Several moons ago on a chilly January night something quite usual happened. I drove my boss, who was contesting for the seat of Lahore High Court Bar Association’s president, to the home of a prominent Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) leader in Lahore’s Gulberg. The jaunt was a well-guarded secret as it would have antagonized lawyers supporting him but who were firmly in the PML-N camp.
Over tea and cake, Faisal Saleh Hayat and late Jahangir Badar promised us to pull a few strings, albeit discreetly, within the PPP to shore up support for him.
The next morning, while meeting a group of lawyers supporting PML-N, my boss was presented the intelligence reports about his meeting with the aforementioned PPP leaders. He rejected the report as propaganda by the opposing candidate with a straight face. He was later elected as the president of Lahore High Court Bar Association (LHCBA) with a comfortable lead.
An LHCBA candidate — despite being an official ticket holder of one of the major groups, like the Professional group or Independent group, usually follows a complex campaign strategy focused on targeting various groups and sub-groups of lawyers, biradaris in Lahore and various district bar associations and lawyers’ wings of political parties. Although the suitability and integrity of the candidate is an important factor, behind the scenes manoeuvring, wheeling dealing and vote swapping to win support of important voting blocs has always been the X factor – with potential to tilt the balance in most cases.
In the recently held LHCBA elections, Abid Saqi, a prominent member of the Asma Jahangir group committed the cardinal sin of procuring votes of PTI lawyers for Sabahat Rizvi, who eventually won and became the first woman to be elected as secretary in Lahore High Court Bar Association’s 160 year history.
It is usually considered a bonus if an able and suitable candidate wins the seat. Such are the dynamics of bar politics in Pakistan. One important point which is by far the deciding factor relating to fortunes of major groups of lawyers is their stance towards the sitting government. For instance, any group close to the government of the day and, by extension, the military establishment has traditionally lost sympathies of voters.
A recent example of the above phenomenon is popularity the Asma Jahangir-Bhoon group enjoyed during the hybrid rule of PTI. But things changed once Imran Khan adopted an anti-establishment stand – bringing to life the instinct of a common lawyer to speak truth to authority. The fortunes of the Professional group led by Hamid Khan have been revived after the change of government in April for obvious reasons.
Political parties favour candidates in the bar elections. A candidate, after bagging their votes, along with those of other voting blocs, is expected to act without bias for or against a political party, barring a subtle leaning which is natural.
Although sweeteners like housing societies for lawyers play a part in deciding fortunes of a group, the rebellious and anti-establishment sentiment attracts an activist lawyer. It is a critical factor that decides which group will gain ascendency.
The Hamid Khan group seen too close to the PTI was subjected to crushing defeats by advocates on many occasions for this very reason between August 2018 and April 2022. The Independent group went from strength to strength during the period especially after inviting activists like Ali Ahmad Kurd, who lambasted the judiciary for poor performance, particularly that it languishes at number 126 out of 139 countries. A staggering statistic indeed!
That’s the past. The Hamid Khan-Professional group, for reasons right or wrong, is riding a wave of popularity that was previously surfed by the Asma Jahangir group. As a final twist in the tale, in the recently held LHCBA elections, Abid Saqi, a prominent member of the Asma Jahangir group committed the cardinal sin of procuring votes of PTI lawyers for Sabahat Rizvi, who eventually won and became the first woman to be elected as secretary in Lahore High Court Bar Association’s 160 year history. Considering the waning support of the Asma group to which Rizvi belongs, the above would not have been achieved without a masterstroke of wooing all voting blocs, including the political party.
In a nutshell, in a stiflingly conservative and patriarchal society, to address the gender imbalance by pursuing the standard practice of bagging votes from different groups and blocs in one of the biggest and oldest bar associations in the subcontinent is no deadly sin.
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