It is midnight and heavy rain is pouring down on Jhelum, accompanied by a blasting thunderstorm. The city is getting ready for one of the fiercest and tightly fought elections in its history, with the election campaigns finally ending at midnight.

These are by no means ordinary elections, as is evidenced by the presence of a large number of the political elite of ruling PML-N and PTI in the city.

Not unlike most of Pakistan, there has been no paradigm shift in the politics of Jhelum. A quick recap of the history of Jhelum reflects the presence of two major political fraternities: The Nawabs of Darapur and the Chaudhrys of Ladhar.  They were, however, once out-seated by an unexpected, an unlikely emergence of an ordinary man who rose out of nowhere to become the most talked about person in Jhelum. The man was Raja Afzal Khan who has thrice been an MNA and twice the mayor of the city

History of the Ladhar group goes back to before Partition. Chaudary Owais was the youngest MLA of Pakistan and despite many ups and downs in general elections, Chaudary Altaf managed to become the Governor of Punjab, followed the ruthless and unchallenged rule of Chaudhry Farrukh under Musharraf’s Local Government System, during whose tenure Jhelum did witness some developments, with some major roads reconstructed and new bridges built in the outskirts of the city that linked many villages.

The Nawabs have also ruled Jhelum, with Nawabzada Iqbal Mehndi ruling between 1988 and 2002 in NA-63. But the major hurdle for the Chaudhrys was the emergence of Raja Afzal who defeated them most of the times between 1985 and 1997.

Nevertheless, the Raja family got lucky, when the Nawab who was not a graduate had to withdraw in the 2002 elections in favor of Raja Muhammad Asad (son of Raja Afzal Khan) over rival Chaudhrys.

Asad won the elections and as a result, the Raja family had two sitting MNAs in the 2008 elections. But, the Raja brothers remained largely ineffective as Chaudhry Farrukh had most of the powers as Nazim, during the Musharaf regime.

A much publicized feud with local inter-party rival Chaudhry Khadim Hussain saw a plunge in the fortunes of Raja Afzal Khan, as he failed to win a by-election in PP26 against the PML-N ticket holder Chaudhry Khaadim Hussain on a provisional seat. 

This was a watershed moment in Jhelum’s politics, which saw the emergence of Chaudary Khadim’s group in the city. Both of Raja Afzal’s sons (Raja Muhammad Safdar and Raja Muhammad Asad), who were at that time members of the National Assembly, decided to switch loyalties and join Pakistan Peoples Party, resultantly losing the elections in 2013.

Greed and instant success was a far cry under ailing PPP, which tempted Afzal to join PTI. He shifted loyalties for the second time in the same year, but with so many groups already competing to gain Imran Khan’s attention, Afzal miserably failed to make any grounds in the new camp.  Astonishingly, he went ahead and rejoined PML-N, thereby completing a full circle.

When I was growing up, I heard this saying from my elders, “Chenab ashqan, Sindh sadaqan and Jhelum munafqan”, but didn't quite understand it until I saw the hypocritical behavior of Jhelum’s political elite.

Times may have changed, and faces too may have changed, but the ruling families remain the same. Long-time foes are fighting for NA-63 again, with huge rallies and an enormous amount of corner meetings, both parties have promised to deliver to the people of Jhelum.

The PML-N boasts a major slogan through huge banners and billboards in the city which say, “A guaranteed success, if you vote for Nawaz”. But, what can a rational person make of this? What exactly is “guaranteed success” and “progressive politics”?

Is it the success of the common people of Jhelum or success and progression of the Sharif family and friends?

Are they referring to development work in Lahore as synonymous to success and progressive politics?

This must be a joke because most of Punjab’s budget is spent on Lahore and with no considerable funds for cities like Jhelum. How can the success of Lahore ensure the success of the remaining 35 districts of Punjab?

Some of the basic questions I would like to ask the sitting government are: how many new hospitals or state-of-the-art schools have they built in the city? How many recreational parks have been established since 1985? Is the water supplied by the government drinkable? Are the corners of our streets devoid of filth and squalor? Is there any road in the city, unaffected by downpour? Why do heavy rains always turn the city into a swamp?

Let’s assume for a minute that Jhelum is the primary beneficiary of the major development policies of PML-N, would they still need to call upon dozens of sitting MNAs to come and boost the party's image in the city?

If successful policies and much development had been evident across the city and its villages, would they still necessitate such an extensive election campaign?

The fact is that, they are aware of their performance in the city. With the threat of an unlikely victory for Chaudhry Fawad Hussain, the government does not want to leave any stone unturned. The recent past is murky enough for the government to demonstrate their concern through extraordinary presence of party elites. It speaks volumes. The blatant truth is that PML-N by no means wants to lose the election on GT road.

To conclude, I would like to share an open statement directed at Nawaz Sharif; Mr. Prime Minister, you may win the elections on August 31 for obvious reasons but you can’t win our minds and hearts, unless you at least fulfill the basic requirements of the city. Otherwise, this dirty game of politics will continue and you will keep winning and the common people will keep losing.