LAHORE   - Backed by a powerful religious organisation widely linked to sectarian politics in Pakistan, a bearded youth entered the Punjab Assembly as an MPA on Wednesday.

Contrary to perception about him, Maulana Muavia Azam seemed friendly in his first appearance. He won from PP-126, Jhang—the base camp of banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) –an independent candidate.

He insisted that he has nothing to do with sectarian politics. He claimed he has never been the member of any banned group in the past.

Muavia, the son of the former SSP chiefMaulana Azam Tariq who was assassinated in a gun attack in October 2003 near Rawalpindi, got 65,000 votes, the highest ever number of votes in the history of Jhang in favour of any MPA candidate. He left for behind his rivals of PML-N and PTI and other strong independent groups.

This is first time in a recent history that no member of countries’ popular religious parties including MMA – an alliance five parties including Jamaat-i-Islami, JUI-F, JUP-Imam Noorani, Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith and Islami Tehreek –and Allama Khadim Rizvi’s Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan was elected from Punjab’s NA and PA seats.

Muavia claimed it was his late father’s services for the people of Jhang that rewarded him and voters in thousands posed trust upon him.

Azam Tariq was the fourth head of the SSP following Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, Maulana Esarul Qasmi and Maulana Ziaur Rahman Farooqi when he was killed a year after becoming MNA. As Parvez Musharraf had banned the SSP then, Tariq changed the party name as Millat-i-Islamia Pakistan (MIP), contested 2002 polls from its platform and won the seat. All four chiefs of the SSP killed in separate attacks linked purely to sectarian violence started between Sunni/Deobandi and Shia groups in wake of General Ziaul Haq’s ‘Islamization movement’ of 1980s. Millat-i-Islamia changed as Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat party some five years ago but it is now working as Rah-e-Haq Party after ASWJ name was also placed under proscribed organisation.

It is not only Muavia who contested as independent candidate from Jhang, Maulana Ahmed Ludhianvi, the head of the banned ASWJ, also opted the same path at NA-115 Jhang. Asif Muavia who has the same religious affiliations contested as an independent candidate on NA-116. Ludhianvi and Asif both lost to the PTI candidates but stood seconds and secured a considerable amount of votes. Muavia, though, joined Rah-e-Haq Party after victory, he announced his support to PTI in Punjab.  “I was approached by Rana Sanaullah for support but frankly speaking the people of Jhang fed up with PML-N politics,” claimed Muavia.