Lahore - A political storm in the shape of a young MPA named Khurram Ijaz Chattha, has been shaking things up in Muridke, the traditional stomping ground of MNA Rana Tanveer. Though both belong to the PML-N, they do not see eye to eye.

A conversation with Khurram Ijaz Chattha – thin, soft spoken and obsessed with libraries, reveals why such a person has created a challenge to the PML-N old guard.

Standing over the rubble of a construction site in Muridke, MPA Chattha sticks out. His earnestness is infectious and misplaced in the old industrial town off the Grand Trunk road, 50 kilometres from Lahore. In his eight-year political career, he has built a reputation for himself as the PML-N poster boy for next generation politics. Humble, ambitious, and rumour has it – honest.

There is a quietness about him that dissipates only when he talks about his next construction project on the site where we stand; a public library. The other town leader, Rana Tanveer, also possessed a quietness about him, albeit a different one. Despite repeated attempts by The Nation to get Tanveer’s views on record, he remained unreachable for comment.

The political landscape of Pakistan is changing, and the younger generation is seeing the development project in a different light. Chattha is a living example of this.

“When I was seeking blueprints for library buildings from our official archives, I was told that no library has been built at the district level in Punjab for several decades,” Chattha says, his amazement still lingering. “Imagine what it could do for our students.”

Excitedly, he talks about Internet and AV facilities, segregated reading sections, photocopy machines and access to online libraries around the world.

Eight years ago, Khurram Chattha was only 28 when he won his first election, soon after getting a Master’s degree in anthropology from Quaid-e-Azam University. Now, in his second tenure as MPA, he has introduced 1122 emergency services in Muridke, a fire brigade, a local trauma centre, a degree college, a school for children with special needs, a library and a bus service from Muridke to some of Lahore’s major universities. The focus on education is evident; dozens of degree colleges have cropped up along the GT road under Chattha’s policies.

Hailing from a family with a long history in politics, Chattha is no stranger to political conflict. His father, Ijaz Ahmed Chattha was MPA during the early 90’s, while his grandfather was elected to local government.

Yet, politics was not his first career choice. “I wanted to work in the development sector, at an NGO,” he said. “My focus is on health and education. I believe that if we work on these sectors, everything else follows.”

The obstacle has been of the difficulty of working ‘inside the system.’ His angst is particularly directed towards Rana Tanveer.

“He is a hurdle to me in all my development (projects). But don’t let me tell you this. Ask the people on the street, and the people will tell you. When we were starting the 1122 service here, he asked private individuals to get a stay order. When I approached the Chief Minister for the Degree College, he attempted to sidetrack that too.”

Rana Tanveer has been in power for years, but in contrast to Chattha’s libraries and ambulances, locals feel his contribution to the city has been largely decorative. A military jet on one chowk, an overhead bridge that leads to his own house, and one children’s park.

“They don’t like each other very much,” we were told by a waiter at a busy roadside restaurant right on the GT road.

“Rana Tanveer is the big shot here; everyone knows that,” he continued. “His face is plastered all over town, but everyone also knows that Chattha Sahab is the one doing the real work.” When asked about the overhead bridge, we were met with a smirk and a pointed, “Don’t even get me started”.

The ‘big shot’ comment needed little verification; Rana Tanveer is ubiquitous is Muridke. His name – on football grounds and bridges – looks down on all Muridke, especially in the centre of the town where you can’t go five paces without seeing a poster of him.

The tussle is known in the offices of the local District Management too. Ameena Baidar, an Assistant Commissioner, put things in perspective.

“Of course there is going to be a rivalry, it was inevitable but it is the best kind of rivalry to have,” she said. “Rana Tanveer’s family – his brother specifically – has done much for this region, and now the newcomer is trying to out-develop them. With our department looking at other problems such as flood prevention and water supply, Muridke is developing quite rapidly”.

Chattha, however, was less forgiving. “This is a problem for all new politicians, the old guard entrenched in the system hogs all the attention and all the funds.” he said wistfully. “We need experienced politicians, no one can deny that, but they must have the correct intentions.”

Today, Muridke is not just a small town on GT road. As we drive back towards Lahore, we see a new raft of banks, schools, colleges, hospitals and retail plazas where there used to be only farmland. Life in Muridke is changing and becoming more complex, and the insertion of youth and competition into its politics might just have something to do with it.

 

Sarmad Iqbal and Zahaid Rehman