That Altaf Hussain founded the ‘All Pakistan Muhajir Student’s Organization’ (APMSO), the organization which later turned into the Mohajir Qaumi Movement and then the Muttaihida Qaumi Movement is a misleading assertion. Altaf Hussain was not the founder, but a co-founder of the organization along with student activists such as Azeem Tariq and Dr. Imran Farooq. In fact Mr. Azeem Tariq was the first chairman and Dr. Imran Farroq was the first secretary general of APMSO.  Mr. Altaf Hussain has now ruled the party for thirty one years. Perhaps the reason behind it is that he co-founded the party, even though no other co-founder enjoyed as much influence as Mr. Altaf Hussain within the party.

The reason that he is a founding member cannot itself justify his prolonged stay at the helm of the party’s affairs. Robert Peel, the former British prime minister is a fine example. He is considered to be the founder of the modern conservative party, but resigned as its leader and transferred power to Edward Smith-Stanley.

I think Altaf Hussain should follow suit and MQM should elect a new leader for quite a variety of reasons. It needs to do it to guarantee its own survival. While Mr. Altaf Hussain has contributed a great deal to the success of the party, I believe his presence at the top is now damaging the party.  The party needs a young and dynamic leader; loads of such people are present within the folds of the party. On the flipside Altaf Hussain’s age and health must have some impact on the running of the party, maybe that’s why there have been numerous cases where there have been contradictions between statements given by Altaf Hussain and other members of his party.

Altaf Hussain’s eccentricity has been the cause of repelling potential supporters and voters for the party. MQM is after all a representative party of Karachi’s majority as a secular, liberal and urban political reality. Altaf Hussain’s presence at the top reinforces the perception that MQM is a party for only one ethnic group, especially with his on and off demand for the establishment of a muhajir province. His bizarre humor and way of expressing his opinions sometimes leaps over the boundaries of political ethics; whether it is addressing female leaders of a political party with derogatory remarks or just out right cursing law enforcement agencies. In fact he is also still under investigation of British authorities for alleged money laundering and the murder of a colleague. He does not have a Pakistani passport and is a British national, when a national of some other country cannot sit in parliament according to the rulings of our Supreme Court and our constitution, how can a party with quite a lot of seats in the parliament be led by the national of another country?

This leaves the lower hierarchy of the party into a dilemma. They have to support what their leader have said just like second tier leaders of other parties have to, but are never sure on when their leader can retract his statements. Just look at the example of Altaf Hussain apologizing to the female leaders of PTI in a live talk show, even though at the same time his party members were defending his remarks. Still, the second tier leadership has refused to accept another leader. Even when Altaf Hussain voluntarily stepped down quite a number of times, he was forced, at least ostensibly, to take back his decision. Reports of the Raabta committee deliberating on electing a new leader are almost always instantly refuted.

This is least convincing. MQM has lots of potential takers for the seat of leader. Whether it be some young, dynamic and charismatic option like Mustafa Kamal or some other more mature option like Eshrat-ul-Ebad Khan.  It needs a new leader to pump new enthusiasm into both the workers of the party and the masses that follow it. Rather than following ethnic politics like the current leader, the new leader can start politics over secular, liberal and developmental rhetoric to expand its voter base. This would be akin to Tony Blair going into the 1997 general elections with a ‘new labour’ manifesto and winning it with a landslide majority when he took over as leader of the Labour party in 1994. In fact this change in leadership is healthy for political entities and shows the commitment of the workers and lower tier leadership with the party. No person within a party should be supreme, rather the party as a whole should have supremacy over the affairs. The leader should act on the party’s will and not vice versa, unfortunately no party in Pakistan can stand up to this test except the Jamaat-e-Islami, who sent Munawar Hassan home when he failed to deliver.

It would of course be practically unreasonable to suggest that Altaf Hussain should be side-lined from the party. This is not my stance. Rather I believe that Altaf Hussain should be given a ceremonial position, one where he can exercise some influence but not control the day to day affairs of the party which leads it to embarrassment. He can be made the Chairman emeritus or the President or the Ideological Leader of the party. The day to day affairs should lie in the hands of someone who is not in exile, is much more active, is less aberrant in his public statements and can connect with the populace at large. Otherwise, I’m afraid that MQM would not be able to expand into the rest of the country and will suffer from political stagnation and   maybe even lose its current status as the representative of Karachi’s majority.

In fact if the change in leadership ushers towards a more effectual leader, I would vote for the party as a supporter of secular, liberal and developmental politics. There must be thousands of others like me who like the party for its progressive stance but do not vote for it or support it because of how the affairs of the party are conducted from outside the country.

Mary Douglas once befittingly stated “Behind a leader there must be followers, but they should always be on the lookout for the main chance and ready to change sides if the current leader doesn't deliver.’’

I think that MQM has reached the point where they need to act on her advice.