow streets clustered with tall houses give a unique feature to this part of the city.

Although the present-day commercialisation has marred the traditional beauty of the constituency, the intrinsic look and spirit of the populace is largely unchanged.

It will not be wrong to call NA-124 a food hub of the town and the eateries serving for political discussions and opinion making along with the culture of thara politics for lively and late night political debates. 

The people are highly frank, friendly and candid about their mind and dislike to mince the words and take to expediencies while expressing opinion about any person or any object. However, they go by their own political idiosyncrasies in accordance with areas, baradaris and street fellows. Political outlooks of the people in commercial sites like Anarkali, Kashmiri Bazaar, Rang Mahal, Brandreth Road, Shah Alam Market, Delhi Gate, Lohari and Gwalmandi were found supporting the PML-N while a mixed opinion was expressed by the residents and the street inmates.

During the survey, it was, however, perceived that the election for the PML-N is not that simple as it was last time when Hamza Shehbaz had routed Muhammad Khan Madni of PTI with a huge difference of over 60,000 votes. In the present election, about 150,000 new voters have been added to this constituency and it makes a big difference. The young new voters are not strictly toeing the line of the elders and are applying their independent mind. A big number of new voters, also including women, showed their tilt to PTI while politico-religious organizations are also being counted in NA-124 although the support for PML-N cannot be undermined in the young ranks.

Inside the Walled City and outside, a number of people expressed their support for the PML-N, giving the only reason that they love Nawaz Sharif and cannot vote for any other. There were others who had logic to vote for the PML-N. They appreciated the development works in the Punjab, their successes in ending loadshedding and bringing peace. They were much impressed by the development in the city.

Inside the Walled City, Arian, Jatt, Kashmiri Butt, Sheikh, Rajpoot and Syed have their groups whose support is divided among PML-N, PTI, PPP and Tehreek-e-Labaik and Allaho Akbar Tehreek.

Although not in the mainstream of baradaris, thousands of voters belonging to mochi, qasab and kumhar castes are also present in this constituency over the centuries. Last time, most of them had voted for the PML-N, but this time the situation was a bit different as youngsters of these castes wanted to vote for the PTI. In katchi abadis of Shadbagh and Ahatey, the PTI support sounded much.

On the baradari-based groups, annoyance with the PML-N was also heard for the reason that the elected legislators had never turned their face to them after winning the polls. They had grievances like water pools near their houses, unscheduled loadshedding, low gas pressure, unclean water, dilapidated streets and roads, encroachment and lack of schools, especially for girls, and improper healthcare facilities. They said, being the constituency of Hamza Shehbaz, son of the ex-Punjab chief minister, they should have been given maximum facilities.

In the areas like Misri Shah, Shadbagh, Sultanpura etc, there was a mixed trend.

The PTI supporters are swayed by the love of Imran Khan in whom they find a leader who can end corruption and create a new Pakistan. The PTI majority voters consist of youth actively campaigning for Nauman.

Another notable point is reawakening of the PPP voters which last time did not take part in the electioneering. But this time, when Bilawal Bhutto is in the field instead of Asif Ali Zardari, the party voters are showing more zeal and enthusiasm. The PPP has fielded Babu Zaheer Chaudhry who has long association with the party and played a prominent role in holding a mega show at Mochi Gate some four months ago.

An interesting and decisive factor here is also the religio-political parties whose candidates are carrying out a very hectic campaign. Tehreek-e-Labbaik has fielded a female candidate, Sumera Noureen. Such players can swing the balance in favour of any mainstream party. This all has made the election wide open and not an easy victory of the PML-N like 2013 polls.